Miami-Dade County

A look at a prayerful year with the Miami-Dade commission

A “word cloud” of the most commonly uttered words during the official invocation at Miami-Dade Commission meetings. The word cloud, which omits common words such as “we” and “as”, was created using
A “word cloud” of the most commonly uttered words during the official invocation at Miami-Dade Commission meetings. The word cloud, which omits common words such as “we” and “as”, was created using

When Miami-Dade County turns to the heavens for support, Mike Roan usually does the asking. A member of the county’s sergeant-at-arms staff and a weekend minister, Roan delivers most of the official invocations before Miami-Dade commission meetings. And he’s not above taking requests.

“I have had requests for the military, and that everything will work out with county employees in terms of the budget process,” said Roan, pastor at the Dayspring Missionary Baptist church in Miami.

To get a handle on Miami-Dade’s prayerful moments, Dade Data transcribed all 19 invocations given during the commission’s regular meetings. In all, 3,783 words were uttered. Among the highlights we divined:

▪  The county’s legal department receives extra attention. Some form of the word “attorney” comes up 12 times throughout the invocations, making it one of the most mentioned posts. “Mayor” made the list 11 times, and “president” 10 times. “Commissioners” easily took the top slot, with 17 mentions, and “chairwoman” or “chair” — both references to Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa — ended the year with 13 mentions.

▪  Leaving out common words like “we” and “this,” the most popular word in the county’s prayer time was “pray.” It was uttered 57 times. Second place went to “county” at 52 times. Then “ask” (43), then “Lord” (36), then “Oh” (35) and “thou” (28).

▪  Four countries were mentioned: the United States (13 times), Venezuela (four times), Israel (three times) and Ukraine (once). (Though not mentioned by name, Afghanistan and Iraq were tacitly referenced during remembrances of military stationed “overseas” — four times — and in “harm’s way” -- twice.)

▪  “Freedom” was mentioned five times, “Ebola” twice, and “budget” once.

For eight years, commissioners banished prayers in favor of a moment of silence before proceedings began. That changed in late 2012 when, at the urging of the Christian Family Coalition, commissioners voted 8-3 to reinstate the invocation at meetings. The American Civil Liberties Union protested the Dec. 4 vote, saying it was bound to be exclusionary to religious minorities and non-believers.

“I don’t think it is good and wise and appropriate for governmental bodies to make people feel like outsiders based on their religion, or lack thereof,” Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said this week.

Judeo-Christian icons pop up here and there in the 2014 invocation transcripts. On Sept. 16, Roan invoked the “great God of Israel,” though he usually sticks with the generic “Lord.” “Jesus” appears in the 2014 tally just once, along with Abraham, Isaac, and Job. King Solomon was mentioned twice.

“It’s non-denominational,” Roan said. “You’re being inclusive of the entire county.”

The commission returned to the hot-button topic of God and government almost two years to the day after it made the prayer the decision. On Dec. 2, 2014, it voted to post “In God We Trust” behind the dais in the commission chambers. The move didn’t spark the controversy brought on by the prayer decision, with only Commissioner Sally Heyman speaking against it before she cast the lone no vote in the 10-to-1 decision.

The 2012 invocation plan included a provision to invite clergy and religious leaders from throughout the county to deliver the message, or have different commissioners do it themselves. But the 2014 invocation transcripts show Roan is the unofficial voice of Miami-Dade County when it comes to prayer-time. [For its analysis, Dade Data only looked at what it considered regular commission meetings, and not meetings where the commission convenes to consider zoning or master-planning matters.]

Roan delivered 15 of the 19 invocations. He’s at almost all of the meetings anyway, since he serves as a police officer in the chambers for his sergeant-at-arms position. Sosa, Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio González, a miliary chaplain and a member of the county’s military-affairs board delivered the four other invocations.

Roan gets called upon to give prayers at other county events, too. When Miami-Dade’s animal-services agency held a ground-breaking ceremony for a new shelter in August, Roan took the microphone to address the county’s pets. "We forgive them as they eat countless shoes, and stain many carpets, and even dig up our yards.”

Dade Data is a Miami Herald series analyzing the numbers behind Miami-Dade County government.