Doral mayor campaigning against city charter changes

Doral Mayor Luigi Boria isn’t up for reelection this year, but he’s found another opponent to campaign against.

The opposition? Ten proposed amendments to the city charter.

Boria has criticized the amendments, which will go before voters on Aug. 26 since the changes were developing at meetings of the Charter Review Commission earlier this year. In recent weeks, Boria has launched a campaign against all of proposed changes, which range from range from imposing term limits on the council members and reducing the number of signatures required for initiative and referendum petitions, through social media and Spanish-language TV and radio. He has said the amendments are an attempt by the “old guard” of Doral to show their discontent with the current leadership.

He’s backed off criticizing the review commission and taken aim at the amendments themselves in recent weeks, circulating emails that encourage residents to “vote no” on all 10 of the amendments.

Boria told the Miami Herald on Monday that the amendments will create instability in Doral’s government and prevent the council from doing its work. He said the current charter is fine the way it is.

“If it’s working, why should we change it?” he said.

He pointed to two amendments in particular. One would lower the percentage of voter signatures needed to propose a city ordinance to the City Council or ask the council to repeal an existing ordinance. Now, it takes at least 10 percent of registered from the previous city election. The amendment would reduce the minimum to 3 percent.

“It’s crazy,” Boria said. “Every few months, you could have a referendum.”

Jesse Jones, former chairman of the Charter Review Commission and one of Doral’s founders, said the change accounts for Doral’s rapid growth in the past decade.

According to U.S. Census figures, Doral’s population was about 20,000 in 2000. A recently-released census estimate shows that more than 50,000 now live in the city. In the November 2012 election, about 17,000 people voted, compared to the roughly 7,000 who voted in the city’s first election in 2003.

Jones added that the change opens the door for more participation in government.

Another amendment criticized by Boria’s campaign is the proposal to change the residency requirement for anyone who wants to run for office in Doral. Currently, a resident has to live in the city for at least two years before qualifying. The amendment would reduce it to six months.

“Anybody who comes from anywhere in the country can become mayor,” Boria said.

Jones cited legal advice from attorneys assisting the review commission when saying a lower residency requirement would shield the city from legal challenges from potential candidates.

“The commission was advised by its legal counsel that the current requirement would not hold up in court,” Jones said.

Murray Greenberg, a former longtime Miami-Dade county attorney and one of the review commission’s advisers, said Monday that anything below a year would likely survive a legal challenge.

“We feel comfortable that what they put would be sustained if anyone challenged it,” he said.

Boria has also taken issue with a change that would dilute the mayor’s power to nominate charter officers, like the city attorney and city manager, by creating a process that includes a citizen committee vetting candidates before recommending them to the City Council — a process often employed as a matter of practice in other cities.

Boria is working with his fourth city manager in two years in a system where the city manager is the chief executive and the mayor is the chairman of the City Council. One of the mayor’s most important powers under Doral’s current system is the power to select the city manager.

Boria thinks the change would hamper his ability to find someone he can collaborate with.

“They are taking the right away from the mayor, which is in the charter,” he said. “To fulfill his duty, the mayor needs to work aligned with the manager.”

Jones disagrees. He said the current process could lead to the city manager, an apolitical position tasked with running the city’s day-to-day operations, becoming a political appointee.

“You’ve had four city managers under his administration,” he said. “If he’d taken the time to do a proper search you’d have less instability.”

Boria is inviting city residents to a meeting to discuss the charter amendments from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at Doral Park Country Club, 5001 NW 104th Ave.

The Charter Review Commission, a citizen committee appointed by the City Council to review the city’s charter every five years and suggest changes, worked from December to April to finalize a list of changes that, by charter, have to go to the city’s voters.