May 8, 2012
By David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez was barely honored at this morning’s Tuesday Breakfast meeting at David’s Café. In fact, disgruntled residents, hungry for reform, had the handsome city manager for breakfast. Many people have been afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from city officials, but the climate of fear has been dissipated by an ongoing investigation into corruption by the FBI that has already netted seven arrests. The only honor he received was a thank you for the good things he has accomplished, with a recommendation that he resign before the city commission considers letting him go tomorrow.
Mr. Gonzalez pointed out that a recent poll of 3,500 residents chosen at random implies that 80% of Miami Beach residents believe the quality of life is so high that they would recommend living here. He cited several improvements, but he did not cite the recently released statistic that the major crime index is up 13.8% in Miami Beach, which is one of the most dangerous small cities in the country, while it fell statewide.
He recited several steps he wants to take to address the issues raised by outraged residents who believe his 12-year administration has resulted in the shaming of the City of Miami Beach. Not that anyone believes he is a criminal. Indeed, he has appointed himself “partner” with the FBI. Some people now refer to him as “G-Man Gonzalez.”
I was tempted to help throw him to the wolves by reciting some very embarrassing facts, but I managed to hold my tongue with one exception, which I will not relate here because I promised Mayor Matti Herrera Bower that I would not batter her with a 10,000 word missive.
Although the manager can be faulted for the bad system, he is the victim of a system that was supposed to effect reform. The strong city manager reform was supposed to take politics out of management and turn it over to scientific administrators. Corrupt political bosses loved the reform because it made their job easier.
A smaller, lowly paid city legislature, serving part-time with a part-time mayor, who has no more power than a commissioner other than chairing the commission and being a focus of public attention, can bicker among themselves in public while divvying up political spoils in the shadows notwithstanding the Sunshine Act. Of course there is always the chance that one or two commissioners will get out of line for one reason or another, but they can be kept in check.
Now a strong city manager reform charter provides for a strong city manager to head the city, and his tenure may be indefinite. If tenure is not unlimited, his contract may be renewed time and time again. He will form a tight ring with his department heads. A successful ring or machine is never entirely corrupt because it must satisfy some of the interests that allow it to be maintained. As with any body corporate, a small number of votes control its directorate until the grievances of a usually “apathetic” electorate mount and bring a community to the tipping point. A position then must be taken by the leadership on “corruption,” and of course the leaders must be against it or else. Political fortunes have been made fighting corruption—that fight almost won Samuel Tilden the White House.
That is not to say that the Boss Gonzalez Ring is just like the Tweed Ring or the Pendergast Machine. Maybe our city manager has some secret accounts off shore, or some real estate here and there held by limited liability companies and corporations, but I doubt it. I believe he is in part the victim of the system he inherited. Some members of “his” ring or machine, namely the Old Cronies, were around before he arrived a dozen years ago.
Incidentally, the current talk about hiring qualified people with lots of experience to reform the city overlooks the statistical evidence that highly qualified people with the most experience do most of the stealing. Perhaps we should not allow highly qualified people to become too comfortable and secure in their jobs. Perhaps we should hire some smart people who have little experience.
Wherefore my recommendation to Mayor Bower during the furor at the Tuesday Breakfast meeting: Initiate a movement to amend the Charter in order to provide for a strong city mayor, who, in turn, will appoint a professional city manager with the advice and consent of the city commission. Be sure that the mayor may be impeached so that the buck stops with her, with a political solution, no matter how many people are arrested, or not. Provide that the city manager and department heads serve on good behavior, and devise a method of review, retention or removal.
As for Jorge Gonzalez, I have been on his case for quite awhile now, and once called for his firing. But now I am not so sure, now that he is an underdog like me. Unlike me, maybe he can learn new tricks.