Bob Welsh was right… It is too white

Grant Miller, Publisher.

During a recent South Miami City Commission meeting, which was seen by many as a first blow to undo the 99-year lease that the Girl Scouts have on the Little House, Commissioner Bob Welsh said that they were too white.

His slur about the Girl Scouts was unfounded. The problem was that Bob focused his gaze on the Girl Scouts and not upon the commission he sits on. It is too white, and it needs to change before change is forced upon it by a federal court.

To figure out what is wrong with the South Miami Commission will require doing a little math. This won’t hurt, I promise, so stick with me. 

 

During the last census, South Miami had a population of 11,657. Surprisingly, non-Hispanic whites only make up 29.2 percent of the city, while Hispanics are now a majority with 51.2 percent. The black population of the city is 15.4 percent and Asians and others make up the rest. South Miami is a diverse community, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the mostly pale, wan faces of the four sitting commissioners and our mayor.

Bob Welsh.

If we were to create five single-member districts, the ideal population of each district would be about 2,331. Curious as to what a single-member district plan for the City of South Miami might look like, we called in Stephen Cody, a man who not only drew the districts for the City of Miami after the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the Palm Beach County Commission and School Board, but numerous jurisdictions throughout the South. Cody also helped draw and defended the State of Florida’s plans for the Congress and the two houses of the Legislature in 2002. He’s best known for taking Miami-Dade County and the school board into federal court under the Voting Rights Act and forcing them both to adopt single member districts. Cody used the same census data and same software the State of Florida used when it drew the Congressional, State House, and State Senate plans in 2012.

Cody divided the city into five single-member districts. Why include the mayor’s office? It’s because when a city mayor has no executive powers and only bangs the gavel his office is not considered unique enough to exclude from the districting process. That’s the reason we didn’t have a county mayor for a time. The federal judge swept the office away.

The map Cody came up with is shown with this editorial. He found it was possible to create a district plan that had a district that was majority African-American and one that was majority Hispanic. The remaining three districts will be competitive. You can see the details in the table below. 

Going to single member districts would certainly shake up the local political landscape. The South Miami City Commission would look less like Boy’s Night at a local Moose Lodge and would be more reflective of South Miami’s diverse population.

South Miami District Map. The ideal population of a district would be 2,331 residents.

Going to single-member districts would also have the effect of getting candidates to run from all neighborhoods in South Miami. Right now, three commissioners, Luis Gil, Walter Harris, and Bob Welsh, together with Mayor Phil Stoddard, all live on the same street, Southwest 64th Court. Gil and Welsh live directly across the street from one another and Stoddard and Harris are so close that a pop fly hit in one of their backyards could break a window in the other’s.

Cody put a red circle on the map to show how close these commissioners and the mayor live from one another. Would it be unfair to make commissioners and the mayor to face the possibility of moving if they wanted to get elected under the new system?

No.

When President Grover Cleveland ran for reelection in 1888, his slogan was “A Public Office is a Public Trust.” That has become a mantra for progressive politicians and is a recognition that no politician ever owns the office he or she was elected to. The people merely lent it to him or her for a little while. Our present crop of politicians at all levels would do well to remember that.

Before a federal court ordered Miami-Dade County to go to single-member districts, there were wide swaths of the county that felt shut out of the political process. In the decades since, the County Commission had become more diverse and, while their decisions haven’t always been perfect, at least every community has a seat on the dias and some input into the process. The same goes for the Miami-Dade School Board.

Both the County Commission and the School Board proposed increasing the size of their bodies as a way to make both bodies more reflective of the community.  That’s something the City Commission should consider, as well.

Getting to increased diversity took a federal law suit and millions in attorneys’ fees to both the plaintiffs’ lawyers and to defense counsel. The county and the school board easily covered those costs out of petty cash. South Miami doesn’t have the capacity to absorb another large litigation hit, especially in light of the mistakes that have been made over the last few years.

Going to single-member districts will, no doubt, lead to the retirement of some members of the city commission. The times, however, demand that South Miami move into the 21st Century and not be a political prisoner of the past.


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12 Comments on "Bob Welsh was right… It is too white"

  1. Sharon McCain | May 3, 2018 at 5:40 pm | Reply

    Great article about time this was brought out. Only problem I see in the article, and many have the same opinion as me, Commissioner. Liebman who is the only commissioner residing east of U.S. 1, (or does he reside in his home of South Miami, “his home” looks abandoned with hurricane shutters still on since September, grass not cut, total property looks abandoned because we know he spends more time in his country of Colombia than in South Miami, the city he states he resides and a commissioner) really doesn’t represent the residents east of U.S. 1 in South Miami, so those residents in his area have absolutely no representation and has had none since former Mayor Cathy McCann was Mayor. Let us be clear, Comm. Liebman represents the developers, nobody else.

  2. Donna Shelley | May 3, 2018 at 7:51 pm | Reply

    Great article and I agree. One exception. According to the demographic information available to me, women make up about 48 percent of the city’s population. The last woman to sit on the commission was in 2013, I believe. I say yes to districts and diversity. It is also time to recognize that women are an extremely large demographic that continues to go under-represented. Why?

