Politics

Carlos Gimenez calls city strong-mayor proposal ‘dangerous’ overreach of power

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, that Florida International University’s main campus off Southwest Eighth Street would get the county’s 26th early voting location.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, that Florida International University’s main campus off Southwest Eighth Street would get the county’s 26th early voting location. sballestas@miamiherald.com

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has a new critic taking aim at his campaign to consolidate the power of the mayor — Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Gimenez issued a sharp criticism of Suarez’s proposal to transform the city of Miami’s government into a strong-mayor system, one based in part on Gimenez’s position. Under Suarez’s plan, the elected mayor would become the city’s top administrator who would control a $1 billion municipal budget, make important recommendations on awarding government contracts, lead negotiations on labor union agreements and oversee Miami’s workforce — more authority than even the county mayor.

That proposal would need to be decided in a voter referendum that could be held in November, depending on the City Commission. Commissioners disagreed over the wording of the proposed ballot question Monday and will reconvene Aug. 14 to make a decision.

Gimenez, a Miami resident and former Miami city manager, thinks Suarez’s proposal goes too far in granting the mayor new powers. In a statement to the Miami Herald, Gimenez stressed his take on Suarez’s strong-mayor initiative doesn’t reflect on Suarez, who he said he considers a friend.

Then he called Suarez’s proposal an “overreach” and “dangerous,” alluding to that expanded power.

“As a student of government, I find the proposed strong-mayor charter amendments to be not only an executive over-reach but also dangerous to the checks and balances that our democracy must have for voters to trust our public institutions,” Gimenez said. “Maintaining the separation of powers is key to ensuring transparency in the work of government at all levels. I cannot support this proposal in its current form.”

Suarez’s plan would give Miami’s mayor the ability to hire and fire the city attorney and the city clerk, granting the mayor authority over two key positions in government that are currently overseen by commissioners in city and county halls. In Miami, the strong mayor would oversee the city’s legal team, which currently is under the authority of the whole commission.

Miami’s strong mayor also would be able to run commission meetings as chairman, a power Gimenez does not have. Suarez pointed out that he currently has the authority to preside over commission meetings, but he’s followed the custom of voluntarily passing that responsibility to a chairperson he appoints. He said he would continue that custom.

He responded to Gimenez’s statement Tuesday by saying he respects the county mayor, who is entitled to his perspective and will have the opportunity to vote his conscience on the issue.

Suarez’s approach to government is not entirely unprecedented for a city government in Miami-Dade, though Miami would be the largest municipality to adopt such a strong-mayor government with broad power concentrated in the hands of one elected official. Florida City and Virginia Gardens already have strong-mayor governments that have some similarities to the system Suarez is promoting, but Suarez’s proposal goes further.

In Hialeah, Miami-Dade’s second most populous city, the city’s strong mayor can appoint the city attorney and city clerk, but they are subject to approval by the City Council. In Miami’s proposed system, the mayor has full discretion to hire and fire the attorney and clerk.

Under the proposed strong-mayor plan for Miami, removing one of the mayor’s appointed department directors would require a four-fifths vote from the commission. Currently, the commission has no say in these appointments.

Suarez has pitched his reform as a way to make the city’s top elected officials directly accountable to the voters, giving high-visibility to the city’s top decision-maker.

Manolo Reyes, who is among Suarez’s biggest critics on Miami’s commission, held up the passage of the ballot question for a November referendum over the wording that would appear on the ballot. Even though he’s willing to negotiate the ballot language, he is vehemently opposed to the proposal.

“You know how I feel about this,” Reyes told Suarez at Monday’s meeting. “This is not a strong mayor. This is a mayor with absolute power.”

This article has been corrected to reflect the process by which the chairperson of the Miami City Commission is currently selected. A previous version of this story misstated that process.
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