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Friday, February 24, 2006

Miamista Has All the Answers

(So I'm trying out a hideous scheme that doesn't reflect my moodiness b/c of one too many complaints from Mama. There is also an easier reading version of my last post.)

Something fresh these days in Miami seems like it is in short supply. There is a general test you can apply to see if things are getting stale or if there is really progress. If like a soap opera, you go away for a year, come back and its the same bull shit...

It so happens that I don’t think Miami is in THAT bad of a rut. Five years ago it seemed that one portion of the population was happy to snipe away without any real hope. Another portion of people felt that they had to support buffoons and scoundrels because they thought, “Hey, they’re OUR buffoons and scoundrels“. Today it seems that few people are willing to settle for clownishly bad leadership. Now, as to what to actually do about it.

So let's revisit some of the "samo". (Bear with me if this is not sufficiently trenchant or breif.) Problems-1. MIA, 2. Transit, 3. Urban and regional planning, 4. Public education, 5. Higher education/research facilities, 6. Crime, 7. Fraud, 8. Corruption, 9. Insularity, 10. Poverty, 11. Leadership. Answers-

1. MIA: An independent MIA authority is the short answer. An independent authority in itself is no cure all. The idea is to distance politicians from (temptation) direct oversight, while creating a body with more checks than politicians would want to accept themselves. An oversight authority usually accedes to stringent rules prohibiting possible conflicts of interest, has longer terms, and widely drawn membership. Highly qualified business, community and civic leaders, professional planners/ administrators, lawyers and accountants are selected. They work cooperatively to bring more time and resources to the supervision of large municipal projects.

2. Transportation- Again, an independent oversight authority is needed for our more ambitious projects. The county department of transportation does not have the capacity to supervise mega projects. Mega projects connected to the overall expansion scheme such as the Metrorail expansion, Baylink, the Intermodal Center are badly needed; they’re also boondoggles in the making. We can anticipate ridiculous overruns in time and money without proper oversight. The most important project, the FEC North-South commuter rail is still being debated. Reason #39 for a beefed up SFRPC (South Florida Regional Planning Council).

3. Urban and regional planning: Miami 21 is a great piece of urban planning if and when it takes effect. Problem is that the purview of the city is limited. Miami-Dade and the region need to cooperate on a regional master plan. Reason #53 for a beefed up RPC.

4. Public Education: Rudy Crew and a new bond issue. Crew can be relied upon to provide support to educators as well as back accountability measures. He will also work to recruit the best educators, create magnet schools, demote failing on-site administration and create institutional partnerships (especially with colleges and community agencies). The replacement of Marta Perez in the next election would be a plus. Marta Perez has proven herself to be a classic demagogue whose ambition has gotten in the way of any better instincts she may have possessed. And here is something new to consider- educational requirements for board members. (There is no way an a school board member should not possess at least a Bachelors degree.)

5. Higher Ed and Research: Hurts me to say it. FIU has proven entirely dysfunctional. Administrators are rejects from WalMart's enslaved alien workers program. It continues to lose its best educators, who are in short supply in the best of circumstances and now it has a crisis of leadership. The board of trustees seriously needs to be overhauled. There is a dictum in higher education about trustee boards that goes “give, get or get out”. Trustee positions are not honorific life titles. They are supposed to be held by people actively engaged in raising funds and/or people that have serious academic and administrative backgrounds. Then there is the role of the state in all of this- There is an urgent need for increased spending, and professional, depoliticized state university leadership. We also need more bold (but less generous) state and local initiatives like Scripps.

UM is in need of a PR overhaul. Usually I am not an advocate of PR as an answer to administrative problems. Deteriorating physical plant, unattractive buildings and struggling research programs have to be addressed. On the other hand, UM has the breadth of programs, history, name recognition and singular regional presence to be an elite national university. Unfortunately its renown is limited to weather (Suntan U) and football. It has a (relatively small) number of top flight programs that are too often overlooked. Put up a facade, and not just in front of those awful buildings.

MDC, once the most esteemed junior college in the country has lost its way, and for some time. It is now a victim of insularity, ethnic turf claims, local political influences, budget problems and a poorly prepared student inflow. President Padron has held the school together but it is time for outside leadership throughout upper administration. MDC has the same problems as FIU in regards to state funding and its board of trustees.

