Miami-Dade's Cone of Silence 'no longer broken,' stays in place
By Risa Polansky and Yudislaidy Fernandez
The Cone of Silence lives.
A move to eliminate Miami-Dade County's lobbyist-control measure died at a committee meeting Tuesday before reaching the full commission for a final vote.
Commissioners enacted the imaginary cone in 1998 to reduce outside influence on procurement decisions, forbidding bid-related communication among county officials and vendors, consultants and lobbyists.
The cone also prohibits some in-house communication within the county on bids and keeps members of bidder selection committees off-limits.
Some have lauded the measure for reducing at least the perception of corruption in procurement. Others say it blocks essential information from being shared.
In October, commissioners voted to change the cone, essentially to allow for some nuts-and-bolts discussion not meant to influence bidder selection.
That sparked outgoing commission Chair Bruno Barreiro's motion to repeal the cone altogether. His idea cleared a hurdle last month, passing with no discussion during a primary vote.
But at Tuesday's Budget and Finance Committee — the first chance for comment on the proposal — commissioners asked that the county give the newly tweaked cone a chance before killing it.
"I think that it's no longer broken," Commissioner Katy Sorenson said.
Robert Meyers, executive director of the county's Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, also encouraged commissioners to give the modified measure a go before nixing the cone entirely.
Even Aviation Director José Abreu, who is credited with coining the phrase "cone of senseless," said the October changes remedied the cone's flaws.
"I used to call it the cone of senseless," he said. But through the recent legislation that allows some discussion when the cone is in place, "my main concern was taken care of."
Mr. Barreiro, who does not sit on the committee, did not show up. During the hearing, no lobbyists spoke on the proposal to kill the cone.
Activist Alan Rigerman, only member of the public to comment, said he recalled a packed chamber 10 years ago when the county proposed the cone. He said he was torn on whether to kill it and asked commissioners to do what's best for taxpayers.
Before the 6-0 vote, Commissioner Joe Martinez — who has spoken out against the cone in the past — predicted "the perception issue is going to kill [the motion to repeal]."
The county's decision to keep the cone of silence may relieve Miami's procurement department, concerned that such county action could hinder public confidence in government.
The city, which once abided by the county's procurement code, opted to craft its own cone of silence in 2002, tailoring it to the city's needs, said Glenn Marcos, Miami's purchasing director.
Under the city's cone, communication between lobbyists and officials such as the mayor, commissioners, city manager and staff is forbidden.
Awardance of any contract such as construction, architectural and engineering, grounds maintenance and professional services agreements requires a formal bid.
"It [the cone] does a good job of separating the politics and allowing the procurement process to move ahead," Mr. Marcos said. "It facilitates transparency within government."
Mr. Marcos said he couldn't understand the county's move to kill its cone.
The cone protects businesses' due process and give them a fair shot at government contracts for goods and services, he said. "The procurement process is due process — it's guaranteeing that this is an open and fair competitor process."
Mr. Marcos said the county would have taken a giant step backward by lifting the cone and risked increasing lack of confidence in government. "What is the benefit of not having it? What's there to be gained?"