Czech author Milan Kundera once wrote, “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: animals.”
I, along with a majority of Miami-Dade voters, echoed the sentiment in the 2012 election by voting in favor of a nonbinding straw-poll question that proposed a small property-tax increase to raise about $19 million in a year to build more shelters for stray animals, stop the killing of dogs and cats (which average 20,000 a year) and fund low-cost spay and neuter programs.
The ballot issue successfully garnered support across the ethnic, gender, age and socioeconomic categories that make up the county’s electorate. Yet last summer, when it was time for the Miami-Dade Commission to take action and implement the will of the people, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and eight commissioners — Bruno Barreiro, Lynda Bell, Esteban Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Rebeca Sosa, Javier Souto, Xavier Suarez and Juan Carlos Zapata — in the most egregious act of political contempt I’ve seen in my hometown, decided to stand pat on the budget and not implement the voters’ will.
“As elected officials, they sent the worst possible message you can to the voters — your vote doesn’t count,’ ” said Pets’ Trust co-founder and president, Michael Rosenberg. The trust is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that took on the charge of making Miami-Dade a no-kill county.
As I spoke to seasoned local government officials, lobbyists and two of the commissioners who, last summer, voted to not raise taxes in favor of improving the county’s animal services, it was perfectly clear that everyone is skirting the fact that the will of the voters was trampled. Rather, they focus their arguments on technical, political boilerplate, which furthers the popular notion of the great divide that exists between elected officials and those who vote for them.
Both Bovo and Suarez told me that the question was somewhat deceptive and that it wasn’t clear to voters about raising their taxes.
But how could it be deceptive? The question was drafted by the county attorney and ratified by a unanimous commission vote. In fact, the question couldn’t have been clearer. The issue of raising our taxes was the first point highlighted in the poll question.
While I commend their forthright nature in engaging me in a conversation — some whom I contacted did not — about this unresolved issue, their arguments ring hollow and, worse, help fuel the ever-growing problem of voter apathy.
“The issue is wrong on many fronts,” said political activist/consultant Irene Secada. “Aside from the horrid killing of these animals, the issue doesn’t make sense economically. It presently costs $300 to kill an animal, yet it is only $65 to spay and neuter. In the long run, this increase in taxes, which the voters overwhelmingly supported, will save the taxpayers money.”
We live in a representative democracy. We elect officials to represent the best interests of the people — which is not always the most popular opinion. However, when the will of the electorate is clearly noted, the task of the elected official is to carry out that mandate.
Miami-Dade voters are still waiting for an action plan from county officials regarding better and more sensible treatment of our animals. A plan that, as Pets’ Trust co-founder Rita Schwartz said, “is not Republican or Democrat, but simply decent and humane.”