By Anne Newport Royall
Following last week’s off-shore visitor, Donna Milo, candidate for District 2 Commissioner in the City of Miami, the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club paid host to home County Commissioner, Bruno Barreiro on August 30th. The long-serving commissioner was first elected in 1998, has had little to no opposition since, yet barely beat getting his picture put on the political wanted poster of the Great Recall Ballot of 2011.
District 5 covers parts of the City of Miami Beach and parts of the City of Miami, along with the unincorporated area of Fisher Island. Parts of Brickell; Brickell Key; the Roads; Shenandoah; Little Havana; Grapeland; all of South Beach; parts of Mid- and North Beach; Hibiscus; and Palm and Star Islands are all included. Anyone can see this district is in desperate need of a makeover.
No matter what his District will look like in future, the commissioner is not ready to give up his seat. Since opening his re-election account in December 2010, he has raised $8,400.00, some from Miami Beach residents Developer James Resnick and wife Lidia, and Dr. Leonard Hochstein.
Barreiro may not need to raise much more. His only challenger is Ricardo “Ricky” Rodriguez, who boasts a nifty website (Ricky2012.com), a winning smile—and a $100.00 loan to his own campaign.
It will take a lot more than that to dislodge Barreiro.
A career politician, prior to the 13 years he has been a county commissioner. Barreiro spent time in the Florida House of Representatives beginning in 1992, representing District 107, the seat currently held by former-Miami Beach Commissioner, Luis Garcia.
Always firm in his convictions, the Commissioner strode in late and launched right into his idea for the current budget gap.
“I’ve proffered my own ideas,” he said. “Instead of reducing salaries across the board by 10 to 50 percent, we should freeze new hires and see where government is bloated, see where the savings is [sic].”
Consolidation may also yield savings in future for the County, Barreiro offered. He informed the group that the mayor is downsizing his administration promising to present “his T.O.—Table of Organization—a consolidation that will provide some savings by the first public budget hearing” on September 8 at County Hall.
“I have proffered consolidating the City of Miami Fire Department into the County”, he announced, certain to find savings for “the County and City.” Barreiro had championed a controversial proposal in 2008 to consolidate all local Fire Departments with the County but was met with mixed reviews from his colleagues, and severe resistance from the highly-politicized Miami Beach Fire Department PAC. He noted that times have changed in three years, and “the faces have changed too. “The new mayor is a former fire chief in Miami. His new hire for the county position was also once the Fire Chief in the City of Miami”.
He also offered that the budget would show savings, “By holding back on Capitol work, not the infrastructure, but on the other things”. There are billions of promised “Building Better Communities” G.O. projects left undone out there (could expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Center be on that unfunded list?). For the controversial union ultimatums, on which much of the savings depend, he distinguished himself from newly-elected mayor Carlos Gimenez with the observation that “We are in negotiations, but as a commissioner I cannot get involved in that.”
He was “very excited about our current projects,” and began highlighting changes at the airport. He sits on the Airport and Seaport Committee, and spoke of the “one-seat ride from Dadeland to the airport” promised by the Metrorail expansion. In reality, this multi-billion-dollar expansion doesn’t go to the airport but to the MIC, the Miami Intermodal Center, the world’s largest rental-car facility that’s more than a mile away. From there a transfer to the Miami Mover, a small-automated rail car system similar to the People Mover downtown, is necessary to get to the terminals.
Lynn Bernstein, of the City Manager’s Office, chimed in with a question about the popular airport-express bus. Would it be going to the new MIC? The Commissioner believed that the No. 150 bus would continue on straight to the airport.
Miami International Airport (MIA) turned out to be the dominant topic. Savvy investor Dee Lawrence brought up the fact that bonds taken out to pay for the airport expansion do not mature until 2041: “Your grandchildren will be paying for this, and I really don’t understand this ‘magnificent’ airport—the tiles are already cracking!”
Barreiro, a man who could easily deliver a death sentence with a “Why you, why me?” boyish charm, threw his former colleagues under the heavy-rail for their airport involvement. “In Denver they built a new airport, then turned the lights out at the old one,” he said. MIA has been renovated and added to while continuing to serve over 35 million passengers in 2010 alone. “The surveys show we are a well-respected airport,” he boasted. “The idea is to lure new carriers and get current carriers to add more flights. I am very proud of the North Terminal that American seems to be busting at the seams. We really need to capture that growth.”
