So you want to run for public office? Here’s a dose of reality
Boy, if I got elected I’d change things.
I’d pass laws to aid the environment. I’d get affordable housing for all. We’d have transit that would get us around town. I’d put sea level rise on the front burner.
One other thing: I’d sure cut red tape that keeps government from doing anything useful.
Does all that sound familiar? Have you ever dreamed of elected service to improve things? Let’s hope so, because we need active folks to keep seeking local office for the right reasons.
Unfortunately, while serving may be their aim, it’s hard for officeholders to get to the substance of issues that really propel a community. Whether it’s red tape or malevolent witchcraft, barriers abound between the best of intentions and what officials wind up spending their time doing.
I’m not talking about constant fundraising and currying voters’ favor for the next election nor the need to horsetrade to get votes for legislation. Those are barriers enough to success, eroding the energy of the best of officeholders, but they’re well known.
Less recognized is the day-to-day flotsam and jetsam that flows into legislative inboxes and clogs up the machinery that could create vital change.
Prime examples are three items detailed in this edition of Miami Today. None is earthshaking – we wish they were. All absorb energies of commissioners who might otherwise be tackling the biggest local issues.
For example, Miami commissioners last week set out to look at zoning for a private preschool in Buena Vista. The issue is real, though in a city of Miami’s size it shouldn’t rise to the level of a city commission vote when administrators and boards could do the job.
Fortunately, it didn’t rise to a commission vote – but only because the commission spent the better part of an hour debating whether it could talk about zoning at all in its first meeting of the month when it has always done so in the second meeting of each month.
That led to debate on whether it would be a code violation to ever vote on zoning in the first meeting of a month and the admission that – gasp! – the city has done so in the past. That left potential for everyone who has ever lost a zoning vote in the first monthly meeting to seek a new hearing or even reparation – nobody said it, but they’d have to be thinking it.
In the end, commissioners talked about amending code so that they can discuss zoning anytime – but clearly they can’t amend to cover what they might have done in violating it in the past. Talk about red tape!
Now, case two: after long debate, Miami-Dade commissioners deferred the mayor’s request to find two firms to share in awarding concessions at Miami International Airport.
Again, concession contracts shouldn’t rise to the level of county commission decisions when airport administrators should do the job. Unfortunately, for decades administrators frequently haven’t been allowed to do their job because commissioners stepped in.
Would-be airport shopkeepers and restaurateurs have for years asked commissioners to override administrators and get a contract, or get it improved. And they’ve always had a very effective tool to do so – their campaign contributions.
“We’re been doing concessions at the airport by campaign contributions for a long, long time, and I think we need to start drawing a line,” Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr. correctly observed.
That line was not drawn this month. Other commissioners worried aloud about creating a new way to handle concessions. They want a study, which is government-speak for a roadblock. Where would they be without those contributions?
In case three, county commissioners rightly are asking the mayor to keep them in the loop when big problems arise, with the unspoken fear that they’ll learn about something in the press before they get a memo. Nobody wants that kind of surprise.
This isn’t the first time the commission has asked a mayor for early warning. It passed such legislation in 2007 and again in 2011. As a commissioner, current Mayor Carlos Giménez voted for it. Now commissioners are asking again.
The point is spot on: warn us.
Unfortunately, in an effort to not miss anything, the legislation is so broad that every 60 days it would require “a timely and detailed discussion of every contract, grant, project, program, initiative, county department or other entity created and/or funded, in whole or in part, by the county, which appears to be at risk” and then goes on to demand more details and full solutions.
That’s every two months. And this is a very big county, larger than dozens of nations. How many tax-funded staffers would it take to do that?
Wouldn’t it be smarter to just ask the mayor to “tell us early about big stuff we need to know”? Or isn’t that governmental enough?
So commissioners create more and more red tape. They seek studies to avoid decisions, and code changes to avoid liabilities, and reports every 60 days – you’d be amazed how many regular reports the mayor’s office must issue yearly based on standing commission orders that are never voided.
Not one of these actions deals with substance, however important or trivial the issue might be. Each revolves around procedures, none around getting things done.
You’ve really, really got to want to serve the public in elected office to get through this red tape. The worst part is that you and your commission colleagues would be wrapping more red tape around everything all the time.
As political cartoon character Pogo observed decades ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Some things never change.