What’s the worst question in government: Where’s mine?
How election candidates view a job is vital: is it to serve the public or themselves? Some winners think they won not just a seat at the table but a share of what crosses the table.
When Marlins Stadium was on that table a decade ago, lobbyists huddled one by one with Miami-Dade County and City of Miami commissioners. It was ostensibly to answer questions, but it became a marketplace for something, maybe jobs in the area, maybe something more specific. We’ll never know – huddles weren’t public.
Occasionally, though, calls for a share of the pie become public. At a Miami City Commission meeting this month, Joe Carollo made his pitch for his slice of the goodies that the mayor now enjoys in travels via the Mayor’s International Council.
“I want to explore with a full commission to see if we can expand this to include the commission,” Commissioner Carollo successfully asked. “I know that a lot of people have enjoyed all these trips and all this stuff. I haven’t been invited to anything.”
Where’s mine? That’s what Mr. Carollo wants the commission to discuss next month. Others are traveling on the public’s dime. Where’s mine?
In Chicago, where Mr. Carollo spent early years, “Where’s mine?” has been heard among elected officials for so long that it’s been called the city’s motto. It means let’s split up the goodies.
It’s also why Chicago has long been considered among the nation’s most corrupt cities, one reason Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis just led a mission to try to lure some of its financial industry to Florida. Corruption isn’t conducive to good business.
That mission is a reason that trips by groups like the Mayor’s International Council can pay big dividends to the public, if done properly by the proper representatives.
So Mr. Carollo isn’t wrong in wanting commissioners available for recruitment trips. A mission to Chicago to recruit the financial industry – a project already in the works by Miami’s Downtown Development Authority – might well have included term-limited Commissioner Willy Gort, whose day job has included high-level finance and who could speak knowledgably to those in the field.
But most times, public travel by elected officials strongly resembles vacation junkets on the backs of taxpayers who pay for the travel or businesses strong-armed into paying for elected officials’ participation.
If an elected official’s expertise would be helpful on any government mission, nothing now precludes anyone from calling for that expertise. But splitting up the goodies is not a good reason to include anyone – it’s a bad idea. Playing political tag-along on business development missions makes a government look bad and is bad business.
As local executives for multi-national firms can attest, there’s a mile of difference between true business travel and pleasure trips. Business travelers often see the airport, the meeting room, the hotel room and darn little else. Globetrotting for business might make money, but it’s not usually fun. It’s usually exhausting.
There’s one other thing: officials are generally not elected for their business acumen and negotiating skills. We might be lucky enough to get needed expertise as in Mr. Gort’s case and a few others. But government structure shouldn’t be based on occasional luck. Business missions are not part of a commissioner’s job and shouldn’t be.
As for Where’s Mine, it has no good role in government anywhere at any time. There are reasons beside weather why a lot of us left Chicago. Where’s Mine government is one of them.