We all know that the Miami-Dade County Police budget is getting cut. The Parks Department budget is being trimmed, and so is pay for longtime county employees. Miami-Dade County must be transparent, efficient, and fiscally responsible to all the people of our community.
We have received hundreds of calls, emails and texts in response to my first column about the Beacon Council. Only one supported the Beacon Council — Merrett Stierheim, whom we all know and respect as a veteran of county government.
While we all are in favor of sustaining a strong business development effort on a countywide level, it’s time for us to become more familiar with how our tax dollars are being invested in this effort.
Here are some of the questions Community Newspapers received from readers, the people of Miami-Dade County, asking us about the relationship between the county and the Beacon Council. We publicly ask our county commissioners to help us get answers to these questions, and we will publish them in a future issue.
1. Is the Beacon Council, which receives revenue from the county (public funds), required to adhere to the policies and regulations that all community-based organizations must abide by in order to compete for and receive county funds for rendering services to our local communities and businesses?
2. Should the Beacon Council, which has received approximately $20 million from the county in just the past five years, be able to spend it without having its expenditures pre-approved and reviewed by county commissioners? What input does the county commission have in setting yearly goals or performance benchmarks for the Beacon Council?
3. Does the Beacon Council co-mingle public funds with private funds? Should its accounting principles be transparent? Should it be held to the same reporting and monitoring requirements to which local community-based organizations are held?
4. Is it fair that in a county in which more than 80 percent of small business owners (minorities, mom and pops, etc.) are required to pay the economic development surcharge on the Local Business Tax (of which a high percentage goes directly to the organization), yet are told they do not qualify for services from the organization and instead should contact another county department or other economic development groups directly?
5. Should such an organization of just 28 staff members who reportedly work 37.5 hours per week on average have a budget of approximately $6 million and have more than 20 percent of its staff making six-figure salaries with some apparently receiving “other compensation,” including incentives and bonuses every year? How many county employees are receiving bonuses? Should the county seek to trim the Beacon Council, its employees and expenditures, to the same level that county departments and its employees have recently undergone?
6. Should the CEO’s compensation (including a wide range of benefits) far exceed that of our own county mayor who is charged with overseeing more than 25,000 employees and a budget of $6 billion? What is the salary for the mayor versus the salary for the CEO of the Beacon Council? Is there a “golden parachute” put aside for the CEO?
7. When the county leadership decided to freeze hiring, administer 5 to 20 percent salary cuts and eliminate positions resulting in some layoffs, should the organization have kept giving many of its staff raises and “other compensation?”
8. Should the Beacon Council be able to use membership’s in-kind contributions for its benefit? For example, golf membership to Doral Golf Resort, Miami Heat tickets, Marlins tickets, etc. What do county commissioners do with their in-kinds?
9. Who pays for spouses and prolonged stays when the organization travels (for years) to the Paris Air Show in France and on missions to Italy (every other year)?
10. Should the process of becoming a member of the board of directors of this organization be transparent?
11. Do county commissioners have the authority to appoint board members who could best represent the interests of their communities and oversee the organization’s expenditures? Do the board members represent all businesses, areas of the county and all commission districts fairly?
12. Did the Beacon Council spend approximately $1 million to remodel its one story office in a building it doesn’t own? Who paid for this? Was it tax money? Or was it private money? Was there a public bidding process for all the work? Did local companies benefit from this project?
13. Who is the Beacon Council hosting in its newly renovated million-dollar offices? Does the office help mitigate travel expenses?
14. Who pays for the legal services provided to the Beacon Council? Was the firm selected through a competitive bidding process? Are the legal bills available for public viewing?
15. How are the services provided by the Beacon Council evaluated each year? If so, is this a public process? Are goals set and, if so, who sets the goals? Are there competing groups who are available to provide the same services? Who performs the evaluations and are the evaluations available for the public to view?
16. How do county commissioners ensure that all businesses and areas throughout Miami-Dade County receive a fair share from the Beacon Council rather than just Downtown as well as in Doral and Coral Gables? All businesses pay in regardless of where they are located; what input does the average business have in determining where the focus of the Beacon Council is placed?
Times have changed and everyone, every organization that receives tax dollars should step up and demonstrate that it provides the best return on the public dollar, rather than receiving funding merely because it has in years past. Isn’t it time that county leadership changes or updates its own mandated Resolution R-1066-88 and allow for other organizations or agencies in Miami-Dade County to receive or compete for some of the funds to oversee economic development strategies that will best serve their local communities.
Times have changed drastically since 1986, but for an organization that seems to have been enjoying the fruits of another’s labor, that may not be so apparent.
Commissioners, thank you for serving our community. You may contact me any time by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to your addressing our readers’ concerns this budget year.