Miami-Dade County

No need for discussion: Lobbyist’s 12-year tenure as homeless chief is extended

Ronald L. Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, addresses the county’s efforts against homelessness in this file photo from December 2015.
Ronald L. Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, addresses the county’s efforts against homelessness in this file photo from December 2015. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

In a letter last month, Ron Book predicted he had the votes on the County Commission to extend his tenure as chairman of Miami-Dade’s homeless board. Tuesday proved him right.

Not only did no commissioner vote against the term-limit waiver, none asked that it be pulled from a list of items set for automatic approval. Book, a prominent lobbyist with Miami-Dade itself as a client, did not attend the meeting.

“There was no discussion because everybody agreed he should be reappointed,” commission chairman Jean Monestime said after the 13-member board’s regular, twice-a-month meeting.

Book has held the Homeless Trust chairmanship post since 2004, and exerts enough authority over the county’s homeless agency that he’s considered the de facto head of the tax-funded operation. In interviews, he has described holding veto power over day-to-day spending and housing decisions made by the paid staff. He also serves as the only authorized spokesman for the department.

His tenure now faces more scrutiny than ever on the heels of Washington rejecting $6 million in homeless grants for Miami-Dade, the biggest denial in the county’s history and part of a nationwide tightening of how the Department of Housing and Urban Development renews funding requests. Book has served on the county board since its founding in the 1990s, despite county rules limiting members to two consecutive three-year terms.

County commissioners routinely waive term limits to keep members on county boards, but Book’s longevity as chairman and his active role with the agency make him unique in Miami-Dade government.

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, which holds seven seats on the 27-member homeless board, wrote Book on May 25 to ask about his plans for a successor. Book wrote back that he expected another term-limit waiver from commissioners and that “Rumors of my pending assassination should be quashed.”

On Tuesday, Book said he spoke to 12 of the commissioners to make sure the votes were there for his reappointment, as well as a residency waiver — Book is a Broward County homeowner. Book is a significant donor to commission incumbents and his Aventura-based lobbying firm earns $120,000 a year advocating in Tallahassee for the legislative priorities commissioners establish by resolution.

The Homeless Trust’s executive board recently voted to cover most of the lost HUD money with reserves if replacement money isn’t found. Book is managing an appeal to Washington. He’s also campaigning to expand the 1 percent restaurant tax that helps fund the agency to Miami Beach and other coastal cities exempt from the levy due to their own municipal restaurant taxes.

Those efforts gave Book an opportunity to tout the value of his political influence for his volunteer post as Homeless Trust chairman. He portrayed the HUD funding crisis as a top reason for him to stay on for at least another three years.

“Our ability to end homelessness has never been more challenged,” he said. “I wanted the chance to continue to serve.”

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