CitiStates Report: Too Many Chiefs in Region
Means Nothing Gets Done
BY NEAL PEIRCE
Web-posted: 11:33 a.m. Nov. 24, 2000
Gov. Jeb Bush got our attention when he told us that South Florida "is a big
region that speaks with many voices. There is a void of political leadership. People
feel disfranchised because of it."
Look at Jacksonville, Orlando or Tampa, said Bush, referring to Mayors John Delaney,
Glenda Hood and Dick Greco respectively. Each, he said, has gotten the state's attention
by mobilizing broad constituencies to address critical issues.
Bush referred specifically to Jacksonville, where a $1.5 billion Better Jacksonville
program, advocated by Delaney, will protect environmentally sensitive lands, improve
jammed highways and strengthen the downtown with a new courthouse, library, arena
and baseball park.
The problem of the South Florida counties, said the governor, is that each has two
dozen or more separate municipalities, each with their own mayors and many with
separate police chiefs and fire departments. The county governments remain responsible
for governing minutia in unincorporated areas. Some major restructuring may be in
order, said Bush, to encourage development of strong leaders willing to step forward
"and say we need to address the big issues. So far, public leaders haven't
stepped up to the plate."
We found some South Floridians who not only agree with the governor but think it's
time to go a step further, to creative multi-county authorities. Broward County
Sheriff Ken Jenne, a former state legislator, says bluntly, "Counties have
no business running ports or airports. In fact, there's a whole list of things that
would be better off as regional responsibilities, waste disposal, maybe even hospitals
and libraries. The trouble is we have no central leadership for the region. Miami-Dade
has Mayor Alex Penelas, but there are real limits to what he can get done."
Broward turned down having a county mayor last year; it's clearly on its way toward
creating small municipalities over every remaining inch of land. As a Miami-Dade
County Commissioner, Penelas fashioned the county charter amendment that created
the executive mayor in 1992, citing the lack of designated leadership in Miami-Dade
following Hurricane Andrew.
Now in his second term, Mayor Penelas has used the office as a bully pulpit to back
the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's One Community-One Goal economic development
initiative, among other programs, and called countywide summits on such issues children's
welfare. But many say the job and its current occupant have not yet achieved the
position's leadership potential.
That may be as much because of local political structures as anything.
Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre has long argued that what South Florida needs is
a dual focus, quiet local authority over the details of daily town and neighborhood
governance, but the fullest possible regional governance over critical issues unresolvable
at the local level, airports, seaports, environmental protection, economic strategies.
What ought to happen, says Ferre, is that South Florida would have a single regional
government for the mega-issues, neighborhood governments for local issues and the
courage to "get rid of what's in between."
It's clear leaders from across South Florida should be talking much more publicly,
much more intently about governance issues. What we found was that the most serious
discussions about the region's shared future wasn't in commission chambers, it was
on the business front, in many of the Internet Coast firms we reported on last Sunday,
and among executives of the counties' economic development firms now pledged to
stop cross-border raiding.
That's not a story unique to South Florida. Again and again across the United States,
when public officials seem paralyzed, frozen in time-honored county-versus-county,
city-versus-city rivalries, it's business that thaws the ice.
When Atlanta hit the wall over traffic and air pollution, it was top Atlanta Chamber
of Commerce leaders who cited the threat to livability, organizing a chamber task
force, supporting a new governor's radical move to create a strong regional agency
over the many counties of the Atlanta region.
In California's super-heated Santa Clara County, it's been the Silicon Valley Manufacturers
Group that has organized active coalitions for rail rapid transit and for affordable
housing closer to work sites.
New, serious, ongoing business leadership could start to have a profound impact
on South Florida's public policies. In one sense, the ground's been well laid. Take
the Annenberg Challenge project on education in South Florida. First the sponsors
got broad buy-in in all three counties -- no easy task. Now under the chairmanship
of Leonard Miller, CEO of the Lenard Corp., the laser-like focus of the Annenberg
effort is on building capacities of strong principals, accountable for demonstrating
improved performance of students. The potential payoff for South Florida schools
could be stunning.
Another possible breakthrough area: transportation. Here's the assessment of Palm
Beach County Commissioner Carol Roberts: The international economy may be the new
"glue that will get us to recognize our differences and work out an agenda."
And that, she says, will "show up first in transportation." Traffic, and
the realities of international competition -- watch them interact in the years ahead
in this jam-packed region. Carolyn Dekle, chief executive of the South Florida Regional
Planning Council, fears imminent economic loss because the region can't get its
act together. She cites consequences of congestion on I-95 for commerce, the looming
threat of the deepwater Freeport option, the maneuvering of New Orleans and Orlando
But in the small garden of governance we imagine, there is a notable seed. Thinly
planted and wanting for nourishment, the Regional Transportation Organization (RTO)
is the fledgling product of public officials from all three counties who recognize
a serious and growing mobility crisis. It has no policy-making authority, controls
no flow of money. County officials are supporting it. Tri-Rail is staffing it. A
number of private citizens are involved; at least one, Claire Vickery, has been
a major force in pushing for an action agenda.
Mayors may be one key to change. Mayor Neisen Kasdin of Miami Beach has pulled together
mayors from across the region to pose a question they often don't hear: What do
they think are the critical elements of a successful South Florida region? Kasdin
thinks the mayors may have creative ideas about school governance and broader issues
of government reorganization, annexation and incorporation and how they relate to
a strong region. Mayors were reportedly one of the strongest forces pushing for
The cities, says Jeff Koons, a private citizen member of Palm Beach County's transportation
planning organization, are now so pressed fiscally, that they're ready for an action
Maybe the Everglades will focus the need for cross-county collaboration, too. There
was real vision in the comprehensive restoration plan passed by Congress, says James
Murley, director of the FIU/FAU Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems
in Fort Lauderdale. But in the conflict-resolution process the legislation created,
Murley notes, only the Secretary of the Army and the governor of Florida are central
players. The South Florida Water Management District, the region's premier regional
governmental body up to now, is not. "Where will the voice of urban South Florida
be heard on critical Everglades-related issues?" Murley asks. Bottom line:
Lots of forces are starting to push South Florida toward more cross-county collaboration,
smart thinking, joint action. Among those who will need to pay attention are members
of the region's historically splintered legislative delegations to Washington and
Tallahassee, learning for a change to unite for the entire region's interests.