Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo is suing his own government to stop a referendum that could make Mayor Francis Suarez the most powerful individual in the city government.
Late Tuesday, Carollo filed a lawsuit in civil court to block a November referendum when voters would decide if Miami’s mayor, a largely ceremonial position, should be given more power to run the city’s day-to-day operations as its chief executive.
Carollo contends the strong mayor question that the commission put on the November ballot is misleading and the ballot petition process was illegal.
Suarez has sought the change since he was a city commissioner, long before he was elected mayor. He’s proposing to expand the mayor’s power to oversee the city attorney, to control the city’s $1 billion budget and to make important recommendations for city contracts. Suarez’s proposed strong-mayor system is similar to Miami-Dade County’s form of government but goes further and grants Miami’s mayor more power than Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez — a vocal critic of the proposal — has over the county government.
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Carollo is suing Suarez, the city of Miami, City Clerk Todd Hannon, Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White and the political committee Suarez formed to organize a ballot petition to get the initiative to a public vote.
Carollo has long blasted Suarez’s campaign as a blatant power grab that would consolidate unprecedented authority into the hands of the mayor. On Wednesday, he called Suarez’s proposal a “dictator-mayor” initiative.
“It’s all about money and power,” Carollo told the Miami Herald on Wednesday.
The commissioner alleges that the language on the ballot is “ambiguous and intentionally misleading” because it does not clearly state what Suarez’s compensation would be if he were to become strong mayor, referencing a flashpoint in the debate that surrounded the City Commission votes to place the referendum on the ballot.
Carollo also contends the petition process was illegal because a number of petition circulators were not registered Miami-Dade voters — a requirement under county law, which was used as a guide by the lawyers who advised the pro-strong-mayor effort. Lawyers for the pro-strong-mayor political committee, Miamians for an Independent and Accountable Mayor’s Initiative, have said they appropriately used state and county laws to inform the ballot petition process.
The lawsuit does not come as a surprise to City Hall and political onlookers. The specter of a legal challenge hung over two City Commission meetings when commissioners voted to place the question on the November ballot and when Carollo vehemently opposed the measure.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Suarez flipped the script and called Carollo’s lawsuit its own power grab.
“Sadly, this lawsuit is another demonstration of Commissioner Carollo’s insatiable desire to control the city of Miami government by once again attempting to thwart the will of the people to decide democratically how they want to be governed and be able to hold elected officials, like himself, accountable for their actions,” he said.
The Miamians political committee released a statement accusing “career politicians like Joe Carollo and his well-connected insiders” of trying to deny residents their rights to change the city charter while “keeping Miami stuck in the past.”
“Over 20,000 city of Miami residents signed the petition to give the community the opportunity to move Miami forward and reflect a new vision in the city’s charter,” the statement reads. “It’s about time to leave career politicians in the past and put residents in the driver’s seat.”
Read the full lawsuit and attached exhibits below: