Miami-Dade’s largest business group this week wrote lobbyist Ronald Book to ask about who would lead the county’s homeless board once he ends his decade-long tenure as chairman. Book’s response: “I don’t have any intention of going anywhere.”
The email correspondence between Book and the head of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce offers a peek at the inside drama playing out between the prominent political operative and his foes on the county’s Homeless Trust and beyond. In his volunteer post for more than 10 years, Book is seeking another term-limit waiver to remain chairman at a time when he’s on the defensive over $6 million in lost federal aid for homeless programs.
Rumors of my pending assassination should be quashed.
Ronald Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust
“What was clear in the article is the pivotal role in leadership that you have provided the Trust,” Johnson wrote in the Tuesday email, which the Herald obtained. “Your guidance and passion for the Trust is valuable and admirable. What was not clear was any plan to allow for leadership continuity in your absence.”
Book responded Wednesday: “I am not sure what you are referring to with regard to a succession plan, as I don’t have any intention of going anywhere.
“My reappointment is pending at the Commission,” he continued. “If you have information that I am unaware of, please let me know but I anticipate the approval of the waiver. Rumors of my pending assassination should be quashed.” He concluded with a smiley-face emoji.
The pointedly polite exchange highlights the latest political challenge for Book, one of Florida’s top lobbyists with a 100-plus list of Tallahassee clients that includes much of Miami-Dade’s government. He’s seeking a waiver from the same county commissioners who hire him to lobby on Miami-Dade’s behalf in the state capitol. Book also represents the Miami-Dade school board and the county’s Jackson hospital system.
Earlier this month, County Commissioner Xavier Suarez introduced a resolution allowing Book to serve another three years on the 27-member board, as well as waive the Miami-Dade residency requirement, since Book lives in Plantation in Broward County. Despite bylaws limiting members to six years, Book has served on the board since it was formed in the early 1990s and has held the chairmanship for about 11 years.
Suarez said he does not believe the homeless board should switch leaders at a time when it needs Book to lead the way on trying to recover at least some of the lost dollars from Washington.
“I think at some point he has to let go,” Suarez said. “Maybe two years from now. In the midst of this particular crisis, I think it’s a good time to extend the waiver.”
I think at some point he has to let go. Maybe two years from now.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, on Ron Book’s tenure as chairman of the county’s homeless board
Suarez recalled a recent encounter with a homeless woman outside his district office in Coconut Grove. “I called Ronnie,” Suarez said. “Because he is the face of the Homeless Trust. So you don’t think of calling anyone else.”
Shortly after contacting Book, Suarez said the Homeless Trust staff, including director Victoria Mallette, was on the phone with him to get information about the woman, who ultimately declined help. “There’s no doubting his efficacy,” Suarez said of Book.
The rejected grant applications came as the Department of Housing and Urban Development increased competition nationwide for homeless aid, leaving agencies in the Florida Keys, Tampa and beyond expressing dismay at lost dollars from Washington. Book declared the HUD decision the worst crisis ever faced by Miami-Dade’s homeless efforts, which are partially funded by a 1 percent restaurant tax that this year is expected to generate about $22 million.
HUD’s decision put Book’s leadership under the spotlight, including his role as a lobbyist for a new Homeless Trust provider that secured a $700,000 federal grant at a time when longstanding providers were rejected. Book recused himself from the Trust vote that added the Advocate Program’s domestic-violence program to the pool of HUD applicants given top priority in Miami-Dade’s request to Washington. Book said he has represented the nonprofit for several years on a state drunken-driving treatment program with no ties to homeless efforts.
In an interview, Book said he didn’t see the Chamber of Commerce email from Johnson as a suggestion that the homeless board needed a new chairman. “I am committed to finishing out the mission that we started, which is to end homelessness,” Book said.
The Miami-Dade law that established the Homeless Trust and tax in 1994 gave the chamber seven board seats. One of the nonprofit’s representatives is Bob Dickinson, who is the board chairman for the Camillus House homeless shelter and who has clashed with Book in the past.
Johnson, who is retiring from the chamber at the end of 2016, said a succession plan at the homeless board makes sense. “Clearly, that’s an important component of business management,” he said in an interview. “We’re doing our due diligence.”
Later in the day, after the Herald conducted both interviews, Johnson sent an email to a reporter that said: “I don’t want you to be confused about the Chamber’s support for Ron’s leadership. The Chamber fully supports him.
“In fact Ron’s leadership of the Trust has led it to become a national model of success,” he continued. “We are hopeful that he will continue to provide top quality leadership for the trust for many years to come.”
This post was updated to change the length of Ronald Book’s tenure as chairman of the Homeless Trust.