Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 17: What Miami-Dade Reforms Should - and Shouldn't - Include

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Man, did the voters in Miami-Dade County ever speak.

To have 88 percent of those who voted decide to throw out both Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas goes beyond a mandate. Everyone who has an opinion about this issue is mulling what it means.

Here's what it doesn't mean: Contrary to what WFOR-Channel 4 contributor Jim DeFede said the other night, it doesn't mean Dade voters will never support another funding increase. This is the same county that strongly supported The Children's Trust - a well-run program - not so long ago.

What it means is that taxpayers won't support most unwise funding decisions.

Alvarez and Seijas maintained support for salary increases for county staff through an economic crisis that has meant thousands of lost jobs and lost wages. That was a tone-deaf political position that failed to look at reality. Would there have been a recall if Alvarez and commissioners had supported a complete salary freeze? One has to wonder.

Certainly Norman Braman's repeated criticisms of the Florida Marlins deal might have had somewhat less steam in a recall drive if Alvarez and Seijas hadn't supported the staff salary increase.

Already, Braman and others want to go ahead with other reforms, including term limits and changes to the commission structure.

I'm not convinced about term limits for non-executive positions; one only needs to look at the Florida Legislature to see how poorly they've worked.

At-large districts - commissioners representing the whole county to counterbalance the single-member districts - are a much better idea. Taking away countywide districts did not help the Miami-Dade Commission, which has had plenty of people representing their small piece of territory and not understanding countywide interests. That's a reason Miami International Airport had so many problems with its expansion, and why Jackson Memorial Hospital is struggling so much now.

Another idea not being brought up, but necessary: A living wage for commissioners. Being a county commissioner is now a full-time job, and the $6,000-a-year salary approved with the home rule charter in 1957 is preposterous. A salary increase isn't immunity against corruption, as Broward County has proved, but it can be an incentive to attract better candidates for political office.

Perhaps the Good Government Initiative mentioned in this blog last week ( will be a significant help. In the meantime, there's likely another county election for mayor to go during the next couple of months. Hang on - and hang in there, Dade voters.

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