Thursday, March 31, 2011

What is wrong with the Miami-Dade County Government and How to Fix it. Guest Blog By Sergio

One of our readers points out what is wrong with the County, I have his name and am relying on his accuracy. If you want to see his remedy for fixing some of the county problems, please be sure to hit read more, he has obviously given this a lot of thought:

The problems we are facing cannot be solved by replacing the Mayor and a Commissioner. For the past 20 years our commissioners have been spending taxpayer’s money like drunken sailors. We need to eliminate the official misconduct; fraud; bribery; and election laws violations by drastically changing the Charter and County Code of Ethics.

I invite the Miami Herald to go back to their archives and publish reports of prior corruption cases over the past 20 years, that resulted in loss of hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s money. Lets review a few:

1) Florida Sales tax was increased to 6% in February 1988. But counties were allowed to charge more and retain the difference. In September 1991 the County Commissioners approved a half a penny additional sales tax, to generate an additional $190 million for JACKSON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL. A month after the tax passed close to $1 million was spent on new furniture for the top executives at JACKSON.

2) In 2002 another half penny sales tax increase was approved for MAJOR TRANSIT PROJECTS by the Commissioners. We were promised 90 miles of additional train tracks to go to the Airport, the Seaport, and to the Broward County line. The actual collection of the new sales tax began January 2003. We were also promised an additional 635 new buses. We began to collect another $150 million each year.

WE SURE WERE TAKEN FOR A RIDE. Five years later, only 3 miles of new tracks have been laid down, and only 150 buses have been acquired. County Commissioners allowed most of the money to be spent on other things, unrelated to the promises made to the tax payers. Correction: They did spent $2 million in new furniture at the TRANSIT HEADQUARTERS in Overtown.

3) Then we had the $250 million overrun on the PERFORMING ARTS CENTER.

4) Don't forget the 2009 $550 million giveaway for the Marlin facility.

5) How about the thousands of Palm Trees that were purchased by the COUNTY, never to be found. Where are the palm trees?

6)-In 2006 millions of dollars given to the Miami-Dade County Housing Authority for affordable housing was squandered.

7) In 2000 the GRAND JURY criticized Miami-Dade County for buying toilet seats for the airport costing $8,200 each, plus awarding NO-BID CONTRACTS for millions of dollars to contractors, who contributed very heavily to several commissioner’s re-election campaigns. Millions were wasted and mismanaged in many airport projects, including the control tower that had to be rebuilt.

8) A EYE ON MIAMI blog in 2009 disclosed how many thousands of dollars in Political Contributions were given to many of the current County Commissioners, by the same companies awarded contracts to do work for the County in the stadium, airport, Performing Art Center, and other areas.

9) The County Commissioners continues to approve contracts for companies have had a history of completing jobs behind schedule, and OVER BUDGET. Worse some have been found to cheat on their contracts. Why are we still using companies, again, that do not perform?

The above is only a minute portion of the scandals covering waste of of our taxpayer’s dollars.

How do we avoid this waste in the future? CHANGES NEEDED TO HAVE AN EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT. (hit read more)

1)We need a New Code of Ethics agreement with all County Employees, to be updated and signed annually. Lets not forget the MAYOR, COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, and All Elected Officials and County Managers with authority to buy assets or award contacts for materials or services to vendors and contractors in excess of $500,000.

In the Code of Ethics Contract, the Mayor, Commissioners, and all elected officials, and all non-elected employees with authority as listed above, MUST AGREE in writing to the following:

A) They must disclose all outside income received by them, their spouses, and immediate members of their family (including children, siblings, parents, in-laws and grand-parents) from companies or individuals doing business with the COUNTY.

B) The signer agrees with the Code of Ethics Contract, not to accept any gifts or political contributions in excess of $1,000 from any company, their owners, or individuals dealing with the COUNTY and receiving payments from the COUNTY.

C) Signer agrees to supply the MIAMI-DADE COUNTY INSPECTOR GENERAL, upon request, with copies of his last 3 years tax returns with full disclosures, during his routine investigation, or requested by the COUNTY, STATE or FEDERAL GRAND JURY.