Expansion- (Follow the alphabets.) FIU should have bought downtown buildings for its business school expansion and its law school but didn’t. Nova and FIU badly want medical schools. FAU has done a remarkable job in expanding its medical program working cooperatively with UM to do so. MDC and FIU are still pretending not to be “Part One” and “Part Two” because of Pres. Mitch‘s ego. UM gave up on FIU long ago, perhaps because of their proximity to that sideshow of educational endeavor at Sweetwater. BTW, the only reason Mitch hasn’t left that den of mentally challenged wolves is because he wants to say he started a medical school. The disastrous Board of Governor presentations, embarrassing accreditation review, the HSET scandal and now the red-baiting- can MIT/Haavahd Mitch take another year? Perhaps his answer is a Nova-FIU joint medical school project.

Note of interest- It would be nice if some of these schools renamed. Nova, Florida International, Florida Atlantic and Miami-Dade College all have the most determinedly proprietary-college sounding names. So who are the richest guys in the neighborhood with a history of giving big to local colleges? Try these last names out and add “University" to the end. Herbert “Shoeless” Wortheim, Mitch “CIA Legacy” Wolfson, Phillip “No-Generics” Frost, Wayne “Dolfan Killer” Huizenga, Jim “Lemon” Moran, George “Horse Killer” Lindemann, Bob “Cracka” Graham. Maybe the richest two Miamians, Micky “Katrina KaChing!” Arison’s cheap ass or his even shadier sister Shari "Soapy Money" Arison will finally come off some dough... And how about “Dade College“ with an Indian Mascot? Just a thought. (The list was chosen on the basis of wealth so don't question the lack of a Hispanic.)

6. Crime: As in “we lead the nation in violent...“ Miami PD- Timoney needs to settle in (right now he is just trying to build political capital), higher pay, more stringent qualifications, community policing. And stronger Community Investigative Panels for every local department.

7.Fraud: Again, we lead the nation in each major category except securities fraud. Expand investigative offices on all levels, beef up inter-agency cooperation, find the antithesis of Fernandez-Rundle in the state attorney office. Increase funding and autonomy for the OIG office (go Chris!). The FBI has opened up special field offices because of local mortgage and insurance fraud and money laundering. There has long been special field offices for the DEA and of course Customs is HQ’d here. Even when the Miami-Dade county police department chipped in by doing fraud and corruption investigations (Brownie Points to Mayor Alvarez) Katherine Fernandez Rundle continued to selectively prosecute.

8.Corruption- Strengthen penalties and investigative powers (OIG), increase transparency and disclosure, simplification of administrative procedures. Employ streamlined and uniform information gathering and thorough external auditing. Interestingly, experts stress that localized preferences in contracts and hiring significantly increase corruption. Move contract awarding process away from the direct control of politicians. Prohibition (for designated number of years) of officials and upper level administrators from engaging in contracts or lobbying with offices formerly under their purview after leaving office or position. Adequate remuneration for elected officials; full time status for elected officials, excluding all other contracted employment.

9. Insularity- Good news and bad news. It’s easier in the public sector to address these problems. National recruiting, higher, nationally (rather than regionally) recognized standards for position qualifications; and end to local preferences in the awarding of contracts. It is more difficult to change the culture of the private sector. This requires new leadership and new perspectives. The Beacon has been telling corporate leaders to “come to Miami“, while whispering under its breath, “stay away, we are insular and focused solely on Caribbean trade“.

10. Poverty- The best anti-poverty program is education. Especially after-school education. After school hours are known as the teen bewitching hours among social scientists. Youth become engaged in delinquency, high risk sexual behavior; there is a lack of constructive activities and supervision. And for the grown-ups, job training programs, adult education and micro-loan programs. The county needs to continue its innovative Section 8 voucher home ownership program, and relaxed loan qualifications that allow future income from rental units to be included. Community development has been riddled with corruption. We need to turn the programs over to reputable national organizations. INCREASE Medicaid and Medicare funding.

11. Who Rules: Who will push for all this? The Herald? Hell no. The Miami New Times? Doubtful. The business community? Not unless someone dusts off the Non-Group; and the Miami Business Forum ain‘t the Non-Group. Again, why is Miamista optimistic? Because of you good folks. I'll come back when you're done.

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