This has been a long time coming, but something happened that really brought it to a head.
I was at a business association luncheon and Frank Nero, the president and CEO of the Beacon Council, was giving his usual glowing report about his organization’s successes in bringing companies and jobs to the area; I stood up and challenged him. I asked him what he has done for cities like Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest and others. I said he’d done nothing. He didn’t like being challenged and he got angry; really angry.
We then had an open dialogue and it got a little out of hand. Actually, I was talking about South Dade, but the truth is, what has the Beacon Council done for Miami-Dade County as a whole?
In their own words, this is what the Beacon Council is supposed to be doing:
“As Miami-Dade County’s official economic development partnership, the Beacon Council is charged with bringing new, job-generating investments to the community, while assisting existing businesses in their efforts to expand. By doing this, The Beacon Council facilitates the creation of quality jobs for each and every resident of Miami-Dade County.”
Oh really? I told Nero that he primarily helped the downtown districts, but my question now is, why do we even need the Beacon Council at all? Miami- Dade County has its Economic Development Department, so why do we have a separate semi-private, publicly funded organization to do the same thing at ridiculously high prices?
Here are some facts about the Beacon Council:
• The Beacon Council received 50 percent of the occupational license surtax through state statute.
• The Beacon council has seen a steady decline in the revenue collected, which this year is an estimated $3.75 million (in 2007, during a better year, it was $4.24 million) due in large part to the downturn in the economy, failing businesses and the inability to attract and retain businesses.
• The Beacon Council is led by a board of directors that selects a president/CEO. They also determine a compensation package for the president and through a membership committee (controlled by the president) select members to sit on the Beacon Council.
• Frank Nero is president of the Beacon Council. Details of his compensation package, the salaries of all 29 staff members and the budget of the Beacon council is not public and has never been released. Never! Not even to the Miami-Dade County Commission. That has been widely criticized because the Council receives public funding. It is estimated that Nero makes upwards of $400,000 annually, and that does not include benefits that bump his overall compensation to around $500,000.
• The Beacon Council goes on several international trips every year, including visits to Italy and Spain. Why? Rumor is that council members are visiting family members who live in those countries.
• The Beacon Council has begun to push their “One Community One Goal” initiative, which has a $15 million marketing plan attached. They will have to start fundraising soon and I hear they have started making the rounds looking for donations. These dollars potentially could be used to supplement the organization’s dwindling public dollars. Miami-Dade County boasts many economic development organizations that work to advance the business community and attract businesses to the county.
They all host trade missions around the world, seminars locally, and they help with developing incentive packages which then — almost always — end up being funneled through the Beacon Council because they are designated through state law as the conduit and they receive the business tax fees. Some of these groups are: The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, The World Trade Center Miami, Enterprise Florida, The Office of Economic Development and International Trade (Miami- Dade County Office, Tax payer funded).
The Economic Development and International Trade (EDIT) unit of the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources is an award-winning unit of Miami-Dade County government that recommends to the Mayor and Board of County Commissioners (BCC), the county’s economic development and international trade policies. Through its work program, EDIT “coordinates the efforts of the principal economic development agencies in Miami-Dade County with the county’s agenda to ensure a comprehensive and unified approach to economic development initiatives and programs.” EDIT promotes Miami- Dade County as a Global Gateway both locally and abroad by developing and expanding trade opportunities with countries throughout the world. We have our own economic development department. Isn’t it capable of doing it alone? Of course it is! It’s time for the county to stop shoveling so much money into the Beacon Council. It’s time to get rid of it. It’s a waste of taxpayer’s money.
Times are tough. If we have to trim the fat, if police officers are going to have to take pay cuts, then it’s time to abolish the Beacon Council. It’s a top heavy group of overpaid professional free-loaders living it up on the public’s money. If they want to use private funding, great, but they should not use Dade County funds anymore. It’s time to pull the plug on the “Beacon.”