Miami Beach

Should Miami Beach mayors get longer terms? Voters could decide in November

Miami Beach voters may be asked in November whether the mayor’s term limits should be increased from three two-year terms to two four-year terms.
Miami Beach voters may be asked in November whether the mayor’s term limits should be increased from three two-year terms to two four-year terms.

The honeymoon phase doesn’t last long for the mayor of Miami Beach.

Shortly after the mayor is elected, he or she has to start campaigning for a second term. Unlike city commissioners, who serve four-year terms, Beach mayors are limited to two years at a time.

That could soon change. The City Commission is considering a proposal to increase the mayor’s term limits to two four-year terms — a total of eight years — rather than three two-year terms. The change, which would require voter approval, wouldn’t go into effect until November 2021.

Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán, who sponsored the proposal, said she thinks longer terms would improve city government because the mayor wouldn’t have to deal with the distraction of campaigning every other year.

“More importantly I hope that what we’ll get is a de-politicizing of a lot of the issues,” Alemán added. “That is a huge benefit for the city to be able to evaluate initiatives on their own merits and not so much on the politics.”

On Wednesday, the City Commission will vote on whether to put the question on the November ballot. According to county election rules, cities have to decide on ballot measures by Sept. 6.

For Mayor Dan Gelber, who was first elected in 2017 and is running for re-election this year, the change would mean that he could run for a four-year term in 2021. That would bring his tenure to eight years, as opposed to the current limit of six.

Gelber was traveling on Friday and could not be reached for comment.

The leaders of most of the larger jurisdictions in Miami-Dade County — including the county mayor and the mayors of Miami, Miami Gardens and Hialeah — serve four-year terms. In Coral Gables, the mayor is elected every two years. Miami Beach commissioners had two-year terms during some periods in the city’s history, but their terms were increased to four years in 1991.

Alemán also wants to ask voters to give commissioners a raise.

Commissioner salaries were set at $6,000 in 1966 and haven’t changed over the past 50 years, although elected officials do get other perks including pensions, a car allowance and a monthly stipend for expenses. The proposal would boost commissioner salaries to $45,381, the value of the 1966 salary adjusted for the cost of living. The mayor’s salary, currently $10,000, would go up to $75,636.

Voters rejected a similar request last November by a five-point margin — a difference of roughly 500 votes. Unlike the previous proposal, which would have impacted current officeholders and included future cost of living increases, the newest iteration wouldn’t go into effect until the city’s November 2021 election and salaries would stay flat.

Those changes could help win over critics. Opponents of the 2018 ballot question, including Gelber, questioned whether elected officials should recommend their own raises. Alemán, who announced earlier this year that she would not run for re-election, said she thinks that makes her the right person to propose both the raises and term limit changes.

Supporters of the 2018 proposal argued that higher wages would attract a larger pool of candidates. Although serving on the commission or as the mayor is technically a part-time job — a full-time city manager oversees day-to-day operations — commissioners are expected to attend numerous meetings and events. That can make it hard for elected officials who aren’t retired or independently wealthy to juggle their city obligations and a full-time job.

“Right now it’s sort of elitist,” Alemán said. “You can only afford to be a commissioner if you’re very wealthy, so hopefully this opens it up to more and better people.”