Miami-Dade County

County leaders pledge to fight takeover in court

Defiant county leaders said Thursday they will fight any federal takeover of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, going to court if negotiations fail.

''I think we should send back the cannon fire,'' said Commissioner Jos' ''Pepe'' Diaz, referring to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's draft plan to seize control of the housing agency's federally funded programs.

Mayor Carlos Alvarez plans to negotiate with HUD, offering to accept enhanced federal monitoring and supervision without giving up local control.

Otherwise, County Attorney Murray Greenberg said the county has a legal argument that HUD has not followed all necessary procedures for a takeover.

''We're still in the United States, there is due process,'' Greenberg said.

''We can say, we don't need the same people taking care of New Orleans and taking care of Walter Reed taking care of our housing situation,'' Greenberg said.

A recent audit by HUD confirmed findings of widespread mismanagement in the housing agency that were documented last year in The Miami Herald's investigative series House of Lies.

Alvarez and commissioners have enacted numerous changes in the local housing agency's management, policy and procedure, and said they should be allowed to continue.

For the first time, some commissioners said they might create a quasi-independent board to oversee the agency.

HUD's takeover plan includes the creation of a fully independent board -- widely opposed by the commission. But influential members Joe Martinez and Natacha Seijas said a compromise measure could mollify the federal agency.

''They want input from us, and this is the only input that's come in, " Martinez said. "Everyone else is saying, let's fight,'' he said.

His plan -- a board appointed by the mayor, commission, community groups and two of county government's internal watchdogs -- did not gain broad support, however, and Alvarez was told not to offer it.

''We've done about as much as we can possibly humanly do within a very short period of time,'' said Commissioner Dennis Moss.