Benjamin Franklin once said that “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Winston Churchill took it a step further when he said that “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”
In Miami-Dade County, we seldom admit our mistakes and often repeat them. As we navigate from crisis to crisis, we often fail to step back and recognize that while every crisis presents an obstacle, it can also present an opportunity for course correction.
Our latest crisis, the state of the Miami-Dade County courthouse, 73 West Flagler, presents voters with such an opportunity.
The $1.5 million campaign to support a bond to build a new courthouse wants voters to see in the images of the building’s decay that our only option is to provide the county government that created the crisis with a blank check for $393 million without a specific plan. Choosing this option is choosing failure; it is choosing to continue on the same path of mismanagement and neglect that created the current courthouse crisis. It is choosing to absolve government of its responsibility and once again solve a government-created crisis by burdening the taxpayers.
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Alternatively, you can look at the pictures/video and ask: Who allowed this building to get to this deplorable condition? What do we need to change to ensure that this never happens to another building the county?
How we can we safeguard the taxpayers’ investment in 73 West Flagler and future courthouses? What is the state of the other 11 courthouse buildings in Miami-Dade, and how can we better utilize those properties? How can technology help us shrink our physical footprint and facilitate county-wide access to the judiciary? What are the best practices when it comes to judicial facilities, maintenance and operations? Why are other communities, like Houston and Long Beach, entering into public-private partnerships for courthouses instead of taxpayer funding and Miami-Dade is not? Now that state judicial filings are electronic, how can we change our court culture and use digital resources to save space, resources and reduce costs?
The answer to these questions and the creation of a long-term comprehensive plan for our entire system of judicial buildings based on these answers would be an opportunity for course correction.
An opportunity to set aside the type of status-quo thinking that lead us to this crisis and innovate, an opportunity to forge a court system that serves the needs of our growing community and looks at where courthouses are needed and not where judges and attorneys want them. An opportunity to consider what the judicial needs of our community will be in five, 15, 30 and 45 years, an opportunity to forge a judicial system that will adequately serve our children and grandchildren.
The best response to a crisis isn’t always to go along with a half-baked idea because it’s all we have at the moment. In this case, the resolution to the courthouse crisis is achieved by voting No. Voting No shifts the burden from the residents back to Miami-Dade County. Voting No will force the county to immediately allocate $25 million from existing Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond Fund to repair 73 West Flagler and find long-term solutions for our entire judicial system instead of taking the easy way out and burdening residents with more debt.
Beyond the courthouse crisis, the issuance of more Miami-Dade County debt should concern us all since the county’s operation debt service has increased 66 percent since 2012. On Nov. 4, voters will have an opportunity to send a clear message to county government, by voting No: No to mismanagement and neglect, No to increasing taxpayer debt, No to lack of planning and No to irresponsibility.
Because while judges think they deserve a new courthouse, the residents who pay for all of the buildings in the courthouse system deserve answers, accountability and safeguards. They deserve a comprehensive plan that sets us on a different path. We can preserve historic sites like 73 West Flagler without further burdening taxpayers. It’s time that we learn from our history and not repeat it.
Raquel Regalado is a member of the Miami-Dade School Board. Juan Zapata is a Miami-Dade County commissioner.