Hialeah voters could give their mayor the authority to declare a state of emergency after a hurricane or other disaster, then spend an unlimited amount of city funds on cleanup without approval from the City Council for up to three months.
That’s one of five proposed amendments to the city’s charter that will be on the Nov. 5 ballot and the one that would make the most substantial change to city government. Another would change the date of the city’s runoff election to line up with other municipalities. Others would amend the charter to conform to changes in state law, update language or make minor changes.
All were recommended by the city’s charter review commission and put on the ballot by the City Council.
Besides voting on the five proposed charter amendments, Hialeah voters will choose four council members from 13 candidates. The only incumbent in the four races is Lourdes Lozano, who’s been on the council since 2011.
As of Wednesday, only 446 people had cast their ballots during the early voting period for the primary election in Hialeah. Another 5,587 mail-in ballots — or 32% of the 17,356 ballots mailed out — had been returned.
Early voting is taking place at the John F. Kennedy Library, at 190 West 49th St. until Nov. 3. Voting day is Nov. 5. There will be a runoff Nov. 19 in any race where no one wins more than 50 percent of the votes.
The charter amendment to increase the mayor’s spending power during a state of emergency was inspired by cleanup actions and contracts from Hurricane Irma in 2017 when the storm hit during budget season, said city attorney Lorena Bravo. Under the current charter, she said the mayor has a $15,000 spending limit before he has to ask the City Council for approval to spend more money. The City Council sets spending limits by ordinance within the range of $15,000 to $25,000, according to the charter.
Approving the amendment would give the mayor the ability to use unlimited city funds without council approval for up to 90 days after the mayor has declared a state of emergency. This was done because expenses to clean up after Hurricane Irma far exceeded the mayor’s spending limit, Bravo said.
Jesus Tundidor, a city council candidate, said he understands how the change would help make government more efficient, but he said given the city’s history with its past mayors, the measure could give too much power to the mayor, who is also the city’s chief administrator.
“I have a hard time giving that position more power than it currently already has,” Tundidor said.
Here’s what some of those changes could mean:
Charter Changes to Article IV of the Hialeah Charter entitled “Administrative”
What’s on the ballot: Shall the City amend the Hialeah Charter to hear Zoning and Land Use Matters at the first available regular City Council Meeting after notice of the hearing is provided according to State Law; and to change the Residency Elector Requirement for Board Members to allow Non-Resident Trustees of the Employee Retirement System; and to allow Non-Resident Members of the Oversight Committee for the Elected Officials Retirement System?
What it means: The current charter provides a tight schedule for zoning applications to go from the planning board to the City Council. Bravo said that it could sometimes be difficult to prepare an ordinance, put an advertisement in the newspaper within 10 days of the second reading of the application and then submit it for the agenda. Approving this would make it easier for employees to put the materials together by liberalizing the timeline. This would not reduce the minimum advertisement requirements the city already follows, Bravo said.
“It helps us and staff prepare better,” Bravo said.
The second part of the amendment would allow non-residents to be on the board of the employee retirement system and the oversight committee for the elected officials retirement system. Bravo said that is consistent with state law in regard to the employee retirement system.
Charter Changes to Article III of the Hialeah Charter entitled “Legislative”
What’s on the ballot: Shall the City amend the Hialeah Charter to include the adoption of Zoning and Land Use Decisions by Ordinance and Non-use Adjustments and Land Use Transmittals to the State of Florida for comment by Resolution; and to approve all types of Budget Transfers by Resolution during the fiscal year and approve Appropriation Amendments to the Budget after the close of the fiscal year by Ordinance?
What it means: This would amend the city charter so that zoning and land-use decisions would be adopted by ordinance and certain other land-use matters by resolution, which has a simpler process.
The second part of the question would change the charter to add language Bravo said is already a provision in state law, where cities could amend their budgets up to 60 days after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Budget amendments after the fiscal year would need to be amended with an ordinance.
Charter Changes authorizing Mayor to declare an emergency and temporary suspension of spending limits
What’s on the ballot: Shall the City amend the Hialeah Charter to authorize the Mayor to declare a State of Emergency and undertake all Emergency Management Powers in time of Public Danger or Emergency; and to suspend spending limits during the Emergency that would normally require City Council approval for no more than 90 days, unless extended for good cause by the City Council?
What it means: This would give the mayor the power to declare a state of emergency and also handle emergency management as the city’s chief administrator. Bravo said that’s already implied through state law and provides more clarity to the mayor’s responsibilities in the charter.
The second part of the charter amendment would also authorize the mayor to spend unlimited city funds without council approval for up to 90 days after a state of emergency has been declared. Currently the mayor has a $15,000 spending limit without City Council approval, Bravo said.
Charter Changes to Article I entitled “Corporate Existence, Form of Government, Boundary and Power”
What’s on the ballot: Shall the City amend the Hialeah Charter to include Joint Use Agreements, Joint Participation Agreements, Intergovernmental Agreements, Lease Agreements Supported by Rent, Management or Operational Agreements, Franchise Agreements and License Agreements Involving the Spending of City Funds to exceed 5 years upon approval by a Super Majority Vote (5/7th) of the City Council?
What it means: This change would just state more types of agreements that extend beyond five years that would need to have a super majority vote of five of the seven council members to be approved, rather than renewing a contract every five years, Bravo said.
Charter Changes to Article V of the Hialeah Charter entitled “Elections”
What’s on the ballot: Shall the City amend the Hialeah Charter to extend the General Election Date to the third Tuesday after November 1, two weeks from the Primary Election; providing one Swearing-In Date for each Election Cycle; providing that candidates for Elective Office pay filing fees and assessments consistent with State Law; and to clarify that such candidates must be a Resident Elector for minimum of one year immediately preceding the Primary or Special Election?
What it means: The current provision requires the city to hold a runoff election a week after the primary — although the city doesn’t always follow that rule — but Bravo said this date is too close and is more costly. She said approving this amendment would allow the city to move its runoff date to when other municipalities hold theirs — typically two or three weeks after the primary — to allow for more time to prepare and to reduce the cost.
The second part also adds language that includes an exemption if a resident running for office can’t pay the fees, Bravo said.