Friday, March 25, 2011

These are our leaders, people

Still reeling from the stunningly anti-climatic commission vote Thursday, Ladra is having more difficulty concentrating than ever. And being brief. Maybe the commission is contagious.

So let's concentrate on a few favorite moments, some because they were surprisingly good and fresh and focused and others because they were ridiculously bad and silly and suspicious. And please forgive me for focusing fervently only on the first four or five hours before I started to multitask. There are things we working folks have to do. We can go in chronological order, but I think it would be better (For me. Who cares about you? Watch the tape) if I go drone by drone.

The first boo goes out to Chairman Joe Martinez, who could have avoided hours of needless back and forth about dates and windows if he had just changed the order of the items on the agenda. (Commissioner Audrey Edmonson at one point was afraid to make a motion: "I gotta put a date on there?") He is the one most responsible for that painfully long meeting. (Quipped Commissioner Barbara Jordan: "On second thought, I should have kept my root canal appointment today.) Ladra thinks the 8.5 hour torture and lack of fresh air got commissioners even more distracted and confused. Why on Earth would Martinez -- who did not support any reform move except his own to bolster the Inspector General -- refuse to change the agenda after so many people have been suggesting it since Monday? Oh, wait, was it a way for the 2012 mayoral candidate to raise questions about a colleague who is running for mayor in the special election and will likely be Martinez' biggest obstacle as incumbent next year? He didn't name names, but Commissioner Carlos Gimenez is the only one (so far) going for the 18-month head start.

"Who does it benefit? Does it benefit people who are in office," Martinez asked in a needlessly suggestive way in a public, televised meeting. He called on the county attorney and the elections supervisor and asked them how delaying the vote might affect the qualifying period (what?) and the resign to run law that makes electeds quit if they want to jump into another race. Like he couldn't have asked that at the office? In a memo, even? It smacks of a low blow. Later he said he was just trying to give "this gentleman over here the most amount of time for what I originally thought this recall election was for." That's why he asked about qualifying periods. Aha. But then in the next breath, he told everyone that his concern about the timing on the resign to run law was about "somebody being in office and using that office to run a campaign." (If Ladra was Gimenez, she would have bit him right then and there). "But I was told that was not the case." And so he withdrew his objection. Which is sort of like an attorney withdrawing a question she or he knows is not allowable because, hey, the jury hears it before the judge strikes it anyway. Tsk, tsk. That's behavior unbecoming of a commissioner, let alone a mayor. No wonder there's a learning curve if he couldn't get these answers before the meeting.

Martinez also insinuated that Gimenez was campaigning when he sponsored a ballot question to limit the number of county departments, like the state does, to 25. "Is the Fish and Wildlife Commission a department," Martinez asked (and Ladra growls because she is sure he knows the answer already and this is just for more effect). But he did point out that state agencies and divisions in departments only make the state seem smaller. "What this does is look good in the media. 'We are trying to reduce the size of government.' ... It's really not going to accomplish anything," Martinez said. (Note to Joe: While maybe I agree with you on the cap, it benefits taxpayers to have the charter questions on the same ballot by saving about $5 million and takes this mockery of an election out of the special interests who manipulated the process to get it. Or it could have if any of the questions put forth by commissioners after more than eight hours made any sense. Instead, you just handed them a new reason to raise funds for more recalls, thus propagating the cottage industry they created. You need another advisor, dude.).

Gimenez, who did show some moments of leadership, does not get off without a slap on the wrist. While he led the charge to set the May 24 election and reconvene in 15 days on April 11 to put the mayor and commission races on the ballot, Ladra thinks Gimenez either got too giddy at the prospect, finally, of that elusive reform he has been beating drums for, or else used the opportunity to promote himself as anti-establishment mayoral candidate by sponsoring no less than six potential charter amendments (more than anyone else and, officially, twice as many as allowed, although the county does not enforced that rule). Seems like throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and he can take credit for. The department cap does seem more show than substance. While it may save on big paychecks for department heads, if there is no limit on department spending it means nothing. Well, maybe more outside consultants to take up the slack and provide us, first, with some campaign funds. He has to know, a veteran pol and government administrator like him, that it could seem like a "feel good" measure at a convenient time, no matter what they do in Tally. Please tell me that state government is not the "model".

