Miamidades Civic Outlook Suddenly Finds A Sunny Patch
Written by Michael Lewis on April 21, 2011
By Michael Lewis
The last move Carlos Alvarez made as Miami-Dade mayor was his best, ousting manager George Burgess and installing a subordinate who eclipses him.
Wisely, Alina Hudak is outshining Mr. Burgess by carefully avoiding any effort to do so.
As our profile on pages 4 and 5 reveals, Ms. Hudak knows her place in the firmament and aims to excel within that space, which is administration, rather than follow the Burgess pattern of making policy.
The new manager stepped onto the vital but pitfall-strewn path of heading a strong mayor government that lacks a mayor aware that she’s a stopgap, here to hold the place together. And she does.
In her weeks in office, she’s thoughtfully followed the road of neutral administrator aiming to serve the public and county, not to advance personal aims or outside special interests or anyone’s political aspirations.
We judge her on her actions and those she’s rightly avoided, plus her words detailing what she’s striving to do. Note those words carefully in the profile.
Her view of the manager’s role is textbook municipal administration, not local politics as usual. That’s exactly what Miami-Dade County needs.
We’re in turmoil. An angry public just ejected a mayor and a commissioner by 88% margins. The manager’s job is to disappear next year due to an earlier referendum on Mr. Burgess’s performance. More recall sharks swim menacingly around other commissioners.
We desperately needed someone who plays by the book.
We’ll never know whether Mr. Alvarez picked Ms. Hudak for that reason, or out of desperation, or frustration with Mr. Burgess, or whatever.
But in his final days, a mayor whose missteps included spending $3 billion on a ballpark, raising insiders’ pay while making broad county cuts and pushing through a 14% tax hike in a recession wisely named a professional manager.
Ms. Hudak’s performance is not only vital to hold together a leaderless regime in peril, it’s also a key audition for the job she holds, county manager. Do it right and voters in a May 24 election might dispense with the strong mayor format that thrusts a mayor into two roles: popular leader and neutral administrator.
We do need both roles played well, but by separate actors on the public stage.
The mayor should be the star who envisions a future and energizes us to applaud his lead.
The manager plays a far different role, dispassionate administrator who follows a path a mayor and commission set, executing both executive and the legislative orders so that the county functions well even in disputes, and showing no favoritism.
Ms. Hudak seems perfectly rehearsed to play that role. The county, she says, is her life — but her highest priority is a family where in free time she’s a soccer mom. She has balance: she knows her priorities.
After 27 years at county hall, she also knows the territory and the players. To save money, she’s slashing jobs that support a mayor who doesn’t exist, and her experience helps her decide who can stay and who must go.
She doesn’t seek rapid change. She’s focused on nuts and bolts, most importantly to keep functions smooth while crafting a budget that must trim about $250 million to match declining income.
It’s a budget she probably won’t administer. Ms. Hudak is candid that a new mayor will probably want his own person. Even if chosen, she’s not certain she’d want the job unless she and the mayor are in synch. That’s smart.
Based on what Ms. Hudak has shown, however, it would also be smart for any mayor to look to her before hiring someone new. She offers knowledge, continuity, stability and — most important — the view of manager as neutral chief administrator rather than mayor’s henchman.
Mr. Burgess was quite able with numbers. But as manager he morphed into an activist who used the numbers to play his own games — good or bad — rather than the public’s.
We can’t speak to Ms. Hudak’s ability or knowledge, though insiders call both topflight. But her value is clearly far beyond just being the county’s first female manager.
Ms. Hudak is an anti-Burgess, and today that’s what this county needs: a professional public administrator, not a political player.
Whoever becomes mayor or the next manager, Ms. Hudak is positioned today to become the prototype for Miami-Dade’s future administrator.