Charter reform: right direction, but not far enough

10/27/2012 5:06 PM

10/27/2012 5:07 PM

There is an old and often used saying that every long journey begins with a single step. We all know, however, that not all steps cover equal distance. When it comes to the Miami-Dade Charter reform questions on the Nov. 6 ballot, the choices presented are important steps, but clearly do not take us far enough. True reform requires a more comprehensive approach like the ones that were put forth by the 2007-08 Charter Review Task Force on which I served. Only then will we bring the transformative reform needed in Miami-Dade County government.

Let us look at five of these questions:

Term limits

It is understandable that voters want to consider eight-year term limits as a stand-alone question, and the County Commissioners have given us this opportunity. Placing a limit on the time commissioners can serve without addressing conditions on how they serve is only half a solution. The failure to include reasonable salaries with a ban on outside employment and revolving door restrictions continues to give rise to questions as to where the commissioners’ attentions are focused. No one can serve two masters, and we all deserve a full time commission, focused on addressing the needs of our 2.5 million county residents.

Urban Development Boundary (UDB)

As presented, this question merely places in the charter the current rules requiring a 2/3 commission vote to allow development beyond the UDB, thereby making it more difficult for commissioners to change the rules. Yet, tougher rules are needed. Any changes to the UDB should be made applying a higher standard of a ¾ vote of the entire commission. We also need independent experts to fashion a comprehensive plan to be presented to voters countywide that updates the existing UDB to rein in urban sprawl, balancing environmental concerns with landowners’ property rights.

Procurement

Quite simply, we need to remove the politics from the way Miami-Dade government purchases its goods and services. Taking conflicts that arise in the mayor’s office and shifting them to the commission chair does not solve the problem. Currently, these matters are delegated and resolved by non-elected professional county administrative staff. That approach is better than shifting this responsibility to the chair creating unintended conflicts and problems. Ultimately, questions that arise from procurement should not be resolved by politicians, but by independent hearing officers and/or administrative law judges, as it is done in the state and other governments. Having an independent expert free from political considerations ensures a more open and transparent procurement process, protecting everyone involved.

Municipal Incorporations

Our future depends on a county free of its identity crisis between large regional government and the cities of unincorporated Miami-Dade. The ballot question merely facilitates a piecemeal approach toward this future. The fate of commercial areas, poorer communities and cities expanding via annexation is unresolved, and voters countywide are not provided the ultimate say. We need to move toward full incorporation in a way that is sustainable, through a holistic approach that allows for the study and creation of a plan that includes full voter participation and approval.

Ethics Reforms

Citizens expect and deserve ethical behavior from their elected leaders. The Commission on Ethics and Public Trust does need the ability to enforce the Citizen’s Bill of Rights, but it also needs greater independence (especially its budget) and jurisdiction over all elected officials within the county, including cities. Similarly, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) needs to be a stronger independent watchdog with real powers that bring greater accountability to the spending of tax dollars at all levels of government — county, cities, as well as the school district.

The choice this November is between little or no reforms. We either take small steps or choose to remain in the status quo.

Ultimately, the greatest step we can take is by voting. Leading the government reform process with our voices is a right on which our great nation was founded, and one we should never take for granted. Participation is the essence of reform and will bring about greater accountability from our elected leaders.

No matter what side of the issues you are on, the strongest message we will send to our leaders is that we are paying attention, and we are engaged. Learn more, get involved, and above all, don’t skip the amendments — a blank lets others decide for you. Early voting has begun — time to become an active part of the transformation!

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