Loosen the reins, Mr. Monestime

Bumper-to-bumper traffic at Flagler Street and Le Jeune Road lasts from 11 a.m. to rush hour on weekdays.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic at Flagler Street and Le Jeune Road lasts from 11 a.m. to rush hour on weekdays. El Nuevo Herald

In recent months, Miami-Dade County’s efforts to address road-strangling traffic gridlock have been commendable. As decision-makers join forces, there now seems to be a sense of urgency and movement. Finally. The main lesson learned so far: Working together is imperative to success.

So a decision by the head of the county’s all-important Metropolitan Planning Organization — the entity that approves all major transportation projects — comes off as a huge misstep.

MPO chairman Jean Monestime, who also heads the County Commission, has notified the members that he — and he alone — wants to select the MPO’s new executive director from among three finalists supplied by a search committee impaneled in October. Recently, the chairman told the committee their work was done — he’ll take it from here.

Not so fast. Shutting members out of fully participating in the selection is a recipe for trouble, which this already-fractious board can’t sustain.

Mr. Monestime, who told the Editorial Board earlier this year that he is dedicated to revamping the MPO during his tenure, knows that this is a historic moment: It’s the first time that the MPO, with 23 voting and two nonvoting members, has chosen its own executive director. The choice comes at a crucial time for the county. Almost overnight, this top job will go from the transportation backseat to the driver’s seat.

Mr. Monestime knows this, writing to the MPO on July 7: “The single most important governance issue confronting the MPO is the selection of a permanent executive director. This is a milestone decision for the MPO, and I’m committed to getting it right with your help.”

But it seems Mr. Monestime really doesn’t want much help in deciding among these finalists: Aileen Boucle, Intermodal Systems Development administrator for Florida Department of Transportation; Carlos M. Cejas, a supervisor at Gannett Fleming, an engineering consulting firm and Harold Antoine Desdunes, director of Transportation Development for FDOT. What does he fear?

Mr. Monestime has expressed progressive intentions for the MPO, which is why he should not hijack the process by introducing this opaque tactic. In a statement emailed to the Editorial Board on Tuesday, he said, “It has been an open and transparent process,” adding that it had been approved by the governing board. Maurice Ferre, among others, begs to differ. “Everything about the selection of a new MPO executive director should be done in public,” he said. “The most important role I play as a member of the MPO is to help select an executive director; I’m not delegating that responsibility to anyone else.”

Mr. Ferre is right. The candidates for a job that could pay as much as $240,000 annually to the person who will oversee the county’s transportation future, should be done in the town square. Anything else is bad optics and unsavory governance.

It’s also naive — and dangerous — of Mr. Monestime to believe he can introduce a single candidate to a highly motivated board of mostly politicians who will all fall in line and approve his pick without question. Fat chance. This is no rubber-stamping entity. Plus, he risks an embarrassing rebuff if his pick is rejected, undercutting his ability to lead.

This process should not have the air — not even a whiff — of backroom deal. Mr. Monestime, needs to show that he respects the process, his MPO colleagues and the MPO’s mission by ensuring everyone has a say. This is not a one-man job.