BY BUDDY NEVINS
A big, big questions facing Broward government in 2017 is this:
Should there be a countywide elected mayor?
If there is a mayor, should it be a strong mayor with considerable clout over government?
Or should the new job be a weak, titular head of government with no real power other than the name “mayor”?
The answers during the next year by the Broward Charter Review Commission will shape the direction of Broward’s government for years.
Downtown Fort Lauderdale business interests want Charter Review commissioners to consider the idea of a mayor.
The business community have been pushing an elected mayor for decades. They rather have one point person they can deal with rather than nine commissioners.
These insiders already have a favorite for the new job if it is created: Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.
Jack Seiler: Future county mayor?
First, the business types have to convince the county’s 19-member Charter Review Commission to place a referendum on the ballot asking voters if they want a mayor.
The county now has a mayor chosen by fellow commissioners. The job description requires the current mayor to do little more than preside over commission meetings, cut ribbons and be lauded by lobbyists at a huge charity dinner in the Fall.
Some influential nabobs want a more substantial mayor, one with real power who could make decisions and steer the county towards the future. They see the nine-member County Commission as a bunch of squabbling, divided politicians only concerned with their districts and unable to make tough decisions.
Another perceived problem is that the current mayor changes every year so there is no continuity.
But even having the Charter Review Commission take baby steps towards establishing an elected mayor won’t be easy.
It requires 10 of the 19 members just to have a full debate on an issue. It requires 13 members to put the proposal on the 2018 ballot for voters to approve or reject.
The Charter Review Commission currently is badly split over whether the county needs an elected mayor and just what powers such a mayor should possess.
Should be mayor be an administrative strong mayor, running portions of county government with the help of professional administrators? The argument for this is that an elected official is more responsive to the public than a non-elected bureaucrat.
Should the mayor have some extra powers, such as the ability to veto actions of the County Commission? Should the mayor be the only elected allowed to place items on the County Commission agenda?
Or should a mayor be a figurehead having no more power than a commissioner?
Before Charter Review commissioners approve a weak mayor option, I’ve got a suggestion. Members should consider Hallandale Beach.
Since the November elections, a coven of three like-minded commissioners has made Joy Cooper’s title of mayor irrelevant.
Joy Cooper: Irrelevant?
When Cooper’s three opponents grabbed control of Hallandale Beach government, the mayor’s job became as useful as tits on a boar. Without the power to control the City Commission, Cooper is just another commissioner…one in the 3-2 minority.
It happened like this:
- Anti-Cooper Commissioner Michele Lazarow got re-elected.
- Newcomer Anabelle Taub ousted Cooperite William “Bill” Julian.
- Commissioner Keith London was reelected and immediately became the leader of the new commission majority.
One of the first acts was to elect London vice mayor. That led one Hallandale Beach observer to quip that, “Hallandale Beach is the only city in the country with a strong Vice Mayor form of government.”
London holds the power now because the Hallandale Beach mayor had no statutory power. The only real influence comes only if the mayor controls the City Commission.
When Cooper lost that commission majority in the election, the mayor’s post lost its muscle.
Cooper’s fate is a lesson to the Broward Charter Review Commission.
Nothing would be accomplished by establishing an elected countywide mayor without extra powers spelled out in law. A mayor without such defined special duties would be a token, still subject to the mercurial whims and self-interest of commissioners.
There is simply no value in even talking about a mayor that is merely an inconsequential nonentity.