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Front Page » Opinion » Handful Of Voters Can Create Better Future For Miamidade

Handful Of Voters Can Create Better Future For Miamidade

Written by on May 5, 2011

By Michael Lewis
Voting that begins at 7 a.m. Monday can vastly alter how Miami-Dade government serves us — or fails to serve.

By now, voters have received sample ballots and the chance to study pivotal choices. A pitifully small number will make those choices at the polls by May 24.

Ballot opportunities fit into two categories: a short-term mayoral election (and, in two districts, commission election) and a much longer-run impact via six charter changes.

The mayoral vote has, predictably, sparked far less enthusiasm than the special election that ousted the last mayor. Voters were fired up about what Mayor Carlos Alvarez did but show no burning passions about a successor.

We may well learn to our sorrow that it’s not enough to oust a weak incumbent if we don’t find a better choice.

Finding the best person may be hard: I defy anyone to name all 11 candidates without cheating. Many are unknowns, and one solid candidate is running on a pledge to be a caretaker until the next election in 18 months.

Whoever wins is a short-timer until then. But a trigger-happy winner can do rapid-fire damage just by replacing with friends the manager and top officials. The mayor can do all that alone unless a charter change on the ballot passes to safeguard against wholesale slaughter.

Any new mayor, good or bad, must add a transit director to replace Harpal Kapoor, who just quit after a freeze on federal transit cash that’s the county’s own fault.

There’ll be plenty of finger-pointing of blame, because Mr. Kapoor’s earlier-ousted predecessor, Roosevelt Bradley, is number two on the ballot among the 11 candidates.

The spotty (to put it kindly) candidate list spotlights a need to pass the amendment to end a systemic abomination that allows a power-hungry winner — and candidates for mayor seek power — to personally oust the manager and every department head and plug in whomever.

Say what you will about Carlos Alvarez, at least he never tried to play strong mayor once he got us to create a strong mayor job for him. We won’t be that lucky twice.

A vital return to a professional manager is just one plus for changes on the ballot, all of which offer long-term benefit and merit OKs. Perfect they’re not. Some have major flaws. But all offer improvement.

Plus, an amendment to review the charter every four years will get us do-overs on everything. We’ll want to upgrade some short-term fixes.

But if we await perfection and don’t pass them now, commissioners will never again allow such upgrades. They’ve long opposed vital change, blocking public votes. Today they fear voter anger they might never again face.

It’s a case of now or never. It should be now.

Given, we can nitpick these upgrades on grounds ranging from philosophical to practical to technical.

In the technical realm, the vote to mandate charter reviews varies from English to Spanish version (I can’t speak to the Creole).

In English, the measure would in part "prohibit elected County Charter Officer from serving as member of the task force….’ In Spanish, its elected officers — plural, not singular — rightly barring both mayor and commissioners. In English, who is that lone officer, anyway? Just the mayor?

In a practical realm, a member of a former charter review questions whether courts will overturn a single vote to make each commission job full time with no outside jobs; raise pay to match state levels from our unconscionable $6,000; and limit office to three four-year terms. Can the issues be joined? The courts might rule.

Under philosophical questions, are term limits good? Our legislature’s quality fell after we voted in term limits. Is it better for formal limits to bounce out good and bad officials equally or let voters keep the best longer?

Questions abound, about both amendments and mayoral choices. Intelligent voters think them through. Others jerk knees when they’re hammered by political spin doctors.

Whomever you favor for mayor in the short term, however, a long-term view of the county’s future implies approving all the amendments.

Do so and a review team next year can tweak them and give you a better choice. If you don’t, commissioners may never permit such change again.

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