Miami needs to patch up its commission mess on live TV
When Miamians elected five commissioners, we presumed they aimed to do their best for the city. We still believe that.
But they’re making it mighty hard for us to see that motivation.
At their meeting last week they bickered like five kids in a ballgame. When they didn’t get their ways about who got to bat first, they took their bat, ball and gloves and went home without playing.
They accomplished not one thing on a nearly 60-item agenda and left community members waiting for a turn to speak.
This city can’t afford to have childishness carry over to a special meeting Friday, when commissioners are to act on nine of those issues.
Under the best of circumstances, all five will individually consider how that behavior looks to the public and, even more important, what it means to the city’s operation. If they think carefully, they can and will do far better.
People can differ and still work together. Ask any brother and sister, or married couple, or group of department heads. It can be done – especially if everyone has the same goal for the group.
The main goal here is to run the city for the long-term benefit of residents. We still believe that all five commissioners would label that as their aim.
Despite appearances, we also believe that none of the five would say that it’s his aim merely to disrupt (we have no women on the commission; if we did, it might run better).
So, given common goals, why can’t these kids play better together? They all want to be in the ballgame but they won’t play if they can’t get their own way. So everybody loses, including those of us who depend on a mayor and commission to run Miami smoothly.
Instead, the majority insist on ousting a city manager of nationally proven administrative ability because he isn’t gentle with them when he umpires some of their games dealing with the use of city resources.
OK, nobody likes an umpire all the time and no umpire is right all the time. That’s a fact. It’s also possible that better umpires are around.
But jumping on the umpire’s reputation and trying to kick him out when he can’t defend himself (he was home with a sick wife when that happened in December) is something kids learn early in life is highly improper.
If you want to play the game, do it by the rules. You don’t hit somebody when he can’t defend himself.
Moreover, the manager was to talk to commissioners last week – it was on the agenda – and they walked out without letting him say a word. As adults, we allow those on trial – even in kangaroo courts – to defend themselves.
We’re not debating whether the manager should stay or go – city manager is often a short-term job. We’re not asking much, merely that commissioners do things the way school student councils do them.
It’s hard to say what each commissioner tried to do last week, but we bet all five would tell you privately that they made a collective mess. They let their egos get in the way of their brains, as kids sometimes do.
Unfortunately, this reverberates far beyond city boundaries.
Miami is global. When we do things right – like hosting a Super Bowl – the globe associates it with the entire region. And when a commission shuts down out of pique, the globe also sees it and associates it with the entire region.
The city, with fewer than 500,000 people, carries the banner for 6 million people nearby. And in this case they’ve sullied the reputation.
We can’t let that continue.
But the law that protects the public by requiring that all commission business be in the sunshine also prevents feuding commissioners from making up in private. If they’re going to end the childishness, they’ll have to do it in public view Friday.
And be certain of this: after last week’s fiasco, every TV station will be at the meeting. When things flow smoothly, Miami Today is the only news team at some government meetings; when all hell might break loose, everyone will be watching.
That means commissioners must stop pointing fingers: “Keon wouldn’t give me first turn at bat” won’t play well on television and is not an acceptable complaint, nor is “Emilio isn’t nice to me” or “Joe was nasty” or “Ken didn’t play fair” or whatever. The world would see it. That kids’ stuff has to end.
If we were scripting it, one commissioner would kick off Friday’s meeting by apologizing for not letting the public talk last week. Another would thank the public for coming back. One would even pledge to be civil through the entire meeting. It might be catching. And it’s good TV.
Those aren’t big tasks. They’re just what we’d tell our kids to do to get the ballgame going again. After all, we know commissioners all came to play the game, not to take the bats and balls and go home angry.
If we didn’t have Florida’s Sunshine law we could give them boxing gloves and tell them to duke it out in private, get a bloody nose and wind up friends.
As it is, they have to do it all in public, no gloves allowed.
Because if they can’t get this fixed, they’re going to end up looking as bad as Congress does right now. And all five are too adult to want that shame.