Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez today vetoed a measure that would bring back a civilian oversight panel to investigate complaints of misconduct against county police officers.
During a July 8 county commission meeting to vote on the measure, Giménez said he didn't want the panel to have subpoena power, arguing that subpoenas could be used for nefarious political reasons. He opposed the possibility that commissioners, county employees, or the mayor could be called to testify in an investigation against a police officer.
Giménez issued the veto on those grounds.
"As I have stated on the record, I cannot support legislation that allows county employees to be subpoenaed," the mayor said in his veto message this afternoon.
Giménez previously vetoed an ordinance reinstating the panel in 2018.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who for years has advocated for the reinstatement of the panel since it was defunded in 2009 because of the economic recession, plans to introduce a new measure that would exempt county employees from being subpoenaed.
The mayor said in his veto message he is aware of the new proposal.
"I am hopeful the board [of county commissioners] will accept a version of the legislation that prohibits county employees, board members, and the mayor from being subpoenaed," he said.
Today, Giménez also blocked voters from having a say as to whether they want a police oversight board as part of the county's charter, which would give it permanence and insulate it from budget cuts.
Giménez vetoed a resolution sponsored by commissioners Jordan and Daniella Levine Cava that would have placed this question on the November ballot:
Shall the county charter be amended to establish an Independent Civilian Panel as a charter entity with the authority to review county law enforcement policies, patterns, practices and closed internal affairs investigations, alternative dispute resolution proceedings, and public hearings on complaints against county law enforcement, and issue written fact-findings, recommendations, reports, and evaluations as set forth by ordinance?
Giménez said in a statement that he vetoed the charter amendment because "the amendment does not provide a clear exemption for county employees or elected officials from being subpoenaed."
Levine Cava issued a statement ripping the mayor for both vetoes.
"This is wrong and sets the County back in building trust between law enforcement and the community," Levine Cava said in the statement. "The Mayor also blocked voters from having the final say in November through his veto of the charter amendment. Like everything he has done, he pulls us two steps back from the positive step forward the commission took last week."
U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose congressional seat Giménez is vying for, said in a statement that the mayor's decision defies community calls for increased police accountability.
"I am profoundly disappointed by Mayor Giménez's veto that overturns the will of the County Commission, community groups, and the people of Miami-Dade, who have been calling out for structural reform in the wake of George Floyd's murder and police brutality in our own community," Mucarsel-Powell said.
Rodney Jacobs, assistant director of the City of Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, says the vetoes were "a bump in the road," but that those who have long been advocating for the revival of the county's oversight board will continue to push the item.
"The mayor's veto was strictly political and is tone-deaf to the concerns of the community," he says. "But I don't want to focus on his intellectually irresponsible decisions. We must move forward with our efforts to override the veto and bring forward a path for the people to decide, and for a more accountable Miami-Dade Police Department."
Miami-Dade implemented a police oversight board in 1980 following riots over the acquittal of four county police officers in the fatal beating of Arthur McDuffie. Commissioner Jordan has been advocating for its reinstatement for years, and most recently because of widespread cries for stronger police accountability measures in Miami-Dade and across the country over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Jordan tells New Times the mayor's vetoes were disheartening but not unexpected.
"I was disappointed [the mayor] didn't surprise me and allow the ordinance to stand," she says.
Jordan says commissioners will address the vetoes during the July 21 meeting. She doesn't expect to have enough votes to override the veto on the ordinance establishing the panel. But commissioners approved the resolution for voters to decide on the panel 10-3. Nine votes are required to override a veto. Jordan hopes to maintain those votes.
So there's still hope for a charter amendment establishing the panel, but Jordan says she thought the veto was "a slap in the face to voters."
"I do feel that it sends a whole different message to voters that you don't matter, that we don't give you the opportunity to decide what you want to be part of your county government," Jordan says.
Also on July 21, Jordan will introduce a new ordinance to establish the Independent Civilian Panel with language that exempts county employees from being subpoenaed. She hopes the new ordinance with the mayor's proviso will get approved.
"That will begin to be a testimony to whether or not he will keep his word," she says.
Jeanne Baker, chair of the Police Practices Committee of the Greater Miami chapter of ACLU Florida, points out that the ordinance establishing the police oversight board outlines provisions that would ensure that its subpoena power "is not used cavalierly."
For example, the panel wouldn't issue subpoenas when its investigations could interfere with active investigations by the Miami-Dade Police Department, the State Attorney's Office, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust, the Miami-Dade Office of Inspector General, and other agencies. The panel would advise these entities of its intent to issue a subpoena ten days before it is issued. And the panel would only issue subpoenas upon the majority vote of its members. The Florida Supreme Court has also limited the subpoena power of citizen review boards.
Baker says Giménez's justification for vetoing the panel is absurd and infuriating. She says she believes the mayor has made the panel's subpoena powers out to be "a strawman that has no validity in the real world."
"He's envisioning an entity that would have the power and inclination to basically run amok and subpoena people willy-nilly and bring all of county government to a halt," Baker says. "It's a fantastical vision that he's conjuring up."
In a statement following the vetoes, Giménez said he's proud of the work the police department is doing to build public trust and cites such community programs as "body cameras for police, layers of federal, state and local police oversight and a zero-tolerance policy for abuses — all to ensure our officers are treating everyone with the respect they deserve."
"We can always find ways to improve, and I welcome [a panel] that helps us continue to protect our community with fair and impartial policies and practices," the mayor said.
Giménez said he would urge commissioners to approve Jordan's "much-improved" proposal that exempts county employees and elected officials from being subpoenaed.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.