Miami-Dade County

No strong mayor or bond referendum for Miami in November

The historic Marine Stadium was among the projects that would have been funded as part of a $275 million bond initiative that imploded Friday.
The historic Marine Stadium was among the projects that would have been funded as part of a $275 million bond initiative that imploded Friday.

Miami voters will consider several local issues when they head to the polls in November to choose a new president, but proposals to issue $275 million in general obligation bonds and create a “strong mayor” won’t be among them.

In yet another blow to Mayor Tomás Regalado’s administration, Miami commissioners declined Friday to hold a fall referendum to consider a bond initiative that as presented would have funded portions of several high-profile urban parks initiatives, an overhaul of an outdated police radio system, and a series of stormwater and street projects. The renovation of the historic Marine Stadium, a long-time priority of Regalado’s, was also on the list of funded items.

City Manager Daniel Alfonso and Regalado had pitched the bond initiative on the basis that the city’s credit and buying power are as good as they’ll ever be. He said in legislation that the bond, leveraged with property taxes, would have to be structured in a way that taxes related to debt wouldn’t climb any higher than they’ll be next year.

But commissioners Francis Suarez and Frank Carollo blasted what they said was a “hastily prepared” proposal that only came together this month. They said the city should have led public discussions about which projects should be funded, their financial options, and whether a general obligation bond was even necessary before bringing it to the commission and potentially voters.

I've seen street namings with more information than what’s been provided

Commissioner Frank Carollo

“They’re requesting $275 million with just eight pages of justification. I've seen street namings with more information than what’s been provided,” said Carollo.

Commissioner Ken Russell also sided against the referendum over concerns about public input. Wifredo “Willy” Gort and Keon Hardemon favored a referendum, but allowed the proposal to die without a vote when it became clear they were outnumbered.

The rejection of the bond initiative comes only days after commissioners also torpedoed Regalado’s controversial project to expand a marina on Virginia Key, which would have gone on the November ballot had it been approved. That died by a 3-2 vote, with Carollo, Russell and Suarez again winning out.

But Regalado isn’t the only Miami politician whose plans for November suffered a setback. Suarez’s high-profile push to ask voters to empower the city’s mayor with administrative powers also quietly fizzled this summer. He was expected to bring the “strong mayor” proposal before commissioners Friday among several charter changes recommended by a city committee, but the group decided against it last week after hearing some concerns from commissioners and the mayor.

Regalado argued that creating a “strong mayor” would constitute a change in the form of government, thereby eliminating restrictions that barred term-limited politicians — like himself — from running again for office. But Suarez said that argument had nothing to do with the decision not to place the issue before voters in November.

“I certainly will push for it to get on a ballot [at some point] and in a way that not only addresses commissioners’ concerns, but also technical issues and whether term limits would apply,” he said in an interview.

Commissioners did agree Friday to place four questions on the November ballot. If approved, they would authorize:

▪ A 30-year lease with two 30-year renewals between the city and Dade Heritage Trust for the preservation group’s headquarters at 190 SE 12th Terr.

▪ A ministerial change to push runoff elections back one week, already done every cycle by a vote of the commission.

▪ New charter language to ensure greater independence of Miami’s police Civilian Oversight Panel.

▪ A proposal to grant Miami residents the ability to sue the city over alleged violations of the charter, akin to its constitution.

The last proposal, regarding legal “standing,” was opposed by City Attorney Victoria Méndez, whose office recently defeated several lawsuits challenging city projects like SkyRise Miami and The Harbour at Dinner Key on the grounds that the litigants couldn’t prove they’d suffered a special injury and therefore had no “standing” to sue the city.

“This is a very bad idea,” said Mendez. “You are basically tying my hands and sending me to court.”

Hardemon, who again with Gort voted against the proposal, called it “irresponsible” to waive a legal defense. But again forming a voting bloc, Carollo, Russell and Suarez said the city should only fear lawsuits if it’s flouting its own laws.

“Is our responsibility to win,” said Russell, “or to get to the truth?