Miami-Dade County

An end to term limits? A route to pay raises? Miami-Dade debates charter changes.

The crowd reacts during a November 2014 meeting of the Miami-Dade County Commission. Members of the commission are subject to a two-term limit under the county's charter, but there's a proposal to lift those restrictions before they force any commissioners to leave office.
The crowd reacts during a November 2014 meeting of the Miami-Dade County Commission. Members of the commission are subject to a two-term limit under the county's charter, but there's a proposal to lift those restrictions before they force any commissioners to leave office.

Voters approved term limits for county commissioners in 2012, but the restrictions aren't set to force their first exits on the board until 2020 as the restrictions kick in for incumbents who held their seats when the referendum passed.

Now there's a push to have another referendum — this one to repeal the two-term limit in time to let current county commissioners run for office again.

"It does not serve us well to do away with experience after eight years," said Robert Cuevas, the head of a commission-appointed panel that recommended an end to term limits. "Experience in government is not a negative attribute."

Cuevas, a former county attorney, led a task force that in February recommended changes to the Miami-Dade charter, including a repeal of the 2012 amendment imposing the two-term limit. Commissioners are holding a special meeting Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in downtown Miami's Stephen P. Clark center to consider at least seven ballot items for amending the charter, which requires a majority vote in a countywide election. If commissioners agree, the ballot items would go to voters in November.

Even if the term-limit repeal garners a majority vote on the commission Tuesday, it would take a political miracle for it to pass in November. Voters overwhelmingly passed the term limits in 2012, with 77 percent in favor.

"You want fresh ideas," said Susan Windmiller, a former president of the League of Women Voters who attended meetings of the charter review board. "I know it takes a while to learn the county government. it's very complex. But I don't think it's in the best interests of voters to create dynasties."

Commissioner Dennis Moss, who was reelected in 2016 in what the current rules say must be his final four-year term after more than two decades on the commission, sponsored the proposed ballot item. He was not available for an interview Monday. The proposal would not change the two-term limit for county mayor. Mayor Carlos Gimenez is required to give up his office in 2020.

Moss also proposed a charter change aimed at sidestepping public opposition to pay raises for commissioners. Voters rejected raises in early 2012, when commissioners used that year's presidential primary to ask for a charter amendment tying term limits to a pay raise from $6,000 a year to $92,000. That failed, with 46 percent of the voters in favor and 54 percent against. Ten months later, the stand-alone amendment on term limits passed.

Commissioners actually earn more than $6,000 a year. Adding in car stipends and cash payments given senior county executives, commissioners typically report earning between $40,000 and $60,000 in their county posts, according to recent financial disclosures.

The Moss proposal, endorsed by the charter task force, would establish an independent panel to set yearly compensation for both the 13 county commissioners and Miami-Dade's mayor. The proposal follows a request by Gimenez in December asking commissioners to endorse reversing a pay cut the mayor imposed on himself shortly after taking office in 2011.

As a candidate, Gimenez had vowed to cut the office's $324,000 salary in half as he tackled a budget crisis and undid increases in property-tax rates passed under Alvarez before his 2011 recall. With the recession over and county unions enjoying pay raises, Gimenez argued his self-imposed austerity measure of a $150,000 yearly salary should end with the commission's blessing.

Other proposed charter amendments being considered Tuesday would:

Require the county attorneys office to weigh in on the legality of a proposed ordinance being submitted to voters on a petition before the petition is circulated. In 2016, liberal groups gathered 130,000 signatures for a petition drive to send an ordinance to voters that would ban lobbyists and other from donating to county races. County lawyers pointed out legal flaws in the proposed law's language, but only after the signatures were gathered, making a fall referendum impossible after an appeals court agreed with the Miami-Dade attorneys.

The proposed charter amendment sponsored by Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava would require that the legal review take place before the petition drive, giving petitioners time to correct flawed language. Unlike charter amendments, ordinances passed by referendum can be repealed by the commission after a year.

End partisan contests for county clerk elections. It rarely gets much attention, but Miami-Dade's elected clerk of courts holds the only partisan office in county government. The mayor, county commissioners, and property appraiser are elected in nonpartisan elections, with all candidates — no matter their party — competing in a single primary.

The county charter doesn't require nonpartisan elections for the clerk, an office held by Democrat Harvey Ruvin since 1992. Ruvin, a former county commissioner and the longest serving office holder in Miami-Dade, said he supports the proposed charter amendment, which is sponsored by Levine Cava. "I believe that the office of Clerk of Courts should always be seen as neutral and even-handed," Ruvin said.

The office of state attorney and public defender are also elected in partisan contests, but those are considered state offices.

Allow county employees to run for city offices. The county charter currently bans Miami-Dade employees from holding elected office at the city level and requires them to take leaves of absence or quit during an election. The proposed amendment, also sponsored by Levine Cava, would limit the rule to county employees seeking county offices.

  Comments