Friday January 5, 2007
At the strong mayor debate last night. Senator Gwen Margolis argued for the proposal, Commissioner Sally A. Heyman argued against; and Nancy Liebman, president of the UEL, MC’d. A very good meeting, and all three had a lot of interesting things to say, but it wasn’t completely satisfying, and I’m less certain of which decision is right then I was going in.
The gist of Margolis’ argument was that under the current system, county department heads who form alliances with a few of the commissioners become very difficult for the county manager to fire, since thel thirteen commissioners directly hire/fire him. She cited successful cities that have a strong mayor. She pointed out all the corruption and scandals that have plagued the government, and was adamant that a single person, accountable to all the people of the county, was the solution. On the other hand, she was short on reasons why a single person is inherently less corrupt then thirteen. Also, she seemed torn, repeating “this is about an issue, not a specific person,” but also citing the talents of Carlos Alvarez as a reason to vote for the proposal.
Heyman was very adamant that the corruption/scandal situation was not tolerable. But she argued that the solution was to enforce anti-corruption laws, strengthen the ethics committee, and weed out the bad department heads, who are the real problem. She pointed out that a strong mayor was a dangerous concentration of power, and anti-democratic in the sense that the locally-elected commission is more directly accountable to the people. She also pointed out that giving the mayor direct hire/fire power over department heads makes those positions more political (currently the non-elected county manager makes those decisions), and that those decisions are not subject to change by the commission, even by a super-majority, under the proposal. However, for all her insistence that corruption was a long-standing problem, she didn’t give a satisfactory answer as to what could be done about it, and why it hadn’t been done up to this point (she wasn’t for term-limits — surprise). And her argument that since the only legal requirements to be mayor are a minimum age of 18 and a 3-year residency in the county (vs. a long list of professional qualifications to be hired as county manager), we might well end up with someone unqualified in the job, was just bizarre. Does she not think the voters consider a candidate’s qualifications?
That’s it in a nutshell — uncompelling arguments on both sides. Some other things that came out of the discussion:
- Since current mayor Carlos Alvarez was not elected to be strong mayor, a court battle (groan) to determine if he is elevated to the position or if new elections need be held is very likely if the proposal passes.
- But nevermind Alvarez — the person to think of when you think of a strong mayor is Jeb Bush(!), currently living in Coral Gables. (This came out of a conversation after the meeting.)
- In the not-so-distant past, the county did have a strong mayor, though not as strong as under the current proposal.
- While changing the commission seats to be elected county-wide seems a tempting compromise, it would violate federal law(?) and diminish diversity on the commission.
- To the extent that the proposal diminishes the power of the commission, it also diminishes the voices of the various cultures and ethnicities in the county.
That’s the high points. Genius of Despair was there, and here’s what he had to say. MKH and Rebecca Wakefield were also present, so maybe their thoughts soon. The debate continues; the vote’s on January 23rd.comments powered by Disqus