In 2012, 483,491 Miami-Dade residents voted for a straw ballot initiative that proposed improving animal services in the county. The services included “decreasing the killing of adoptable dogs and cats” by “funding free and low-cost spay/neuter programs, low-cost vet care and responsible pet ownership educational programs.”
The proposal would create a dedicated source of funding by a tax increase that would raise homeowners’ yearly taxes by about $20.
Most residents, myself included, figured the plan known as the Pets’ Trust would be implemented. That is until a couple of years passed and I read a story by former Miami Herald reporter Elinor Brecher saying that Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the County Commission had reeled in the plan and opted to go in another direction. This was surprising given public support for the initiative. The numbers cited by elected officials and some county staff simply didn’t add up.
Understandably, Gimenez and commissioners were, and continue to be, under great pressure from various groups that need funding. Accommodating the demands of all the departments that tug for their share of the budget is difficult for any elected official. However, what makes the Pets’ Trust case worth documenting is that the mayor and Commission spurned the public’s overwhelming support (political cover) and rejected the project they once wholeheartedly supported. It is precisely the methods used by the mayor to break with the people’s will as well as the illogical justifications and unreliable stats used in doing so that make this case so compelling. It is illustrative of a government that is sometimes viewed as nonresponsive and opaque.
For instance, commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Rebeca Sosa claimed that some of the voters didn’t know what they voted for. It’s an odd response given that the county’s own attorneys wrote the ballot question, which was ratified unanimously by none other than the County Commission.
Beyond the overt political backtracking, Gimenez needed statistical data to justify his decision. Animal Services Director Alex Muñoz, who ought to be commended for his instrumental role in helping to craft the Pets’ Trust plan, including coming up with the $20 million proposed to implement it, suddenly came up with new figures.
In a scant two years after the Pets’ Trust plan was stymied, Muñoz said that the “save rate” of animals at the county shelter had catapulted to unprecedented levels, over 90 percent.
As made clear in the documentary “Political Animals,” which premieres on Tuesday, we obtained visual evidence to refute Muñoz’ claims that animals were not turned away from the shelter. By controlling the intake of animals and by shipping some off to other facilities and so-called sanctuaries with no follow up as to what happened to them once they left the county’s custody, stats became more palatable for the mayor.
Gimenez has repeatedly denounced the insistence of Pets’ Trust advocates to see the will of the voters carried out. At one point in the documentary, during a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board, the mayor questions the motives of the activists and “what they needed or wanted to do with the monies of the Pets’ Trust.” In our three years of research and investigation, the Gimenez administration has not been able to provide one bit of evidence to show that the principals of the Pets’ Trust would be paid in any way. If that was the case, why did he originally sign off on the plan?
The mayor and commission have made a mockery of our democratic system by not respecting the people’s vote but worst of all, their political antics have made sure the animals of Miami-Dade County remain in peril.
The problem of overpopulation persists.
Joe Cardona is an independent filmmaker. His documentary ‘Political Animals’ was produced in collaboration with the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald.
The documentary on the Pets Trust will be aired at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WPBT.