County commissioners differ on pay increase and term limits

caines | 9/13/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Critics say term limits would benefit community

Florida voters will need to do a lot of homework prior to the General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 6th. Not only are there numerous contests for federal, state and local offices, but there are a record number 11 constitutional amendments some with language so complicated you may need a legal expert to translate and many local referendums on the ballot. Early voting runs for eight days from Sat., Oct. 27 thru Sat., Nov. 3. And here in Miami-Dade County, after a final report was submitted by a Charter Review Task Force to the county commissioners, it appears that once more voters will be asked to weigh in on a subject that continues to dominate discussion charter reform. Whats so bad about term limits? One of the more highly debated issues has been whether to tie term limits with a raise in commissioners salaries. And while some, like Commissioner Dennis Moss, just reelected for his sixth term, have opted for such a proposal, other commissioners have differing views. There are term limits called elections that happen every four years, he said. If youre not doing a good job, the voters will replace you . . . Were doing things out of fear and intimidation. I believe we should revisit the issue in a less threatening environment and let the chips fall where they may. Commissioner Barbara Jordan adds that term limits would be locking ourselves into something that is disruptive. It takes awhile to learn your district, the system and to establish relationships, she said. After four years in office youre just moving ahead and building a solid base. The history of state government is lost with term limits and tends to only benefit the state lobbyists. Vice Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson believes that term limits are not a blanket solution for county government. If term limits are implemented, experience and institutional knowledge on the Board would be eroded, she said. The pros and cons must be weighed to determine whats best for the County. Overall, I am opposed to term limits. However, Commission Jean Monestime says he supports the recommendations of the Task Force and term limits. Term limits have always been part of my philosophy; I think its good when we have fresh ideas and new views on the Board, he said. But two long-time instructors from the University of Miami, Dr. Gregory W. Bush, 63, associate professor of history and Dr. Donald Spivey, 64, professor of history, both agree that term limits are, in the end, not in the best interest of the voters. Its a tricky set of questions when you have term limits you are better able to vitalize local democracy, said Bush. A lot of money goes to the incumbents and thats unfortunate because despite their expertise, it limits real open debate on key issues and tends to make it difficult for qualified candidates to get elected. We need term limits in every field of government even the president of the U.S. has term limits, said Spivey. Just look at how much time hes spending on being reelected and campaigning instead of getting things done. We need our officials to focus on their job and not on politics. Other items that will come before the voters include whether commissioners should receive a more equitable salary that would also prohibit them from outside employment. Jordan said she would rather work for nothing rather than accept a salary based on the median income one of the proposals discussed by the Task Force and the Board. All four, however, believe that citizens should have the right to incorporate if enough of them are of the same mind. Bush and Spivey both say salaries need to be made more equitable so that commissioners can work full time and avoid temptation from outside sources. It may not be popular here in Miami-Dade County but in most U.S. cities, elected officials cannot have outside employment, Bush said. We need to do away with the myth that this is just a little nice job theres a lot of work to be done. The minimum salary can be disputed but we should not allow commissioners to be employed or supported by companies with whom the County does business. No outside employment is the best move because it keeps people honest. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com