Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Miami-Dade County Government

Briefing Paper describing the basic structure of Miami-Dade County Gov.

On January 26, 2007, Miami-Dade County implemented the Home Rule Amendment and Charter, allowing the County to be managed by a Strong Mayor.  This amendment, voted by the people of the County, radically revolutionized the potential for the Mayor’s role in advocating public policies for the regional area. This amendment passed changed 50 years of Council dominated management.  This essay will attempt to explain how the mayor, commissioners, and the county manager are chosen and what powers and responsibilities they have in the new form of government.
It is first noteworthy to mention, cities are not mentioned in the US Constitution. (Revell’s notes) Rather their autonomy and management is appropriated at the State level. Thus fulfilling the constitutional dreams of our Federalist fathers like Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. The United States is just that, a unification of autonomist states that share the vision of unity.  Furthermore, the State Florida applies Home Rule, which means cities have self-determination of making decisions.  Home Rule fosters the devolution of authority. This is different than the Commonwealth of Virginia, which makes codes and regulations at the state level and mandates cities and counties to follow them. Commonwealth’s promote a consensus of the people for its policies mandated.
Not without standing, the State of Florida adopted Home Rule on November 6, 1956, making it remarkable that the county of Miami-Dade had not changed its authority structure in more than 50 years. (Miami –Dade adopted the home Rule Charter just a few months later in May 21, 1957, which further illustrates the devolution of power) . Furthermore, the Strong Mayor initiative came from the current Mayor Carlos Alverez in 2007, from his experience as police chief in the county.
The Strong Mayor form of government allows the mayor to have complete administrative authority. He or she can hire and dismiss all department heads without council approval, prepare and administer the budget, suggest ballot referendums, and manage all administrative aspects of the city. The Mayor’s most important job is to provide big picture policy initiatives and has the authority to veto the council’s legislation.  This is a simulation of the executive power of the Presidency.
The mayors’ rights and responsibility are also key. He or she may not be a member of the commission, but is elected with a direct vote from the people. The mayor reports his policy ideas and budget to the council every year.  His major role is in setting funding priorities by working with his appointed professional staff. Typically this includes the County Manager but it may also include a Chief Administrative Officer—often for larger cities—in addition to directors of finance, personnel, parks and recreation, clerks and circuit court members, etc. (Revell’s notes) Furthermore, as stated in the statute, the elected mayor must have lived in the county for at least three years before qualifying for the job, thus suggesting his alliance to the people. (Article 2 Section 2.01)
The County Manager is the right hand person to the mayor. This professional administrator reports directly to the Mayor (Article 4). It is important that the county manager is not a political position, but rather selected for his or her administrative capacity to run the city. Often times, the manager handles “operational duties”, while the mayor perform political event of “ceremonial capacity.” (Revell’s notes) The non-political nature of the county manager is important as to end the spoils system and the political machine where one political party operates and provides “benefits” to those who follow them.  Although potential collusion is still a threat with the Strong Mayor system, the Commissioners’ watchful eye is an important factor for evading corruption.
Each voting district selects a member of the Board of County Commissioners. The board is the governing body for Miami Dade County. They have the power collectively to set the county’s boarders, its name, and provide function and authority to any smaller level of government including municipal corporations. For example the board can create the special taxing districts that allow for chambers’ of commerce (the Beacon Council in the case of Miami Dade County) to attracted business and promote growth. The Board may abolish any units except school districts superintendents, Circuit Court or any other court’s actors, like the judges, clerks, etc. Furthermore, the Board has the power to override any of the laws created by these special districts if it so chooses. For that matter, the power that overrides the Board of County Commissioners is that of the State of Florida. It operates as a proxy senate for the regional area, but must abide by the State’s laws.
The Home Rule charter suggests the Board is in charge of the personal welfare of the citizens living in the county.  That includes the provision of health and welfare programs like housing, pollution control, and regulation of sewage and the water supply. The members do their job through levying and collecting taxes, barrowing money by issuing bonds and revenue certificates. They also provide licenses, maintain central records, regulate public transport and train fire fighters, among other things.
 There are only a few limiting powers of the Board. The largest is that it may not be a member of Public Utility and Railroad Commissions (managed at the State level). This is because the Board provides and regulates public goods for the citizens like toll-roads, bridges, tunnels, air, waterways and bus terminals. (Article 1: Section 1.01) The duplication of rules creates a conflict of interest and if not corruption, the perception thereof.
Additionally, the Board prepares and enforces the comprehensive plan for developing the county. This is particularly important to relate to the class of economic development and community renewal.  The Board of County Commissioners establish, coordinate and enforce zoning; issue licenses; regulate, control and manage franchises for the implementation of public services (mentioned above). They are in charge the special assessments and general tax levying districts used to attract new business for tax collection. Interesting, the Board must use 2/3-majority vote to select a franchise to manage public services, but it cannot operate light, power or telephone utility. (Article 1: Section 1.01.14) Otherwise, technically the County can run any free business it wants, just as long as it returns the wealth back to the community. The Board does mange these operations and its public employees through performance standards. It may also contract subunits to manage these operations. Furthermore it can use public funds to promote and advertise the development of the region.
The Board’s role in the use of eminent domain is vital in the future of economic development for the region. This vital tool allows the Board to “condemn property for public purposes.” (Section 1.01.14) The process of taking private property and using for public utility is of great debate in the State of Florida especially after the Supreme Court Case of Kelo vs. The City of New London. (Revell’s notes) Such occurrences have developed highways, railroads and now recently a strip-mall to generate wealth for the state.
The separation of power and authority between the various official positions is important as to eliminate and minimize the potential for corruption. This foundation of the American democratic system not only applies to the Federal level, but the roles and responsibilities of how our cities are run. This essay has tried to argue the current Strong Mayor position has created a further separation of power, while creating an elected official over all accountable to the bureaucracy that runs Miami Dade County—a job that thirteen current Board of Commissionaires are less capable of doing with efficiency and efficacy. Rather their support and supervisory role to the Mayor is appropriate to ensure that all the voices are heard in Miami Dade County.

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