Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Countdown to January 23rd: Michael Putney explains why it is a good idea to vote for the strong mayor referendum

Michael Putney has been a a respected journalist in our community for a long, long time. Cerebral, even-handed, he's WPLG-Channel 10 ABC affiliate's senior political reporter who occasionally writes op-ed pieces for the Miami Herald. Today's Herald article nicely sums up the case for voting for the strong mayor referendum on January 23rd and should be read by anyone still wondering how to vote. It's a nice summary of all the bureacratic governmental BS that's been going on during the last year and justifies our begrudgingly bestowed "Poopy Head" hats to some commissioners and county manager George Burgess. His suggestions at the end are quite good for creating a more accountable government.

It's time to restructure county government

I got taken to the woodshed for my last column, which recited some of the latest instances of waste, fraud, corruption and mismanagement in Miami-Dade County government. And I wondered who, if anyone, was minding the store down at County Hall.

George Burgess summoned me to his 29th floor office to let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he is. What's more, the Miami-Dade County manager made a fairly compelling case to back up his claim. True, he has dumped, demoted or transferred several county executives and other employees who screwed up. Also true, he has replaced them with generally capable managers who seem to be doing a good job. Burgess and his assistant managers and department directors work closely with the county's top internal cop, Inspector General Chris Mazzella, who has a green light to ferret out any county worker who cuts ethical corners or breaks the law.

''There will be cheaters who will figure out ways to cheat the system to the end of time,'' Burgess told me, ``but we're going to find them and get rid of them. I want these corruption issues attacked and exposed.''

Whispering approval

I have no doubt Burgess is sincere. Yet why did I get a bunch of e-mails after my last column from current and former Miami-Dade employees telling me that lack of meaningful oversight in county government is even worse than I reported? Why did so many line, mid-level and even high-ranking county employees take me aside in recent days to whisper in my ear that my Who's minding the store? column was right on the mark?

I left Burgess' office a believer in his dedication to ridding the county of employees who want to wrongly profit from their positions or get a free ride. I also left with a few bruises, but I get paid to take lumps from time to time from those who disagree with what I write or say. Still, it's incompetent or dishonest county workers who should be leaving Burgess' office with bruises and without their jobs. For better or worse, kicking butt is simply not his style.

This drumbeat of bad news -- hundreds of unauthorized cellphones at Water & Sewer, a mail room clerk allegedly stealing $1 million, firefighters on bogus ''fire watch'' assignments, a $1 billion cost over-run on the North Terminal at MIA, phony contractor licenses, fraudulent tuition reimbursements, etc. -- all redounds in favor of Mayor Carlos Alvarez's campaign for strong mayor. I have little doubt that it will pass next month. But anyone who thinks that creating a strong mayor will alone stop or reduce the mismanagement and corruption in Miami-Dade government is kidding himself. It might be a step in the right direction, however, in tandem with several other reform measures.

• Create a county commission with, say, six at-large seats and seven from districts. That would lessen the parochialism that now pervades the commission and still allow for minorities to be elected.

• Pay commissioners a reasonable full-time salary and require that it be their full-time job. Commissioner Carlos Gimenez proposes $114,000 annually (half the mayor's salary) plus reasonable benefits.

• Break out a couple of the county's largest departments (Port of Miami, Housing Agency) from the manager's portfolio and provide oversight with citizen boards similar to the Public Health Trust that runs Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The Jan. 23 vote on strong mayor should be just the start of a discussion about restructuring Miami-Dade government. I suspect the mayor would take part, but I have my doubts about the commission. Last week they elected one of their most mediocre members as their chairman and passed resolutions that criminalize petition drives. And in a fit of pique, Commissionaer Natacha Seijas put an item on yesterday's agenda that would cut the mayor's salary in half.

Can we realistically expect the 30,000 Miami-Dade County employees to behave more ethically and honestly with the example set by the elected officials who lead them?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could not agree with Putney more...I also think the voter turn out will be small, but at the same time, all of the citizens of Miami Dade County are sick and tired of all the scandals and poor judgment of our elected officials. I believe the Mayor's initiative is a very good start to restructure the county government. Let's go out and vote in January.