D) Signer of the Code of Ethics annual agreement, Agrees that if he/she was found to be in violations of the agreement for OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT, BRIBERY,FRAUD, VIOLATIONS OF ELECTION LAWS, or any of the paragraphs of this agreement, that the signer will automatically forfeit his salary, pension, and all other benefits normally awarded to him during his tenure with the COUNTY.

In the past, elected Officials and county staff have been found working full or part-time, or as independent consultants, doing work for Companies or individuals who have been awarded contracts by them. In many cases their spouses or very close family member has been found to be employed by the companies receiving contracts from the county.

2) Assign complete independence to Christopher R. Mazzella, our COUNTY INSPECTOR GENERAL, on the job since 1998, to be sure that his investigation of potential corruption, misconduct, waste and ethic violations by the MAYOR, Commissioners, and other public elected officials, is not stopped or slowed down. The Subject needs to report to a government body outside of the control of the COUNTY.

3) We should not approve the increase of the salary of the 13 COMMISSIONERS from $6,000 to $92,097 a year, UNLESS, they agree to the following terms and conditions:

A) A 12 year term limit, along with a ban on outside employment, to INCLUDE the time already served.

B) To prohibit LOBBYING the County by all public elected officials, for a period of 4 years, after the end of their employment with the County.

C) The 13 present Commissioners, each, now receives an annual budget of $814,000 to cover a total staff of 200 employees. An average of 15 employees per commissioner. Commissioner are allowed to spend their budget with few restrictions. Each year most commissioners give away the excess funds in their budget to Charitable and Civic Organizations.

FIRST: We need to eliminate the charitable funds giveaway portion of the budget.

SECOND: We need to reduce the staff from 15 employees to around 5 employees per commissioner.

THIRD: We need to cut the office budget by 50%, and must include the salary of $92,097 given to the Commissioner.

IT IS INSANE to give over $11 million to 13 Commissioners with NO STRINGS ATTACHED, each and every year.

4) We need to change the terms and controls with regards to Pension payments, years of required service, and other benefits, to be IN LINE WITH THE PRIVATE INDUSTRY.

The Newspapers Recently reported that a Mosquito control District Director just retired with a $172,027 a year pension.

State, and in most of the 67 Counties, employees are paid between 95% and 100% contribution toward their pension. Most State and County employees are eligible for retirement with only 20 to 30 years of service, and you could retire at age 55. These government pensions are averaging between 50% and 70% of the employees annual salary before retirement.

A) We need to increase the minimum age for retirement for public employees from 55 to 62 years of age, with no less than 30 years of service.

B) We need to limit payments of medical coverage, for employees retiring at age 62, until they reach age 65.

CASE IN POINT: County Manager George Burgess just retired at age 52 and will be paid 100% of the hospitalization and medical insurance for him and his entire family, for the next 13 years until he reaches age 65. This is in addition to the COUNTY giving him a package of $522,000 Cash.

We need to drastically reduce these SLUSH FUNDS, PERKS, and car allowances, etc that are bankrupting the County.

C) We need to have public employees FUND a sizable part of their pensions from their own salaries.

MOST private companies, no longer have a pension program for their employees. What they have is a 401-K program, with a 1 for 1 matching funds up to 10% of the employees salary. This means that the employee funds 10%, and the employer matches the employee contribution dollar for dollar up to the 10% limit.

This means that in reality the employee is funding 50% of his pension program and the employer the other 50%. This does not compare with the current government practice of funding 95% to 100% of the employee pension costs.

Also, no private employer is funding 90% to 100% of the employees expenses for medical insurance premiums, as is currently done by most Government agencies.

Last but not least. Social Security benefits average around 20% of the annual salary of the person reaching age 65, while government pensions are averaging between 50% and 70% of the public servant average salary at time of retirement.

All over the United States, STATES, COUNTIES and CITIES are going BANKRUPT because over 70% of their annual budget is used to cover public employee salaries, pension and benefits.

D) There must be a salary Cap, and must be pegged to the COST OF LIVING INDEX of the Federal Government. IT MAKES NO SENSE giving government employees a 13% annual raise, when the cost of living index is at around 2%. IT is even worse when we are in the worst recession, since the 1930's.

I am sure that there are many other ideas that will come up.

