County Residents Will Only Have Option Of Voting On Handful Of Charter Revisions As Commissioners Vote Against Most Task Force Recommendations
Written by Risa Polansky on July 24, 2008
By Risa Polansky
Miami-Dade voters will decide only a handful of the 18 charter revisions recommended by a charter review task force after commissioners tossed most out last week.
Charter Review Taskforce Chairman Victor Diaz Jr. concedes it’s "disappointing."
But not hopeless.
"I think the report of the task force still remains an intelligent, thoughtful proposal for the reform of government," he said of the six months of scrutiny the panel gave the charter, Miami-Dade’s equivalent of a constitution. "There’s nothing to prohibit citizens from organizing and putting them on the ballot directly."
Law requires the charter be reviewed and potentially amended every five years.
Commissioners appointed 21 volunteers to the advisory taskforce meant to recommend those changes, which voters have the final say on — if they get the chance to see them.
The elected officials last week considered 22 proposed charter amendments, many of which they drafted themselves.
Five are to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot:
nMaking commissioner a full-time position that would receive a salary set by a state formula based on the county’s population (rather than today’s $6,000 annually). It would be about $91,995 now. No outside employment would be allowed. Term limits do not come into play in this amendment, though the review taskforce suggested them.
nAllowing candidates for commissioner or mayor to qualify for office by submitting a petition signed by at least 1% of the area’s registered voters rather than paying today’s qualifying fee.
nTransferring the powers and responsibilities of the county manager to the county mayor. The charter now lists the manager — an appointed official — along with the mayor and commissioners as having certain authority.
nAllowing the clerk of the Circuit Court to approve petitions citizens seek to circulate to gain ballot placement of proposals for adoption or repeal of ordinances. The commission has that power now. This proposal courtesy of the review team.
nRequiring a public hearing on a petition calling for passing or repealing an ordinance right after it’s approved, an amended version of a similar review panel suggestion.
"We did accomplish something, but not as much as I would have liked to," Mr. Diaz said in an interview after the meeting.
Commissioners voted many proposals down. Others died when no one moved to pass them. And some never made it to last week’s meeting because no commissioner sponsored them. Among the killed suggestions:
nAllowing charter changes recommended by 2/3 of review taskforce members to go straight to voters rather than through commissioners first.
nRequiring projects outside the county’s urban development boundary to be approved by a 3/4 vote of commissioners or an independent body’s recommendation, a majority commission vote and a referendum.
nCreating an independent taskforce to develop a plan to include all unincorporated areas of the county within cities through annexation or incorporation. Voters would have considered it in 2010.
nAllowing more time for circulating petitions. The taskforce recommended it "to give citizens more time to petition for reform of government," Mr. Diaz said.
nAppointing a police department director quasi-independent from the mayor and county manager.
nAppointing a supervisor of elections quasi-independent from the mayor and county manager.
nElecting the tax collector.
nElecting the county sheriff.
One proposal is to return to the commission as an ordinance rather than a charter change: requiring a public hearing on citizen-or-board-proposed charter amendments the day commissioners decide when to put them to a public vote.
Only eight of 13 commissioners were present to consider the proposed amendments last week.
"I really think we ought to have more folks here," Commissioner Dennis Moss said before the meeting. "These are very important issues."
But they’re issues the commission has discussed before, Commissioner Joe Martinez pointed out.
The review task force submitted its 42-page report in January. Commissioners considered some proposals in April.
"We already know where we stand," Mr. Martinez said. "I think we can just take a vote and that’s it."
Mr. Diaz said he was "hopeful" throughout the process.
But he acknowledged that, as an advisory board, "you give your best advice knowing the person you’re giving it to may choose not to follow it" —especially when the advice suggests altering the way a long-standing body does business.
"Changes sometimes frighten people, and they don’t look at it carefully enough to see that sometimes change is in their own best interest," Mr. Diaz said. But without change, "public dissatisfaction with county government will continue."
He said he hopes the commission’s rejection won’t deter volunteers from accepting positions on the review taskforce in the future.
"I think there will continue to be a need for people to propose and push reform," he said. And "hopefully county commissions in the future will be comprised of people who will be more receptive to those reform proposals."