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?

"My sentiments exactly on the gas tax," Kaplan added incongruously. He was ignored.

The matter of greatest interest during the Aventura debate, however, had nothing to do with the issues, but rather with the disappearance of Commissioner Natacha Millan. The moment discussion began, Millan walked off the dais. In the past she had consistently voted to support the "go slow" approach. Was her absence merely a coincidence? Or had a deal been struck between Margolis and Millan leading to Millan's sudden absence? The chambers buzzed with speculation.

For Aventura residents, Millan's absence was as good as a "full speed ahead" vote. And indeed, when Sorenson's motion to delay was finally called to a vote, the tally was six in favor of delaying, six against, with Millan absent. Tie votes fail.

Seemingly deadlocked, the commission recessed for lunch at 12:26 p.m.
12:53 p.m.
Rather than go out to lunch, most lobbyists and power brokers head for the horseshoe-shape hallway to the side of the chambers, where commissioners' offices are located. There they wait in hopes of a quick audience with a key commissioner on an issue they have pending later in the day. On this particular day, members of the Latin Builders Association (LBA) and the Homestead Air Base Developers Inc. (HABDI) were out in force. Led by Carlos Herrera, who is president of both the LBA and HABDI, the group was visiting with a few commissioners to line up their support for his controversial and potentially lucrative plan to convert a majority of Homestead Air Force Base to civilian use.

While Herrera waited to speak with Kaplan, Reboredo's staff was eagerly ushering in the media for a few more brave sound bites. After Channel 51's crew left, the commissioner tried to clear his mind for a few moments. He was out of his wheelchair and sitting behind his desk, leaning back as far as his swivel chair would allow, until he was almost parallel to the floor. His eyes were closed and he lightly rubbed his temples. The injured right foot, wrapped in white gauze and bandages, was propped on his desk. Aides and friends quietly stood along the office walls.

"It's the last meeting," Reboredo said by way of explaining why he decided to attend against the advice of his doctors. "I had some items on the agenda and I didn't want to let them pass." He winced in pain. "The wound is open," he said cryptically, causing all in the room to stare at his foot. "The toes are all broken and there is a large cut still on my big toe." Another round of surgery was scheduled for Thursday. "I'll have to hold up tonight," he continued. "I made a commitment to myself to push those things through."

Reboredo's agenda items concerned proposed changes to the county charter that would weaken the powers of a strong mayor, scheduled to be elected next year, and transfer them back to the commission, particularly to the commission chairman -- a position to which Reboredo aspires. But at the rate the meeting was moving, it would be at least another ten or twelve hours before the charter changes would be heard. In the meantime, Reboredo had sworn off painkillers. "I'm trying to avoid taking pills," he said. "I'd like to keep a clear mind."

2:23 p.m.
The commission, reconvened after lunch but still missing Millan, dove back into the Aventura debate. The resolve of opponents, however, had eroded; it was clear they did not have the votes to slow the county's disintegration. Nine minutes later the commission voted 8-3 to move ahead with the November special election on Aventura's charter, with only Sorenson, Diaz de la Portilla, and Dennis Moss voting against holding the election that soon.

2:45 p.m.
For many years Vizcaya Museum and Garden has been one of Dade County's prized treasures. More recently it has become one of the commission's most blatant objects of abuse. Commissioners discovered they could enhance their popularity with civic groups (some of them influential in themselves) by waiving the fees normally required to rent the luxurious mansion and grounds for special events.

Administrators and volunteers at Vizcaya, however, say the practice has gotten out of control. In 1993, for example, commissioners waived more than $70,000 in fees for various groups. By comparison, in just the first half of 1995, more than $120,000 in fees had been waived. With the Vizcaya budget already strained and its cash reserves nearly depleted, something needed to be done. Approximately 100 volunteers turned out to support a resolution sponsored by Teele and Sorenson that would require a unanimous vote of the commission to waive fees in the future. When some commissioners wondered aloud who would have the courage to vote against some of these groups, Sorenson said, "I'll vote against all of them. I'll be the bad guy."

Ferre suggested they should simply do away with fee waivers altogether, thus removing the temptation commissioners had apparently been unable to resist. Teele disagreed. "We've got to have an escape clause," he argued. "If the Pope comes here and says he'd like to go and they don't have enough money..."

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