We the People, need to mandate to the future MAYOR and Commissioners, for the implementation of serious changes, or lets vote them out of office, at the next general elections.

THAT IS MY OPINION.

Sergio.

(DON"T LIKE 12 YEARS SERGIO - SHOULD BE 8 - But you have some great ideas here. Thank you. Genius)

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like these ideas. But, I do agree with G.o.D. 8 yrs, not 12.

How do we get these implemented? I have no faith the majority of the BCC will ever allow even half of what you suggest to be on any agenda in my lifetime (and, I'm pretty young).

Sergio, if you have a game plan and need volunteers, plenty can be found. Please let us readers/supporters know.

Anonymous said...

Sergio- they will sign anything. Doesn't mean they will do it.

Unknown said...

Sergio, you should distribute this piece to as many people as you can. One of the points we have tried to get across is that replacing two bad politicians will not make government good again. Replacing them only gives us the opportunity to elect folks who truly support reform and can be a voice for us on the Commission. We need reform NOW - the BCC has been talking about it for 15 years while nothing has gotten accomplished. Hopefully, I am hopeful that Phase 2 will push for the real reforms we need.

Don't agree with the 12 years either - more than a decade in power isn't exactly reform (in my opinion).

Vanessa Brito

Anonymous said...

Sergio For Mayor!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Kathy Fernandez Rundle donde esta?

sergio said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.I do prefer the 8 year terms, but please see that I said, that if we decide on 12 years, it should be retroactive to include the current years of service of the present commissioners.You all can help by forwarding these articles to GIMENEZ,LLORENTE,BRAMAN, ROBAINA and your local elected officials, so they know what the people want.Again thanks for your comments. SERGIO.

Anonymous said...

Term limits should be at eight years. If you want real reform you change the procurement process.

The retirement system is established by the state, not the county. The state plan is one of the best in the country. The employees who are a part of the state plan also pay social security. I'm sure many county employees would be happy with your salary increases being based on inflation.

What if the county pulled out of the state system and started it's own? Could there be a savings there?

I'm not so sure I want 61 year old police officers answering a home break in at my house.

Anonymous said...

I hope residents realize that the 12 thing might fail, leaving us with NO TERM LIMITS. Better 12 than none.

Vanessa, Genius - please think about getting on board with "retro active 12 today and maybe 8 tomorrow. It can be couched as a threat and a promise and I believe voters might bite. The atmosphere to pounce is now. Please, let's not be undone by a lack of unity in voice. The retroactive thing actually solves a lot of problems on an immediate basis. Furthermore, you cannot attract talent and statesmen if you don't offer a living wage. Do we want to risk the $6,000 wage being upheld?

Sergio - great post.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak about the others, especially the flip-flopper from Hialeah, but, Gimenez has been on top of most of these issues for years. He fought the Bait & Switch. In fact, I think GOD had a posting of his quote back then, "overpromised means you lied," when he responded the Burgess's excuse for not providing 90 miles of new rail with the half penny. He tried to push 8 year term limits 3 or 4 times since 2005. He voted against the Marlins Stadium (unlike Mayor Flip-Flop) If the flip-flopper from Hialeah wins, if you thought it was bad before, hold on to your hats!!!

Anonymous said...

The counties budget is 30% inflated, take the 93 budget of 2.5 Billion adjust for inflation and population and it should be 5.2 Billion not 7.3 Billion.
Fix it? Not as long as Voter Rights Act is in the way.

Anonymous said...

Good job Sergio. Very well presented. I hope Burgess and Alvarez read this because this is something they should have taken care of. Their bloated bureaucracy was a disgrace to this community.

We must demand accountability. Keep us informed if we can help in other recalls. At this point, if we can't change it, let's vote for 12 years and pay salary for BCC. We can always change it mid-stream. It will be easier to recall those characters. Let's not give up hope, we just got started. Burgess and his group are infilltrating the blogs - they just don't get the fact that they are major f...ups.

SERGIO said...

