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Front Page » Top Stories » Gtmayoral Authority Plan Gets Mixed Reviews In Commission

Gtmayoral Authority Plan Gets Mixed Reviews In Commission

Written by on June 1, 2000

By Sebastian del Marmol
A plan by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas for an independent authority to operate Miami International Airport is poised to create a rift in the county commission, with numerous commissioners already weighing in on the plan.

As drafted, the mayor would create a five-member Aviation Authority to function as a corporate board of directors. The authority would appoint an aviation director who would control the airport’s billion-dollar budget.

Three authority members would be chosen by the commission and one each by the mayor and governor, according to the Penelas plan. All members would be selected from a list compiled by a nominating committee of representatives for local business organizations.

Although facets of the plan appear to have been included to appease commissioners, many of whom are leery of losing more power, there is concern about the intent and potential effectiveness of the plan.

Commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who will probably be Mr. Penelas’ primary challenger in this year’s mayoral election, blasted the plan, saying that instead of fixing what was wrong with the airport it would institutionalize the shortcomings of the current system.

Mr. Diaz de la Portilla said he has long criticized operations at the airport for allowing political cronyism in decision-making.

"The current system has been very good to Mr. Penelas and his cronies. Now they want to institutionalize it to make sure it will continue to be very good for them and very bad for the people of the county," Mr. Diaz de la Portilla said.

Although he said the status quo must change at the airport and that an independent authority may be the best solution, he said the mayor’s plan is not the answer.

"In general the concept of an authority is viable, but it depends on the specifics," he said.

Mr. Diaz de la Portilla said the method of selecting authority members would not insulate them from the meddling of politicians.

Although the mayor convened a special blue ribbon committee to look at airport governance issues last year, he ignored one of its major recommendations in drafting his plan. The committee sought to put most authority selections under the control of the governor.

Although Mr. Penelas said his plan would model management of the airport after systems at a highly rated business, he said the plan might need work.

"My suggested governance structure is a work in progress," he said. "I look forward to the input and recommendations from my colleagues on the commission."

The mayor is likely to count on the support of Commission Chair Gwen Margolis. Ms. Margolis had previously considered her own authority ordinance but chose instead to ask commissioners to pass a resolution calling for a countywide vote to determine governance of the airport.

Ms. Margolis deferred a vote on her resolution last week in deference to the mayor’s proposal.

A spokesperson for Ms. Margolis, who was out of town, said the resolution along with the mayor’s ordinance will be discussed at a June 13 commission workshop.

Although other commissioners have not yet voiced opinions on the mayor’s plan, many have already taken a stance on the authority issue.

Barbara Carey-Shuler sponsored an ordinance creating another kind of airport authority — one that did not have budgetary powers — earlier this year but has been otherwise against an independent authority.

Despite the failure of the previous airport authority ordinance, Jimmy Morales said he supports creating an independent body to run the airport.

"It makes sense to have the issue go to a referendum before the commission. That way you prevent argument on the specifics of the authority until its creation is assured," Mr. Morales said.

Mr. Diaz de la Portilla disagreed.

"I felt that was one of the problems with" the resolution sponsored by Ms. Margolis, he said. "It has no specifics. If you allow a proposal to go forward that way, you’ll let cronies write it the way they want."