We like Mayor Suarez, but not so much that he, or anyone who follows, should be Miami’s strong mayor

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez wants city voters to approve his strong-mayor proposal.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez wants city voters to approve his strong-mayor proposal. Miami Herald

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Miami’s young leader, Francis Suarez, wants voters to turn him into the city’s first strong mayor ever. That means he, and subsequent mayors, would run the day-to-day operations and, he says, be directly accountable to city residents, instead of handing the responsibility to an appointed city manager.

“The ultimate person who should have a say is the person voted into office — the mayor,” Suarez told the Editorial Board. The mayor, who has been in office for a little more than one year, failed to push the new form of government from the dais when he was a commissioner, so he collected thousands of signatures to allow the question to be put to voters on the November ballot.

To make the case, the personable mayor has also staged a six-month public relations campaign to get voters to buy into the idea of making him the most powerful politician in the county. The mayor’s salary would jump to $187,500, a $50,000 increase.

Unfortunately, we can’t support what, in essence, walks and talks like a power grab. Though we hold the current mayor in high regard, this unprecedented shift in city governance, is subject to misuse and abuse.

Suarez would get authority over how the government spends taxpayers’ dollars. The mayor would get to appoint the police chief, and, unlike other strong mayors in Miami-Dade County, would have full discretion in hiring and firing the city attorney and city clerk.

The mayor also would make important recommendations on awarding government contracts, lead negotiations on labor union agreements and oversee Miami’s workforce. That’s more authority that even Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez wields. Too much more.

Suarez says the city’s executive mayor is not equipped to face the needs of a dynamic and vibrant 21st century city — and although he was elected to do it, the role falls on the city manager, who is not elected to administer the city’s $1 billion, 4,000-employee government.

But for true accountability, we prefer the checks and balances that the current system imposes, with five other elected officials — city commissioners — representing the interests of each nook and cranny of the city. They should not be relegated to second-class status.

Gimenez, a former Miami city manager, thinks Suarez’s proposal goes too far. In a statement to the Miami Herald, Gimenez stressed his disapproval does not reflect on Suarez, whom, he said, he considers a friend.

“As a student of government, I find the proposed strong-mayor charter amendments to be not only an executive overreach 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.”

Voters may reason that ceding policy and management authority to a single elected individual is a better form of democracy. But Miamians actually have a form of government that protects their interests — as long as the officials filling those positions truly are committed to public service, of course. A strong mayor is no guarantee. We think this proposal could open the door to influence peddling, favoritism and corruption. Mayors could become power bosses, like Chicago’s Richard Daley. Just win the mayor over, and we might be able to skirt oversight, the thinking could go.

Miami residents are the stockholders who pay taxes and get a big say in the city’s future. They shouldn’t give up that power — not even to the promising young mayor.