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Front Page » Opinion » Which should come first, their election or their education?

Which should come first, their election or their education?

Written by on September 1, 2015
Which should come first, their election or their education?

Maybe it has something to do with a Harvard degree.

At services Saturday for deceased Northern Trust Vice Chairman Bill Allen, we heard that he’d jested at a Harvard Business School reunion that while classmates had gone on to successful careers, he had become a NASCAR driver. It was typical of the veteran banking leader’s sense of humor.

Also last week, we learned that Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan Zapata ordered a county check to pay $30,961 for attending Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government this fall. Typical of his sense of humor, when his order leaked out he said he’d never intended that the county pay the full cost of his master of public administration.

It may be true. That check order, which he later cancelled, sure wouldn’t have paid the full cost. Harvard lists the mid-career master’s at $88,862 for the full year. The check wouldn’t even have covered the first semester.

That leaves Mr. Zapata among a select group of commissioners who haven’t yet been to Harvard – leaving the un-Harvarded ample excuse for not reading things like contracts for baseball stadiums that cost taxpayers billions.

Think about it: Mayor Carlos Gimenez went to a special Harvard program when he was a City of Miami firefighter, a program not paid by taxpayers. Former commissioner Katy Sorenson went to the same program. As commissioners they both voted against baseball stadium financing.

Then there’s Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who studied government and law at Harvard before he was elected, and Chairman Jean Monestime, who went to the same special Harvard program as Ms. Sorenson and Mayor Gimenez. Neither Mr. Suarez nor Mr. Monestime was on the commission when the stadium deal passed 9-4 – nor was soon-to-be Harvard educated Mr. Zapata.

When we argued a month ago that our commissioners, who get only $6,000 a year for what needs to be fulltime work, should get far more so that they can afford to read and digest legislation that could cost taxpayers millions unnecessarily, we now admit we should have taken into account the Harvard factor. More education seems to produce good results.

So maybe instead of paying our commissioners enough to fund food and shelter we could pay them in degrees – college degrees. Either that or elect commissioners who are already educated to do the job.

It’s no wonder that Mr. Zapata regularly asks Mayor Gimenez to make enough studies to fill a good-sized bookshelf – the mayor has been to Harvard and Mr. Zapata hasn’t yet.

The mid career special program for a master’s in public administration at Harvard could fill the bill for Mr. Zapata but it would burn a healthy hole in his office budget, which is the source he was tapping to fund his degree.

Harvard lists the tuition at $45,697, plus $8,040 for the mid career program, plus $428 for course materials, a $175 activity fee, a $310 health services fee, $1,042 for the student health fee and $2,390 for student health insurance, or $58,082 in direct fees to Harvard.

The check Mr. Zapata ordered was only about half that. So either he was paying only the first semester or he had negotiated away many costs, like the $3,742 total health fees. The county already pays Mr. Zapata’s health insurance, and surely he wouldn’t double-dip to pay his health insurance twice.

He did, of course, ask if the county could pay his travel. Harvard lists personal expenses and travel at an added $5,580, room and board at $23,380 and books and supplies at $1,820, bringing total program costs to $88,862. But surely Mr. Zapata would fly back and forth to county meetings and wouldn’t live in dorms, so taxpayers would have picked up some or all of those costs too.

With his sense of humor, we’re sure he could explain just what he planned.

As things stand, he says he might settle for a shorter course at Harvard for less than $13,000 cost to taxpayers – plus, of course, travel and lodging.

It’s costly, but cheaper than a $3 billion stadium.

But while Harvard looks great on a politician’s resume, we have pretty decent education available for county officials right here in Miami that would cost taxpayers less tuition and save a lot on travel and hotel rooms. Maybe the county could buy a package degree deal for all the commissioners.

Ask new University of Miami President Julio Frenk. He could tell you.

But then, Dr. Frenk has Harvard on his own resume – he just was dean of the Harvard school of public health.

On second thought, let’s just compensate our elected officials decently and let them pay for their own educations aboveboard. You can only stretch our sense of humor so far.

One Response to Which should come first, their election or their education?

  1. Peter Ehrlich

    September 6, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    As usual, Michael Lewis makes excellent points. Elected officials forced the taxpayers to pay over $3 Billion, including debt service, for the Marlins Stadium and Garages. Many smart Miamians read the contracts and pleaded with politicians to vote No. As we all know the vote was 9-4 at the County and 3-2 and 4-1 at the City to vote Yes. We need better educated elected officials.