Miami-Dade County

A quick fix for Miami-Dade’s budget blunder

Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa hugs Budget Director Jennifer Moon after Thursday’s short budget hearing.
Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa hugs Budget Director Jennifer Moon after Thursday’s short budget hearing. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami-Dade County was prepared for a lengthy budget hearing Thursday night: Rope lines. A stack of speaker cards. A corps of bureaucrats with thick binders ready to answer questions.

But only four members of the public showed up.

The quartet of speakers said their piece in their allotted two minutes. Then, 12 of 13 county commissioners made quick work of what may be the first-ever rerun of Miami-Dade’s usually contentious budget vote.

“We had so much fun at the last budget hearing that we decided to do it over again,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez quipped.

The meeting lasted 38 minutes.

Commissioners had adopted a $6.2 billion budget for 2015 on Sept. 18. But the Florida Department of Revenue informed them in November that they had misled the public by making a mistake in a newspaper advertisement detailing the budget and property-tax rates.

As a disciplinary action, Gimenez suspended three top budget administrators without pay — including Director Jennifer Moon. The mayor said he would require her to pay out of her own pocket for a new ad in the Miami Herald. The county thought the ad would cost about $12,000, though it ended up costing about $8,600.

Gimenez reversed that decision from the dais Thursday, saying the suspensions ended up covering the cost of the ad. He had been criticized by the South Florida chapter of the American Society for Public Administration for penalizing Moon.

One of the four speakers at the hearing, B.J. Chiszar, said the mayor shouldn’t have “hit a county employee with a $12,000 fine” for what he called a “clerical mistake.”

Though the September budget hearings had commissioners clashing, Thursday saw no debate over spending priorities. The only conflict flared up over Moon’s penalty.

Commissioner Juan C. Zapata offered $3,000 from this office budget to help cover the cost of the ad. “I played a lot of team sports in my life, and I think we should all kind of stick together, in victory or defeat,” he said.

Gimenez offered no explanation for the change of plans, saying only that the cost would be covered by the payroll revenue saved during the suspensions.

“The money will be saved from the suspensions that were put in effect,” he said.

Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, who had made an oblique reference to Moon’s situation earlier by mentioning human error, sounded pleased. “We are humans, and we are not the only ones who make mistakes,” she said. When it was over, Sosa walked over to the end of the dais to hug Moon.

With a new commissioner in office and labor contracts pending with four of the county’s 10 unions, Thursday’s do-over meeting had the potential of turning into a stage for political theater. It didn’t, however.

The new commissioner, Daniella Levine Cava, signed off on everything. “Although I wasn’t present for the debate and the discussion, I vote for the good of the body: Yes,” she said.

None of her colleagues switched any of their votes from September. Commissioner Javier Souto was absent.