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South Florida politics

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I could live with this...

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/10685956.htm

JIM DEFEDE/COMMENTARY

Could defector be Democrats' Florida savior?

Manny Diaz for governor in 2006?

''I've heard that talk,'' said Adrienne Arsht, the chairman of TotalBank and a friend of the Miami mayor. ``His name is being thrown around. I can't tell you by who, but I've heard it.''

It could just be the kind of ego-boosting gossip that the mayor's friends love to spread -- and that the mayor loves to hear. But it is also not entirely far-fetched.

The Democratic Party in Florida has taken a pounding in recent years, and there is no clear front-runner for the 2006 nomination. The most likely candidates are U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, state Sen. Rod Smith of Gainesville, and Lawton ''Bud'' Chiles III, son of a former governor. Other possible contenders are Betty Castor, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate last year, and Scott Maddox, a former mayor of Tallahassee and the current chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Given the weak field, Diaz would be an appealing candidate for a party that needs to come up with a new formula for victory. Diaz's greatest strength would be his cross-over appeal to Cuban-American Republicans. If a Democrat can lure enough Cuban Americans to vote for him, he stands a far better chance of winning. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's the same theory that led Alex Penelas to run for the Senate.

''Manny has a very good r

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Oooooh... this one's gonna get nasty... but there definitely needs to be a greater check and balance between the executive and the legislative...

Alvarez aide forms committee to plan reform referendum

By Tom Harlan

Miami Today

County Mayor Carlos Alvarez's former campaign treasurer has created a political action committee to fund the mayor's plans for a referendum to reshape county government.

Jose "Pepe" Riesco, treasurer for the mayor's 18-month campaign, is heading Citizens for Reform, a committee created in December to build voter support for charter changes the mayor seeks, including adding significantly to the mayor's powers at the expense of the county commission.

"We want to ensure that our local government protects all those who are governed and not the governing," Mr. Riesco said, quoting the committee's mission statement. "That speaks volumes."

The committee seeks to put on the ballot procurement reform, higher commissioner salaries and more authority for the mayor's office over county departments, Mr. Alvarez said, adding that reform and accountability were significant issues during his campaign.

"I will just be part of the political action committee," he said.

Committee officials filed a statement of organization Dec. 27 that outlined 13 items, such as the names of the committee's officers and bank accounts, as required by the state's Division of Elections' 2004 Handbook for Committees.

Mr. Riesco and a treasurer are the committee's two officials, filling the minimum requirements to classify as a committee. The committee opened a bank account, Mr. Riesco said, that has started to accept contributions with the help of about 200 volunteers.

"We are getting phone calls and requests on a daily basis from volunteers who want to help out," he said.

The committee is starting to host fundraising events, Mr. Riesco said. Contributions, he said, will be used to carry out initiatives, fund committee expenses and run print and TV ad campaigns.

Committee officials hope to raise $500,000 to $1 million, he said, adding that it may cost about $1 million to get the needed petition signatures because media efforts may cost $400,000 to $500,000.

The committee is not targeting any group or individual, he said. Funds are to be used to collect signatures from 10% of the electorate, he said, or about 107,000 persons. The county's elections committee must certify the number of signatures needed to put a charter-changing referendum on the ballot.

But the committee is to try to exceed its goal by 10%-15%, Mr. Riesco said, because some invalid signatures always are thrown out during certification.

"You want to create that cushion," he said. "We want to make sure that we don't fall short."

The committee doesn't expect problems achieving this quota, Mr. Riesco said, because most residents are for accountability in government.

"The mayor's campaign dealt with these issues from day 1," he said. "The mayor was elected on these issues."

The committee is not trying to point fingers at any county commissioners, Mr. Riesco said, but wants to put the issue in voters' hands to see whom they want to have governing powers.

"As a resident, the mayor has every right to form any committee that he needs to form to petition the government," said County Commission Chairman Joe A. Martinez. "It's up to the people from there."

Some commissioners have opposed the proposed changes, Mayor Alvarez said, but delivering services to citizens by improving the structure of government is more important than politics.

The mayor doesn't expect the commission's support, Mr. Riesco said, because commissioners have powers they own that they don't want to give up.

The committee's goal is to put the issues on the November ballot, Mayor Alvarez said, because there are three municipal elections on that ballot.

Though several steps need to be taken first and the commission would determine the date of voting, he said, he's working toward the November goal.

