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Miami-Dade seeks ballot item defeat

Tax dollars are being spent to torpedo a measure designed to let legislators tinker with how the county is run.

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 2, 2002

On Tuesday's ballot, amid constitutional amendments about class size, the university system and pregnant pigs is one suggested change with such a narrow focus that Florida voters may be confused about why they have any say in it.

Amendment 3 concerns the way Miami-Dade County government is set up. Its roots lie in a feud between state Rep. Carlos Lacasa, R-Miami, and the Miami-Dade County Commission, which is spending $1.8-million in tax money to defeat the measure.

"We felt it goes against good government," said Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler.

Over the past eight years Lacasa, a native of Miami, repeatedly clashed with county officials over local issues. Finally he wanted to eliminate the county executive and give more power to the mayor.

Miami-Dade's 1957 home rule charter, which was written into the state Constitution, allows for such changes if the County Commission holds a referendum or if enough citizens petition for one. Lacasa didn't try to round up the necessary petition signatures, and the County Commission wasn't about to put Lacasa's plan to a referendum.

"They basically told me to go to hell," said Lacasa, until recently chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee.

Instead, he used legislative clout to persuade his fellow lawmakers to put Amendment 3 on Tuesday's statewide ballot. It would allow legislators to put future referendum issues on the Miami-Dade ballot.

"This gives the citizens an alternative," said Lacasa. It also would force county commissioners, who he said "snub their noses at the legislative delegation," to be more respectful of lawmakers.

Lacasa would not be one of them, however. He lost his bid for a state Senate seat and is out of politics. He said his support for Amendment 3 "was probably the decisive factor" in his defeat.

In the same Sept. 10 primary election that ended Lacasa's legislative career, Miami-Dade voters made a few changes to their county government, though not the one he wanted.

Still, Lacasa said, "It's a good compromise."

So he is no longer pushing for the strong-mayor government. Yet he is still backing Amendment 3, although apparently he is its sole proponent.

Opponents include the Miami Herald editorial page and the Florida Association of Counties and, most conspicuously, the County Commission.

"Local issues should be decided locally," said Carey-Shuler. State legislators should not be "micromanaging Dade County."

That's why county officials decided to spend $1.8-million on a statewide campaign to defeat the measure. Much of that money has been spent on television ads put together by a Washington political consulting firm that call the proposal "an attack by Tallahassee on local government."

-- Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report.

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