Miami Beach's Boards and Committees Are Overwhelmingly White

via City of Miami Beach
Miami Beach is 53 percent Hispanic, so you'd be forgiven for assuming its 46 boards and committees would reflect that demographic. But a recent survey shows that's not the case. As of last month, only 17 percent of those appointed by city commissioners were Hispanic.

Black residents are also underrepresented. Though Miami Beach is 4.4 percent African-American, only three city committee members — less than 1 percent — are black.

"It's clear we have to do a better job of having our committees better reflect the overall diversity of our community, but I am confident that this commission takes the issue of diversity very seriously," Commissioner Ricky Arriola tells New Times. "We will continue trying to get better at ensuring diversity, but I am confident that there is zero discrimination going on against any minority groups on our board appointments."

Putting aside the Beach's troubled history of race relations, the modern problem dates back at least four years, when residents voted in a new commission without a single Hispanic member. Following the 2013 election, the Miami Herald called on the city's new leaders to be inclusive when making their committee appointments.

"The absence of diversity fuels feelings of alienation and division, which [Mayor Philip] Levine and the commission would be wise to nip in the bud," the paper's editorial board wrote. "They should reach out to the Hispanic community on the Beach early on, appointing Hispanics to positions on prominent local boards in numbers that reflect the city's diversity, and dealing with issues that matter to Hispanics like the chronic lack of affordable housing."

Despite those recommendations, however, only 58 Hispanic residents serve on vital city boards and committees such as the planning board or the budget advisory committee, while 211 white residents do. Several of the committees, including the affordable housing advisory committee and the health advisory committee, which advises commissioners on pressing public health issues like Zika, are not even full.

Arriola says filling those seats isn't easy, though, because few residents submit their resumés for consideration.

"Many of our committees/boards require specialization in certain fields, so that further restricts who can fill the positions," he says.

While commissioners have different criteria for board appointments, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez says it's her policy to "appoint the residents who approach me and are interested and willing to serve."

"I do not look at the color of their skin," she says. "If more minorities approach me, I would be more than willing to appoint them."

The good news is that of 337 seats, there are 45 current vacancies on boards ranging from the police/citizens relations committee to the parks and rec facilities board. The city's commissioners have plenty of spots to fill with a diverse range of residents if they choose to do so.
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.

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