Multiple County Maladies Will Linger After Charter Review
By Michael Lewis
A team exploring county ills is to report next week, having proposed a government facelift but leaving multiple maladies festering.
By Miami-Dade charter, the next probe isn’t due for five years — though only inertia or refusal to weigh major upgrades prevents the county commission from ordering a new look far sooner.
We’ve been detailing key recommendations of this county charter task force for several weeks. More are due this week.
Some of its proposals are welcome, none awful. The commission should put all — even those we reject — on the ballot unaltered to give citizens the final say, as is intended in charter reviews.
Next, the charter — sort of a county constitution — should get much deeper study very soon, far from commission influence. Commissioners this time appointed 13 of the 20-member team, chilling any dive into pressing issues that could best serve the public.
Issues unlikely to make the final cut, or even studies, of the current task force include:
nWhy don’t we elect county commissioners at large, to limit parochialism and improve the quality of representation?
nIsn’t 13 commissioners too unwieldy?
nWhy is the county still handling intensely local issues that in a metropolis should be the purview of cities and towns? That would free the county to focus on big-picture needs.
nKnowing that many elected leaders don’t happen to be top-level administrators, should we split our present set-up with a single person handling the political function of mayor and the administrative job of manager?
nWhy are commissioners still influencing contracts that should be decided by professional administrators who will not be seeking campaign contributions?
nShouldn’t we limit campaign spending as the ante for electing county officials spirals out of control?
nShould we end individual commissioner control of hundreds of thousands of dollars of at-will spending of office funds that have become political jackpots?
nShould we limit recall of officials to specified reasons to prevent willy-nilly blackmail threats over voting decisions?
nShould the charter specify a format for naming those who review it and the conditions under which they operate to prevent commissioners from stacking the deck to exclude issues they don’t want touched?
The current task force, which received far too little time to deliberate broadly, nonetheless has attacked important questions. The biggest:
nIts call for commission term limits would be a major — if not helpful — change.
Florida legislative term limits left no long-standing expertise in either chamber and set legislators from day one struggling for leadership posts rather than leadership in the state.
Still, popular support favors term limits to rid the county of long-term commissioners who, barring structural change, can win the votes of their narrow constituent groups forever.
But countywide election from individual districts could get far better results, retaining local representation but forcing broader thinking — and yielding broader thinkers.
nThe task force plan to build into the charter a petition process to incorporate localities is welcome and deserves voter approval, though a format to have towns and cities cover every inch of the county, as framers of the charter intended, would be even better.
nA move to increase commission salaries from the present $6,000 to the median county income is overdue — though far too small a raise, since every other Florida county uses a state sliding scale that in Miami-Dade would yield $92,097, more than double today’s median.
No decent commissioner should receive only $6,000, or even $46,000, for a full-time job overseeing multi-billion-dollar spending. $100,000 would be none too much.
If your commissioner isn’t worth that, elect someone else — though few topnotch challengers could live on $6,000 a year.
nWe favor a call to cement in the charter present protections of the urban development boundary. That boundary is not meant to hinder developers but to protect residents’ future.
Once the charter task force finishes work, commissioners should forward the output to voters via the ballot unaltered. In the past, they’ve derailed even minor upgrades at will.
Voters, in turn, should carefully weigh proposals. Not everything the review task force suggests is right — but it’s only right that voters get their say on every bit of it.