Shine The County Commissions Light On Big Regional Needs
By Michael Lewis
In a cartoon, a light bulb would have gone on above Esteban Bovo Jr.’s head.
But it was a county meeting, not a cartoon, so the light illuminated only the minds of those listening closely as he tossed a vital aside into a debate on inadequate transit and how to remedy it.
"This," Commissioner Bovo noted, "is exactly what a regional government should be focused on, and not doing a lot of the municipal stuff."
If the cartoon had a nail, he’d have hit it squarely on the head.
Miami-Dade’s government, which covers a region greater than 77 nations with more people than 56 nations and a gross domestic product greater than 138, too often acts like it’s governing Dogpatch or Two Egg.
While every resident spots big-picture issues, commissioners put far too much time into things a small-town council should do as they leave vital jobs half done.
When Commissioner Dennis Moss recently was quoted that he never read the contract for a $3 billion baseball stadium and didn’t think any other commissioner did before a vote that most now find egregious, he was illustrating that lack of focus.
But don’t blame him alone for voting for one of the worst county deals ever or for ignoring big pictures. Almost all 13 commissioners bog down often in issues of either locality or ethnicity. Mr. Moss is no different. He’s just more open about it.
Notwithstanding the fact that now-Mayor Carlos Gimenez remarkably did read and critique the stadium contract, Mr. Moss is correct that commissioners don’t have time for both minor issues and big questions that are so vital to every county resident.
The problem is that concerns of localities, ethnicities and small constituencies usually shove aside attention to broad issues that define a county’s quality of life for all 2.6 million residents.
Listen, if your stomach permits, to commission debates filled with code words that translate to "more jobs for my group" or "more services for my district." In heated debate, code words often yield to direct demands for one neighborhood or ethnic group.
That’s no way to run regional government.
Blame some of it on those we elect. But pin far more blame on a system in which some commissioners are also de facto mayors of areas in their districts that have no cities. And a mayor, as some commissioners argue, speaks for local folks ahead of big-picture regional concerns.
When Carlos Gimenez as commissioner did read the stadium contract, give him credit. But credit also the fact that he didn’t have to be a small-town mayor, too — the district he represented is all cities, freeing him from local minutia.
The solution to this dual role is clear: incorporate the entire county, as its 1950s charter planned. Let county hall focus on the region, and the towns and cities on local issues.
It’s so logical — but so hard to do.
A common argument is that some areas can only make it under the county’s economic wing, that their tax bases are too weak to fly alone.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan recently noted that she’d felt that way when her area wanted to unite as a city a decade ago. Instead, as she noted, Miami Gardens didn’t fail but became a model city that far better serves its residents than leaving its local needs under the county’s wing.
More Miami Gardens out there deserve to fly. We can debate just how to draw their boundaries but not their right to have a government up close and personal with a focus on local needs — needs county hall can’t do justice to but wastes energy trying.
Ironing out details takes time, so let’s begin now to incorporate every speck of Miami-Dade, with a goal of getting the county out of the Dogpatch and Two Egg role well before 2020.
That would give county commissioners time to adjust to a broader focus and cities and towns time to organize for long-term success.
Then there’d be no more excuses why commissioners don’t look at details of $3 billion giveaways, and it wouldn’t be so unusual for one to focus on game-changing upgrades rather than small-town games.