Community-leader Roger Abramson challenged him on the airport tenant mix. “Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit all fly into Ft. Lauderdale, not MIA.” Abramson was concerned for the diversion of our economic lifeblood to Broward. “We are losing tourist dollars when those airlines don’t come here.”
Barreiro excitedly offered to seize the initiative and reach out to those airlines. “In the 13 years I have been commissioner, not one of them have sat down with me although I’d be happy to do the reverse and reach out to them,” he enthused.
The topic shifted to the lack of taxes paid by the owners of the Miami Heat and American Airlines Arena. “Is this true?,” Shirley Martinelli incredulously asked.
“Yes, it’s true,” Barreiro admitted, adding that in fact the Miami Heat has not had to pay to use its $213 million-venue owned and operated by the Miami Sports and Entertainment Authority (code name ‘You and Me’). The Triple A sits on $38 million of prime County waterfront; additionally, the County pays $64 million annually in operating subsidies.
“They may want something that will give us the opportunity to open up our contract again,” the commissioner offered hopefully.
Let’s also hope that works on the Marlins.
Bouncing back to transportation, the Commissioner dashed all hopes of his colleagues’ proposal for a hybrid rail and street machine using the FEC corridor to downtown Miami. “The FEC still carries freight”, he mused, and mixing passenger service with freight services apparently requires a higher level of safety for the passenger cars. At any rate, the rubber-wheeled vehicles exhibited by Commissioner Xavier Suarez in last Monday’s presentation do not qualify.
“The People Mover is busting at the seams,” said the commissioner repeating a favored phrase. “I have proffered that we close the loop at the Financial Center,” he went on, noting that the People Mover was popular because it “was free” and reminding the room that no public transportation system goes unsubsidized.
2013 City Commission Candidate Elsa Urquiza heaped praise on Mayor Gimenez’ proposal to save $1 million by limiting the take-home pool of cars available to county workers, and also on Barreiro’s own Miami Beach Constituent Services Aide Amarylys Diaz, in attendance. “She’s a queen!” gushed Urquiza.
‘I wish I could clone her,” Barreiro agreed.
Stanley Shapiro brought up the touchy matter of the commissioner’s office accounts. “Years ago we had a pot of money. We took care of CBO’s (Community Based Organizations, such as Shapiro’s “Seniors Are First” group), that were left out of the funding process.” Barreiro explained that the fund was eliminated three years ago, and now commissioners only receive an “office fund.” He supported the notion of saving these funds and carrying them over for future use. “’Use it or lose it’ is a bad policy,’” he stated flatly. The current mayor wants to “recapture” these unused commissioner dollars and return them to the operating budget for helping ease the crunch.
“All of our money is the people’s money,” Barreiro announced grandly.
“I also caution you that eight years is too short,” he intoned, referring to the term limit charter changes, one of many, he foresees on the November 2012 ballot. The question of redistricting will also be on the ballot. “I’ve proffered that we need a balance of four at-large districts and nine (single member) districts.”
Recapturing the floor, senior Shapiro announced that he gets office money from ‘Not only the District 5 Commissioner”, but from those of districts 4,10, 11 and 12, as well. “And you can see why we call him ‘the listening commissioner’. We have to respect him for that.”
“But, allow me to ask you about the contract for STS” Shapiro suddenly jabbed.
The commissioner knew about this procurement gone awry for over two years now. STS (Special Transportation Services) is a component of public transportation that provides an on-demand pre-arranged door-to-door transportation service for the elderly and disabled. The lowest bidding firm was not recommended, and there were questions over technology requirements raised after the bid process was closed but prior to the contract’s being awarded. “I proffered that the commission should not be at the tail-end of this process,” Barreiro rejoined. Currently, the administration identifies needs, then drafts and issues requests for proposals or qualifications and with the selection process complete requests the commission award the contract. Barreiro proposes procurement-reform by the commission setting the language and parameters of the contract, and delegating authority to award contracts to the administration. This would mean the giving up the lucrative role of awarding contracts, as the County has no prohibition on contractors, past present or future from making political contributions, as law on Miami Beach stipulates.
The only sour note was when Commissioner Barreiro commented on the economy. “I don’t foresee a turn-around in the anytime soon,” he dolefully said.
Good thing the café con leche is free in his district office at City Hall.