I am pleased that Community Newspapers publisher Grant Miller has taken a renewed interest in South Miami. I’d like to advance the discussion further. Grant Miller noted that South Miami currently has a skewed mix of races and genders on the Commission: five white guys, one of them Hispanic. However, over the past decade the City Commission has included three persons of color, three Hispanics, and five “Anglos”, a pretty fair balance. In my view, the real problem in representation is not racial or ethnic, it’s the relatively the low number of women who have served on the Commission. Over the past decade just one fifth of all Commission members have been women.
Grant Miller raised the curious point that South Miami tends to elect commission members from the geometric center of the City along the 64th Court corridor spanning Sunset Drive. Noted residents of the corridor include Mayors Mary Scott Russell and Philip Stoddard; Commissioners Luis Gil, Walter Harris, Janet Launcelott, Valerie Newman, and Bob Welsh; past Commission candidates Mark Lago, Sally Philips, John Edward Smith, and Rodney Williams. Many others in that neighborhood have been politically active in the City. While our disagreements may be spirited, this neighborhood fosters a strong culture of civic and political engagement, united by our fondness for trees and street life.
Grant Miller suggested we might divide South Miami into voting districts, perhaps along the models of Palmetto Bay or Cutler Bay. We should recognize, however, that the wavy boundaries of Precinct 621 were originally gerrymandered to contain the greatest number of African American residents, a common practice in the past, that, if reevaluated today, would likely be found to violate the Fair Districts amendment to the Florida Constitution.
In general, I find that South Miami tends to select the best of the candidates that put themselves out there. In the most recent election, Luis Gil handily won an open seat contested by five diverse candidates, not because of his race (Hispanic) or where he resides (64th Court), but because of his steady record of constructive service to the City spanning the past decade. In the last election, first time candidate Mark Lago (Hispanic resident of 64th Court) came just a few votes shy of a win. He hopes to run again in the next election. Should Mark Lago not be allowed to run because Luis Gil already lives half a mile South of him on 64th Court? Nobody has suggested that engaged residents from the center of the City are doing a bad job or withholding attention or City resources from surrounding neighborhoods.
Another area for review is appointments to the City boards and committees that serve as the training and testing grounds for future Commission members. Under the Charter, each elected official is apportioned an equal share of appointments. Individual Commission members need to recruit from all corners of the City with an eye toward equal representation by gender and race. Review of committee and board appointments indicates we have done OK in this regard.
The chronic gender imbalance on the South Miami Commission definitely won’t be corrected by creating voting districts. Rather it will be remedied by eliminating the social abuse to which elected officials are subjected in South Miami, often through dishonest campaign practices fueled by outside money of corporate origin. Civility matters, especially to women. South Miami has not lacked women who are up for a fight. Rather the bellicose behavior of a few hyper-activists has disenfranchised the majority of intelligent and educated women who would make excellent leaders but who actively dislike fighting as a way of life or governance. I believe that fair representation in South Miami, especially by women, will be promoted better through civility, inclusion, and meritocracy rather than by division, gerrymandering, or quotas.