If Miami-Dade voters have complaints about the 2017 county budget, it will be much harder to take them to the mayor this year.
With weeks to go before a reelection vote, Mayor Carlos Gimenez broke with past practice when setting up legally required budget town halls this summer. Last year saw eight town halls on eight days, with Gimenez personally taking questions at each location.
This year, though, there will be only one day of town halls, with all eight being held Monday evening. Gimenez deputies are slated to serve as the official hosts, though spokesman Michael Hernández said Gimenez plans to attend one of the meetings. As of Friday, which one had not been decided, Hernández said.
Hernández said Gimenez is dealing with a family emergency, but he did not elaborate. The 62-year-old mayor’s mother is known to be in failing health. The plan for the one-night-only town halls was set in late July. Hernández described the 2016 schedule as a break from the past, but only from the more engaged approach that Gimenez instituted after taking office in 2011.
“Mayor Gimenez is the first mayor to host between eight and 13 budget town hall meetings each year. His administration will once again host eight budget town halls and two social media chats to engage with our residents,” Hernández wrote in a statement.
Mayor Gimenez is the first mayor to host between eight and 13 budget town hall meetings each year. His administration will once again host eight budget town halls and two social media chats.
Michael Hernández, Gimenez spokesman
The sharp change in public engagement by Gimenez on the budget front overlaps with his avoidance of debates on the campaign trail, where he faces a challenge from school board member Raquel Regalado and five other candidates.
Gimenez skipped Wednesday’s League of Women Voters debate, a Kendall Homeowners’ Association forum in July, and declined a debate invitation from Univision, his campaign confirmed Friday. So far, only one face-off between Gimenez and Regalado is scheduled: a joint appearance on a taping of WPLG’s “This Week in South Florida” on Aug. 14, according to co-host Michael Putney.
Polls that have been made public show Gimenez ahead of Regalado going into the Aug. 30 nonpartisan primary, where he needs to capture more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a November runoff with the second-place finisher. Regalado is eager to share a stage with the incumbent and shake up the race, and the open-mic format of the budget town halls could give her a chance to stage a confrontation with media cameras rolling.
In a statement Friday, Regalado said: “Carlos Gimenez can’t be trusted. He is dodging debates and budget discussions because he can’t defend his record or his budget.”
Gimenez has positioned his budget as good news for the county, with a 9 percent surge in property values allowing a 4 percent raise for county workers, expanded library hours, money for a new rescue squad in North Miami and other initiatives. A recent round of automated calls to voters by the Gimenez campaign touts the proposed budget, including praise from a recent Miami Herald editorial.
The public already had a chance to comment on Gimenez’s proposal to keep most 2017 property-tax rates flat last month. Two more hearings will be held in September.
But the spending plan also includes fodder for rivals: unfilled positions in the police department, a 9 percent spike in water rates (since shaved to 8 percent) and a park budget that critics say continues to underfund the system.
The public already had a chance to comment on Gimenez’s proposal to keep most 2017 property-tax rates flat (one that funds countywide debt is set to dip in 2017) during a public hearing last month. Two more hearings will be held at downtown’s County Hall building in September, when the 13-member County Commission must approve the mayor’s spending plan. Gimenez also is scheduled to answer budget questions posted on Twitter and Facebook on Thursday afternoon.
A 2013 county ordinance established requirements for town halls when an administration’s proposed budget includes higher tax rates (which this one does not) or higher fees (which this one does). The ordinance says at least six public meetings must be held, “at locations and times which are accessible and convenient to the majority of residents in the County.” It also says the meetings must “afford an opportunity for maximum participation by the diverse population of the County.”
Hernández, the mayor’s spokesman, said the administration did not seek a legal opinion on this summer’s schedule but considers the plan in compliance with the ordinance.
Town hall budget meetings
Miami-Dade County plans eight simultaneous town halls for the 2017 proposed budget from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday at the following locations:
▪ Northeast Dade-Aventura Branch Library, 2930 NE 199th St., Aventura
▪ North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St., Miami Gardens
▪ Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment, 4800 Palm Ave., Hialeah
▪ Arcola Lakes Branch Library, 8240 NW Seventh Ave., Miami
▪ West Dade Regional Library, 9445 Coral Way, Miami
▪ West End Regional Library, 10201 Hammocks Blvd. #159, Miami
▪ South Dade Regional Library, 10750 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay
▪ William F. Dickinson Community Center, 1601 N. Krome Ave., Homestead
Mayor Carlos Gimenez also plans to field questions on Twitter and Facebook about the budget on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. on Facebook and 3 p.m. on Twitter.