Fred Grimm: The mayor smacks down his alter ego

Fred Grimm The Miami Herald


By Fred Grimm

It was a smackdown damn near worthy of the WWE. The mayor came into the Miami-Dade Commission chambers and executed a body slam on that scoundrel politician who would raise taxes.

It was Mayor Carlos Gimenez taking on his doppelgänger. It was the born-again Mayor Gimenez taking on the outmoded version.

Just last week, the previous Gimenez had proposed repairing significant shortfalls in the county’s budget by raising the county’s property-tax rate 5.37 percent. At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Gimenez 2.0 stomped that notion into oblivion. He persuaded a commission majority that zero percent was the politically expedient increase. “There’s no public support for a tax increase right now.”

Gimenez added that keeping property taxes flat next year would “continue my promise to keep taxes lower.” A promise that had temporarily slipped from the mayor’s memory last week.

The battle of his schizophrenic selves will leave considerable collateral damage around the county, including thousands of euthanized pups and kittens and a host of shuttered libraries and idled firetrucks. But this week’s Carlos was undeterred by last week’s Carlos, who had argued, “I don’t believe the people of Miami-Dade County want to cut back on library services or fire services.”

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, the people didn’t seem all that enthused about sacrificing dogs and cats either to keep next year’s millage rate flat. The commission chambers were teeming with unhappy members of the Pets’ Trust, who had counted on $19 million in additional funding to move the county toward a no-kill spay-and-neuter shelter policy (wrongly assuming that the county would honor last November’s 64.74 percent straw vote in favor of funding the concept.) By Tuesday, however, the extra $19 million for animal services had been whittled down to $4 million.

The Pets’ Trust advocates, in their red T-shirts, were not pleased. They trooped to the microphone and begged commissioners to fund the program. Their hired big-dog lobbyist, Ron Book, warned the commission that his clients were “rabid without rabies.” But instead of the expected funding, commissioners offered up sweet remembrances of their own beloved pets. They spoke of Yorkies and golden retrievers. There was no mention of pit bulls, which might have been the more appropriate breed considering their coming vote.

Library champions had no comparable presence, although the revised Gimenez budget (described as a “worst-case scenario”) would close 22 of the county’s 49 libraries (while whacking 251 library employees), including, as Commissioner Barbara Jordan noted, several in the county’s neediest neighborhoods. “Opa-locka, the poorest city in the county, has only one library and that library will be closed.”

Jordan, who like commissioners Dennis Moss, Sally Heyman and Jean Monestime, preferred the tax rate proffered last week, suggested that more folks might have crowded into the commission chambers to protest the library cuts and the loss of six fire and rescue trucks (and 149 fire-rescue workers), except folks were undoubtedly confused by the mayor’s kinder, gentler, discarded budget. “We’re just hearing today about the flat rate,” Jordan said.

The dissenting commissioners begged their fellows not to lock in the flat tax rate, to wait, instead, until September before deciding. To allow the public more time to weigh the lives of dogs and cats, and the jobs of librarians and fire fighters against a 5.37 percent property tax increase.

Commissioner Heyman noted that her office received no calls protesting the increased tax rate. “I did get 17 that said, ‘Don’t hurt our libraries’…and ‘Don’t hurt the fire department, 66.’ But overall, 252 said, ‘Tax me more because…animals are part of our society.”

Apparently tax protesters were directing their calls elsewhere. Eight commissioners insisted that they were sure the public wanted to hold the line on taxes. Though, of course, they wrapped their explanations in fuzzy regrets. “Libraries to me are second only to my wife,” said Commissioner Javier Souto. “Sacred, sacred, sacred,” he said. “When we’re talking about closing a library, it’s like closing a church.” He then voted on a tax rate that would close 22 of those holy places. One wonders how he explained the vote to his wife.

Perhaps the sudden change in Gimenez had to do with the hammering the mayor endured on Spanish-language radio last week over the proposed tax-rate hike.

Or maybe Gimenez worried he might get bitten by that same dog that chased Carlos Alvarez from the mayor’s office in 2011 — and that he’d euthanize the dogs before the voters euthanize the mayor.