Miami-Dade County

Miami commissioner makes $2 million anti-poverty pitch

Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon made a $2 million crime-fighting pitch Monday, arguing that a push to better protect the city by beefing up its police force is incomplete without addressing the root of the problem: Poverty.

Hardemon laid out his plans during a somewhat hastily scheduled public meeting requested by Commissioner Francis Suarez in order to hear details about how the District 5 commissioner would spend the money, which he first requested in July. At the time, Hardemon had no explanation for how the dollars would be spent.

The lack of detail was met with some initial skepticism from other commissioners, and last week Miami’s city manager recommended they invest less than 40 percent of what Hardemon requested. Commissioners will take the first of two votes Tuesday on the city’s proposed $558 million operating budget.

“Do I think that we could use more police officers? Yes,” Hardemon said Monday. “But are police officers the savior for a community dealing with poverty? No.”

Details remained vague Monday, though Hardemon said he would be more specific during budget hearings. He offered an overview of his proposal, presenting 10 different ways in which the city could try to help the residents of some of Miami’s most hard-up neighborhoods — early childhood development, credit assistance and job training among them — but without specific funding amounts or agencies to push the plan.

He said he wants other commissioners to endorse a comprehensive city-wide package and then focus on allocating dollars, though he has asked that the city recommit about $200,000 to the Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust. The semi-autonomous trust was created to spur economic development and affordable housing in the violence-torn community, but was de-funded during the recession after the discovery of some wasteful spending by a past executive team.

Hardemon, who already secured $200,000 annual payments by Bayside Marketplace to the trust this summer through a renegotiated lease, said he’s “trying to breathe life” into an organization that had been “on its death bed.” His big-picture plan is to pump enough money into the trust so that the funds can be bonded out and used for a major initiative.

It’s unclear whether he’ll get the support of the city’s four other commissioners, three of whom attended Monday’s meeting. Hardemon acknowledged he likely won’t get $2 million, and at least one commissioner still feels there are details that could be better ironed out.

“I just think you have to pick and choose and focus on how you leverage your money,” said Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

Staffers from the city’s grants office were in attendance, for example, and mentioned that programs they’re already working on might overlap with some of what Hardemon is proposing. When they tried to mention those programs, Hardemon asked that they send them to him in writing.

Sarnoff has also questioned how much has been accomplished with public money invested in Liberty City. This summer, he asked Community and Economic Development director George Mensah to research the amount of public funding that has gone into the neighborhood since the 1980 McDuffie riots. Mensah concluded in an Aug. 29 memo that the city has spent at least $71.4 million in Liberty City, though he acknowledged his review was limited and less than thorough.

Sarnoff says there’s only so much the city can accomplish with $2 million. But Commissioner Suarez said the money, for a city with a half-billion-dollar budget, isn’t substantial.

“What we’re talking about,” he said, “is less than half a percent of our own budget.”