County needs to take ownership and leadership in recovery
When Hurricane Andrew slammed Miami-Dade, business took the lead, formed a task force and began economic recovery instantly. When Covid-19 hammered us, county commissioners, not business, created the recovery team and after six months they haven’t even reviewed its ideas.
That has led to zero action on more than 20 concepts that the 22-member volunteer task force produced in committees that met at least weekly for months – after it took several months to even appoint the team.
Reports by those business and civic leaders that finally went to the county commission last month drew no formal response. When commissioners then met, they spoke of their own ideas instead. Commissioner Rebeca Sosa told the volunteers they should have put a price tag on every suggestion and told commissioners where to get the money. Silly us – we thought commissioners, not volunteers, watch the money.
But this is not an academic exercise or a rug to sweep things under: just like after Hurricane Andrew, people are out of jobs, small businesses are failing, and a vast swath of the county is fighting to stay afloat. Patchwork remedies aid individuals and businesses, but nothing stitches them together the way the business volunteers did after Andrew. As we wrote in April in this column:
“That’s why locally we need a fullblown recovery team, the equivalent of the We Will Rebuild team after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 that helped Miami-Dade get back to normal over several years. That will take powerful leaders with vision to step forward. We await that team.
“It will take a holistic economic outlook, with business leading the charge. Every local government now seems to have a team, and civic groups have internal efforts. All will help. We thank you. But without a task force run by the top of the business and civic community, efforts will remain fragmented.”
Unfortunately, because our team is not independent but was named by the county commission, it can only recommend, not act. Those ideas so far have had the same impact as our April suggestion: exactly zero.
The guise of county government in charge has delayed a unified attack on our economic slide. How can the county be in charge if it doesn’t even address the issues, much less act?
Listen to Commissioner Joe Martinez, who in April sponsored legislation to create the task force to lead the charge. After the commission virtually ignored task force recommendations, he fumed:
“I don’t think people realize how bad this is going to get. The worst is nowhere near us yet. We might look at 40% of small businesses closing, and those people are busting their butts, not getting paid. It merits discussion.”
He’s right, and it merits far more: action, unified and rapid, with the county paying attention to what is happening. Huge numbers of businesses are downsizing fast. Others are closing. And they won’t come back just because an elected official says it’s all OK, as Gov. Ron DeSantis did Friday, telling us we can handle extra Covid-19 cases. He told restaurateurs and bar owners to go back to business as usual right now even as the state already adds about 2,800 new virus cases daily.
“If we see an increase, we’re not closing anything going forward,” he said. “But I think if you look at our hospital capacity, if you look at what we did to marshal the latest medications, if you look at what we’ve done to help with all the [personal protection equipment] and the testing and everything, you know, we have the tools in place that we need.”
How reassuring is it to be told that we can forget all about the pandemic, go back to business as usual, and hospital beds and medicine await us? Just how stupid do Floridians look?
Ignoring the issue, as the county and the governor just did, doesn’t answer anything. It’s just throwing hands in the air and saying “Whatever.”
County commissioners have disrespected 22 volunteers who gave months of effort only to be ignored. As a result, Mr. Martinez said he will seek action on every one of their suggestions because the commission didn’t even have the decency to try to figure out which ideas might actually work.
But worse than disrespect of those volunteers is the thought that the county, having said it would lead in unifying response to an economic crisis, won’t even look at doing the job when it’s offered a game plan. You’d think at least Daniella Levine Cava and Esteban Bovo Jr., who are running for mayor, would try to wrangle the other 11 commissioners and steer an economic recovery focused squarely on the small business environment.
Just saying “Whatever” solves exactly nothing.
Commissioners – even those of you about to leave office – look at the economic train wreck that’s bearing down on us. We’ve already lost six months of recovery time. Now a task force has handed you potential mitigations. Won’t you at least pick the best ones and get them going today?