Sunday November 4, 2012

The November 6th ballot: part 3: county charter

Well, here we are: the day before election day. I’m aware that a lot of you have already voted; this ballot was a doozie, and early voting — or particularly absentee voting, which is sort of like a take-home exam — is a smart way go to. I salute you. But for the old-school (read: procrastination-inclined) among us, going to the polls on election day is the only way to do.

So we still need to figure out how to vote on a big chunk of the ballot. See part 1 of this guide for the state charter amendments and part 2 for some ideas on voting for elected officials. Today, Miami-Dade stuff. Let’s dive in.

School Board Question

Funding Modernization and Construction of Public School Facilities Through Issuance of General Obligation Bonds

Shall the School District of Miami-Dade County fund a plan for modernization and construction of public school facilities throughout the district, including educational technology upgrades, by issuing general obligation bonds in an aggregate amount not exceeding $1,200,000,000, in one or more series, bearing interest at market rates, maturing within thirty years, and secured by the full faith and credit and ad-valorem taxing power of the district?

I’m not sure how you get around to opposing this. “We can’t afford to raise taxes for big government programs” doesn’t really work for schools, does it? Neither does, “sure we need to invest in schools, but now is not the time.” The preponderance of online opinion is pro. Vote FOR BONDS.

County Questions

Home Rule Charter Amendment Relating to Term Limits of County Commissioners

Shall the Charter be amended to provide that County Commissioners shall serve no more than two consecutive four-year terms in office excluding terms of service prior to 2012?

Here we are. TERM LIMITS. The holy grail. Stop the revolving door. Get in some fresh perspectives. But it turns out that this is actually an extremely difficult thing to reason out. There are persuasive arguments for and against. Incumbent commissioners manage their constituencies, so they’re very difficult to get rid of. Want to get fresh voices on the commission? Term limits are the only way to go. The Herald says yes to term limits.

But not so fast. Michael Lewis argues the side against term limits. It’s very much worth a read, but the short story is that limiting the terms of elected officials empowers lobbyists and government bureaucrats. It keeps relationships among commissioners fleeting. Institutional memory suffers. And commissioners who are term-limited are more likely to vote in ways that’ll benefit them once they’re out of office than to be accountable to voters. If you want to strengthen the county commission, Lewis argues, go back to county-wide elections.

But each of these arguments has a mirror-image counter-argument. You’d need deep knowledge about what happened when in term limits have passed historically on commissions like Miami’s around the country and a degree in political philosophy before you could really even discuss this question intelligently. But here’s the thing. County-wide commission elections aren’t on the ballot. Term limits are. We’ve tried the commission without term limits, and the results have left us wanting. And while it’s impossible to draw a line from the problems with the commission right now to term limits being the best solution, it’s the only tool in the box at the present moment. Will term limits be an improvement in Miami-Dade? I hate to be flip, but there’s only one way to find out. Perhaps a future charter amendment will allow us to reconsider county-wide commission elections. If this turns out to cause problems, it’ll not be difficult to get a charter amendment reversing the term limits decision. It’s an expriment. Let’s try it, and see if benefits of fresh voices are worth the certainty that their reign will be short. Vote YES.

Technical Amendments to Home Rule Charter

Shall the Charter be amended to clarify the titles of subsections, correct and update cross-references between provisions, and delete references to offices and agencies which have been abolished?

Here we are: the boring shit. I have no idea why I have to make a decision about why the titles of subsections should be clarified. If they’re unclear, isn’t “clarification” an opportunity for obfuscation? Am I not better off with a charter that’s got some obsolete stuff in it than a charter that someone gets to muck around with in the name of “clarification”? To the point: is it worth taking 5 minutes to google what the proposed amendments are? FINE. >> and << indicates stuff being inserted, [[ and ]] stuff removed. Feast your eyes. Vote YES.

Charter Amendment Requiring Extraordinary Vote to Include Additional Land within the Urban Development Boundary

Shall the Charter be amended to require a two-thirds vote of County Commissioners then in office to include additional land within the Urban Development Boundary established by the County’s Comprehensive Development Master Plan?

Yes, it should. Not that we’re kidding ourselves that it’ll do much to bolster the integrity of the UDB, but any brakes we can apply here. Vote YES.

Charter Amendment Pertaining to Changes in Municipal Boundaries and Creation of New Municipalities

Shall the Charter be amended to:
• Require the County Commission to consider the benefits of any proposed annexation of commercial areas, when approving or authorizing an annexation
• Establish alternative procedure for creation of new municipalities in unincorporated areas of the County by petition which provides conditions for creation of new municipalities and a single election to approve the creation of a new municipality and approve its Charter, instead of two elections for these purposes?*

The Herald’s discussion on this one is interesting. They support the creation of more an more cities and sub-cities, towns, and villages, but they disagree with this particular implementation. Personally, I don’t think that fragmenting what’s clearly a single municipality into fractal pieces — each with its own commission, mayor, and often police and fire services — is a good strategy. In either case, Vote NO.

Charter Amendment Regarding Penalties and Enforcement of Citizens’ Bill of Rights

Shall the Charter be amended to eliminate the provision providing for forfeiture of office if a public official or employee willfully violates the Citizens’ Bill of Rights and allow, in addition to suit in circuit court, the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust to enforce the Citizens’ Bill of Rights with penalties authorized by the Code?

Isn’t it awesome that we have a “Citizens’ Bill of Rights” and a “Commission on Ethics and Public Trust”? Doesn’t that just make you feel so good? I don’t know, I’m all for ethics commissions and Bills of Right. But it seems that the a provision that gets the person who violated the Bill of rights OUT before anything else is not something to be eliminated? Heres’s the problem: you know how it’s determined that someone violated the BoR and should be removed? In court. So as it stands, the only way to get enforcement is for YOU the citizen to sue. Guess what? It’s never happened. If this passes, you can appeal to the Ethics Commission and see what happens. It’s all weak sauce, but the new sauce turns out to be less weak than the existing sauce. Ugh. Vote YES.

Charter Amendment Related to Option for Filling Mayoral or County Commissioner Vacancy

Shall the Charter be amended to:
• Extend the time to conduct an election to fill a mayoral or commissioner vacancy from 45 to 90 days from the decision to call such election and provide a timeframe for qualification and any necessary runoff;
• Temporarily transfer, during a mayoral vacancy or incapacity, certain mayoral powers to the Commission Chairperson, Vice Chairperson or Commissioner chosen by the Board?

So we’re planning on making a habit of recalling commissioners who piss us off, and we want to make the process smoother. Well color me pink and call me bamby. Don’t retreat, reload. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse. Vote YES.

Charter Amendment Regarding Mayoral Conflicts in County Procurement

Shall the Charter be amended to provide that when the County Mayor declares a conflict of interest in a particular procurement of a County contract, the chairperson of the Board of County Commissioners shall exercise all authority provided by the Charter or the County Commission to the Mayor with regard to such procurement including the authority to recommend a bid waiver?

I’m so ready to vote yes on this, but every reputable source I can find online says it’s a lame solution to a real problem, and Vote NO.

AND THERE IT IS. Oh, wait, you have city items tacked on at the end? Blah, you’re going to have to look that up yourself, as per part 2 of this guide. In Miami for instance, there’s something about a tennis center (funded solely by tournament revenues and private funs — YES), a straw poll about increasing taxes for improved animal services (I might write something about this tonight), and something about contracting with companies doing business with state sponsors of terrorism (resolved, we do not like terrorists). And you’re out of there. See: easy.

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