"There's no hidden agenda here," he said. "I'm just following through with what I promised the voters. I have a duty to present it, or try my best to present it, to voters and let them decide what type of government they want."

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Wow... I can't believe we were discussing this earlier!

Miami officials working on plan to cut property taxes

By Yeleny Suarez

Miami Today

Based on a construction-fueled doubling of city tax rolls predicted in two years, Miami officials are developing a plan with one priority in mind: cutting the tax rate.

"I made a commitment to reduce the rate and have done it during the three budget cycles and intend to continue doing it because the people in Miami deserve it," Mayor Manny Diaz said Tuesday.

The city reports 233 mixed-used projects in the pipeline that include 66,648 housing units at a projected cost topping $17 billion.

Mr. Diaz said he couldn't predict how big a tax cut can be expected. "It is a function based on an annual analysis, so I cannot say. But in my three years in office, there has been an accumulative decrease of 6%."

The city's millage rate today is 8.72, which means $8.72 in taxes are paid for every $1,000 in assessed property value that is not protected by the $25,000 homestead exemption.

"It's too early to determine whether all the projects will go through or not," City Manager Joe Arriola said. "Still, it won't hit our tax roles for two or three years, and as soon as it starts coming in, our No. 1 priority is to cut the millage rate."

The city's chief of budgeting and strategic planning, Larry Spring, said last week that city officials expect the city's $22.5 billion tax roll to increase at least 10% next year.

The city is developing a strategic plan, a map guiding goals and strategies for the city, Mr. Spring said. He did not disclose details but said components include tax relief, excellent city service, parks and transportation.

Mr. Arriola said the city is in planning and talking on its strategic plan but it would take three to four years to establish.

"There are a lot of variables," Mr. Spring said. "We have to make sure the city is on solid financial ground. We want those additional revenues to make one city, one future.

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Miami-Dade mayor, county bracing for a power struggle

By Noaki Schwartz

Miami Bureau

Posted February 4 2005

Miami

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I didn't support him for mayor, but I like what he's done 100% so far.

I hope he can get the publics support for this.

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I voted for his opponent, although I am being won over... I haven't been too thrilled by the aloofness and posturing of the Commission lately.

If you go back to November, they tried something really sneaky... They added an amendment to the County Charter onto the November ballot asking if Commissioners should have term limits... Seems innocent, right? But in the same question, they asked if they should be given a raise. Right now they only make $6,000 a year, a rate that was included as part of the original Charter and not indexed for inflation. The two issues were tied together so that they could not be voted on separately. A vote for yes would have meant both a term limit but an increased salary, while a vote for no would mean no raise yet no term limits. Either way they would not lose out. The amendment was defeated, by the way.

The article mentioned "strong mayor" positions. Most major cities around the country have a politically-accountable executive, including but not limited to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. It's interesting to note that few Florida cities have this type of structure, instead going for the Commission-Manager type... In South Florida, only Hialeah and Hialeah Gardens have strong mayors (there might be others but that's unlikely), and Tampa and St. Petersburg also come to mind in the rest of the state.

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Posted on Fri, Feb. 18, 2005

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

Alvarez's initiative meets resistance

So far, some of Miami-Dade's most influential civic leaders are steering clear of Mayor Carlos Alvarez's campaign to take power away from the County Commission.

By NOAH BIERMAN

[email protected]

Mayor Carlos Alvarez went to one of South Florida's most powerful business groups last month seeking support for changing Miami-Dade County government -- his top initiative.

The reply, according to the leader of the group: Sorry, we'll sit this one out.

''We're going to stay totally away from this,'' said Augusto ''Gus'' Gil, president of the Latin Builders Association.

Alvarez has staked the early part of his mayoral term on a single set of issues: He wants to take power from the County Commission to award contracts and he wants to take power from the county manager to hire and fire department directors. The changes, he says, will bring accountability to voters because they give authority to the mayor, the only county official elected by all voters.

To make those changes, Alvarez has enlisted one of his top campaign supporters to raise $600,000 to $1 million to mount a credible voter drive to change the county's fundamental governing document, its charter.

Commissioners oppose the changes and the controversy is keeping many of the builders, lobbyists, lawyers and business leaders with the most fundraising prowess from entering the fray. The reluctance promises to make Alvarez's effort more difficult, though the mayor says he'll be able to rely on the same grass-roots supporters who helped his election campaign.

'No commissioner has really come up to the table and said `Stay out of it.' At the same time we've been around for awhile and we know how the system works,'' said Gil, a developer.

