It’s “Beyond Belief Bizarre”

suarez_rightI have a lot of Facebook friends and I often rate the gorgeous landscapes and sunsets they send me. If I rate them, I always give a “BBB” rating, which they know stands for “Beyond Belief Beautiful.”  Today I am giving my first BBB rating to a political happening.

No, I don’t mean “Beyond Belief Beautiful.” Here it stands for “Beyond Belief Bizarre.”

It happened in Miami Beach, on an otherwise wonderful November day, just as voters began to prepare to elect a new cadre of leaders.  But my visit to City Hall had nothing to do with the election. It had to do with my appointment, by County Commission Chairwoman, Rebecca Sosa, to a newly created advisory council whose task is to study and recommend the most effective mass transit linkage between the beach and the mainland.  The committee, which has not met yet, includes County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and myself, as well as the mayors of the county, Miami Beach and the City of Miami.

In my usual haste to get things rolling, I made an appointment with Jimmy Morales, the recently installed Miami Beach City Manager. Jimmy is an unusual guy. He is smart, knowledgeable, hardworking and ethical to a fault. He is also self-effacing. Unlike the character in Winston Churchill’s quote, who was “modest, and had much to be modest about,” Jimmy is a humble man who has much reason to be immodest.

Knowing these things, and sensing that Beach residents must be desperate for relief from the congestion that plagues the causeways and often brings the city to a halt during major events, I wanted to get the manager’s input as soon as possible.

For unrelated reasons, I asked the county attorney, Bob Cuevas, to ride with me and two aides. It was a good thing, too, since things soon get ethically sticky.

For whatever reason, we were soon joined by an unexpected {and uninvited} participant. It was none other than Mayor Matti Herrera Bower. Because she had already accepted the appointment to the same advisory council, I calmly explained that she and I could not discuss matters that might come before the newly created council.

This admonition did not deter her one bit. Her simple retort was, “well, I am not leaving, I will stay and just listen.” That doesn’t really work either, under the law, and I used the fortuitous presence of the county attorney to support my contention that we could not have such a discussion.

But she would not leave. So I moved to the topic of the convention center redevelopment. No Sunshine Law issues there.

The former mayor turned to me with a stern look on her face and queried, “Why are you interested in this project?”

By this time, I strongly considered simply announcing my departure and rescheduling for another occasion in the not-so-distant future when I might not have to deal with her.  But I wanted to absorb as much wisdom as I could from Jimmy and his knowledgeable staff.

So I replied, “As a county commissioner, I am interested in everything that happens in the county. But I have a particular interest in this project, since I have recently discovered that as much as $105 million of tax-increment financing is earmarked for the new convention center project. That is money that would otherwise flow into the general fund of not just the city, but also the county.”

She seemed stunned by my clear and concise answer, and I was able to move onto other components of the financing plan.

A staffer mentioned the “CDT” and this acronym quickly evoked a forceful interruption from Matti. “Before we go on, someone define the ‘CDT’ for me.”

Now, I am not fond of using undefined acronyms. I prefer the entire term – in this case “convention development tax.” But it did surprise me that a sitting Miami Beach mayor, embroiled in a battle over the largest redevelopment ever in her jurisdiction, would need a definition of that rather important element.

It dawned on me, just then, that Matti was giving her “last hurrah” as a mayor…In twenty-four hours, it would be announced that she had lost her bid for a commission seat.

Clearly, Matti was ready for at least a temporary retirement from active politics.

Hope springs eternal in my heart, and I wish that she may become a great ex-mayor, along the lines of Jimmy Carter, who is arguably the best ex-president of the modern era.


Xavier L. Suarez
Miami-Dade County Commissioner
District 7

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