Miami Beach leaders propose city term-limit referendum to piggyback on Dolphins vote

With a referendum likely on the horizon regarding the Miami Dolphins’ bid for public dollars to renovate its stadium, Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin saw an opportunity.

His plan: to add a local ballot question to the referendum, one that would effectively shut out the city’s current mayor from upcoming elections.

Time is of the essence here: The Dolphins vote is slated to take place May 14.

But the county’s election department got in the way, rebuffing the Beach’s request to add the local initiative to the county-wide ballot.

That has led Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson to blast the stadium referendum as Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ “own private ballot.”

“It’s disgusting,” Wolfson said.

The spiral of events began Monday, when Tobin called for a special City Commission meeting. He wanted to ask commissioners to add a local ballot question to the referendum. The question: whether to change the city’s charter to enact stricter term limits for elected officials.

The question is clearly aimed at current Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, who is term-limited out of her post, but is widely rumored to be considering a run for City Commission. The city’s current charter allows her to do that, because it only limits consecutive mayoral or commission terms — it doesn’t set an ultimate term-limit for either position, as long as a commission stint doesn’t last for more than eight years, or mayoral stint doesn’t last more than six. Otherwise, an elected official could, in theory, jump from one post to another without getting shut out of office.

Bower did not immediately return a call for comment.

“There seems to be what seems to be a loophole ... which allows you to start all over again,” Tobin said. “I believe that term limits are good to get fresh blood in.”

But the county came back with some bad news.

“We are not authorizing municipalities to add questions on this ballot should the election move forward. There is a lot of uncertainty in terms of timing and preparation making it difficult to approve. Thank you,” wrote Christina White, the deputy supervisor of elections for Miami-Dade County.

In a city already vehemently against the Dolphins’ proposal — the commission passed resolutions against it twice — that news didn’t sit well with Commissioner Wolfson.

“If we’re going to have an election, we should have access to that ballot,” he reasoned.

Wolfson has a theory: A local ballot question could drive more Beach voters to the polls.

“And that could be bad for the Dolphins,” he said. “There’s a history of our electorate being against this. I think they know that.”

Tobin, though, has another plan to advance the term-limit issue.

In an email to city officials, Tobin asked that the item be placed on the city’s next commission meeting agenda for approval, if he doesn’t get a special meeting approved.

As for the county’s rejection to put the item on the same ballot as the Dolphins issue: “I believe the county cannot prohibit Miami Beach from calling for a special election on the same day as the Dolphin item. If we schedule our referendum on that day we would save the taxpayers’ money,” Tobin wrote in an email to city officials.

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