Miami-Dade County

Good Government Initiative shutting down for lack of demand

Katy Sorenson, the former Miami-Dade commissioner who left office and founded the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami.
Katy Sorenson, the former Miami-Dade commissioner who left office and founded the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami.

After six years, the local Good Government Initiative is shutting down for lack of demand.

Founded by a former county commissioner, Katy Sorenson, the nonprofit was unable to find enough recruits willing to participate in its programs aimed at training new politicians and elected officials on an ethical approach to government, Sorenson said. While the program has enjoyed extensive participation since its founding in 2010, Sorenson wrote in a statement that “it has become clear that we have depleted our pool of eligible and elected officials.”

“Money wasn’t a problem,” she said in an interview. “My problem is I ran out of market. Everybody who wanted to take the program has taken it. Everyone else is either too busy or not interested.”

Based at the University of Miami, the nonprofit barely covered its $356,000 budget in 2014 after posting a slight loss in 2013, according to the most recent tax form available to the public. In 2014, Sorenson earned $92,700 running the nonprofit, which depended on donations and seminar fees for its revenue. It targeted officials from Monroe to Palm Beach, but relied on Miami-Dade’s politicians for the bulk of its enrollment, according to a posted list of graduates. Participating in the nonprofit’s most popular program, a six-month curriculum for elected officials called Leaders of Excellence, cost $1,700.

In an op-ed in Wednesday’s Miami Herald, Sorenson wrote that the program “has had a good run,” with 86 elected officials having participated. Of those, 70 remain in office. Sorenson said she understood that the time demands of the program — which consisted of eight days of seminars, including two overnight sessions — could make it a hard sell for elected officials in posts that often bring only stipends for compensation.

Although the Good Government Initiative was built around training for elected officials, it also offered a program for potential candidates called Thinking About Running? and training in civic activism. “It was empowering citizens to know you don’t have to be a fat cat to get things done,” she said.

The closure of the program was announced the same day that three of the seven county commissioners up for re-election automatically secured new four-year terms for lack of challengers. Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, and Barbara Jordan accepted applause at the commission chambers Tuesday when Chairman Jean Monestime interrupted the regular twice-a-month meeting to announce the news after the noon filing deadline had passed.

Sorenson gave up her seat on the 13-member commission in 2010 and launched the Good Government Initiative with the backing of the Knight Foundation, UM and the Miami Foundation. In her op-ed, Sorenson described the program’s closing as the end of a personal chapter, too.

“So how does anyone define success? For me, it has been about setting goals and achieving them with diligence, stamina and integrity,” she wrote. “I never made it to the U.S. Senate — a dream I once had — but I have enjoyed a purposeful, rewarding and, yes, privileged life.”

“As long as there are smart, ethical, dedicated elected officials who put the public interest ahead of their own interests, there will be good government,” she continued. “I was honored to work with many of these officials, and I see their positive influence throughout the community.”

Ken Russell, Miami’s newest city commissioner, participated in the program while running for his seat and recently addressed a Good Government seminar as an elected official.

“It was one of the first things I did when I decided to run,” he said of the training. “It was basically how to run an ethical campaign and not make mistakes and follow the rules and be successful.”

“I had no political experience before this,” he said. “What handbook do you have as a new politician?”