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Front Page » Opinion » Ideas So Headsmacking Good That We Shouldnt Miss Them

Ideas So Headsmacking Good That We Shouldnt Miss Them

Written by on August 21, 2008

Sometimes an innovation seems so obvious when it’s unveiled that you smack your forehead and exclaim, "Wow, why didn’t anyone think of that before?"

A tip of the hat and two of those head smacks go to a pair of Miami-Dade commissioners who have just suggested easy ways to save money and improve county services.

Both ideas are so obviously correct that they should have been apparent to all long, long ago. There, right under all our noses, were problems festering and remedies right at hand. But nobody put ’em together before.

Problem One: Some county contractors do shoddy work over and over, leaving behind a trail of complaints and violations. Yet the county keeps handing them more contracts.

Solution One: Hire someone else. Don’t let the bad apples in.

In business, this would have been the obvious solution the first time a contractor failed, unless it was the chairman’s uncle.

But in government, as Commissioner Sally Heyman noted, department leaders last month were asking commissioners to OK a $4.5 million contract with a firm that had been indirectly involved in bribing a county employee, had been cited for violating small business development requirements and had been rated as less than satisfactory on four of 14 county contracts.

The administration’s comeback: Yes, but they were the lowest bidder.

So no matter how bad you are, how often you fail, how many violations you have, all you have to do is bid low to keep on getting county contracts you can then screw up again.

That echoes a plaque that hung behind my father’s desk for years: "There never was a product made, this truth I must confess, but what some guy could make it worse, and sell his stuff for less."

"Why are we allowing these people to bid?" Commissioner Heyman told us. "They should be restricted."

An even more egregious example: another would-be contractor had been cited for three county violations and is suing the county in challenge. The county had rated performance of all three of the company’s past contracts less than satisfactory.

But, again, despite a county policy of not awarding contracts to companies involved in open violations or lawsuits with the county, the administration recommended the company because it was the low bidder.

Right now, that contract is moving ahead for full commission approval.

Ms. Heyman’s quite obvious solution that should have become formal county policy yesterday or the decade before: "If it (the policy) is "don’t do business with them,’ then they shouldn’t be able to apply."

On, now, to Problem Two: Even in areas where no more roads can be built because the areas are built out, developers must pay impact fees to the county to improve roadways. Illogical at best.

And head-smacking Solution Two: Use the fees in those areas for the transportation solution that’s really needed, which is more mass transit to pull traffic off the roads.

"If you can’t add capacity to the streets, then you need to add capacity to transit," said Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who unveiled this logical answer to an illogical problem this month.

It’s a solution now desperately needed, because the county’s transit operation is facing a $9.4 billion shortfall over the next 30 years — a crunch that’s going to keep the county, despite any administration protestations, from adding even a bicycle rack, much less real mass transit.

The danger to this fine idea, of course, is that administrators might grab new impact fee money intended to add transit and sidetrack it to fill the funding gap in current operations. Think here People’s Transportation Plan surtax receipts, all intended to add new transit but the majority of which have been drained to fund existing operations instead.

Mr. Gimenez seeks to prevent such a bait and switch and make sure road impact fees add to the ability of people to get around in the areas where they are collected.

The next stop for this thoughtful idea worthy of business backing is a Sept. 9 commission meeting. Developers are saying they don’t know enough to weigh in. They should learn before Sept. 9 and support productive innovation.

It isn’t often that two head-smacking-good ideas surface within a month — especially not in government. Maybe it’s the start of a trend.

Hopefully, it will be obvious to more commissioners than Ms. Heyman and Mr. Gimenez.

That, too, would rate a head-smacking "Wow." Advertisement