Votes on charter amendments make judicial elections seem a model of clarity and participation. Voters are given impenetrable summaries on the ballot. Even in their abbreviated form they are fairly long, and I wonder how many voters bother to read them. Of the voters who bother to read them, only a fraction can understand them, particularly as they are often deliberately opaque. Even if you can parse what they mean, it would be impossible to understand the implications without a much greater knowledge of local politics than any normal person would want.
So it pays to be prepared.
Charter Amendment Eliminating the Office of County Manager
Shall the Charter be amended, effective November 2012, to eliminate the office of the County Manager as a charter office which currently assists the Mayor in administering County government?
Of the three initiatives, this is the only one that feels at all like a hard call. The proposal would abolish the position of County Manager, the non-partisan professional who used to run the county back in the days of our 'weak Mayor' form of government. In 2007 Miami-Dade county switched to a “strong Mayor” government, taking a lot of the County Manager's power and giving it to the elected Mayor. The argument for this new amendment is that the County Manager is now basically redundant. The argument against the amendment is that the County Manager still has plenty to do, and Miami-Dade County needs all the professionalism it can get.
I opposed the 'strong Mayor' amendment. While he is far from perfect, the uncomfortable truth is that Mayor Alvarez is one of the better Miami-Dade (or just Dade County) Mayors in recent history. We've had some pretty terrible ones, and it seemed wrong to me to concentrate power in the Mayor's office just because we happened to temporarily have a decent person in the job. Similarly, even if — and opinions differ — the County Manager isn't really needed now, we may need one the next time we have a truly corrupt county Mayor. History suggests that won't be far in the future.
The Herald recommends a NO vote. I agree, and plan to vote NO on the County Manager amendment.
Home Rule Charter Amendment Authorizing County Commission to Abolish Municipalities of Twenty or Fewer Electors
Shall the Miami-Dade County Home Rule Charter be amended to add to the provision that no municipality shall be abolished without the municipal governing body calling an election and without the approval of a majority of electors at such election to provide that the Board of County Commissioners may by ordinance abolish municipalities with twenty or fewer electors?
To be honest, I had no idea what this was about when I first read it. Here's how the Miami Herald explains it:
This is aimed at Islandia, the municipality in Biscayne National Park that was created in 1960 to pave the way for a mega resort. Environmentalists blocked plans to develop the 33 specks of land, and now just six people — mostly park rangers — are registered to vote on what is largely federal property.
Taxes are collected, but there is no municipal authority to spend them: The county finance department is sitting on almost $6,000 in unclaimed checks. The Miami-Dade tax collector says the city “went off the radar.''
The last mayor went west and hit the lottery. Tax reports have not been filed to the state in more than a decade.
This city exists in name only.
The Herald recommends a YES vote, and that seems reasonable to me.
Home Rule Charter Amendment Relating to Franchises
Shall the Charter be amended to make it consistent with the practice of all Florida Charter Counties by allowing the Board of County Commissioners to grant a franchise or amend a franchise agreement upon approval by a two-thirds vote of board members present without requiring subsequent approval by a majority of the electorate as is currently provided for in the Charter?
This one is just sleazy. Weirdly, the explanation appears in a Herald editorial but not as far as I can tell in any of its news columns:
Voters are likely to be baffled by the thickly-veiled ballot language in the last of the charter amendment questions. The proposal asking whether voters would like to give up their say in county franchise agreements fails to mention the only entity that has such a contract: Florida Power & Light.
In other words, this amendment attempts to clear the decks to ram through a sweetheart deal for FP&L without having to submit to the voters for their approval. Don't be fooled: Vote NO on this amendment.