There’s a petition underway to change the City of Miami’s Charter to create a strong mayor system, with the mayor becoming the city’s top administrator. Called the Strong Miami proposal, it seeks to add transparency, efficiency and accountability to city government.
How would it help? A strong, people’s mayor would be the elected chief executive of the city, responsible for its day-to-day operations, while the Commission would function as the legislative branch, approving the budget and passing or repealing ordinances. Such a separation of powers is common in most big cities across the United States and throughout other levels of government. With this arrangement, the Commission would provide important checks and balances to the executive functions of the mayor.
The change would make the mayor responsible for a $1 billion budget and running the day-to-day operations of the city including selecting the police and fire chiefs. Currently, the mayor doesn’t vote on commission items and the duties of running the city fall to an unelected administrator who does not answer to the voters.
Right now, answering the question of “who is in charge?” can be very confusing in Miami. Sometimes the answer is the Commission, while other times it is the appointed city manager. Not having clear defined roles with responsibilities can be a frustrating situation within the City and for residents, businesses, and other organizations that expect their elected mayor to be the main point of leadership for the City.
The proposed change also gives voters the power to recall the mayor, which incentivizes the top administrator to be transparent and efficient, and promotes accountability.
Some might ask if the change to a strong mayor system would give too much power to one person. I think it’s just the opposite. It would transfer the power currently held by the appointed city manager as “head of the administrative branch” to an elected person who has to answer to voters.
As it stands now, the city manager is not elected by Miami residents. He or she reports to both the mayor and the Commission and is responsible for the administration of all units of the City government and for carrying out policies adopted by the Commission. The city manager also has the authority to exercise control over all departments and divisions, as well as to appoint and remove all directors and all subordinate officers and employees in the City departments.
Although the City Commission can hold the city manager accountable the system is unstable, with frequent turnovers in the position. In the past 20 years there have been 15 managers, with each manager having an average tenure of a little over a year.
A strong mayor would have the people’s support behind him or her and will be accountable to City residents directly. The mayor is elected citywide and not by districts as the City Commissioners are, which allows the mayor to put forward a vision for Miami that takes into account and balances the needs of all Commission districts.
The mayor will continue to have veto authority over any legislative, quasi-judicial, zoning, master plan or land use decision of the City Commission, including the budget or any particular component contained therein. The Commission has the power to override any vetoes with a four-fifths’ vote.
To accomplish this change, Miamians for an Independent and Accountable Mayor’s Initiative (MIAMI), filed the request for a change to the charter and began collecting signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot. More than 10,000 signatures of residents who support this initiative have already been collected. They need all signatures on the petition by August 7.
To sign the petition, you can register on the website www.strongmiami.com.