Hurry-up charter review faces daunting but vital challenge
By Michael Lewis
Congratulations to Miami-Dade commissioners on initiating a charter review, if only by a one-vote margin. Extra points to Sally Heyman for proposing the review.
Congratulations shouldn't be needed, since the charter requires review every five years and it's been five years since the last. Yet six commissioners voted against study of how the county's equivalent of a constitution is functioning.
That willingness to bypass the rules is evidence enough of need to broadly review the county's whole structure and how the pieces interrelate. No wonder citizen distrust runs rampant.
Among major issues is structure of the commission itself. While questions of pay and term limits abound, more fundamental is how commissioners are chosen and how many
When Miami-Dade had nine commissioners instead of 13 and elected all countywide, government functioned better. Whether that was due to commission structure, its members or other factors is for the taskforce to probe.
Other questions are also fundamental.
While Mayor Carlos Gimenez has ably served as both political leader
and county operational head, it's rare to find a good politician who also
has ability as a staff manager — Mr. Gimenez was once Miami city manager. Should we again separate the elected mayor from a professional manager?
Should we ban commission slush funds? Limit campaign spending? Strip commissioners of votes on contracts? Limit recall to specified causes to prevent political blackmail of officials?
In fact, should we alter the basis of government? Should municipalities gain power over issues within their borders and limit the county to area-wide matters?
This list just scratches the surface of what the review must dig into.
That's a tough task for a team that will have less than three months. Members won't be final until April 17 and their report is due July 17 so that recommendations can go on the November general election ballot.
Consider the grueling schedule: once the taskforce meets, hears experts, studies past charter initiatives by both taskforces and citizens, invites residents to testify, deliberates, decides, writes recommendations, asks the public to comment on the output at meetings in at least three areas of the county and crafts a final report, it's required to file it to be distributed before the July 17 commission meeting.
Bear in mind that all 20 members are to be volunteers with other jobs and other lives. A year's study would be appropriate.
Also vital is the team. Ideally, knowledgeable members would be named at arm's length to get thoughtful proposals apart from the desires of commissioners, who are the most partial of county residents when determining how to improve the government they now run.
Instead, we get a taskforce controlled by commission appointees — each commissioner names one, the mayor one and cities six.
The commission did ban one species: no lobbyists. It would have done better to rule out another: no commissioners or aides. The exclusion damningly
implies that lobbyists now control
But since commissioners have put themselves in the driver's seat, it's vital that they at least give a handpicked team room to roam. In the past, commissioners have exploded when their appointees in deliberations have voted their own consciences.
Unfortunately, puppets produce poor plans.
The measure that created the taskforce says the commission intends that anything that wins two-thirds taskforce approval go voters, with no veto as the commission did to most of the excellent output from its last charter review.
That's admirable if true — but it's intent, not a requirement. If we get tough taskforce proposals, we'll see whether the commission remains true to its hand-off intent, passed by a lone vote.
With a very tight timeline, too much commission control and history against it, the charter team faces a tough battle in its duty to broadly review the entire structure of government and recommend upgrades.
We'll learn in July whether it's up to the challenge.
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