Miami-Dade County

Bill requiring elected sheriff could pit Miami-Dade against the rest of Florida

Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, speaks with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, following a press conference on body cameras on Thursday, April 28, 2016.
Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, speaks with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, following a press conference on body cameras on Thursday, April 28, 2016. emichot@miamiherald.com

Voters across Florida would be asked to decide if Miami-Dade County should have an elected sheriff under a proposed 2018 constitutional amendment that passed the Senate Community Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

The bill, SJR 134 by Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, would ask voters to require Miami-Dade to convert the county’s appointed police director to an elected sheriff.

In 1996, Miami-Dade voters updated the county charter to provide for an executive mayor system that included giving the mayor the ability to appoint a county manager who hired department heads, including the police director, making Miami-Dade the only one of the state’s 67 counties not to have a sheriff on the ballot. In January 2007, Miami-Dade changed to a strong mayor system, giving the mayor direct oversight over county operations, including the appointment of a police director and other department heads.

For Artiles, a Miami Republican who has considered seeking county office in the past, the current arrangement is devoid of the proper checks and balances needed for a local government. He noted that the Florida Sheriff’s Association supports the proposal.

“This is a no-brainer,” he said. “The sheriff’s association was very clear: 66 out of 67 counties have an elected sheriff. This is the most viable alternative to get this passed.”

But the proposal is opposed by Miami-Dade County, which argues that if county voters want an elected sheriff, they should be able to make the decision themselves, not get permission from voters from Pensacola to Key West.

“We oppose the entire state deciding for Miami-Dade County,” said Jess McCarty, Miami-Dade County lobbyist, noting that if Miami-Dade voters voted against it, the rest of the state could impose something on it. “I would ask you to see if you would want this for your community?”

Artilles countered that while McCarty was “a great guy, he works for the mayor.”

John Rivera, president of both the Miami-Dade and Florida Police Benevolent Association, said his organization also supports the bill. The police union has been a longtime foe of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and supported his opponent in the 2016 election, Raquel Regalado.

After narrowly missing an outright win in the August primary, Gimenez became the first incumbent mayor forced into a November runoff since the strong mayor system was implemented.

“Sometimes there are bills that hit the hornets’ nest,” Rivera told the committee. He said the current system violates the principle of separation of powers, noting that in 2012 the former mayor dismantled the office of public corruption to interfere with an investigation into fraudulent absentee ballots.

“We need some separation of power, otherwise you have absolute power, absolute corruption,” he said.

He noted that Gimenez submitted a qualifying check that was dated 2015 instead of 2016 and the supervisor of elections, whom Gimenez also appoints, allowed the Gimenez campaign to replace the check.

Regalado filed suit just days before the election but failed to disqualify Gimenez’s candidacy.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, who voted against the bill, said that asking 66 counties to decide the fate of another county was neither a “good solution nor a good precedent.”

“Whether we need an elective sheriff or not should be up to Miami-Dade,” he said. “I don’t think a very, very blunt instrument going statewide is the way to resolve this.”

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