The date of North Miami’s next election will be decided Tuesday night the City Council takes its second vote on moving the upcoming May election to August 2016.
At stake is whether voters will decide on mayor, two City Council seats and the city clerk position in a few months or 15 months later. The council approved the ordinance, on first reading, with a 3-2 vote at its Jan. 27 meeting. Vice Mayor Carol Keys and Councilman Scott Galvin, who is currently up for reelection in May, voted against it.
Residents questioned the decision and mostly opposed moving the election, but Mayor Smith Joseph said he's heard from multiple residents who support the change.
“A good percentage of residents have said they are tired, they just came out of an election and they want a little bit of stability,” Joseph said.
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In the proposed ordinance, the city cites higher voter turnout and lower costs as potential benefits of moving the election date. The city budget has $206,000 set aside for a special election and staff has estimated that moving the date would save about $180,000.
This time, Joseph plans to vote against the ordinance. In a statement, he said it's in the city's best interest to maintain the original election date.
"When I took my oath of office, I pledged to make decisions that will bring positive results to the City of North Miami and its residents, even when my decisions are not popular," Joseph said. "I recognize there is nothing illegal about the proposed ordinance to change the elections from May 2015 to August 2016."
Carolina Lopez, deputy director of the Miami-Dade County elections department, said North Miami would be following the lead of other municipalities that have made the change in recent years.
“There is a trend over the last decade where more and more municipalities are looking to move their election to combine it with the county’s election,” Lopez said.
Some of those municipalities include Miami Lakes, Sunny Isles Beach and Bal Harbour. Larger cities like Miami, Miami Beach and Hialeah still hold their general elections in odd-numbered years.
While those changes have occurred in recent years, most have happened via referendums. North Miami proposed the change as a referendum on the November 2008 ballot, but residents voted against it.
Joseph said he respects the opinion of residents who oppose putting the decision solely in the council’s hands but he wants to consider supporters of the change as well.
“They are well within their right, the right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights for a citizen of the United States,” Joseph said. “I put myself in their shoes as a voter and I do understand their frustration.”
Anthony Alfieri, a University of Miami law professor and director of the law school’s Center for Ethics & Public Service, said that while proposing the election date change through an ordinance still allows for some transparency, the process isn’t as democratic as the referendum option.
“That route does not encourage the kind of public participation and government accountability that are important values for strengthening a democratic government and rejuvenating a civic society,” Alfieri said.
The ordinance’s sponsor, Philippe Bien-Aime, said he still thinks moving the election is in the city’s best interest, but he hasn’t made a final decision.
“For the past three years the city has been distracted with a lot of issues,” Bien-Aime said. “If I feel like [my vote] will be in the best interest of the city; you should let me vote with my conscience.”
Bien-Aime said that if the item doesn’t pass on its second reading he won’t introduce it as a referendum in May.
“If people have spoken and it feels like they want an election, I don’t think the council as a governing body should prevent the constituents from exercising their right to vote,” Bien-Aime said.
The change was first proposed as a discussion item during the first January council meeting. The change in the election date, to coincide with the countywide election, is allowed through Florida Statute 101.75, which states that the change can be made through a majority vote by elected officials.
Tuesday’s meeting will take place 7 p.m. at North Miami City Hall, 776 NE 125th St.