Miami-Dade County

Miami to take another look at strong mayor system

Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez.
Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez. el Nuevo Herald

Miami should be governed by a strong mayor with the authority to run the day-to-day affairs of the city, according to a committee tasked with reviewing Miami’s founding document.

Setting the stage for an important City Commission hearing next month, Miami’s Charter Review Committee concluded 18 months of work Wednesday by recommending a series of changes to the city’s charter, akin to Miami’s constitution. Chief among the proposals: turning the city’s “executive mayor” position — a mostly figurehead post with few true powers — into an elected chief administrator, known as a strong mayor.

If approved by commissioners, and then Miami voters, the conversion would drastically change the balance of power in the city. Currently, an administrator appointed by the mayor runs the city government. Come November 2017, when voters choose a replacement for term-limited Mayor Tomás Regalado, the mayor would wield considerable power, including the ability to hire and fire department directors, propose a budget, and oversee competitive solicitations for land leases and government contracts.

The most powerful person in our government is unelected.

Francis Suarez, Miami commissioner

Voters approved the system in Miami-Dade County, where it hasn’t exactly gone swimmingly. Carlos Gimenez currently holds the post after replacing Carlos Alvarez, who was recalled by voters in a historic election. Currently, a fledgling proposal to revoke the strong mayor system is making its way through county hall.

Still, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, who sat as the chairman of the Charter Review Committee, believes a strong mayor system would bring a more functional structure to the city and create more accountability. Suarez, now in his second term as a commissioner, is running for mayor in 2017 and opened an official campaign account Tuesday.

“The most powerful person in our government is unelected,” said Suarez, referring to the city manager. “Right now, our current system is dysfunctional. We’ve had more city managers since I was elected than the Miami Dolphins have had quarterbacks after Dan Marino.”

Suarez unsuccessfully tried to bring the strong mayor system to Miami in 2012. But he says this proposal is different, having been massaged over three meetings this month by the commission-appointed committee. The strong mayor proposal is only one among many potential changes to Miami’s charter, including the creation of a citizen’s advocate, and giving city residents the right to sue Miami over alleged charter violations.

A commission workshop is scheduled for June 13. A vote is tentatively scheduled for the last week in June.