Fred Grimm

Presidents, kings, ambassadors — and county commissioners — jump the MIA security line

Local and international travelers wait in line for the security checkpoint at the Miami International Airport on May 26, 2016.
Local and international travelers wait in line for the security checkpoint at the Miami International Airport on May 26, 2016. Logan Riely

That’s us, commissioners. Feet bare. Belts removed. Pants drooping toward an unseemly revelation of old guy cleavage. We’re slouching our way down a serpentine airport security line that, if uncoiled to its full length, might extend into the next time zone. We’ll need that extra hour to clear the security morass in time to catch our collective flights.

Yeah. It sucks. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop. Until we’re finally herded like moo cows into the scanning machines, where we stand with our arms aloft while TSA guards peruse our erogenous zones. (I thought I heard a giggle.)

But hey. We do this willingly, this collective sacrifice of time and dignity, a democratic necessity in the age of terror, endured by all of us. Almost all of us.

Miami-Dade County commissioners, those who insist on special treatment, are spared such plebeian vexations at Miami International Airport. Mayors and county commissioners often demand that the airport assign them “protocol escorts” who zip them to the front of the line, bypassing those tiresome security checkpoints. After all, they’re so much more important than the traveling rabble.

To be sure, MIA does indeed provide protocol escorts to guide certain dignitaries through the airport. The county’s “Protocol Procedures Manual” lists the kind of grandees who rate this VIP service: Heads of states (“including reigning kings, emperors, queens, empresses and heads of dukedoms and principalities”) presidents, vice presidents, cabinet officers, ministers of state, their various chiefs of staffs, ambassadors, and immediate family members of reigning royal families rate the airport express lane.

I’m looking. I’m looking. Nope. No mention of “county commissioner.”

Apparently, some local grunt, stewing in the security line, was not pleased to see a county commissioner getting the royal treatment. A complaint was filed with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. The ethics commission investigated and issued a report last month. “In an age when security issues abound at airports, including those related to possible terrorist activities, a policy of routinely offering such unnecessary courtesies that create diversions from necessary security activities is highly questionable,” the investigator (former Miami Herald columnist Robert Steinback) concluded.

Maybe. Maybe not. But then Steinback got at what drives us commoners crazy, suggesting that “the image of local public officials being specially escorted through security lines for non-emergency trips, including personal family excursions, while other taxpayers wait patiently in line, is likely to be offensive to the traveling and taxpaying public.”

The report went on to list the local public officials who would be king. From early 2014 through mid-2016, the investigation discovered, county commissioners received special escorts 241 times, often with chauffeured electric carts to whisk them from the curb and through the concourses.

However, Commissioners Dennis Moss and Bruno Barreiro were able to navigate their way through the airport without special treatment. (Xavier Suarez was listed a single time but he told the Herald’s Douglas Hanks that he had not requested a protocol escort but was carted around by officials who wanted to brief him on airport developments.)

Other commissioners were not so reluctant. Sally Heyman hit ’em up for 45 escorts. Jean Monestime, for 35. Eleven escorts were assigned to various commissioners’ relatives.

Only three mayors made the list. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado requested escorts 51 times; Hialeah’s Carlos Hernandez, 26 times; and Miami-Dade’s Carlos Gimenez, a dozen times.

Such meddling by the ethics commission was not well received by a few of our highfalutin commissioners. As Hanks reported, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who occasionally extended the VIP service to her sister, blew a gasket. She made a not-very-veiled threat. “We have to approve the budget of every department,” Sosa told Ethics Commission director Joe Centorino at a meeting Monday. “How will I feel to approve the budget of a department when you are telling me that department had investigators for more than a year investigating a rule that doesn’t exist?”

That was sooooo Sosa.

But really, commissioner, it should hardly be much of a surprise that some of us are offended by elected officials who imagine themselves too important to wait in line with the unwashed masses. It sparked a minor outrage back in 1995, when Jim DeFede wrote a story in the Miami New Times detailing how local politicians and county officials “view protocol staffers as their personal servants when they use the airport.”

Since 2014, TSA has allowed members of Congress to sneak past security. That wasn’t much appreciated either. The ACLU complained. “Insulating lawmakers, judges, and other decision-makers from the burdens and inconveniences of air travel does not serve the interests of democracy and fairness. When the government makes status-based decisions about aviation security, it pits Joe Congressman against Joe Sixpack, and unsurprisingly, the congressman comes out ahead,” the ACLU said.

But when it comes to VIP treatment, Joe Congressman ain’t got nothing on Joe County Commissioner.