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Vanessa Brito Headshot

Term Limits Are Finally on the Ballot -- But Who's Talking About It?

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After all the recall hoopla last year, I don't hear much buzz about Charter reform on the January 31st ballot. I cannot seem to grasp the rationale, considering the recall of Carlos Alvarez and Natacha Seijas was the first step of many to restructure Miami-Dade County government, not just those who run it.

In a few weeks, voters in Miami-Dade will have the opportunity to vote on two charter amendments, petition reform and commissioner salaries and term limits. For the first time in history -- at least mine -- there is a strong possibility that voters will get what they have been asking for, for over a decade. Voting yes on Home Rule Charter Amendment Relating to Salaries, Service, and Term Limits of County Commissioners will sentence commissioners to two consecutive terms of four years, eliminating outside employment and granting them an annual salary of $92,097 (as opposed to the current $6,000).

While these are all recommendations made by the County's Charter Review Task Force in 2007-2008, the Board of County Commissioners never felt these specific items passed muster -- for them. While the learning process was slower for veteran commissioners, it seems they finally got the point. But, it's not like they had a choice, right? Get the point, or get the boot.

Voters have been adamant over their refusal to vote for lifetime politicians and their desire for term limits. It is no surprise that County Commissioners are not investing too much time or effort in getting out the vote or mobilizing the masses, but what about the rest of us?

Again, Miami-Dade County politics takes a turn to the unknown. Term limits are finally on the ballot and no one is talking about it. Sure the GOP primary is critical, but what about our own backyard? We cannot expect our neighborhoods to be cleaned if we can't take care of our own lawns.

Maybe we have lost momentum and the 200,000+ who voted on March 15th are tired and expect nothing different. But isn't that what got us into trouble in the first place? Sometimes change does not happen overnight -- nor can we expect it to when those who govern us are also some of the most rich and powerful behind the scenes.

It is easier to be skeptical of why the Commission finally put term limits and outside employment on the ballot, than to accept that it is. The apathy that has built over the years surely won't go away after a recall election, but in some ways it should be subdued just a bit.
Over the last year, we have seen that money does not buy power. The currency of elected officials has lost much of its value, and residents have begun to believe that they control their future, and not the Mighty 13. Voters have become more aware of their rights and are now much more comfortable with speaking out about their issues and their discontent. Yet, they are still not voting.

There is something that stops them from hitting the streets full force. Whether it is lack of motivation, time, etc. there is something that discourages voters from keeping the momentum alive within themselves and their community. Do we really need the Norman Bramans and Miami Voices of the world to pave the way, or can we rely on each other to say "This is important. Go vote"? Maybe we do and that's why these people and groups exist.

Over one year after the first petitions for recall were collected, Miami-Dade has finally entered Phase II of reform. Voters need to be reminded that a few new commissioners will not change the way our local government is run. It is our job, as voters, to stay informed and move past the apathy that has hindered us from making a difference for so many years.

The same fervor that pushed thousands of people onto the streets a year ago, is the same we need before January 31st creeps up on us. Without voter pressure, the County Commission will fall back on their illusions of grandeur that voters want the same person to represent them for 20+ years.

The chance at reforming County Government is in the hands of the voters, not the Commission. Looking back at the May 24, 2011 election with six charter amendments and candidates for Miami-Dade County Mayor on the ballot, I fear that voter turnout will again be dismal and focused on the GOP primary. Missing the opportunity on January 31st will stump our chances at more significant reform in the years to come -- when it will be too late, and another recall will probably be brewing to stir up voters' sentiments toward their commissioners.

To Miami-Dade County voters: Let us not waste the efforts over a year in the making. Let us not allow apathy get in the way of what we, as tax payers, deserve. Let us not let the practicality of life get in the way of letting our voices be heard. Besides, if the world really does end this year, we should at least go down knowing we did something to make a difference, right?

January 31, 2012 Sample Ballot: http://www.miamidade.gov/elections/s_ballots/1-31-12_sb.pdf