Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has reappointed Keon Hardemon as chairman of the City Commission, furthering an alliance with the increasingly powerful politician and likely cementing recent changes in the way the public interacts with Miami’s decision-makers.
Regalado announced in a three-sentence memo Wednesday that Hardemon, 33, will retain control over the flow of legislation in Miami-Dade County’s largest municipality for a second consecutive year, a period during which Hardemon also happens to face reelection. The announcement was expected, as the lame-duck mayor has relied on the city’s only elected African American to support his big-picture initiatives and embattled City Manager Daniel Alfonso.
“Keon has done a good job running the meetings,” Regalado said.
Since his initial appointment in January, Hardemon has deftly used the power of the gavel to steer votes without overreaching, and at times used the pulpit to pontificate on race relations and poverty. He also changed the way the commission conducts its business by creating public hearing sessions in the mornings and afternoons and eliminating the practice of consulting the public prior to voting on each individual item.
Hardemon, who says the new procedures have streamlined meetings and made participation easier for the working public, made the change following a marathon meeting that ran until well after midnight and forced members of the public to wait for hours on end to be heard. City meetings now somewhat resemble the procedures of County Commission and Miami-Dade School Board hearings.
There’s no reasonable opportunity for a person to be heard if they come at 9 o’clock in the morning and they’re heard at 9 o’clock in the evening
Chairman Keon Hardemon
But Hardemon has also occasionally lost his cool — like the time he eviscerated an argumentative senior citizen and then walked off the dais — and received some criticism from those who believe he has reduced rather than streamlined the public’s role in the legislative process. This fall, for instance, he unilaterally made additional changes to commission meetings by implementing a practice whereby entire groups of items are approved without discussion unless a city commissioner indicates a desire to have a debate.
“We’re being forced to speak in a vacuum, totally void of any context,” neighborhood activist Grace Solares told commissioners in September. “There is nothing meaningful in the way the public is presently allowed to speak before the commission.”
Hardemon, who did not respond to phone calls and a voice mail on his cellphone, rejects that premise.
He says the public now knows when they’ll be heard and no longer has to set aside an entire day to attend commission meetings, which now rarely dally into the late night. During this month’s commission meeting, when blogger Al Crespo criticized some of his changes as “un-Democratic,” Hardemon vociferously defended himself and noted that all his changes comply with state law.
“You’re wrong,” Hardemon said, arguing that the changes have also helped the commission focus on the issues. “If it were that every single person who’s a member of this community gets a chance to debate the commissioners, then this would be a free-for-all. There would be no order in these chambers.”
Asked to comment on Hardemon’s changes recently, Regalado declined, saying that’s a matter better discussed privately with the chairman.
Regalado also reappointed Ken Russell as commission vice-chairman.