During last year’s mayoral campaign, I crisscrossed the city talking to residents about the issues affecting our quality of life: gentrification, traffic, inner city violence and affordable housing, to name a few. It is painfully evident that Miami’s system of government is ill-suited to address these challenges in an efficient and proactive manner.
Anchored in the past, the city’s executive mayor is not equipped to face the needs of a dynamic and vibrant city in the 21st century. It’s my job to promote an effective, transparent and accountable government. These are the ideals that led me into politics, and I believe they constitute the job description that voters had in mind when they chose me to be their mayor.
In Miami, we currently rely on an unelected city manager to administer our billion-dollar, 4,500-employee government. The city manager is appointed by the mayor and ratified by the five district commissioners, but never approved by the people most affected by his or her decisions: the residents of Miami.
And while I was blessed to find a highly qualified city manager in Emilio Gonzalez, that hasn’t always been the case: During the past eight years, we have cycled through six managers, creating a level of instability that makes planning for the future and solving residents’ most pressing problems almost impossible.
For years, I have advocated for a move to a “strong mayor” system of government in which the mayor, not an appointed manager, is responsible for the city’s day-to-day operations and directly accountable to its residents. As a commissioner, I made two attempts to implement this system. Both were opposed by my fellow commissioners then; now, after discussions with residents and neighbors, I have decided to make my case for a strong mayor to the voters of Miami.
Thanks to the hard work of a group of city residents, the Strong Miami Committee has already presented a proposed charter reform and petition to the city clerk to begin collecting voter signatures. The goal is to place a referendum on the ballot later this year so that residents can decide if they support a move to a strong mayor system. Visit www.strongmiami.com to learn more about their efforts and their proposed strong mayor charter amendment.
If approved by voters, this referendum would change Miami’s charter and eliminate the position of the city manager and transfer its duties and responsibilities to the mayor. It would also implement a recall process for the mayor and the commissioners, giving residents the power to remove an ineffective leader from office.
A strong mayor is, by definition, the people’s mayor — accountable directly to the voters and empowered to carry out their will.
That is why almost every major municipal government in the United States, including Miami-Dade County, has a strong mayor system — and it is time for Miami to join them. The result will be a government that is more effective, an administration that is more transparent and a mayor who is more accountable to the people who elected him.
Francis X. Suarez is the mayor of Miami.