West Miami-Dade

Sweetwater takes council members’ spending out of mayor’s hands

Sweetwater city commissioners last week approved new rules to gain access to their discretionary accounts without the mayor’s approval.

Commissioners had complained that the mayor was taking too long to sign checks so that they could host community events for residents, like a bingo night for senior citizens.

Mayor Jose M. Diaz said that he had signed checks in the last couple of weeks after commissioners presented detailed invoices, but commissioners said it was too late for that.

“This takes total control away from the mayor,” said Commissioner Orlando Lopez.

Now, commissioners will bypass the mayor and go straight to the finance director to get their checks approved within three business days. The commissioners’ account holds $21,000 and each sub-account holds $3,000 per commissioner.

With these accounts, commissioners can buy office supplies, food for community events sponsored by the city, and make donations to charities, among other things.

Previously, for the checks to be approved, the city clerk and the mayor needed to sign off on them, said Lopez, who waited for three months to get the money to host senior Bingo Night along with Commissioner Isolina Maroño.

Because of the delay, they had to cancel the event in August and rescheduled it for the end of September.

“It’s truly embarrassing when we promise an event at the senior center, and we have to cancel it,” Lopez said. “They block our access and we can’t spend [the money] on the community.”

Another change: Any funds not spent within a fiscal year will now roll over into the following year.

“This is bad policy for the city,” said Diaz. “It is going to increase bureaucracy.”

Unlike most South Florida cities, Sweetwater has a “strong mayor” system, in which the mayor is chief executive of the city government. But the City Commission sets the budget and passes local laws and rules.

Before June, Lopez said that signing off on checks didn’t take more than a few weeks or a month, and not all commissioners had problems getting their checks signed, so he said he thinks it’s a an attack due to the mayor’s politics.

“I think it’s a personal attack since I am running against him next year,” Lopez said.