Though Lopez-Cantera is bound by the collective-bargaining agreements, an ordinance does give the property appraiser — in a hybrid role — more leeway than other department heads in several matters. The appraiser can enter into third-party agreements without commission approval and without competitive bidding, as long as the expense falls within the office’s budget.
The budget requires commission sign-off, after it has been approved by the Florida Department of Revenue, which oversees the spending plans of all of the state’s property appraisers.
Miami-Dade was the last of Florida’s 67 counties to make the appraiser an elected post. It’s one of three that does not categorize the appraiser as a constitutional officer.
Both the commission and the state agency would still have to OK the budget of an appraiser considered a constitutional officer. But a more independent office probably wouldn’t require the county’s finance department to approve its expenditures, as occurs now.
Gelber and Greenberg, who along with Lopez-Cantera met with the Miami Herald’s editorial board this week, disagree with the circuit court’s 2008 opinion.
Instead, they pointed to the January 2008 ballot language approved by voters that converted the position from one “appointed and supervised by the mayor” to one “elected and subject to recall by the voters.”
Said Gelber: “What is the purpose of being an elected department head?”
In April, Lopez-Cantera obtained an informal opinion from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office saying “it would appear reasonable” to conclude that the appraiser became a constitutional officer when voters reinstated the elected position. Previously, the property appraiser’s powers had been transferred to the county mayor’s office by the 1957 home-rule charter.
But the issue is not clear cut. Gerry Hammond, a senior assistant attorney general, wrote that he could not “conclusively determine” an answer, and his informal memo would likely have less legal weight than a judge’s ruling.
The 2008 referendum did not expressly refer to the property appraiser as a department head. Yet it also did not expressly create a constitutional office or set the framework for how one would operate. The section of the charter amended by the vote is titled “administrative organization and procedure” of all of county government.
And the county could note that Garcia, Miami-Dade’s first elected property appraiser, was able to carry out his duties for four years under the existing system, which Lopez-Cantera did not challenge before holding the office.
“I hadn’t realized in practicality what it would mean,” Lopez-Cantera said.