While Gil is most outspoken, several business leaders have either raised philosophical questions about the proposed changes or reacted tepidly.

TOO MUCH POWER?

Many interviewed for this story say the mayor and the commission should settle their differences through negotiation. Some say they trust Alvarez but worry about giving too much power to mayors who would follow him.

The Miami Business Forum, which hosted Alvarez a few weeks ago, has so far not taken a position and its leaders are not certain they will.

Lawyer Jorge Luis Lopez, who supported Alvarez's mayoral bid and led fundraising for a November voter drive to approve $2.9 billion in county projects, said he is staying out, too. Lopez said his firm -- the influential Steel, Hector and Davis -- will also take a pass.

Jose Cancela, Alvarez's representative to the business community's Beacon Council, said he won't raise money for the ballot initiative either. He recently started a new consulting business and says he won't have the time.

''I have a business to run,'' said Cancela, who raised more than $2 million when he ran for mayor last year and has since become an Alvarez ally.

Further evidence that the issue is a hot one? Both Alvarez and his political action committee campaign leader Jose ''Pepe'' Riesco say they are receiving help from Cesar Alvarez, the head of the state's largest law firm, Greenberg Traurig. But Alvarez denies he or anyone in his firm is involved at all.

''Our business is one in representing many different clients that can be on different sides of that issue,'' he said.

Mayor Alvarez concedes that most who do business at county hall will refrain from taking sides ''for obvious reasons.'' But he points out that he had little support from insiders when he began his bid to become mayor about two years ago.

''You deal with what you have,'' Alvarez said.

SUPPORT

In his mayoral campaign, Alvarez surprised the political establishment with a vast network of ''yellow shirts'' -- grass-roots supporters who wore brightly colored campaign T-shirts and packed polls on election day. Though few were known as county insiders who could bundle contributions, they gave money in smaller batches.

Riesco officially opened the Citizens for Reform PAC on Dec. 27. He said he has so far raised about $80,000, with the first major fundraising event later this month. From here, the schedule will be brisk. Lawyers are quietly writing ''bullet-proof'' ballot language, which they intend to hand over to the county attorney for review early next month, Riesco said. By charter, the proposal would then go to the County Commission for review, leaving Riesco's committee 60 days to gather voter signatures.

Riesco wants to get three issues on the ballot. One involves stripping commissioners' power to award contracts. Another involves giving the mayor authority over county departments. And the third would raise commissioners' annual salaries from $6,000 to about $85,000, tying them to a state formula.

The PAC needs to gather signatures from 10 percent of the electorate for each issue -- close to 400,000 signatures. Unlike campaigns for public office, PACs are not limited in the size of contributions they can collect.

In addition to grass-roots support, Alvarez will have some business support. Charles M. Fernandez, the owner of a Jacksonville hospital who does no business in Miami-Dade, said he's on board. Riesco said he's already received a $20,000 contribution from Mediplan Management insurance company. Gil said some individuals he knows, including McDonald's franchise owner Horacio Garcia, will probably give. ''If you sell cheeseburgers, it doesn't matter whether you support him [the mayor] or not,'' Gil said.

Garcia confirmed he will give money because he believes in Alvarez's message.

Jorge Hernandez-Tora

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http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/11250993.htm

Gov. Bush supports plan to strengthen county mayor's post

BY TERE FIGUERAS NEGRETE

[email protected]

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, whose controversial plan to increase the powers of his office, got support on Monday from one politician with considerable clout: Gov. Jeb Bush.

The governor, in town to discuss a growth management bill with The Herald's editorial board, weighed in when asked about Alvarez's proposals that could bring Miami-Dade a strong mayor by the end of the year.

Although the current job description leaves few actual duties under the mayor's direct control, voters often assume the mayor has a more active role, Bush said.

''I think it's appropriate for the executive to have the power that people already think they have,'' said Bush. ''I think with these issues related to procurement, clearly the executive branch functions, [Alvarez] should have the authority to carry them out.'' Alvarez's political action committee submitted language last week for two referendums that would significantly alter the mayor's role in county government. If approved by voters, the reforms would strip the county commissioners of the power to award contracts and give the mayor's office authority over department heads.

The effect, claims Alvarez, would be to streamline decision-making and insulate operations such as procurement of large government contracts from political demands.

A third ballot item would increase commissioners' salaries to $85,000, which Alvarez believes will to encourage more people to run for office.

