Framing the Fire Fee

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Since mid-September, Miami City Commission candidate Mark Sarnoff has been obsessed with proving opponent Frank Rollason is being less than forthright about what role, if any, he had in the creation of the controversial and unconstitutional fire fee. (If elected, Rollason has promised to do away with the fire fee and push for an immediate refund to all taxpayers who paid it.)

So Sarnoff, an attorney and popular Coconut Grove activist, played the role of election season sleuth, digging up old Miami Herald articles and city commission meeting minutes from December 1997 and January 1998, the time period when the fire fee was adopted.

He forwarded me PDF versions of his research material. Not only was Rollason interim city manager when the fire fee was originated, but he instructed city commissioners that it had to apply to synagogues, churches and government buildings, Sarnoff spun. He complained Rollason was getting a "free ride" and was "misrepresenting" his role in the fire fee's genesis.

Sarnoff also included a September 12 email from Rollason, in which he insisted the fire fee was put together by then fire chief Carlos Gimenez, now a county commissioner. "When I became aware of the proposal, I met with Carlos and his key staff personnel and voiced my opposition to the concept altogether," Rollason wrote. Gimenez could not be reached for comment.

However, a look at the 1997-1998 minutes and Herald articles shows there is no clear evidence that Rollason was a vociferous advocate or a stout opponent of the fire fee. What is clear, as the city's top administrator during an era when Miami was financially bankrupt, is that Rollason was following the will of the city commission and the advice of his professional staff, including Gimenez.

During a phone interview today, Rollason affirmed he thought the fire fee was not a "good idea." But at the time, Rollason added, Gimenez argued fire fees were collected in other jurisdictions and that the fire department needed a revenue stream. "My position was to go forward with something that was deemed legal and in the best interests of getting the city back on its feet," Rollason said.

But that doesn't mean he is a hypocrite because he now wants taxpayers to get a refund, Rollason continued. "As an administrator I had no vote on the matter," Rollason said. "But as an elected official I can say its time to kill it and its time to pay everyone back."-Francisco Alvarado

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