A Referendum That Disses the Voters Print
Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
August 2018

Self-serving city commission tries to KO term limits

APix_1_JayBeskin_8-18s a former commissioner here in Aventura, I am loath to take potshots at current or former occupants of that position. That would be what we call in Latin rhinoplastium odium facsimilium, and we must respect our Latino community.

In English, of course, it’s known as cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. There are plenty of plastic surgeons in Aventura standing by to cut off my nose for any reason at all, including ethnic cleansing, but their prices are nothing to sneeze at. Besides I treasure my nasal passages, especially the ones my teacher read to the class in Hebrew school.

The fact remains that the special referendum in the upcoming election at the end of August is Aventura at its worst, an embarrassment to those who live here, those who serve here -- and quite possibly illegal to boot.

For those of you who have not been following, let me bring you up to date. About nine years after the founding of the City of Excellence, the voters determined by referendum that term limits would beneficial in preventing commissioners from establishing little fiefdoms, with all the attendant dangers of slouching into corruption, complacency, and paralysis.

It was also understood that if those term limits were not established in law early on, it would be many times more difficult to introduce them later, when interests would have become more entrenched. So since 2006, the law provides that commissioners can’t serve more than two terms in office.

The founders were astute enough to anticipate the danger of rotation monopolies, as well. Some other localities have limits only on consecutive terms, so if a fellow served eight years as governor, his wife could then serve four years, whereupon he would return with a new clock -- or calendar, as the case may be.

But Aventura anticipated this eventuality, so the law closed that loophole by limiting officeholders to two terms per lifetime. If you can bring documentation proving you were resurrected, that might be an interesting test case, but other than that, it’s two and you’re through.

The law was extended to include the mayor’s job. In other words, you can be commissioner twice, or commissioner once and mayor once, or mayor twice -- but twice a commissioner disqualifies you from not only returning as commissioner but also from graduating to mayor.

Pix_2_JayBeskin_8-18The argument was that the mayor position is not different enough from the commissioner position to warrant its own reset button. This is a debatable point, and one day perhaps we should devote a column to that debate, but for today we are looking at the effort to upend this provision through a referendum.

Until now, Aventura residents have resolutely resisted the watering down of term limits via a referendum held subsequent to 2006. That referendum was proposed by an independent charter review commission, and was, at least, colorable as an effort to better city government. In that referendum, we voted down an effort to switch the term-limit terminology to “consecutive terms,” so commissioners could take a one-term hiatus and then try to start over. Thus, the proclivity of the voters is known, and it would not be easy to get them to allow two-term commissioners to run for mayor.

To “solve” this problem of voter reluctance, the wording of the new referendum offers not only facts, but opinions. It reads:

In an effort to assure a continuity of experience in city government, and enhance the ability of the voters to elect an experienced commissioner as mayor, the city commission proposes the city charter be amended to enable term-limited commissioners to be able to run for election to the office of mayor and be able to serve up to two consecutive terms as mayor if elected.

This time, the city commission didn’t even bother laundering this proposal through an “independent” charter review.

How wrong is this language? Let me count the ways.

First of all, the grammar is so awful it would have been marked up in red pen by a sixth-grade English teacher. “To enable... to be able... and be able...” There are a lot of “ables” here, but very little ability.

Second, this is not even presented in question form, as Jeopardy answers and municipality referendums should be. It is phrased as an argument, as salesmanship, as a plea. My first inkling was to compare it to subliminal messages in advertising as outlined in The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. But upon re-examination, there is nothing hidden or subtle about this language.

To get a handle on how outrageous this is, we can imagine a referendum on legalizing gambling:

In an effort to assist individuals suffering from an overabundance of both money in their pockets and time on their hands, and in an effort to enrich the coffers of the city through taxation of such excess pockets of funding, the city commission proposes they be allowed to blow the rent money on games of chance.

Sounds right? Sounds appropriate? Sounds legal?

The third and most important problem here is not the chutzpah of making an argument, but the hollowness of the reasoning, and the transparency of the self-serving city commission. This is worse than our imaginary gambling referendum. This is more like those comical letters a group of siblings sends their parents:

In an effort to assist individual young people to navigate their way through the vicissitudes of high school and college life, the Committee of Smith Family Children proposes that all students be granted allowances of several hundred dollars a month with no strings attached, to enable them to be able to have some spending money and be able to smoke in the backyard without parental detection.

As for the reasoning that citizens need to be “enabled” to elect an experienced commissioner as mayor, at a time when our governor and president both came directly from the business world, it is absurd on its face. The mayoralty is an administrative position of sorts, a leadership position that reflects similar posts in business, education, health care, et al. No cities are collapsing around us because their pools of mayoral candidates do not include experienced, “term-limited” commissioners.

Methinks our commissioners have committed a host of errors of commission, and a few errors of omission to boot. The chances of passage are problematic, depending upon who even pays attention to this sort of stuff, but the message to the voters is echoing loudly in their ears.

One hesitates to characterize the content of that message other than to say this: Whatever this shows the voters, it ain’t respect!


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