Sick city hall needs to prove it’s acting for public’s benefit
Coronavirus is crippling China. Miami suffers from its own contagious virus, spreading rapidly at city hall. In both cases, cause and cure are elusive.
You can gauge city hall’s health by the two final items on next Monday’s commission agenda.
From Commissioner Joe Carollo: “A discussion regarding the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on the personal security of Francis Suarez.”
From Mayor Francis Suarez: “A discussion regarding the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on the legal costs for representing Commissioner Joe Carollo.”
Tit for tat, slap for slap, insult for insult. The bad blood gets worse and worse. Anything you can do I can be nastier.
It’s not just the decades-old Suarez-Carollo family feud. The other four commissioners could keep order, but they’re getting sucked into the enmity, turning the spotlight from needed city business to needless warfare and insults.
No fewer than 10 items on Monday’s agenda are power plays among officials.
True, one is vital – but only because of city hall’s virus. Mayor Suarez plans to name a city manager at the pay and benefit levels of Emilio González, who left last week under the heat of the virus fever; his deputy had already fled the toxicity to become a manager in Broward County. So someone must be appointed.
That new manager will be – drum roll, please – Manager X. The atmosphere is so toxic that though the appointment would take effect Feb. 18, the jobholder was a mystery as of early Saturday.
The manager gets the job only with commission approval, and no one Mr. Suarez names is likely to get a 5-0 OK. Any void at the top could make city government far sicker.
Also on the virus agenda Monday:
■Mr. Carollo seeks to amend the mayor’s pay to a figure to be determined. You can be sure it won’t be a raise. The item would also deny Mr. Suarez any other compensation or benefits from anywhere without commission approval – and Mr. Suarez is a private practice attorney, as are mayors of several other Miami-Dade cities.
■In that regard, Mr. Carollo asks too for talks on the mayor’s outside employment.
■Mr. Carollo also seeks “discussion regarding the code compliance task force,” an issue as he uses code enforcement against political foes. The former city manager was targeted on a code issue.
Spreading battles engulf other commissioners too.
■Newcomer Alex Diaz de la Portilla wants to limit recall efforts targeting elected officials to one apiece yearly. His agenda item says the recall tool could be abused, lead to special elections and cost the city unfunded amounts. A current recall effort targets Mr. Carollo.
That speaks volumes about Miami’s political climate: do you know of two recall efforts against any elected official anywhere in a single year? Yet at least one commissioner sees need to insulate against repeated efforts here.
■Mr. Diaz de la Portilla has also scheduled “a discussion regarding the city manager,” a post that is a mayoral appointment. So another battle brews: do they talk first or vote first on Mr. Suarez’s appointee?
■Mr. Diaz de la Portilla also asks to talk “regarding the consolidation of the Community Redevelopment Agencies” – not “a consolidation” but “the consolidation” of agencies that are under both county and state as well as city controls. Mr. Diaz de la Portilla wants to add his Allapattah community to the mix.
■Mr. Diaz de la Portilla seeks to discuss the Downtown Development Authority, which has been a target for being vocal about what is good or bad for downtown and for decades has actively tried to improve the area that funds it from a special tax – a role that does not wait for the commission to call the shots. The authority now is under its third chief executive in seven weeks and plans a search for number four.
Many of these topics could be logical in healthy times. Today, they’re almost certain to spread contentiousness to the detriment of legitimate city business – of 490 pages on Monday’s agenda, more than 450 deal with city concerns that the 10 flashpoints will shortchange.
Where’s the adult supervision?
Blame who you want for city strife. There’s enough blame for all.
The question, however, is not who’s at fault but how to make city hall function healthily. The leaders are infecting each other and the whole government.
Any of these elected officials could thrive in the right environment. But collectively they’re spreading city hall virus.
Remember the tale of the bucket of crabs? Whoever caught them didn’t need to cover the bucket, because while any crab alone could climb out to freedom, when there’s a bunch of them the ones below pull escaping crabs back down with them and none ever gets free.
Welcome to the city hall bucket. They don’t get where they need to go. No matter how smart they are, they pull each other down, and the city along with them.
We elected these six men. All have the right to do what they’re doing. But it’s all wrong for the city and for democracy.
If powers like Russia wanted to sabotage us, all they’d have to do is orchestrate this kind of governance everywhere. We’d rot from the inside and democracy would lose without a shot being fired.
There is no easy solution. Still, these six men can halt the spread of the virus: just call time out.
Put public good first. None of those bitter discussions is vital Monday. Just OK a city manager – not just if you want to but because you have to – and attend to the other 450 pages of pending city business.
None of you ran for office to infect a city. All six of you told voters you ran to help city residents, not win political points. Prove it.