In the Dead of the Night

While you were sound asleep, the Dade County Commission spent hundreds of millions of your dollars. Aren't you glad they didn't bother to wake you?

As commissioners quickly moved on to other matters, Kaplan, who never took his eyes off Souto, said quietly in Spanish, "What happened? You abandoned me."

Finally Souto looked up and met Kaplan's eyes with an icy glare. "I don't know what you're talking about," he replied.

"Now I'll have to go to the radio stations and tell how you didn't support me," Kaplan answered. It was a threat (though Kaplan would later say he was only joking), and Javier Souto's temperament does not permit him to take a threat sitting down.

Rising from his chair, Souto said firmly, "≠No me jodas!" (Don't fuck with me!) Speaking very rapidly in Spanish but still in hushed tones, Souto berated his erstwhile ally: "This was your problem. You're the one having the problem in your district. You want to use the rest of us."

Souto moved closer to Kaplan, and the prospect of actual physical assault suddenly loomed. One of Souto's aides jumped up, stepped between the two men, and quietly implored the former state senator to calm down. Souto moved past Kaplan and walked over to Teele. "Calm down, Javier," Teele said. "Don't let him bug you."

"Son of a bitch," Souto snarled, now in English. "Son of a bitch. I told him -- don't fuck with me." While Souto continued to pace nervously, Teele discreetly asked one of the plainclothes Metro-Dade detectives, who act as the commission's sergeants at arms, to stay between Kaplan and Souto, just in case.

Amazingly, this little melodrama unfolded without anyone in the public gallery being aware of it.

11:07 a.m.
If the fight over the gas tax has resonated within the Hispanic community, Aventura's march toward incorporation has rumbled like an earthquake through the condo canyons of Northeast Dade. Residents of the would-be city voted earlier this year to break away from county rule and form their own municipality. Ultimately, though, the county commission controls the process, a fact that drives many Aventura citizens crazy with frustration. Several dozen of them (wearing "Let My People Go" buttons) showed up for this meeting, demanding that commissioners set a special election for November 7 so Aventura voters could approve a proposed charter, one of the final hurdles along the road to incorporation.

Their comrade in this crusade has been Commissioner Gwen Margolis, whose commission district includes Aventura. Liberating that community from the clutches of the county has become a test of Margolis's political strength on the commission, and an important measure of her ability to deliver for her constituents (even when it may not be in the best interest of the county overall).

Incorporation has also become a test for the commission generally. After ignoring the subject for years, guided by the hope that proponents would simply go away after suffering enough frustration with the bureaucratically cumbersome process, commissioners now face a crisis. In addition to Aventura, at least two other communities in unincorporated Dade -- Pinecrest and Destiny -- are moving quickly toward emancipation. More neighborhoods are expected to follow, resulting in the possibility of a dramatically reduced tax base, which in turn would force the county to cut services or raise taxes for those citizens remaining in unincorporated Dade. It goes without saying that neither prospect holds much appeal for county politicians.

Twelve days earlier the commission, led by Katy Sorenson and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, voted to slow the frenzied pace of incorporation efforts. Sorenson and Diaz de la Portilla had argued that by delaying Aventura, Destiny, and Pinecrest for a few months, the commission might be able to fashion a comprehensive approach that would mitigate the potential for damage to the county. On July 13, after hours of debate, the "go slow" approach to incorporation prevailed, much to Margolis's dismay. But in the ensuing two weeks, "go slow" had somehow transformed into "full speed ahead."

11:24 a.m.
In the midst of the Aventura debate, Commissioner Pedro Reboredo was rolled into the chambers in a wheelchair and was greeted with light applause. This was his first commission appearance since he lost a toe last month in the struggle to free Cuba. (Reboredo was injured when the boat in which he and other protesters were riding was rammed by two Cuban military craft. After dramatic airlifts from the sea to Key West, then to Jackson Memorial Hospital, Reboredo surrendered the second toe on his right foot to amputation.) Back on the dais, the commissioner listened intently as the Aventura debate proceeded.

11:46 a.m.
Hoping to slow things down once again, Sorenson moved to delay for several months Aventura's vote on a proposed new city charter. "It is not just about one community," Sorenson said, "it's about the entire county. And if we let one part of the community go, the rest of the county has a fiscal impact."

Margolis interjected that it was simply too late to stop Aventura. "Who are you trying to kid?" she asked, scowling at her colleagues. "The bottom line is you just intensify the distrust of this government that just permeates through this whole community. And it is wrong. It is absolutely wrong what you are doing. And we wonder why people move out of Dade County and get angry. This is why. This is why you have anger. This is why people say the Dade County Commission is a bunch of jerks."

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