Retiring Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson is leaving local politics as an active participant, but is launching a different kind of political campaign with the goal of improving our public officials.
About two-dozen people attended the Oct. 19 meeting of the Economic Development Council of South Miami- Dade (EDC), including Cutler Bay Vice Mayor Ed MacDougall and Palmetto Bay Councilmember Howard Tendrich, as well as area business leaders.
Sorenson’s address, her final presentation before the group as a county commissioner, was partly to give a recap of the changes she has seen over the her years of service and to comment on current events, but mainly to talk about her new program at the University of Miami called “Initiative for Excellence in Public Service.” The educational programming that is to begin next year is being offered to city, county and regional officials and those on the school board, and to those with the ambition of becoming government officials.
“Our elected officials are for the most part doing the best job that they can for the constituents in their community,” Sorenson said. “There are a lot of questionable things that you read about in the papers, but it doesn’t have to be that way.We can make good citizens who watch for their community, who want to be good at what they do.”
Sorenson said she thinks that those who criticize people who have experience and know-how in politics are misguided at best.
“I hear these phrases ‘professional politician’ or ‘career politician,’” Sorenson said. “Did you ever hear someone who has a heart condition say, ‘I don’t want to go to that person, she’s a career cardiologist’?
“Somehow you never hear that about professionalism in business. People want professionalism in business. People want those in office to know what they’re doing, who study the issues, who care about what they’re doing, who have a passion or intellectual curiosity. That’s what we need in our elected officials. We don’t need dummies who are going to ride in on some kind of crazy slogan.”
Sorenson said that public officials at all levels of local government need to be as knowledgeable as they can about important skills, and that they also need to think regionally, and work more closely with officials in other cities, other counties and beyond, if they are to be effective in representing their constituents.
“This program will encourage that,” Sorenson said. “The program is designed so that local leaders can ultimately develop their own owner’s manual. The difference between policy and administration, about budgeting, rules of procedure, ethics and communication.”
Sorenson also believes that officials, who currently can’t seek advice or opinions about local issues from their fellow members on city councils or county commissions because of the Sunshine Law, would benefit from networking with officials in other cities who are now facing or have already dealt with similar issues.
“I’m certainly not going to be teaching all the classes myself, even though I have 15 years of experience,” Sorenson said. “I have all kinds of contacts — experts in their fields who will be coming in.
“I’ve already spoken to Michael Putney, Jim Defede and others and they’re going to do a panel on the media portion of the program. I’ve spoken to our former county attorney who will talk about legal issues. We have such talent in our community, people who will be participating.”
Sorenson said that her first class will be next fall, with 25 people already enrolled.