April 10, 2014

MDC president Padrón expresses ‘regret’ for personal shots at Miami-Dade lawmakers

Miami-Dade delegation chair says the college president’s effort to mend fences didn’t go far enough

Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón on Thursday expressed “regret” for getting too personal in ripping a quartet of local lawmakers this week.

His unusually blunt criticism left some in Tallahassee in a mighty huff, but the college president tried to mend fences with a written statement.

“The recent articles in The Miami Herald regarding my deepest concerns and frustration over the pressing needs of Miami Dade College included strong words by me that offended our legislators,” Padrón wrote. “I realize that comments I made of a personal nature were not appropriate and I regret they were offensive. That was not my intention. I do not want to argue with our legislators. The future of the College is a heartfelt issue to me.”

Padrón’s statement came in response to a joint letter from 11 Miami-Dade lawmakers. In that letter, released Wednesday evening, the lawmakers wrote that personal attacks Padrón had directed at Miami Lakes Rep. Jose Oliva were “something we cannot and will not tolerate.”

The lawmakers had demanded a public apology from Padrón. On Thursday, Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, the Hialeah Republican who chairs the Miami-Dade delegation, said the latest statement did not go far enough.

“He should have apologized to individual members,” said Gonzalez, who called the situation “unfortunate.”

The war of words all started in a Tuesday sit-down with the Miami Herald editorial board, when Padrón suggested that Oliva didn’t value higher education. Padrón noted that Oliva, who is set to become House speaker in four years, didn’t finish his college degree. The comments were part of a larger discussion in which Padrón complained that Oliva and three other Miami-Dade lawmakers were trying to kill a key MDC funding bill that is pending in the Legislature.

Oliva declined comment Thursday.

The bill would allow for a five-year, half-penny sales tax increase that would raise about $1 billion for the college. Miami-Dade voters would have to approve the tax hike, but Tallahassee lawmakers have been resistant to even putting it on the ballot.

Florida’s GOP-dominated Legislature is strongly anti-tax, and lawmakers have killed three similar MDC tax proposals in the past. At the same time, the state has repeatedly slashed MDC’s annual funding — which has only made the college more desperate for some sort of local tax support.

The second half of Padrón’s Thursday statement continued to push the MDC bill — a bill that may now be less likely to pass because of the college president’s surprising and suddenly messy public feud with lawmakers.

“I do stand firmly in my belief that the people of our community deserve the right to decide the issue of local support for MDC,” Padrón wrote. “In a very real way, the College belongs to this community and it is only right that the community’s voice be heard through a referendum, to dedicate local funding for the sole benefit our students. The people are more than capable of addressing this issue and the legislature should not deny that democratic privilege.’’

But Gonzalez, who wrote the joint letter demanding an apology, said Padrón had weakened the bill’s chances.

"What's sad is that most of our delegation would have voted for the bill," Gonzalez said. "Now, some of the members won't be pushing to get the proposal heard [on the House floor] because of the comments that were made."

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