MAYOR X

There are good reasons to vote August 31, but the county mayor's race isn't one of them. Here are five reasons why.

Voters agreed with the task force and in 2002 stripped the mayor of his power to appoint the chairman of the county commission. He also lost his authority to appoint the chairs of commission committees, which have emerged as formidable components in the legislative process. His veto powers remain intact, as does his ability to hire and fire the county manager. The commission, however, can still override both, but it is now the commission chair, not the mayor, who has the leverage to build the coalitions needed for an override.

Oh yeah, the mayor still gets to deliver a "state of the county" speech and submit a budget, which the commission, of course, can simply ignore.

Net effect? The post has been gutted. Gone are the essential tools needed to control and cajole county commissioners. In fact, if the mayor wants to make an appearance at a commission meeting, even if it's just to read a proclamation honoring some do-gooder, he must seek permission from the chair to pretty-please include him on the agenda.

Attorney Gene Stearns is the intellectual author of the incorporation movement
Jonathan Postal
Attorney Gene Stearns is the intellectual author of the incorporation movement
Manny Diaz with New York’s Michael Bloomberg: When it came time to pick a World Series mayor to represent the Florida Marlins, it was Diaz who got the nod, not Alex Penelas
Getty Images
Manny Diaz with New York’s Michael Bloomberg: When it came time to pick a World Series mayor to represent the Florida Marlins, it was Diaz who got the nod, not Alex Penelas

Cross-county Penelas rival Raul Martinez, Hialeah's strong mayor, has noted with some satisfaction the neutering of the county mayor. "The commission decided to have a coup d'état, and now the mayor is simply a high-paid cheerleader for the county," Martinez scoffs. "Alex Penelas has been left powerless because he has to look for a county manager who will remain very close to the mayor and still get seven votes on the commission."

The erosion of all this power has left Martinez with no interest in the job, even if it were offered to him: "I looked at it and thought it would be challenging if I could say to public works, öHey, traffic lights aren't working on such-and-such street.' But you can't do that. Or if you could say to the police chief: öHey, crime is up. Why don't you increase patrols?' But you can't do that either. You can't tell the port director how to spend his money and you can't go to Jackson Memorial Hospital and say, öYou guys are wasting money.' Alex pushed for the strong mayor, and when he realized he couldn't sell it, he allowed the commission to take away his powers because he didn't care."

Penelas leaves in his wake a largely ceremonial post whose office eats up about $3.7 million in taxpayer money each year -- all for a position now so diminished in stature that you barely notice whether he's there or not. -Tristram Korten

2. The County Is Disappearing, and Its Mayor Along With It

Miami-Dade County is not one community, it is several dozens of communities. It is broken up by geography, race and ethnicity, economic inequity, and not least, an absence of the long-range planning and unifying vision you'd expect from civic leaders -- at least from competent civic leaders.

But you might argue that the newly revitalized City of Miami and the recent appointments of topnotch professionals from out of town to head some of the area's most important institutions bespeaks an evolving political maturity. You might argue that, anyway. For the time being, Miami-Dade remains a disunited, leaderless sprawl mismanaged by a five-billion-dollar-per-year governmental behemoth that can best be described as an organizational dinosaur.

And there is a meteor coming. Make that a meteor shower -- coming in the form of municipal incorporations and annexations that will lead to the extinction of county government as we know it. When the dust has settled after the full force of impact, there may still be a Miami-Dade County, but it won't be recognizable. Instead of 34 cities and vast swaths of unincorporated territory, it will be as many as 50 cities and zero unincorporated territory.

There may still be a governmental body as well, but it will have emerged as a dramatically compressed agency relegated to coordinating regional functions such as emergency management, public health, transportation, and sewage disposal. Needless to say, the mayor of such a county will have a new job description: chief hand-shaker, proclamation-writer, and ribbon-cutter.

If done right, this could be a good thing. "That's what people really want out of our two-tier government -- taking the county out of municipal government," says Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson. "More emphasis on the regional -- the ports, the water supply, development along the urban boundary."

Attorney Gene Stearns, the guru of the local incorporation movement, is less polite. "Dade County government suffers from significant design flaws," he says. "If you were to go back to Government 101 and design a way that it could never possibly function correctly, we've done it."

Stearns contends that county government doesn't work well (thus spurring the birth of new cities) because it myopically focuses on the politics of municipal services rather than on the big picture. Each commissioner gets to be the king or queen of a district, with the result that the bureaucracy as a whole is constantly being yanked here and there in a way that serves some of the people some of the time and all of the people none of the time. "They are a terrible municipal government," Stearns grumbles. "It's not that the importance of regional government is diminishing. If anything, [full incorporation] may take them back to where they should have always been."

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