Commissioner Bruno Barreiro wins the award for being the most supportive of charter reform he had no intention of supporting. "I support charter reform. I've sponsored charter reform since 2000," he huffed and puffed. ""I've profferred, in workshops, redistricting...I've profferred procurement reform. I've proffered substantial amounts of changes." He forgot to add, "But not today. Not now that I have another chance." Instead, he wants to wait for the next general election to get the most "participation from this community and so they can make well informed decisions," he said, supporting the suggestions for more task forces and more review committees. The recall vote, he added, was for the mayor and district 13 commissioner, not for the charter, trying to make it seem like adding reform would sow down what the people really wanted, the replacements. "I don't want to stop. I don't want people to think we want to stop this, we want to derail this," he said, winning the award also for saying what he doesn't mean.

Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who urged the delay of amendment questions until the presidential primary next year, might want to reset his alarm. "I hope you got the wake-up call," he told his fellow electeds before Ladra realized he apparently hit snooze. "The people have spoken. I have always followed their voice and I am not going to change now," Diaz said, because the meeting was not a public hearing. "There are people in that audience that I want to hear from. I haven't had the opportunity to listen." Um, which people? Remove the wax in your ears, Pepe, because people want reform on the same ballot as the replacements. They wanted reform before the recall. You guys just never paid attention before. "Why are we pushing this so fast?" Fast? Are you kidding? "Do you know the majority of people don't even know that this meeting was taking place?" Really? Where are those people sticking their heads? "Did you know that these people can't talk here?" Wish I could have answered: "Pepe, did you know that those people have talked enough?" C'mon, who doesn't know their position? Maybe the seemingly too-strong defense of the Bramanites and Vanessicans is an olive branch -- he wants to put them on a task force, "another one" (his words, not mine) to review charter reform -- so they don't target him for recall next (don't worry, Peps, we think they have their sights on someone else).

Then, he couldn't help but put in a jab: "By the way," Diaz said, "I am not running for mayor, so I don't have an interest." Nice. But let Ladra say that. Let someone else point it out. Maybe this animosity is why you guys can't get anything done. Geez. You remind me of my 10-year-old daughter and her 5th grade friends. "You can't be my friend if you are Billie's friend." Grow up. Ladra is sure Pepe felt targetted by the outside employment issue (you know, with all that bad press and those questions about his company getting airport work), but two wrongs and all that. Besides, it's not true. All of you up there have interests in something.

While Diaz wanted to hear from the people who drove the recall, Commissioner Edmonson, who may have inadvertently invited another recall effort (more on that later) certainly did not need to hear from "a few self-appointed representatives of the community." It was no secret who Edmonson, who was one of the original five targetted by the opportunistic Miami Voice PAC (more on that later), was talking about. "We should not allow the media, and I'm going to repeat that again, or one person or one small group to tell us what to do because the way I see it is what is the purpose of this commission? Why elect anyone to represent the people and then allow others to bully that particular group. And when I say bully I mean bully, because now it's gotten to the point where if someone doesn't agree with a vote on this dais, then, 'Okay, go recall them.' Forget about criminal activity, forget about malfeasance or misfeasence, forget about all that stuff. 'I don't like you. I don't like how you voted. So let's do a petition drive to get them out.' That's ridiculous. It's ridiculous... That is why we are here today, because some little group decided to put out a petition drive," Edmonson said, speaking of the Miami Voice PAC, we think, not Norman Braman. "It's time we had some checks and balances there. One person should not be God in this community." Okay, that one might be about Braman. "I thought this community elected us to represent them. They did not elect billionaries or little groups."