The political action committee pushing Alvarez's reforms will present the language the county commission next week, although approval is unlikely. The commission, for the most part, has been stonily opposed to Alvarez's proposed reforms -- with critics saying the shift would place to much unchecked authority in the mayor's office.

The commission is scheduled to vote on the issue on April 5.

If the commission refuses to put the items on the ballot, the mayor's political action committee will have 60 days to gather the necessary signatures from voters to put the three items on the ballot -- roughly 360,000 names.

Although the governor is not campaigning on behalf of the mayor's agenda, Bush's statements were a heartening sign, said Alvarez.

''It makes me feel very good,'' said Alvarez, who recently spent time alongside the governor earlier this month campaigning against a plan to bring Las Vegas-style slot machines to local parimutuel facilities. While Broward voters approved the slots machines, Miami-Dade voters rejected the plan. ``I saw the impact he had when we campaigned against the slots, and he's from [Miami].''

But Alvarez said he's not betting on the governor's input changing the minds of any registered Republicans sitting on the commission dais.

''On this issue, it's nonpartisan,'' he said.

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Posted on Sun, May. 01, 2005

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

Public funds used for political 'push' poll

A Miami-Dade commissioner sought public money to pay for a poll that suggested political strategies for defeating county Mayor Carlos Alvarez's strong-mayor proposal.

BY NOAKI SCHWARTZ

[email protected]

Months before Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez unveiled specifics on his drive to give his office more authority, one of his key opponents on the County Commission camouflaged a request for $9,000 in public money to pay for a poll that showed how to get voters to oppose Alvarez.

Read more: Miami Herald

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Posted on Tue, May. 03, 2005

Probe of poll expenditure sought

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez has asked the county's ethics department and the inspector general's office to look into whether a commissioner should have used public money to pay for a political poll.

BY NOAKI SCHWARTZ

[email protected]

Miami-Dade County's ethics department has been asked to determine whether Commission Vice Chairman Dennis Moss' expenditure of $9,000 for a political poll targeting Mayor Carlos Alvarez's attempts to remake county government was proper.

Alvarez, who made the request Monday, also wants the county's inspector general's office to clarify how commissioners can use their discretionary funds, which are often devoted to nonprofit causes in each commissioner's district. Miami-Dade's 13 commissioners get $300,000 each -- or about $3.9 million -- in discretionary funds every year for anything that serves a public purpose.

Full scoop: Miami Herald

Mayor's PAC: Citizens for Reform

If/when the opposition sets up a website, it will be posted.

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Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez's charter amendment petition drive officially ended May 31st. This was the deadline imposed to collect approximately 144,000 signatures, slightly more than 10% of registered voters.

The mayor is seeking to balance the legislative and executive with two reforms: creating a strong publicly-accountable executive mayor (the only county government official elected at large) with direct control over county department heads. Currently they report to the county manager, who reports to both the mayor and the commission. The control of awarding contracts would also be transferred away from the Commission (legislative) to the Mayor's Office (executive). Under this proposal, the directors of the varying county departments, such as Aviation, would have more control over the process. This is how it works in 22 of 25 of the country's largest cities.

The strong mayor proposal has been strong, although the procurement contracts portion has been shaky.

The Department of Elections is expected to verify and certify the signatures within 30 days.

More info at: Miami Today, Strong mayor appears headed to public vote

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Posted on Sun, Jun. 05, 2005

POLITICS

Dade mayor settles for a partial victory

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez ends a petition drive that aimed for two referendums by settling for one: a vote on whether to strengthen his office.

BY NOAKI SCHWARTZ

[email protected]

Claiming a partial victory, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez on Saturday turned in six cardboard boxes filled with more than 170,000 signatures supporting a countywide vote on whether to strengthen his office.

But Alvarez postponed a campaign promise to also seek a referendum on reforming the way lucrative county contracts are awarded.

Limited to 60 days, volunteers had to collect 3,579 verified signatures a day if they expected to get two questions on the November ballot. It turned out to be harder than anticipated. Organizers lost time with the rainy weather and found the contract-reform question too time-consuming to explain.

more: Miami Herald

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Here's an interesting view of the reforms Alvarez is proposing. I'm not crazy about the current system, but perhaps the new proposal isn't the answer we're looking for.

Strong-mayor Rx a simplistic remedy with fatal side effects

Voters soon will determine with a simple yes or no whether to remake Miami-Dade County's government.

The sparse ballot question on a strong mayor is the worst way to restructure a county larger in size, budget and impact than many nations. But that's the way Mayor Carlos Alvarez wants it - simplistic and unstudied.

