With November’s general election just around the corner, campaign-wise, candidates are getting into the races for city and county seats that are up for grabs. In response county officials presented a Campaign Skills Seminar on Tuesday, July 10, that was hosted by Village Hall in Palmetto Bay.
Joseph Centorino, executive director of the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, greeted those attending the session and explained the purpose of the seminar, which was to help candidates avoid ethics violations and other difficulties.
He then introduced Carolina Lopez, Maria Acosta and Vanessa Innocent of the Miami-Dade County Department of Elections, who gave PowerPoint presentations on the steps to becoming a candidate, financial disclosure forms, qualifying dates, campaign treasurer reports and other campaign regulations.
In an interview after his presentation, Centorino explained the need for such seminars for first-time candidates especially, although even veteran office holders can benefit.
“In our experience a lot of people get in trouble, not because they’re bad people and want to break the rules,” Centorino said. “It’s because they don’t know the rules and they’ve never really been exposed in any comprehensive way to the details of the rules that govern elections.
“There are many laws and rules that come into play and a lot of people who get into politics with the best of intentions sometimes, because they’re not fully aware of the rules, find themselves in some difficulties. So to the extent that we can prevent them from getting into trouble at the outset of their political career, we would regard that as a positive thing.”
When asked if he was seeing anything different going on these days compared to the way things were five, 10 or 20 years ago, he said that some things haven’t changed but others have.
“A lot of the same problems crop up,” Centorino said, then added, “but I’ve seen people get involved with even less experience than maybe they used to have. It used to be that people had at least some background in a campaign or working for a campaign or being around the government, but today you see people getting involved who have almost no background and who are interested sincerely but who are prone to committing mistakes because of that lack of background.”
Fifteen people attended the two-hour session, including Palmetto Bay Village Clerk and Elections Officer Meighan Alexander, Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, Vice Mayor Brian Pariser and Councilmember Howard Tendrich. Resident John Dubois, who will be running in the November election for a seat on the council, was there, as was Marden Muñoz, the campaign treasurer for Cutler Bay Vice Mayor Ernie Sochin, who is running for re-election, and a woman who is another possible Cutler Bay candidate.
Although not planning a municipal race, candidate Helen Williams thought the seminar was important, saying, “I’m running for mayor of Miami-Dade County and I think I should be here to hear this.”
Centorino said that as more communities have become incorporated the interest in holding public office has grown.
“There are more positions to run for,” he said. “The community councils when they came in created a whole raft of people running for office who had never run before, and the incorporation movement has created more levels of government and more people involved in the process, which overall may be a healthy thing, but it also is a situation that can lead to trouble if people don’t get properly informed and prepared.”
Rhonda Victor Sibilia, community outreach coordinator with the Ethics Commission, explained that mid-July wasn’t too early to learn the rules.
“This one is really for those people who want to run in November,” Sibilia said. “We’ll probably have another seminar in November or December, but that will be for people thinking of running next year, because you really have to find out this information ahead of time. For anyone in the August elections it’s already too late.”
She also advised candidates that if they have questions about procedural things and local matters, such as what forms to fill out or about putting up campaign signs, they should contact the clerk or elections department of the city in which they’re running. For ethics issues they should contact the Ethics Commission.
“We have a hotline; we have a website,” Centorino said. “We give opinions to people, and it’s always a great idea if people aren’t sure about the right thing to do in a certain situation to call for an opinion. We can’t cover all the bases in this kind of a program, but we try to hit the highlights and essential things. But there are always questions that come up, and those are the questions that need to be asked before people get into trouble.”
The website for the Ethics Commission is www.miamidadeethics.com and the Ethics Hotline Number is 786-314-9560.