The question on the Jan. 29, 2008, special election ballot that Miami-Dade County voters approved seems clear to us:
“Shall the Charter be amended to provide for the transfer of the duties of the County Property Appraiser from a person appointed and supervised by the Mayor to a person elected and subject to recall by the voters?”
Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who beat a one-term incumbent last year, believes he’s in charge and accountable to the voters.
Not so fast, says Robert Cuevas, the county attorney. He believes there’s precedent — based on a circuit court ruling that was never appealed involving a property appraiser’s runoff election — that the new position amounts to an “elected director” who answers to the mayor and County Commission.
According to the 2008 ruling by Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely, “the office of Miami-Dade County appraiser is a local office under Miami-Dade County’s home charter, not a constitutional office governed by general election law.”
Mr. Lopez-Cantera wants the courts to clarify the voters’ intent. The state attorney general’s office has said in an opinion that it’s “reasonable” to think the vote results reinstated the constitutional office of appraiser, but it’s a bit murky because the county charter does not specifically mention it.
Mr. Lopez-Cantera cannot pay lawyers with county funds to challenge the county attorney’s interpretation because the county attorney has deemed that he is the one that represents the appraiser and the mayor and the commissioners. Mr. Lopez-Cantera must get permission from the commission to sue it. It’s nuts. So now he is looking to raise the funds for the legal challenge — about $50,000 — through other means.
It shouldn’t have come to this. After all, right there in black and white, the lines of authority were drawn for voters: “from a person appointed and supervised by the mayor to a person elected and subject to recall by the voters.” No mention of commissioners, and the only mention of the mayor is to note that the mayor’s supervision of the appraiser ends if the voters say yes to an elected appraiser.
Indeed, back in Nov. 6, 2007, when the County Commission was considering putting the issue of electing the appraiser on the ballot, various commissioners noted they would lose oversight.
From the county’s own records: Then-Commissioner Katy Sorensen said that the “board has no authority over elected officials,” so she would vote No.
Then-Commissioner Carlos Gimenez (now the county mayor in this legal tussle) said he supported the measure and that “an elected property appraiser’s loyalty would lie with the people whereas the appointed property appraiser’s loyalty would lie with the government.”
All but three appraisers in the state’s 67 counties are elected. Broward County’s appraiser, for instance, oversees her staff without any commission involvement.
Mr. Lopez-Cantera, however, can’t even deliver a balanced budget for his office unless it coincides with all the rules worked out by the mayor with the unions. Heck, Mr. Lopez-Cantera can’t even raise money from his own employees’ use of office snack machines that would go for workers’ birthday celebrations — without the big arm of county government injecting itself into the decision.
The courts — perhaps even the voters, again — will need to decide who’s right. But from our perspective, voters who wanted an independent appraiser were snookered in 2008.