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Term limits finally arriving for Miami-Dade commission, and a new chair has concerns

Audrey Edmonson, the District 3 commissioner for Miami-Dade, takes her oath as the new chairwoman of the 13-member board on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.
Audrey Edmonson, the District 3 commissioner for Miami-Dade, takes her oath as the new chairwoman of the 13-member board on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. For The Miami Herald

Audrey Edmonson took the oath as chairwoman of the Miami-Dade commission Friday and reminded the audience that this could be the last ceremony of its kind once she and other veteran commissioners are forced to make historic exits in 2020 when term-limit rules take effect.

“The board will never have as much combined experience as it does today,” Edmonson said to packed commission chambers at the Stephen Clark Center during her first official day as chairwoman of the 13-seat commission.

She said one of her priorities during the next two years will be to strengthen the commission’s audit office to churn out more reports and information to keep newly elected commissioners informed once she and other veteran board members are required to go by term limits that county voters enacted six years ago.

“There will be a great loss of institutional knowledge,” said Edmonson, a former El Portal mayor who took office in 2005.

With term limits, she will be the first commission chair to leave office once her two-year tenure ends.

County voters in 2012 approved limiting commissioners to a pair of consecutive four-year terms. Incumbents reelected that year will be the first to be covered by the rules mandating their departures in 2020. That includes Edmonson and four other commissioners, with six others barred from running again in 2022.

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Audrey Edmonson, Miami-Dade’s District 3 commissioner, speaks to reporters while community members take videos and photos after her installation as chairwoman of the 13-seat board on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Maria Alejandra Cardona For The Miami Herald

Fellow commissioners elected Edmonson chair in December, and nobody ran against her. The position makes her the most powerful member on the board, since she controls the agenda, makes committee assignments and has authority over county offices that report directly to the commission.

Edmonson used the bulk of her inaugural speech to lay out a legislative agenda focused on reducing crime, hardening against climate change, expanding affordable housing and transit, and increasing minority participation in county contracts.

“We can drive around construction sites,” Edmonson said, “and see that disparities remain.”

With Edmonson taking the center seat on the dais, there will be five former chairmen and chairwoman around her. She served as vice chair during the last two years under Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who is also facing a 2020 exit under term-limit rules. For her fill-in, Edmonson picked former chairwoman Rebeca Sosa as vice chairwoman. Sosa was reelected in August, and her final four-year term ends in 2022.

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Rebeca Sosa, left, and Audrey Edmonson wave at the cameras to viewers watching at the Miami-Dade commission installation ceremony on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Edmonson was sworn in as chairwoman of the commission, and Sosa as vice-chairwoman. Maria Alejandra Cardona For The Miami Herald

Flush with donations from county lobbyists, vendors and developers, incumbent commissioners rarely face challenges from established politicians. But with forced openings looming in 2020, sitting office holders are tossing their hats into the county races.

Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who sat in the front row of Friday’s inaugural, said he planned to run for Edmonson’s District 3 seat in 2020. Both represent some of the same Miami neighborhoods. Sitting near him was Oliver Gilbert, the mayor of Miami Gardens who said this week he would run for the District 1 county seat that Barbara Jordan must relinquish in 2020 after 16 years in office.

A black Democrat born in Miami, Edmonson takes over as chairwoman after a significant shift in the nonpartisan commission’s demographics and politics. The election of Eileen Higgins last year to an open District 5 seat ended the Hispanic majority on the commission. It also left a board that had been evenly divided by party with seven Democrats, five Republicans and one independent.

Edmonson said she wanted to extend the cooperation among the 13 commissioners that she credited Bovo with maintaining during his two years as chairman. Sosa, an Hispanic Republican, used her remarks after being sworn in as vice chairwoman to tout cordial debates on the board.

“We can disagree on points,” Sosa said. “That makes us stronger.”

For the swearing-in ceremony, Edmonson tapped flag bearers from the ROTC program at her alma mater, Miami Jackson Senior High. The pledge of allegiance was led by children from the Head Start program at the Caleb Center, where she keeps her district headquarters. (“They always come by my office for Halloween candy,” she said.) Joining her for the swearing-in was daughter Ebony Dunn and granddaughter Bianca Casher.

“I will never forget who I am here,” Edmonson said, addressing constituents who have supported and opposed her. “I want to help make this county a little better than it was yesterday, and with your help I know we can achieve ‘better’ and more.”

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