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Front Page » Opinion » Last Gasp To Avert Year Of Paralytic Spasms At County Hall

Last Gasp To Avert Year Of Paralytic Spasms At County Hall

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Written by on December 16, 2010

By Michael Lewis
A painful side effect of recall drives to oust Miami-Dade’s mayor and five commissioners, a prominent banker points out, is county hall paralysis for a year or more.

Vital county business — yes, it exists — will take a back seat to politicking around rapid changes.

As a result, government is likely to sidestep substantive issues that might be pivotal to residents’ future.

What’s happening? In interlocking steps:

nMayor Carlos Alvarez rightly dropped a suit to prevent a yes-or-no recall vote early next year. Given public disgust, he’s likely to go.

nThe county commission would then either appoint a mayor or let the public vote. With voters warring on commissioners, too, the public would probably get its say.

nMeanwhile, Commissioner Natasha Seijas and several more might face recall battles too, after the mayor’s or concurrently. That could trigger replacement elections.

nCommissioners are among mayoral hopefuls. If one wins, it could force an election for another commission seat.

nCharter reform is also in play. Several questions — including limiting commission terms and easing voters’ ability to initiate charter and recall votes — were up for commission committee debate this week.

nMeanwhile, any mayoral replacement would then face yet another election (complicated, isn’t it?). A mayor appointed following a recall would face election in January 2012. If elected, the vote would be in November 2012.

Either way, as soon as a replacement was chosen, jockeying for that election would begin.

nVoters dumped the county manager’s job as of 2012 because the strong mayor post that Mr. Alvarez initiated but never fully assumed has that duty too. For five decades a manager has run staff. How the shift will play out is a question mark.

nFinally, a charter review commission due to start work by 2012 at latest would surely debate our commission district structure, eyeing fewer and broader districts. That means more politicking.

Much of this chaos was triggered by a mayoral recall drive that, while a valid wakeup call to county hall, has at most 18 months’ impact on Mr. Alvarez.

However, busy commission agendas aren’t the issue.

Liability concerns have slowed creation of a management agreement for Olympia Center Inc.

Among them: a pending city lawsuit with the affordable housing units housed at the Gusman and liability surrounding façade improvements paid for with city bonds.

"It’s not as crystal clear as it should be at this point," Mr. Noriega said.

In the case of the lawsuit, he said, the trust hopes to leave dealings to the city.

Miami is suing Cornerstone Group over back rent it says the developer owes on 80 affordable-housing units that are part of the city-owned Gusman Center.

The city’s share of revenue from the apartments is to go toward the Olympia Theater.

The case is to go to trial in January, Mr. Noriega said in an interview.

While the trust hopes to keep clear of city legal issues, he said at the meeting, the revenue generated from the apartments could help its bottom line.

"You have options there to create a potential long-term endowment for the theater."

Another concern: who’s liable for $1 million-plus in municipal bond dollars used for exterior façade work.

Public dollars were used to pay for outer window repairs, which the city also aims to get back from Cornerstone.

Also discussed: who should assume management should the trust dissolve years down the road — the authority or the City of Miami.

If management returns to the parking authority, "that means it’s on us to fund that money," Jami Reyes, chair of the authority’s board, said at the meeting.

Meanwhile, the slowdown in transferring management to the nonprofit isn’t helping fundraising efforts, she said.

Mr. Echevarria has secured pledges, Ms. Lake said at the meeting.

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