Why Did Miamidade County Manager Wait Two Months To Reveal A Fait Accompli
Written by Michael Lewis on February 17, 2011
By Michael Lewis
Failure of Miami-Dade officials to wrest a token giveback from the Florida Marlins as taxpayers spend $3 billion to build the team’s stadium was no shock.
But officials’ lack of urgency, responsiveness and candor in a mandate to seek even tiny recompense proves the burning need to change county structure.
Last week Manager George Burgess wrote to commissioners that the Marlins refused to talk about any giveback in the most lopsided county giveaway contract in memory.
Under public pressure, commissioners on Nov. 4 had mandated the mayor’s office, where Mr. Burgess works, try to recover a slice of the $3 billion in the 2009 deal that Mr. Burgess had engineered.
Of course, it was certain the Marlins wouldn’t play ball. Why should they? They’d legally taken $3 billion in tax candy from babies. Marlins officials, who spit on public opinion, weren’t going to wear white hats by doing something — anything — for hurting taxpayers.
Still, the commission sets policy. The mayor and Mr. Burgess are required to carry it out. A vote had told them to plead with the Marlins for a face-saving concession as voters waved recall petitions around the county.
That vote bound them to ask team owners and report back within 60 days. But it was more than 90 days before Mr. Burgess reported Feb. 7 that the Marlins wouldn’t play. To prove it, he attached a letter from team President David Samson torpedoing the idea.
But Mr. Samson wrote Dec. 7, exactly two months before Mr. Burgess told commissioners.
Why two months of silence in the face of a mandate and constant questions about progress?
This newspaper asked, reporting Dec. 2 that his office said Mayor Carlos Alvarez would meet with county attorneys about options to get the Marlins to give something back.
We asked again and reported Dec. 23 that aides were still saying — weeks after Mr. Samson had already told the county no — the mayor was to talk with attorneys and that there was no update.
Miami Today asked again and dutifully reported Jan. 13 that the mayor’s office said the matter was still with attorneys and still no update. That remained the story as we reported Jan. 20 that the mayor had missed his deadline to act and report to commissioners.
Finally, Mr. Burgess told commissioners Feb. 7 it was all over back on Dec. 7. Why did it take him two months to say so?
Perhaps because he can avoid telling commissioners much at all, including the true cost of the stadium, since Mr. Alvarez pushed through new law that makes Mr. Burgess his aide rather than an apolitical administrator managing nearly 30,000 employees as was the case before and should be again.
The mayor’s office kept claiming nothing had yet happened when it was already all over. And the 13 commissioners were told nothing more than we were for months.
If this was baseball, Mr. Burgess would be reporting All-Star Game results at World Series time.
Of course, he resides on Planet Burgess. He has never used the word "billion" in the stadium deal that will be his legacy. His Feb. 7 memo continues to claim the giveaway is "a sound, competitive and fair deal… We have not learned any new information since the Board adopted the ballpark agreements that would in any way change our recommendation."
Maybe he hasn’t learned anything new — some folks don’t — but he had the Marlins’ letter two months before he reported a word to the commission as required.
He might have said something out of good will or good administration. But since he doesn’t report to the commission anymore, the manager doesn’t have to be candid.
Miami-Dade desperately needs a charter change to revert to a system of an apolitical professional manager, if only to restore a requirement for candor at the highest levels. The current system strikes out.