  3. Sid Kaskey | May 4, 2018 at 2:28 am | Reply

    I never saw breaking up communities into districts as a good idea. Regardless of its intent it alway seemed [to me] like a form of germandering meant to appease one group or another. As far as diversity of the commission is concerned does anyone have any evidence [current or historical] that it is the result of malicious intention? And if there is none is having all white men as the commission in of its self a problem? I think not.

  4. Donna Shelley | May 4, 2018 at 9:35 am | Reply

    Mr. Kaskey: of course all white men elected as representatives of a community with South Miami’s diverse demographic is a problem. As is having most of the representatives living essentially on the same street. It is curious to me that in the last election, two female candidates, one African-American and the other Hispanic, were pilloried in political “newsletters” delivered by a sitting commissioner. This deck stacking has been going on for a number of years in South Miami elections. It appears that nothing breaks up the boy’s club. Holding elections in the first quarter of the year instead of in November, something most of the current commissioners fought to maintain, guarantees low voter turnout and lack of interest in the political process. I’d like to see South Miami return to a government that truly mirrors its diversity, with more representatives who are: youthful, female, African-American, and Hispanic.

    • There is no “of course” regarding this issue. I was taught [and my life experience has taught me it is true] that people should be judged and taken as individuals: people should not be judged by whether belong to this group or that. The great irony of exhibited by some is they advocate against stereotyping and yet they also imply that people being of one ethnic group or race share a common worldview and/or experience.

      I do not take as a given that having a male all white city counsel is a problem. Nor do I take it as a problem that two commissioners live across from each other.

      Nor do I see any problem with a “sitting commissioner” having issues with the two female candidates and expressing them.

      Responsible people [from my point of view] will vote regardless when an election is held. I do not see nor suspect any kind of ulterior motive for an election being held one time of the year rather than another.

      Seeing people as groups rather individuals with their own worldviews and their own life experiences, from my point of view, exacerbates the divisions in our society and misrepresents reality. That I see is a problem.

      For me there is no “of course.”

  5. Donna Shelley | May 4, 2018 at 9:45 pm | Reply

    Mr. Kaskey: I am individual. Consider my worldview expressed. As for election timing. Why not vote in November? The ulterior motive comes in when one has had the opportunity to join a majority of the nation to vote in November and decides to stick with the first quarter timing. Mr. Welsh has accused female candidates of things they haven’t done in the last two elections in which women ran for office. I can personally attest to being a victim of his baseless “facts.” You have a right to your vote and your opinion. As do I.

  6. George Gutierrez | May 5, 2018 at 7:19 am | Reply

    Isn’t it funny how more and more, you see a few people imposing their will of what they believe is a right and wrong political result upon the rest of us?

  7. Sharon McCain | May 7, 2018 at 6:08 pm | Reply

    I don’t vote for an individual because they are a woman, Hispanic, or African American, unfortunately that is how a good majority base their vote, I vote for the individual who I feel would do the best job and ready to serve the people who voted them in office. I look to see if they run for office for the extra $12,000.00 a year, or because they didn’t put money away for retirement,they don’t have a job and can’t pay their own health insurance, etc etc. It doesn’t matter to me if the current South Miami’s commission, nicknamed, “Stoddard’s Swamp” are all one sex, all the same nationality but what does matter is that “Stoddard’s Swamp” all live in the same neighborhood and have witnessed as others have that they tend to protect their own neighborhoods on issues and the same issues for other areas of the city, they could care less and would even vote opposite than when they voted for the same issue that occurred in their neighborhood. Districting is warranted and are local elections in November. Fact check: Mayor Stoddard, Comm. Welsh and Comm. Harris never wanted to move the elections to November, they are all afraid that 10,000 might come out to vote rather than the 2000.00 or less that show up. Numbers say a lot and the Stoddard Swamp needs to go

  8. Ty Shlackman | May 7, 2018 at 7:09 pm | Reply

    Communities and districts shouldn’t be divided along racial lines. Political affiliation is the only thing that should effect how districts are drawn. Vote for the candidates who most deserve the job regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. No one should get elected because of the color of their skin or other superficial reasons.

  9. Ty Shlackman | May 7, 2018 at 7:15 pm | Reply

    The electoral system at all levels of government is rigged in favor of incumbents and candidates that raise tons of money. If you want things to change then you must eliminate the corrupting influence of private campaign donations.

  10. It’s funny how folks stick up for others when apparently they don’t even know what they commissioners they are sticking up for have said and done in the past. Mr Miller, your article is about a sitting commissioner mentioning that the Girlscouts are too white. Mr Kasky, you talk about not dividing the community. That’s exactly what yourcommissioner is doing. In a commission meeting he stated that they did not want to move them elections because they would loose control to the latins. For someone who is not dividing or having an issue with diversity. That’s pretty messed up. You can Google the event or look it up on the archives of city commission meetings.

  11. “In a commission meeting he stated that they did not want to move them elections because they would loose control to the latins.” I strongly suspect this is not accurate. Thanks for the suggestion regarding looking it up. I will defer to common sense and chalk it up to a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation and skip the time wasted trying to “look it up.”

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