While we agree on the lack of transparency of PACs that do not speak for a majority, Edmonson is as disingenuous as Peps when she says she hasn't heard from the people. Ladra has asked for emails to and from all commissioners (public records) about this meeting and vote to see exactly who they did hear from. We are especially curious to see what state electeds Martinez referred to when he said some had written to urge passage of one reform measure or another. (Note to those who feel there has not been enough public hand-wringing about these things: You can still do the public forums or educate voters objectively and let the people give direct input with a thumbs up or down. What a concept!"

Commissioner Javier Souto -- who takes every opportunity to remind people he was in the Florida House and Senate and "didn't get here yesterday" -- actually mixed the positions and got it right, in theory anyway. Beautiful, passionate, fiery if sometimes off-point theory. "This is about the people. The whole bunch of people. Not a portion of the people. Not a little clique of people. Not some people running things. It's about the whole people of Miami-Dade County. We have all kinds of radio personalities and television personalities giving opinions, or political activists or millionaires, everyone giving their opinions... we need to listen to the real people," Souto said pushing for public hearings and (his favorite) town halls. "Watch out because we need the people to participate ... it's just us and a bunch of people here and some radio and some media and a lot of hoopla and a lot of whooo, whooo, whooooo and the media and all that."

The typically long-winded, easily-distracted veteran lawmaker -- who really does know what he is talking about much of the time if we can follow his thread -- was in pure form when he provided a little historic context on term limits and redistrincting ("I've been around. I've been there in the trenches, believe me.") and much needed comic relief in his patented paternal way. "I'm going to say a few things. So, please be patient....Don't rush. Take things slow. As a matter of fact, most of the big decisions in corporations are made eating and drinking in big corporate meetings. And they have no rush. When they go to make the big corporate decision, they have no rush. They eat lots and drink, so bring the chicken," he said. "I'm going to say a few things. So please be patient. Later, he asked for dessert. "Don't rush. That's the first thing I said, don't rush me. We have the whole day here. I could be here til tomorrow morning. This is not a police thing where I get a ticket." The 15-minute speech -- ending with something like "Because this is America!" -- is worth watching again (starts about an hour and 28 minutes into the meeting).

Poor freshman Commissioner Lynda Bell was next. "That's a tough act to follow. I guess I should be careful what part of the cue I am in," she said, and then made a great point reminding her colleagues that the charter is a "living breathing document" created to change with the times and shot down Diaz' task force idea. "I'm willing to listen to everyone here today. But also, I don't need another task force to determine common sense. I don't need another charter review panel," the former Homestead mayor said holding up the review from 2008. "During the campaign, the charter and charter amendments and charter review was an issue. We were asked in every debate. I think it's clear,"She said it didn't take "rocket science" to realize that the charter changes were something people wanted to vote on and some amendments were clearly priority. She meant term limits, which became a campaign issue she supported. "I can support reform that is dictated by the people who voted me into office and not by others." And she might be right when she said people have not supported salaries because they were not attached to term limits. But if she thinks $96,000 is a "decent salary" then she is out of touch with those people. That's more than $1 million in total for the Dade Dozen to sit around pointing fingers and try to look good asking inane questions and raking over irrelevant minutia for hours on end. At least you will be able to keep your outside jobs and businesses, now, because there is no way the people are going to vote for that. We will be your term limits, thankyouverymuch.

Commissioners Barbara Jordan and Dennis Moss talked mostly against changing the current districts that helped bring diverse representation to all the communities in the county. Jordan suggested some reform measures came from political motivated sources not the community. "There are agendas being put forward," she said. She did reluctantly sponsor the 12-year term limits because she really believes limits hurt a legislator's ability to accomplish much before they leave the learning curve. But Ladra and I cannot believe it has to be so difficult. If they can't hit the ground running and make things happen fast then they have no business running for office. Or the system has to be changed. It shouldn't take an elected officials two or three or four years to train.