If he has his way, he would be handed a new far-ranging job, assuming the manager's role and much of the county commission's power in a new operating dynamic.

Incredibly, voters who only know that they're fed up with county government may be suckered into approving a charter change to remake the mayor's job with intensified power. The 170,000 signatures his troops turned in Saturday will force this vote. They prove that at least 170,000 people back a massive change, whether or not they understand it...

http://www.miamitodaynews.com/news/050609/...viewpoint.shtml

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A judge has squashed Alvarez's bid to become a strong mayor claiming it to be unconstitutional.

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/local/12354492.htm

One week after county elections officials had verified enough signatures on petitions to put the ''strong mayor'' measure on the fall ballot, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael A. Genden ruled the proposal unconstitutional.

The measure would have removed language from the county charter that names the commission as the county's governing body -- a change that would violate the state Constitution, Genden said in his ruling.

Supporters of the measure, including Alvarez's political action committee, Citizens for Reform, had argued that even if the language was removed, the commission would remain the county's governing authority

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I've been thinking about this issue, which has concerned me for some time.

The snag that this recent ruling based on is on language in the Constitution that mandates that the county commission shall be the "governing body" of Miami-Dade County. Sadly, the language that was drafted for the mayor's home rule charter amendment was written poorly and completely ignored this.

The electors of Dade County, Florida, are granted power to adopt, revise, and amend from time to time a home rule charter of government for Dade County, Florida, under which the Board of County Commissioners of Dade County shall be the governing body.

It seems that the message that commissioners might be getting is that they're in the clear. There are several on that board that I truly admire and respect, a few run hot and cold for me, and others that I can't stand. If anything is to be learned from this, especially given how far the process had gotten up to this point, is that many people are not fond of the way the county commission handles itself. We've seen how they alter contracts, structure RFPs so that only certain people can win them, annex land despite overwhelming opposition from county staff and the public, etc. Most of these folks come from very safe districts (they gerrymandered them that way) and don't care what decisions they make, as long as their blindly loyal constituency, who likely don't follow politics as closely as they should, remains happy. Unfortunately, this has serious ramifications for all of us as a whole.

I propose expanding the county commission by at least 4 or 6 members, elected at-large. Currently the commission has 13 members elected from single-member districts. In places of similar size, many city councils have a mix of single-member and at-large representation. Commissioners' salaries should be commensurate with today's dollars. Right now, the 1957 charter sets the salary at $6000. It should follow the statewide formula used by other bodies, where population is factored in as a variable. This way they don't have to have two jobs and can concentrate on county issues instead of trying to eek a living doing things that may potentially create conflicts of interest with their office.

Companies that solicit the county for contracts have said time and time again, if you want any chance of winning, you have to hire a lobbyist... Many have given up altogether, conceding defeat. Elected officials do not have enough impartiality and in many cases, the expertise, to review certain contracts, especially those that are technical in nature. At the federal level, Congress doesn't do anything with contracts. It makes much more sense to have those reviewed by the county department heads, the mayor's office, and other officials who are most familiar and knowledgeable. If there's any sign of impropriety, the employee can be terminated, or in the most extreme of cases, prosecuted.

Another thought I had would be to create independent review boards with a selection process similar to that of the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. The Miami-Dade Ethics Commission, who ultimately chooses the Inspector General, is appointed by the deans of several local law schools, the chief judge in and for Miami-Dade County, and a few other folks. The hypothetical board(s) or committee(s) that I am devising could be structured such that there would be at least one appointee from the commission, the county manager, a department head, and perhaps some others. The largest departments such as Aviation and Seaport would have their own boards, and the smaller or similar departments could be grouped, such as Public Works and Water & Sewer, or Police, Fire-Rescue, and Corrections under a Public Safety Contract Review Board umbrella. Best of all, these could be public hearings.

Whatever comes of this, ultimately it is we as taxpayers and residents of Miami-Dade County that will be impacted, and ultimately what is best for us is what we should be striving for.

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Here's something interesting... one of the drafters of the Miami-Dade County Home Rule Charter, Dan Paul, says he could have written the language for the "strong mayor" amendment such that it would have passed constitutional muster, providing more power to the mayor yet maintaining the county commission as the governing body. He is in support of the amendment. Dade County became Florida's first home rule county and the nation's only two-tier metropolitan government (Metro-Dade) in 1957.

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/12384734.htm

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