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Front Page » Opinion » Miamidade County Hall Cure Starts With Mayor Ends In Broad Reform

Miamidade County Hall Cure Starts With Mayor Ends In Broad Reform

Written by on March 10, 2011

By Michael Lewis
Exactly a month ago we lamented that by using county aides during working hours to battle recall, Mayor Carlos Alvarez was cementing the case of those trying to oust him.

It was, we noted, unabashed conflict of interest or worse.

Since then, Mr. Alvarez proved the case for recall beyond redemption as a dozen county bus drivers were sent to aid him while taxpayers paid both them and their substitutes behind the wheel.

That’s the last straw. There is no coming back. A politician so insensitive to limits of legitimate power has no right to office.

His departure after Tuesday’s election will disrupt functions until another election replaces him, but for good cause. Partisan use of publicly paid time is unjustifiable.

We say that having opposed recall to punish those who push what most see as ghastly policies, as the mayor did in spending $3 billion for a stadium during painful recession and then raising tax rates in double digits, placing bureaucrats ahead of taxpayers.

The parallel would be to hold an election to recall a president whenever, for example, he overspent on an economic stimulus that stimulated little or pushed to raise taxes during a bad economy. Such policy choices have been made before and will be again. But a president serves his term, then fights for reelection as scheduled.

It’s only when a president abuses power far beyond legitimate bounds — think Watergate — that impeachment is legitimate. And so it should be with governance at all levels, including Miami-Dade County.

Well, Mayor Alvarez has repeatedly crossed that line. And Tuesday’s watershed vote will decide his fate. The outcome is little in doubt.

No need to detail huge raises to loyalists while cutting jobs and ballooning taxes, or use of those insiders in his recall efforts, or now use of bus drivers as he wheels and deals. Details will blur in memory as the county moves forward after next week.

Sadly, left at the wheel will be George Burgess, who easily morphed from impartial county manager to mayoral henchman with his own agenda. After a mayoral ouster this career unelected official will run the county with no control by elected officials. He will run his own asylum.

If only to put voters back in charge, commissioners need to call an immediate election.

An early election would also fill one or more commission seats. Carlos Gimenez will run for mayor and others may too. They must resign to run.

Then there’s the seat of Natacha Seijas, the most powerful commissioner, who faces her own recall Tuesday following her votes to raise taxes and build that baseball stadium.

Despite her iron grip at county hall, you almost have to feel sorry for her plight on a two-item ballot just below recall of a mayor whose power justly eroded. Voters in a "No" mood will go right from the mayor to Ms. Seijas.

So last week she cranked up her own machine, firing out a press release denouncing the mayor’s personal use of county employees as "an insult to the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County."

And while past statements on her own recall battle have come as county news releases through county employees on county time, she was swift enough to issue this shocked-and-appalled message under her own heading.

While commissioners worked hard last week to distance themselves from the mayor’s latest conflict of interest, his friends linger as a vote nears. The Florida Marlins sent a big stadium thank-you with anti-recall funds, and the police union whose healthy raises he saved in the budget battle did too.

But that’s unlikely to be enough. Desperation to retain office is no valid excuse for detouring bus drivers to the campaign.

Saying goodbye is hard to do, so we’ll do it before the vote, an election we never favored. But the mayor has validated forced change.

Looking past fill-in elections, aim for early, totally independent charter review putting recommendations on the ballot without commission tampering.

No matter how Tuesday’s votes end up, Miami-Dade faces unavoidable short-term pain. But new charter rules could trigger major long-term upgrades in how this county operates.

It’s hard to claim that an ouster of Carlos Alvarez will mandate charter reform too. But if we don’t get both, changing who sits in the mayor’s chair will only put a Band-Aid over a festering sore.

Mr. Alvarez is a symptom of illness, not the malady. Fix the symptoms, then bring the patient back to health via broad charter reform.

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