Miami’s city hall needs team players, not grandstanders
Big-money deals seldom get finished in Miami because almost every city commissioner wants to play his own game by his own rules and end up as the star.
Right or wrong, almost nobody lets a matter rest if he isn’t the “winner.” The more money and better the real estate involved, the more heated the battles and the less final the result.
That doesn’t imply that commissioners have anything involved other than their perception of the public good. We’re not talking corruption, we’re talking about the basic ability to get the job of governance done democratically.
Remember, in democracy the majority is supposed to rule, whether it’s the majority of voters who elected officials or the majority of elected officials voting on a project.
Yet look at city issues present and past, like choosing a Virginia Key Marina operator, building a city administration building, finding a path to survival for the city-owned Olympia Building and its Gusman theater, and maximizing value from a city-owned riverfront site downtown that’s used by the Hyatt hotel and adjacent James L. Knight Center. Even when a deal seems final, commissioners find a reason to start over.
It’s true nothing is ever final, but Miami seldom reaches even temporary solutions.
It’s also true that vacillation isn’t always bad. Thinking time is useful. But Miami seems to have more do-overs than anyone. Regular readers of this newspaper can track the ugly battles that cause those reversals.
Is there a reason the city seems dysfunctional on deals?
Of course, Miami has special interests. And sure, commissioners don’t always love one another like brothers. But that’s not unique among governments.
What seems to cause Miami’s inability to make “final” decisions on big-money issues is that the commission seldom plays elected governance like a team sport. Most commissioners seem to see issues as revolving around themselves as the stars rather than as being community efforts that an elected team must together decide upon.
In Miami-Dade County, on the other hand, commissioners frequently defer to others who may care more or be closer to an issue. Special interests are common, and county commissioners don’t often love one another. But those commissioners seem to respect each other and abide by majority rule. They play like a team, knowing that on another day for another issue they will need the support of fellow commissioners. So they take a personal loss in a majority-rules vote for the team.
In the city, on the other hand, too many issues are met with the perception that the battle is the overriding, all-important contest rather than one move in the total game of governance.
I have no ax to grind on the marina lease or the deal with Adler to provide an administration building, two big items now on the table at city hall. Either might be good or bad. The concept of marina is not bad, nor is a new administration building, nor is restoring and revitalizing the Gusman – though the final deals may wind up being good or bad.
Nor are commissioners necessarily good guys or bad guys. My concern is that they don’t play well together. Frictions too often get in the way.
Most important, few of the five commissioners seem to accept a ground rule that a majority wins. That doesn’t make the majority right, but it is the majority, and whoever or whatever gets the most votes wins. That’s playing like a team, not like five fiefdoms.
Granted, the city commission is more functional than our federal government – but we can do far better than just be ahead of Washington, which seems to run by the dictum that it’s never over until “I win.”
Of course, commissioners change at election time, and new folks have new ideas, presumably including ideas about big city projects that are always looming. They might even be better ideas.
But our elected team in charge now needs to play together and work together. I would far rather see commissioners unite on major issues even when I think they’re wrong than see them forever battle internally, though I might favor the outcomes. They need to play together, not as contenting warriors.
That requires looking to the heart and deciding that majority must rule, even if we don’t like the outcome. Dictatorship is more efficient. Everyone playing his own independent game is more self-indulgent. But in a democracy, elected government is a team sport.
In baseball, players sacrifice for the good of the team winning games, knowing that some time in the future someone will do the sacrificing for them. We don’t need a bunch of elected individual stars seeking only individual glory; our elected team must work together and let the majority rule.
When you go to the polls, look for folks who play well with others. Team players accomplish; they even finish projects.
To be functional, Miami government has to be a team sport.