Just look at newly-elected Commissioner Jean Monestine, already getting a feel for this gig. He didn't have to think long about term limits because he knows his Civics 101. "This is an issue this community has been discussing for a while now and if there is an issue that does not need to be further vetted, it is the issue of term limits," said Monestine, who was concerned, however, if it came with the condition that he gave up his business. He must be doing well if a $96,000 salary isn't reason to take a leave of absence and put someone else in charge.

Commissioner Sally Heyman was also worried and felt strongly enough to research and find that only five of 66 Florida counties bar outside employment for electeds because of conflict of interests concerns. And she said it was an unequalizing policy. "Some of my colleagues are retired; they have pensions. Some of them work for others. Some of us are self employed." Like many of the commissioners, she did not think it was fair. Especially since the employees are allowed outside employment if they report it. "If someone is a travel agent and wants to sell a couple of tickets so they can bank on it later on, I don't see the problem," Heyman said. "It would be a hardship for me to go inactive with the Florida bar. It would compromise me to go inactive. Even if I did stuff probono and that would be a problem." She also was the second person, after Barreiro, to ask if that provision would bar income from a percentage ownerhip in a company. The answer is, of course. But the other answer is that there are ways to hide this. And people who want to be corrupt will find a way to get the graft. My measure would have put the two four-year term limits, a $50,000 salary (it's supposed to be a temporary public service that takes a lot of work and dedication and time, but not a lucrative career) and employment wherever anybody wants, but with quarterly financial reports that includes disclosure of salary, perks, pensions, dividends, stock payments, property ownership, rent, consulting fees, subcontracts, paid speaking engagements and basically any kind of compensation for anything. If it is legal, I'd like to require reporting gambling wins and losses. Because that is true transparency, not an attempt to tapar el sol con un dedo -- cover the sun with your index finger -- and give people a false sense of security and trust.

We are going to end with the one shining ray of hope in the darkness yesterday.

Commissioner Rebeca Sosa seemed to have two things the rest lacked much of: courage and clarity. She said her constituents had told her that the recall was not enough. "If you don't make changes in the administration of county government, if you don't go and look at the salaries and the structure and the bureaucracy... then the answer is, no change. And I am listening to everyone loud and clear," she said, insisting that the commission set the election May 24 to let the questions go on the ballot because there was no guarantee of a runoff. "We are lying to ourselves," she said. "Either we do it right, or we don't do it. And I am here to do it right." Later, Sosa said what I said earlier and in my email to my commissioner (Bell), that putting real reform on the ballot themselves would take the recall election out of the hands of the professional campaign professionals and politicians manipulating the petition process and pushing panic buttons of misinformation to get emotionally-charged votes cast on election day. She reminded them, again, about the strong-arm mayor vote. "I said, why don't we as a commission put the question on the ballot and let the residents decide what they want? They didn't. And you know what happened? A tsunami. They petitioned. They said 'The commission doesn't want it on the ballot,' created the momentum for people to vote... When we as a democracy are denied the ability to make decisions then we get together, because we want to have that ability... I'm asking you place what most people are talking about on the ballot," she said, referring to term limists with the "formula" salary and no outside employment. "And let the public decide. So they don’t go out there tonight and say they say, 'The commission was unable to agree on placing one charter reform or two charter reforms on the ballot.'" She called on the board to be mature and just make a decision. "When you see so many actions out of 'Either you do this, or I'll do that,' it's not good. But we need to show good faith. And we need to show leadership. And we need to show that we trust the people. If we don't place those questions on the ballot, we are going to do the same thing we did with the strong mayor. We are going let the community create the sensation that we refused to place questions for the public to decide.and that will create more emotion. And its going to be worse for our community, We need to heal. We need to allow the public to elect the mayor and the commissioner in district 13. We need to sit down as a body and talk about real business. We need to talk about how we are going to balance the budget without raising taxes or reducing services. We need to talk about how to reduce the bureaucracy in government and how to make the people accessible. That is the discussion we need to have."

Ladra also thinks we need Rebeca Sosa to stop hinting and run for mayor already.

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