County Commission Will Meet Monday to Authorize Campaign-Finance Petitions

Update 8/22: The Miami-Dade County Commission voted unanimously today to start counting the petitions, according to the Miami Herald's Doug Hanks.

Original Post:

The Miami-Dade County Commission will hold a special meeting on Monday to start counting 127,000 petitions demanding that the county reform its campaign-finance laws. It only took a week's worth of protests (including a sit-in at county hall), a national Twitter campaign, and a full-on lawsuit for that meeting to happen.

According to a notice obtained from County Commissioner Xavier Suarez's office, Commissioners Jean Monestime, Chairman, Esteban Bovo, Jr., Bruno A. Barreiro, Daniella Levine Cava, Dennis Moss, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, and Suarez will meet at 10 a.m. Monday morning, in the middle of the commission's "summer recess," so they can vote to order the Board of Elections to begin counting the petitions.Reached by phone, Suarez confirmed the meeting would occur, but did not comment further.

The meeting is a full-on victory for the activist group Accountable Miami-Dade, which began circulating the petitions in April. According to the Miami-Dade County Home Rule Charter, if more than 4 percent of the county's voters sign a given petition, the county must then enact that bill or put it up for a public vote. Once the petitions are turned in, county law says the Board of Elections must start counting those petitions and authorizing them within 30 days.

If enacted, Accountable Miami-Dade's measure would chop campaign-donation limits from $1,000 to $250 per person. It would also bar certain individuals and lobbyists with large city contracts from donating to political campaigns.

But somehow, when the group delivered two U-Haul trucks full of petitions to the Board of Elections' Doral headquarters on August 2, the county failed to order the elections board to start double-checking the signatures. The county hinted it wouldn't be able to place the measure on the November 2016 ballot, and would have to be delay voting on the ordinance until 2018.

Naturally, this riled Accountable Miami-Dade activists, who claim that county law does not give the government the right to delay a ballot initiative whenever they please. The group placed the blame squarely on County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has raised $1.6 million this year after collecting scores of $1,000 donations from local land developers.

Accountable Miami-Dade then sued Gimenez to try and force him to start counting the petitions.

Things then got strange: After Juan Cuba, an activist with the group, tried to file a public-records request for emails about the ballot measure, the county told Cuba getting those emails would cost a cool $21,600, roughly the price of a 2016 Honda Civic. The county was, again, accused of putting added roadblocks in the way of simple democracy.

Once New Times and the Miami Herald reported that sticker price, Gimenez and Commission Chair Jean Monestime immediately said they would make their portions of the records request free, and the county said it would charge Cuba a cheaper rate. (The new price has not been announced yet.)

On the very same day, roughly 100 protesters showed up at county hall, where they tried to hand-deliver letters to commissioners about the ballot measure. They were, instead, blocked from taking escalators to the publicly accessible second floor, until a staffer in Monestime's office convinced police to let the protesters through. A Miami-Dade police officer, who'd already been stationed in the building with a semiautomatic rifle, was photographed walking through the protest with his hand wrapped around the gun's handle.

"Jesus Christ," activist Tomas Kennedy told New Times yesterday, "we were peaceful protesters."

Despite the fact that the commission will meet Monday, Accountable Miami-Dade says it will not drop its lawsuit against Gimenez and the city.

In a statement, the group says it will not kill the suit until someone — be it the commission or Gimenez himself — actually tells the Board of Elections to get moving.

"Over the past two weeks, the County has erected a bureaucratic barricade to obstruct the will of hundreds of thousands of Miami-Dade County residents, we are therefore resolute with respect to pressing forward with our lawsuit to ensure that the Supervisor is forced to start counting!” Service Employees International Union Florida President and campaign co-chair Monica Russo said in the release. “The Commission and/or the Mayor must order the petitions be counted and ensure that the Initiative be placed on the ballot in time for voters to be heard this November. Period.”
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.