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Braman Threatens Commissioners To Embrace Charter Reforms

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MIAMI (CBS4)-Miami businessman Norman Braman is stepping up pressure on county commissioners to embrace reform — or potentially face the same fate as his last target- Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

On Friday, Braman, a prominent car dealer who has emerged as the most vocal critic of county government, sent a letter to each of the 12 county commissioners. In the letter he asserted that their recently proposed amendments to the county’s ruling charter “fail miserably to reflect the public’s demand for reform of county government.’’

On letterhead from his political action committee, People Who Want Honest Government Inc., Braman demands that commissioners scrap the widely criticized proposals they cobbled together last week and instead allow voters to weigh in on what he sees as more meaningful reforms, including eight-year term limits and a 10-year ban on lobbying at County Hall after leaving office, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.

If the commission brushes off his recommendations, Braman said in an interview: “All options are on the table, and recall is certainly one of them.”

In the wake of the historic recall vote, county commissioners passed a batch of proposed reforms on March 24 that many community leaders view as self-serving and timid. The proposals are on the May 24 ballot.

Among other things, the commission, which is dominated by veterans, has proposed 12-year term limits that would allow them to stay in office until 2024 while getting a boost in annual salary to $92,097 from $6,000, in exchange for a ban on outside employment.

Commissioners also are asking voters to consider eliminating the strong-mayor form of government, which currently places the sprawling government bureaucracy directly under the control of the mayor. If the proposal is adopted, the commission would exert greater control over a government that includes Miami International Airport and the Port Miami. In 2007, voters embraced a strong-mayor system in a referendum — largely out of frustration with the commission.

“The passage of the commission-proposed charter amendments only serves to provide the commission with greater power, larger salaries, expansion of their ability to lobby, and reelection until 2024,’’ wrote Braman, who has put forth an eight-point plan for reform called “A Covenant With The People’’ that he wants the commission to embrace. Three leading county mayoral candidates have already agreed to the covenant.

Efforts to reach commissioners for comment Friday were unsuccessful, the Herald reported. The commission will hold a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.

In an interview, Braman said commissioners seem to be missing the clear message voters sent March 15 when they recalled Alvarez and long-time Commissioner Natacha Seijas by an 88-12 margin. The result is widely viewed as a stinging rebuke of county government as a whole, rather than just a rejection of the two once-powerful politicians.

“I would expect that the commission will again read the results of the election recalling Mayor Alvarez and Commissioner Seijas and have seen the adverse public reaction to their last meeting,” Braman said. “The Covenant has been part of the recall campaign from the outset. And we expect voters to be given the chance to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”

Despite Braman’s wholesale rejection of the commission’s proposals, some of its ideas have been well-received, raising the question of whether they all should go. For instance, one proposal would allow a two-thirds majority of a Charter Review Task Force, which meets every four years, to place charter change questions directly on the ballot for voters to consider. Currently, charter amendments can only be put on the ballot by commissioners — who’ve largely opposed reform — or by a citizens’ petition drive, which is expensive and cumbersome.

Commissioners are also proposing putting the Inspector General’s office in the county charter to strengthen its role as a county watchdog. And they are proposing a charter amendment that would make citizen petition drives somewhat less onerous by removing the requirement that signatures be notarized.

Another point regarding Braman’s proposals: They would require moving back the election date, because there must be 60 days between the time an election is set to amend the county charter and the vote itself. Current plans call for holding an election May 24 to choose a new county mayor and District 13 county commissioner and to vote on six amendments to the county charter, which is the county’s constitution.

Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who is running for county mayor, has said that commissioners should remove the ballot proposals regarding a 12-year term limit and ending the strong-mayor system, two items he voted against. Gimenez has said, however, that the other ideas — such as removing the notary requirement on ballot petitions and allowing two-thirds of a charter review task force to place items directly on the ballot — have merit and should go forward.

Braman’s “Covenant” — which was written with Victor Diaz, a Miami Beach lawyer who chaired the 2008 Charter Review Task Force — calls for eight-year term limits in exchange for “a reasonable salary.” It also calls for the commission to be reduced from 13 commissioners to nine, including two at-large districts so the commission adopts a more regional perspective.

If the commission shrugs off Braman’s recommendation and the car dealer follows through with a recall, it appears that five commissioners would likely be vulnerable for recall: Chairman Joe Martinez and Commissioners Dennis Moss, Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan and Bruno Barreiro. Gimenez would also be vulnerable, but he previously threw his support behind Braman’s plan and is expected to resign from his post to run for mayor. It isn’t clear whom Braman might target if he should decide to mount another recall campaign.

Commissioners are protected from recalls for one year from their election. That means six couldn’t be targeted in the near term. They are: Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Jean Monestime, Sally Heyman, Rebeca Sosa, Lynda Bell and Javier Souto.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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