Commission can beat vigilantes to charter reform's white hat
By Michael Lewis
We could do worse than back eight county charter changes put forth by Norman Braman and Victor M. Diaz Jr., two bright men who've thought deeply about Miami-Dade issues.
On the other hand, we could do better still if a broad-based, official charter review debated even more ideas.
The two men's noble quest for every mayoral candidate to champion their reform list, detailed on page 7, would unfortunately abort charter debate before it can begin.
We need a taskforce to flyspeck the charter, with output that might not fully satisfy the Braman/Diaz team, or you, or this newspaper.
But a review team's debate and vote typify representative democracy — we don't all get what we want, but all have an equal shot at persuading others we're right.
Mr. Diaz, an attorney who chaired the last formal review of the equivalent of a county constitution, and Mr. Braman, a member, know that. But they're frustrated that the county commission kept the team's calls for reform from voters' hands, so they're taking a vigilante approach, rounding up a posse for their own justice.
Most empathize. We're frustrated too.
Mr. Diaz and Mr. Braman mounted up because the county hall sheriff failed.
But county hall, facing unrest that might well end next month in recall of a mayor and a commissioner, is due one more shot at doing right before competing teams, including Braman/Diaz, seek warring solutions.
Charter review is required every five years but the commission can call it early. It's been four years. The last review died on the commission dais.
It's time to look at upgrades again, but this time properly, with no commissioners or deputies in the room or commission barriers to the ballot box.
The commission has a gun at its back to comply: every seat is on the line in potential recalls, a dangerous new weapon that will warp decisions until the basis for recall excludes voting records.
What the review taskforce should recommend is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. All could offer ideas. And we'd never all agree.
The Braman/Diaz duo seeks to trim commissioners to nine and elect two at large.
We think at-large election is so vital that countywide voters should decide every district seat, limiting parochialism that balloons spending: all 13 districts now get tossed costly bones. And we see no special merit in nine members or 13; cost savings would be tiny compared to charter review gains.
That's a single debatable element. There'd be dozens.
We, for example, would bar commission input on contracts, which would end posturing, speed action, create fairness, improve the business climate and cut spending by tens of millions. That's not in the Braman/Diaz plan.
Debating such issues would energize charter reform as conflicting good ideas compete for a taskforce nod to go on the ballot.
Out of such debate should spring upgrades — not an elusive perfection, but a community far better in which to live, work, visit and do business.
This should start in the commission because it's right, because commissioners feel new pressures and because it will cost nothing extra to do this year what law requires in 2012: begin charter review.
Commissioners could wear the white hats in this western by being charter review sheriffs before vigilantes ride in with their own justice.
If the commission doesn't seek a review, Mayor Carlos Alvarez won't either. His recall vote March 15, driven by Mr. Braman, is all-consuming. If our former top cop put on the white hat of charter reform he might win votes, but he's out of time — and most likely out of office.
That leaves what the Braman/Diaz team targets: every candidate to replace him swearing allegiance to partial reform as true justice.
But lining up competing candidates is like herding cats: these independent creatures have agendas along the way impossible for mere humans to discern.
Because they're competing for a job, all can't offer one platform. They have to espouse different ideas.
But all could support early charter review independent of county commission control, each with his own agenda for taskforce study. That keeps competition alive and well but portends reform.
We're pleased that Mr. Braman and Mr. Diaz join us, other activists and several mayoral candidates in demanding charter change. Their agenda, like others, is worthy of close study.
We just don't want to choke off debate before it can begin. That would be more like the current county hall in action than representative democracy.