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Term limits top issues facing Miami-Dade voters

caines | 10/25/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Some voters believe eight years is long enough

For voters in Miami-Dade County, next months ballot will have many choices and, as with any election, the more informed voters are before they arrive at their respective polling places, the better they can feel about their individual choices. Among those many choices, Miami-Dade voters will have six proposed amendments to the County charter to review and on which to vote. Perhaps the most widely talked about proposed amendment to the County charter is the return of the term limit for county commissioners question which is important because, as Yolanda V. Paschal, associate attorney at Carlton Fields says, currently, there are no restrictions on the number of times one may serve as a County Commissioner. Earlier this year, voters in Miami-Dade County rejected a term limit proposal that also included a pay raise provision for members of the commission. However, the remixed November version of the term limit question makes no mention of a change in salary but it does keep the provision to cap tenure on the commission. If you vote yes to the proposed amendment, then you are in favor of imposing term limits . . . specifically, commissioners would be allowed to serve no more than two consecutive four-year terms," she added. Current members of the board, however, will be grandfathered as the proposed charter amendment is not retroactive so commissioners like South Dades Dennis Moss, who has been on the commission since 1993 and who also voted against the measure in March as did Commissioners Barbara Jordan, Sally Heyman, Chair Joe Martinez, and Vice-Chair Audrey Edmonson), can potentially serve another two terms. Ten years ago, another slate of proposed charter amendments on the ballot resulted in an expansion of the collective power of county commissioners over those of the mayor, a provision to oust a county mayor by recall and the creation of the Childrens Trust to name but a few of the 13 different proposed amendments in 2002.

Other amendments need careful study

The next proposed amendment on the ballot focuses on the issue of the commissions ability to expand the Urban Development Boundary [UDB]. This provision is of particular importance to both developers and environmentalists as well as farmers, especially in South Miami-Dade. The Amendment that seeks to require a two-thirds majority of the commission in order to alter the countys UDB is already a standard voting practice that has been in place, said Noel F. Johnson, president of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association. However, the amendment will actually include this practice in the charter and legitimize the practice. As the moratorium on the creation of new municipalities within the County, established in 2005, expires this year, the questions of procedure and sovereignty regarding the incorporation of certain areas gains greater significance thus its place among the amendments. Another proposed amendment for voters concerns expanding powers for the Countys Commission on Ethics & Public Trust and the Citizens Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights does many things, Paschal said. For example, it promises County residents convenient times and places for registration and voting, requires County officials to be honest regarding public matters and mandates and annual audit of the County and each municipality. The Commission would be authorized to enforce a range of various forms of discipline on those who violate the Citizens Bill of Rights without the need to file a lawsuit, Johnson noted. Currently the only way the County or the Commission can pursue violation complaints is by filing a lawsuit in civil court and the penalty is removing violators from office. Paschal, who is also president-elect of the Ferguson Bar Association, adds that removal occurs when a public official or employee purposefully violates the Bill of Rights. Therefore, a vote in favor of this proposed amendment means that a public official or employee who violates the Citizens Bill of Rights will not forfeit his or her public position. Instead, the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust will determine what penalties should be assessed against the violator of the Citizens Bill of Rights. Other amendments focus on topics that include: extending the time to hold a special election to fill a mayoral or commission vacancy; giving the commission chair authority over procurement decisions if the mayor has a conflict of interest; and making it easier for new cities to incorporate. Two non-binding questions include: increasing the property-tax rate to keep 20,000 dogs and cats from being euthanized each year; and prohibiting the County from hiring companies that do business with state sponsors of terror. By Jos Prezjperez@miamitimesonline.com