County Halls Wolf Pack Kills Again Ndash And Again Ndash And Again
Written by Michael Lewis on January 21, 2010
By Michael Lewis
The wolf pack is on the prowl again.
Miami-Dade commissioners keep tearing the heart out of measures to shine sunlight on county hall’s deep dark secrets.
Week after week, they show their disdain for the public’s right to learn what government is doing.
The only thing they don’t seem to be hiding is their contempt for the people they in theory serve.
Last week the commission killed a Javier Souto measure to report how the general obligation bond program is being silently altered from what voters approved as some recipients are added, others deleted.
It’s the most sensible piece of legislation the county could tackle: tell us how you’re keeping faith with what we voted on.
"This will turn our whole system upside down," snarled Natacha Seijas as she led pack for the kill.
The week before, the commission tore into a Souto measure that would have placed in regional libraries a list of all county workers’ jobs and pay.
That’s far too much to reveal, commissioners howled, despite the fact that it’s all public record and that the Souto measure would list it in only four of the 52 libraries.
To get facts now, voters must formally request them from a labyrinthine bureaucracy that often takes days or weeks to respond even to commissioners, much less the lowly public.
That’s good, says Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz. "It’s very different when you put out the information just for everybody to see."
This, he says, is "the balance for the Freedom of Information Act" — because we don’t want information to be too free.
As Rebeca Sosa said, "I think employees and everyone are entitled to some privacy."
In county hall, the more privacy the better. Don’t let the pesky voters learn too much about what’s going on — they might discover the truth, whatever horrors that might include.
Add these kills to other transparency measures that Mr. Souto has proposed in recent months, only to see commissioners unite as a pack to rip them apart over and over.
The pack killed a Souto move to make public the private meetings between individual commissioners and the county manager and his aides as they twist arms and swap favors for votes.
The pack killed a Souto measure to reveal names, job titles, professional backgrounds and salaries of all county employees paid more than $100,000 a year.
This month Mr. Souto began another transparency campaign for the commission to rip to death. He asked attorneys for legislation to require videotaping meetings of commission-appointed members to perpetuate "government in the sunshine, government in the clear."
We can hear the wolf pack’s barks already. Commissioners love government in the sunshine — as long as it’s some other government, somewhere else.
They’ll rip this one apart too.
They have two motives.
One is that too much sunlight can burn a hole in the system that lets commissioners make deals that might not be illegal but hand them something anyway.
Maybe it’s jobs for relatives or campaign funders, or public cash to spread around, or power to broker, or contracts for friends. We don’t know, because it’s all done in the shadows.
The other reason for killing Mr. Souto’s sunshine measures — "lay it out on the table with a stake in its heart" Ms. Seijas said of the bid to list employees — is that Mr. Souto aired in public the county’s very dirty laundry.
In November, he cited "vote trading," "hanky panky" and "wheeling and dealing" in county hall as the impetus for his sunshine measures.
Someone, he said, was going to jail if the county didn’t clean up its act — and it wasn’t going to be him.
In other words, he ratted on insiders. It was unprecedented. So everything he puts on the table makes it payback time from the wolf pack.
He has had consistent support only from Carlos Gimenez, a candidate for mayor in two years who clearly wants to be on the right side of the fence — and the jail bars.
But not a word of support has come from those who should be monitoring government — chambers of commerce, voter groups, community leaders. They may believe 100% in the open government Mr. Souto espouses, but they aren’t willing to put their necks on the line with commission wolves on the prowl.
And so in the Sunshine State that made the Sunshine Law for open government famous nationally, the door to county hall slowly swings shut to the public without a murmur.
Chalk up another kill for county hall’s wolf pack.