The Mayor's Speech: Preview of a coming Oscar-winner
By Michael Lewis
A pivotal moment at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Goals Conference has long been the address by Miami-Dade's mayor.
On that platform Mayor Alex Penelas rolled out a tax for new transit, a fund pool since sidetracked for routine chores but at the time a shiny promise to fill one of the county's greatest gaps: miles of mass transit.
Also on that platform Manager George Burgess — subbing as always as Mayor Carlos Alvarez snubbed the chamber — floated plans last year for a tax hike topping 13%. He did it so artfully that he never used the word tax.
So it was with anticipation that we awaited Friday's address. Obviously, a mayor wouldn't speak: a runoff this month will replace the deposed Mr. Alvarez. So would the manager or the commission chair get the honor?
Neither, it turned out. Nobody from the county was asked. The vacancy at the top was also a vacancy at the podium.
Nonetheless, Miami Today exclusively reveals here word for word what the mayor, if we'd had one, should have said, had he been asked. We agree with every word of his speech, which we hope to hear repeated very soon by Carlos Gimenez or Julio Robaina:
"Good morning. I applaud this gathering to help move Miami-Dade forward. I expect to do so as partners, and I'll be with you not only in spirit but at your deliberations all day.
"In particular, I want to commend the revival of job-building through One Community One Goal, and I want you to know that you have whatever county resources you need — cash included — as the business community cooperatively maps paths to more and better jobs.
"There is no greater need than adding well-paid jobs, and we in government know that you cannot do this without our buy-in, just as we know that we cannot prosper as a county if you fail. Forget politics: we are your partners in building jobs. Count on us.
"Just as I am certain that business, not taxes or regulations, builds an economy, I am aware that government waste and missteps distress residents, impair business and deter job-offering employers. So I today pledge to you these things for which I will be fully accountable:
"I will strive to get the county's fingers out of Jackson Health System to resuscitate this vital resource. The only road to saving our public hospital is to run it like a business.
"Not only will we not raise taxes in these difficult times, but my budget to commissioners to begin Oct. 1 will offer a 2% tax rate cut. Coupled with a 3%-plus decline in property value this means a 5% property tax revenue falloff. We can achieve this by rooting out waste and instilling efficiency. We will cut spending but not services.
"I will begin that process by making sure that the extra $2.9 million commissioners are quietly slipping into their own budgets today will instead be saved for next year. There is no call to spend more just because cash is there.
"I won't pick on commissioners alone. I'm starting in my own office, trimming the mayor's office budget 20% — including all salaries. I will set a leadership example and reduce the mayor's salary 25% throughout my term. And no expensive lease car, either.
"I know you are worried about management. Rest easy. I am retaining Alina Hudak, a professional county manager, and giving her full authority over staffing. I won't play politics as usual there, so don't ask for a job for your sister-in-law or your uncle even if you donated to my campaign.
"You cannot trust county hall as long as we horsetrade contracts. I cannot myself change the charter, but I will lead the charge to bar elected officials, myself included, from touching contracts. County professionals, not elected officials, must award contracts.
"We need more change. We don't legislate well for the county as a whole. Given that, I aim to elect all commissioners at large. In this era, there is no argument that minorities cannot win seats at large when we are a majority minority county. At-large vision is vital. Help me with this reform.
"We need other change. We pay commissioners $6,000 and expect quality candidates. Few of you would do that heavy lifting for $6,000, and you shouldn't expect others to, either. Let's fix that. It's unfair. This is a case where more spending is justified. The county wastes more daily than it would cost to repair this.
"To make such vital changes rapidly, we need a charter commission. I can't engineer that myself — it's in the commission's power — so I ask your help. You in this room are campaign contributors. Please tie contributions to better government. Charter reforms are key to that.
"I understand well that what insiders call county money is actually your money, not ours. We are simply your trustees to use it wisely. I will exercise every power of my office, including veto power, to do that. And I'll be talking publicly to you, and all residents, whenever I need help to make that happen.
"Finally, I see my role as not merely oversight but vocal leadership to improve this county and to roadblock all that's harmful. Under the harm category falls expanded gambling. That's Tallahassee's province, so I ask you to join me in making legislators fully aware that they must not allow more gambling incursions.
"I truly want to hear your concerns. If I don't, I can't help. Please call on me. Business and government must be partners. Let's build a better community together, not separately."
That's the transcript of the mayor's speech exactly as it was not delivered to the chamber on Friday. But we expect to hear its echo soon from our elected mayor.
You read it here first.
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