Charter reform is set to make its way onto yet another ballot this January thanks to a recent County Commission vote. So far, the ballot will include provisions on term limits, commission pay increases, and a ban on outside employment. As with previous attempts by the County Commission to venture into the charter reform discussion, the current proposals fall far short of the systemic reforms needed to impact the quality of life of everyday Miami-Dade residents. Even with these baby steps, taken by the commission in an apparent bid to stave off the wrath of Norman Braman, the commission has botched basic details. For example, term limits are set at eight years -- but are not retroactive. Someone like 72 year-old Commissioner Javier D. Souto, originally elected in 1993, will be in power until 2019 -- a total of 26 years!
Elected officials, from Mayor Gimenez to County Commissioners will continue to try to advance what they view as sweeping changes to county government, partially taking their cue from the incomplete 2008 Charter Review Task Force. Kudos to them for trying, but without considering sweeping changes to transportation planning and funding, charter reform will not mean much in the daily lives of residents of Miami-Dade County.
A truly comprehensive charter reform plan must address the inadequacies of our existing system of transportation planning and governance. Multiple overlapping and competing agencies are responsible for planning and financing roads, highways, and transit, with no coordinated, unified vision. Transit capacity is not being expanded, while roadway congestion cost Miami-Dade County residents $3.2 billion in 2009 according to the Texas Transportation Institute's "Urban Mobility Report."
Among the policy changes advocated by folks like Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is a change to county UDB expansion policy -- making it more difficult to expand the urban development boundary, as listed in his 'Blueprint for Charter Reform.' (Though Gimenez later clarified his position at a Latin Builders Association luncheon saying he would not rule out moving the line). While Gimenez' position on the UDB is in flux, one thing is clear: holding the UDB and encouraging infill development must be coordinated with expanded premium transit options within our existing urbanized area. The challenges presented by growth management are intimately tied to local transit options: the two cannot be disconnected.
Voters in 2002 saw the need for the creation of a premium transit network, and passed the visionary People's Transportation Plan and ½ cent sales tax, mandating the creation of a Citizens Independent Transportation Trust to oversee the tax and act as stewards of the PTP. Though the CITT was created, it was never independent, the tax was misspent and the plan remains an unfulfilled mandate.
Charter reform is one of our best opportunities to finally take control of our transportation future -- through the creation of an independent authority responsible for all transportation planning and expansion in Miami-Dade County. Led by an elected executive transportation professional, the authority would be responsible for setting policy and implementing a plan that works for all citizens of Miami-Dade County -- transit users, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike.
If commissioners plan on being around for another eight years, they should know that gas prices are certain to rise in that time. How will they answer an angry and disconnected citizenry when gas hits $5/gallon? Commissioners need to be bold in addressing the imbalance of transportation options in this community. They should start by looking at charter reform as part of the answer.