President Bill Clinton had just taken office, Nirvana blasted on the radio and gas cost $1.11 a gallon in April 1993, when Miami-Dade County’s two longest-serving commissioners were first elected.
Dennis Moss and Javier Souto, the commission’s elder statesmen, have been on the 13-member board for 19 years. Five other commissioners have served for at least a decade.
They keep getting reelected, their supporters say, because they’re good at what they do. But to critics, the long tenures are a sign that defeating incumbents is nearly impossible.
That could change on Nov. 6, when the public gets a chance to impose two four-year terms on commissioners.
The issue has been on the ballot before — most recently in January, when it was rejected by percent of voters. There was a catch, however: The term limits were tied to hefty salary increases for commissioners.
That’s not the case this time.
“I was listening to radio and reading opinions, and people always asked me, ‘Why do you have to bring that issue with the raises?’” said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who, along with Commissioner Lynda Bell, pushed to put term limits on the upcoming ballot.
If the charter amendment is approved, long-serving commissioners don’t have much to fear. The term limits would not apply retroactively; instead, they would be added to time commissioners have spent in office.
Current commissioners could stay until 2020. Souto and Moss could represent their districts for as many as 27 years.
Bell and Sosa made the proposal as Miami auto magnate Norman Braman and activist Vanessa Brito were making noise about collecting petition signatures to put term limits on the ballot themselves. They ultimately backed off, though they have lamented the Sosa-Bell proposal does not apply retroactively — a move that would have essentially booted seven commissioners off the dais.
Separately, a commission-created charter-review task force was expected to recommend a term limits amendment as well — a move preempted by the measure on the ballot.
The term-limit proposal is just one of 10 county ballot questions. The public will also be asked to:
• Make technical amendments to the county’s 55-year-old charter.
• Require a two-thirds majority of the commission to move the county’s Urban Development Boundary. That’s the current voting standard in practice, but it is not set in the charter. Proponents say the measure would make it more difficult to allow development along the county’s southern and western fringes. Opponents say it is unnecessary when commissioners have already agreed to that threshold by ordinance.
• Make it easier for new cities to incorporate. Cityhood advocates would have six months (instead of three) to gather signatures from 20 percent (instead of 25 percent) of voters within the proposed city. A proposal to incorporate would require an up-or-down vote from commissioners, who would no longer be able to indefinitely postpone the measures.
• Empower the county’s Commission on Ethics & Public Trust to enforce the Citizens’ Bill of Rights. Currently, the only way to pursue violation complaints is to sue in civil court. The current penalty: forcing violators out of office. The charter amendment would eliminate that penalty but allow the ethics commission to enforce a range of others without the need for a lawsuit, though lawsuits would still be permitted. The ethics commission’s executive director, Joe Centorino, supports the amendment, saying it will strengthen the bill of rights.