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The real loss: Public trust

 

Mayor Carlos Gimenez recently revealed that Miami-Dade County faces a $50 million-plus budget shortfall, alerting commissioners and employee unions that the county will seek continuation of sizable benefit concessions. According to a memo sent by Gimenez, these cuts are necessary if the county wants to maintain current public services. In other words, if you want clean water from your faucet or your garbage picked up, then your middle-class county employee will have to make a significant financial sacrifice. This reported shortfall also includes $15 million in the county’s fire-rescue budget, so please try not to play with matches.

But hold up. This is the same mayor that just offered to subsidize billionaire Dolphins owner Steve Ross to the tune of $289 million with a loan that doesn’t have to be paid back for 30 years? With no public forums on the issue, a deal was cut in private negotiations in the dead of night, followed within 36 hours by a commission vote, setting a quickie special election. The county elections chief referred to it as the fastest referendum held in Miami-Dade.

Putting the financial merits of the stadium deal aside, the entire process seemed to overwhelm us with bad government. Elected officials should know that pushing through a proposed public project without giving the community appropriate time for real public analysis and participation is not a way to ensure a sound democratic process. Luckily, the issue died in the state House. In advocating for financial merits of this deal, the mayor was quoted as saying, “These events provide a big shot in the arm to our local economy and represent a clear return to our investment.”

“Return on investment,” or ROI, as the business community likes to say, is something everyone likes in theory. But our leaders, apparently willing to raise vacancy-increasing hotel taxes for a shiny stadium, were not as enthused to do the same to secure county jobs and health benefits? What is the ROI on potential lay-offs, or having fire-rescue arrive 15 minutes later because of shortfalls? Apparently, the message is, if you’re rich and connected, you can certainly be heard; but if you’re a working-class chump, well, it sucks to be you.

Watching elected officials behave this way, particularly designing a vote to avoid real debate, is unfortunate and potentially dangerous for all of us.

So whether you were for or against the stadium deal, the real loss is continued public distrust of the system and the leaders who allegedly serve them. What’s the ROI on that?

Stephen E. Herbits, Miami

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