Road Block

COMMISSION MAJORITY KEPT TERM LIMIT MEASURE OFF 2013 BALLOT

If Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin had his way, and the support of three commission colleagues, voters in the city might have had the opportunity to change Miami Beach’s term limits regulations. In fact, twice he’s made the effort and twice been rebuffed.

As a result, a loophole all but enables lifetime positions on the city commission dais.

“I thought Miami Beach had term limits of 14 years,” Tobin told SunPost. “[Mayor Matti Bower] has served 14 year. When I learned the Mayor was running again and could serve another 14 years based on a loophole, I brought it to the commission to fix the loophole. First I proposed a term limit of 14 years in one’s lifetime. When that failed, I proposed that the elected official would be required to take a two year break before starting over. Mayor Bower, Commissioners Gongora, Exposito and Libbin would not support either term limit proposal.”

Furthermore, race – rapidly becoming a tool for negative and questionably legitimate campaigning – reared its ugly head in a seemingly unrelated issue.

Tobin first proposed a change to the city’s term limits months ago, suggesting it appear on a planned May ballot asking Beach voters about financial support for improvements to Dolphins Stadium. However, Miami-Dade Elections rebuffed the effort, claiming they did not want a local item on a countywide ballot.

“We are not authorizing municipalities to add questions on this ballot should the election move forward. There is a lot of uncertainty in terms of timing and preparation making it difficult to approve. Thank you,” wrote Christina White, the deputy supervisor of elections for Miami-Dade County, according to an April article that appeared in the Miami Herald.

At the time, veteran Mayor Matti Bower was only rumored to be considering exchanging her center seat on the commission dais for a commission seat. Still, the measure seemed clearly aimed at the mayor, who ran several times for office before finally become arguably the most recognizable member of today’s commission. In Miami Beach’s government structure, the mayor might be gatekeeper, but his or her vote is merely one of seven when it comes to passing actual legislation.

“There seems to be what seems to be a loophole… which allows you to start all over again,” Tobin told the Herald. “I believe that term limits are good to get fresh blood in.”

Currently, the city charter sets a limit on consecutive mayoral and commission terms – it does not address elected officials who might jump from seat to seat. The current charter offers no regulations there, meaning technically, a politician could remain in office indefinitely.

Following Tobin’s efforts in the spring, Bower declared for a commission seat and is generally considered a favorite to return to the dais.

Tobin, however, was not done attempting to prevent what amounts to a new class of royalty on Miami Beach. He asked the commission to take up the item subsequently, even though it is unclear, if it were to have been approved after qualification for this year’s election, that it would have any effect on Bower’s run, since she would likely have not fallen under the purview of new regulations.

Miami Beach City Attorney Jose Smith could not be reached for clarification by SunPost deadline.

It was after bringing the item to the city commission officially that things got ugly – and the ethnic politics currently being employed by a number of candidates put in an appearance.

Tobin brought the item back to the city commission at an April 17 meeting. According to a resident in attendance, Bower referred to item R7M as “…the killing of Matti Bower.” It subsequently failed with Bower, Gongora, Libbin and Exposito forming the majority in opposition.

In defeating the item at the commission level, two sources, including Tobin, told SunPost that Bower claimed that term limits are intrinsically anti-Hispanic. Whether she was just echoing the national political rallying cry that it’s discriminatory for voters to have to demonstrate they are citizens of the U.S. to vote, or if she simply knows more on the topic than national media and civil rights groups, remains unclear. If one Googles the question, “Are term limits for politicians anti-Hispanic,” not a single credible study, survey or source appears on the main page.

Bower did not respond to two requests to clarify her position on the topic, nor to explain how term limits are discriminatory.

However, the rallying cry of “anti-Hispanic” has become a key, if ethically dubious, tactic in this year’s campaign. Accusations of being anti-Hispanic have been leveled at mayoral candidate and entrepreneur Philip Levine, including a mailer sent to Spanish-speaking households linking the Miami Beach businessman to none other than Fidel Castro. That mailer was attributed to an organization linked to rival mayoral candidate Commissioner Michael Gongora’s one-time/alleged political consultant Randy Hilliard. Last week, Gongora denied to the Herald that Hilliard was his campaign manager.

But the anti-Hispanic allegations against Levine have been decried from as diverse an assortment of prominent local personalities as former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, former popular Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin and Miami Beach activist Frank Del Vecchio. A number of critics have criticized the mainland-based Herald for running such stories with dubious legitimate support for the accusations.

In a letter to the editors of the Miami Herald, provided to SunPost, Del Vecchio, Miami Beach’s well respected activist, wrote, “The campaign to inflame the passions of Cuban-American voters against challengers to Miami Beach incumbents began with the assertion that term limits were ‘anti-Hispanic.’  Next was a smear mailer to Hispanic-surname voters depicting mayoral candidate Philip Levine between Fidel and Raul Castro.  Now, the party line is that there is a ‘slate’ of Anglos on the ballot, ergo, ‘anti-Hispanic.’ Since no Hispanics filed for runs against incumbents Gongora, Bower or Exposito, are voters who prefer a change on the commission dais guilty of ethnic discrimination?

Racial, gender, ethnic or religious discrimination is un-American,” Del Vecchio continued. “The abuse of political free speech to foment ethnic backlash under false pretenses is un-American. The Miami Beach commission incumbents on this year’s ballot should publicly condemn these tactics.”

To date, no Hispanic member of the commission has condemned the racial tactics, nor has SunPost uncovered any evidence of there being a “slate” of Anglo candidates. Also to date, the closest thing to a “slate” of candidates in terms of observable public policy positions is that consisting of incumbents committed to the selected developer of the Miami Beach Convention Center by a development group preferred by no informed entity except a commission majority.

Tobin suggested SunPost question the commission majority vote that effectively killed his term limit proposal as to why they support virtually no limits to “public service.” But Bower and Gongora refused comment on the subject at the heart of the question.

` Bower did not respond to several related questions submitted via email, nor a followup question on her analysis of the racial nature of term limits.

But Gongora indicated he would comment on the issue after it has finished its committee voyage.

“The issue of term limits has not passed at the Charter Review Committee,” Gongora said. “It is anticipated that this will be discussed sometime at the end of October. The focus of the discussion will be on term limits for the mayor, and also reviewing final term limits for commissioners. I think it would be premature of me to answer your questions before the decision of the Charter Review Committee.”

But one thing is certain. Miami Beach voters will not, this year, have the opportunity to eliminate what is effectively a system permitting life-long positions on the Miami Beach City Commission.

Nor are voters likely to have a chance to eliminate an unofficial royal family consisting of elected officials anytime soon.

About Michael W Sasser

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