Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners allow property appraiser to hire outside attorney

Miami-Dade County commissioners reluctantly gave Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera permission Tuesday to hire an outside attorney to represent him — not for his lawsuit against the county, but for a hearing before the Florida Cabinet.

Lopez-Cantera will be allowed to spend up to $6,000 on his own legal counsel. The county attorney’s office would have a conflict of interest because it represents the commissioners who appealed to the state to revise the property appraiser’s budget.

Some commissioners were uncomfortable with letting Lopez-Cantera use county dollars to oppose the county. But they relented in the end.

“This is an elected office. He wants to go before the Florida Cabinet. I think we shouldn’t stop him,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said. “If we’re wrong, we’re wrong.”

Earlier this year, commissioners denied Lopez-Cantera’s request to use county funds to hire an outside attorney to sue Miami-Dade over his office powers. That case is still pending.

At issue Tuesday was the property appraiser’s budget for the 2013-14 year that began Oct. 1. Lopez-Cantera set aside enough money to end a 5 percent healthcare concession from his office employees. The Florida Department of Revenue, which oversees property appraisers across the state, approved that budget in August.

Yet commissioners signed off on a different version in September — one that did not include the extra funds to eliminate the concession, which was scheduled to end Jan. 1, 2014. But Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants to extend it another year. No other county department budgeted to stop receiving the contribution.

The two versions of the property appraiser’s budget must match. The county has appealed to the Cabinet to amend the state’s earlier version. That would put the funds Lopez-Cantera set aside back in the county’s general fund.

Lopez-Cantera, however, wants to hold on to that money until commissioners decide whether to keep or do away with the 5 percent concession. That way, if they decide to end the contribution, he won’t have to dip into his other funds to make up the difference.

“Until the decision is made, I cannot stand by and allow that money to be taken out of the budget, because there’s no way I could absorb that,” he said. “This is, in my opinion, just a responsible budgeting practice.”

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the 5 percent giveback and other concessions at impasse with labor unions on Dec. 5. Lopez-Cantera promised not to hire an attorney before then.

If commissioners extend the concession, he will agree to change his budget accordingly and there will be no need to oppose the county at the hearing, he said.

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