No waiver on Miami Beach

A commissioner’s life-long dream to become a street cop poses a dilemma for the city of Miami Beach.

Commissioner Ed Tobin, 52, wants to leave politics for policing and begin a new career serving the community as a rookie Miami Beach officer. An admirable choice.

Mr. Tobin, an attorney elected in 2007, says he’s wanted to wear the uniform since age 13, when he was a police explorer.

Tobin wants the job as soon as possible, and is being term-limited out of office next year, anyway.

But a city ordinance forbids commissioners from accepting city employment until two years after leaving office. The existing ordinance — drawn up with Mr. Tobin’s — aims to prevent elected officials from having undue advantage when seeking employment in the city. The ordinance, not common in other Miami-Dade cities, shows foresight.

But an exemption can be made and a waiver issued in special cases, and that’s what Mr. Tobin will request of his fellow commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting.

If five out of six commissioners approve the waiver — Mr. Tobin will not be allowed to vote — he can apply to the city police department because he’s already graduated from the academy. If hired, he’ll resign his commission seat and hit the streets in uniform. If he waited until he left office, and then faced the two-year restriction, he would be about 55.

Who wants to stand in the way of one man’s law enforcement dreams? Joseph Centorino, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust, told the Editorial Board Mr. Tobin is within his right to seek the waiver.

Yet Mr. Tobin’s request is troublesome on several levels. If granted the waiver, what is to stop other commissioners from making the same type of request? And would the Tobin precedent make those waivers likely to be approved? Will the Miami Beach Police Department consider Mr. Tobin’s application like any another, even though he is one of their bosses? Do police departments routinely hire 52-year-old rookies? They might, if he’s a commissioner.

Perception goes a long way in this case. Might Mr. Tobin’s application receive special consideration in the police department because he’s a commissioner? Indeed, how could it not?

Mr. Centorino said Mr. Tobin’s request is unusual. “This scenario where a sitting commissioner wants to become a police officer — I haven’t seen it before.” This is clearly uncharted territory.

Mr. Centorino said he was recently approached by Miami Beach city attorneys for guidance on how to handle Mr. Tobin’s request for the ordinance waiver.

He advised that at the commission meeting, Mr. Tobin should leave the chambers when his agenda item comes up for discussion. “He may not speak, nor issue any written comment or statement addressed to the members of the Commission on this matter,’’ Mr. Centorino wrote the city attorney’s office.

Mr. Tobin insists a Yes vote doesn’t amount to him bending the city’s rules because the law always included an option for special cases to get a waiver.

Will Mr. Tobin‘s fellow commissioners side with him? They should not. There should be no hint the city might favor anyone for employment, especially someone who just sat on the dais.

Equally important: If the police department hires Mr. Tobin, it creates an early vacancy on the commission that must be filled. Miami Beach voters had elected Mr. Tobin to fill that seat.

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