Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commission rejects ballot question on property appraiser’s powers

Voters won’t be getting another shot to decide if the Miami-Dade property appraiser should be almost completely independent from county government, after a narrow majority of county commissioners chose Tuesday not to put the question on the November ballot.

With the 6-5 vote, the board defeated Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo’s attempt to ask voters to clarify if they intended for the property appraiser to act as a department director or as a separate office when they made it an elected position six years ago.

The chief reason cited by opponents of the ballot question: turning the property appraiser into an independent “constitutional officer” — governed by the Florida Constitution rather than by the Miami-Dade County Charter — would mean the office-holder would no longer be subject to recall by the voters.

Several other countywide elected officials — the clerk of the courts, state attorney and public defender — cannot be recalled. Only the governor can remove them from office.

But that’s not true of the mayor and commissioners, who said a position as important as the property appraiser, which determines property values that ultimately fund the government through taxes, should remain under local control.

“I just think that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Commissioner Dennis Moss.

He voted against, as did Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa — who spearheaded the opposition — and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Sally Heyman and Barbara Jordan. Bovo, Vice-Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez voted in favor.

The two remaining commissioners, Javier Souto and Juan C. Zapata, were absent from the dais for the vote. But they promptly returned to their seats once the vote had concluded.

Zapata, who co-sponsored the measure, said he missed the vote because he was in a private meeting. He would have voted in favor, he said.

“It was my screw-up,” he told the Miami Herald.

Souto said he was taking a phone call from his office. He said he doesn’t know how he would have voted.

The trouble at the property appraiser’s office was thrust into the limelight last year, when then-appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera, frustrated by his inability to make key financial and personnel decisions without approval from the commission or Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration, asked a judge to rule on the powers of this position. Lopez-Cantera has since be named Florida lieutenant governor, and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jose M. Rodriguez has not yet ruled.

Bovo said following the vote that he was disappointed voters would be unable weigh in on the matter. He said he understood why his colleagues were “irritated” that not all elected officials can be recalled.

But that was not the original driving force behind making the property appraiser an elected position, he added. It was an attempt to keep politics out of the property assessments that play a key role in determining the county’s budget — and the property-tax rate set by commissioners.

“The reality is, this position is not political,” Bovo said.

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