This is SERGIO. If the editor of Eye on Miami, and the readers want. I could write a Part-Three giving you more details. For half of my 42 years in banking, I took over a couple of failing banks, and found as much waste,corruption and misconduct as you now find in Miami-Dade County government. I could tell you how I took banks back to profitability ,and created programs similar to the ones I am recommending above. We could create, with the help of the INSPECTOR GENERAL an AUDIT TEAM, that will avoid the mess that we have today. The citizens of Miami-DADE county and EYE ON MIAMI ,have the right and obligation to terminate all the corrupt commissioners and department heads we have in the COUNTY Government. SERGIO

Geniusofdespair said...

Sergio, I would like to see you meet with someone like Merrit Steirheim or Carlos Gimenez and discuss your idea and then write about them. Even if you don't trust them, they might give you insight on what is workable and what is not. You don't have to reinvent the wheel or the county, some of it does work. You have to find what is working.

Anonymous said...

Just a brief clarification on the Transportation 1/2 cent issue:

In July 1999, an attempt at a "Full Cent" for Transportation (and a litany of other things) was rejected by voters. The 1/2 cent was approved by voters in November of 2002, and went in to effect in January of 2003.

Just for the sake of the facts.

M

Anonymous said...

Sergio,
The Marlins Stadium and Garage will cost the taxpayers far more than $3.5 BILLION when you add in the debt service. When the bonds get refinanced the cost will exceed $4 BILLION. That is money that will never be available to be used to attract or retain tourists, our largest industry.

Over $3.5 Billion...

Anonymous said...

The Grand Jury report on Jackson Health (2009 or 2010) is a microcosum of what's wrong with county government. Read it! I have no problem with Sergio's 12 years if it includes time served. In addition to Sergio's focus on corruption we must return to the original charter that clearly says the government works for the people not the other way around like we have now. The original charter is a great starting point, get rid of all the commission self-serving additions.

Anonymous said...

Let me point out another inaccuracy:

A regular State or County Employee (it doesn't matter, they're both governed by the Florida Retirement System - who'd rules are established by the legislature not individual County Commissions)doesn't retire with 70 to 100% of their salary after 20 years.

The average employee must work 30 years and/or reach 62 years of age to receive their retirement benefit under the pension system. That payment (established by a formula that is too convoluted to be explained here) is actually equal to about 40% of their highest earning year.

Stop spreading that BS you hear that's used to incite envy. I'm sure the poor government employees and teacher ruined the economy and not the speculators, hedge fund managers, and banking institutions.

M

P.S. - It is a different formula for Cops, Firefighters, and another different formula for upper management. However, those classifications make up less than 30% of the County's workforce.

Geniusofdespair said...

This is why I suggested Sergio meet with someone before putting more effort into his worthy task.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Let's hear more from Sergio!

Dee said...

To the crybaby anon who is obviously a county employee. It's true that high risk and executive pensions are more out of whack than regular class pensioners, but PRESENTLY THERE ARE NO COUNTY EMPLOYEES CONTRIBUTING TO THEIR OWN PENSIONS. On that issue, Sergio was right on target. All county employees need to start contributing at least 5% for their pensions to lighten the load on us taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Sergio,

your numbers for 1/2 penny tax is not accurate. it is much much higher

Let me tell you, it takes three weeks after the election of a commissioner to be converted to a corrupt politician from what they get from lobbyists.

Lobbyists are the biggest problem we have, and the will do anything they can to change honest elected officials to corrupt ones. I know what I’m talking about.

See the last two elected commissioners!!!

And please do not trust Merit, I dealt with him, and he likes to cut his own deals to benefit himself and his company. You can’t say no to him, otherwise he will go after you in his own way. As urgent as they can come.

any questions?

Anonymous said...

Dee,

I don't disagree.

M

Anonymous said...

The taxpayers will pay at least $3.5 Billion for the Marlins Stadium and Garage. The Marlins get to keep 100% of all revenues. The taxpayers get to pay $25 to $500 per ticket, IF they can even afford to attend at all. $250 night including parking and $10 hotdogs for a family of 4?

Carlos Alvarez and former Mayor Manny Diaz and others who get massive pensions from the taxpayers demanded the taxpayers provide the $ $3.5 Billion giveaway to the Marlins.

KiT said...

I would also suggest that section 3-C add a fourth requirement that the Commissioner's budgets can only be used in the current fiscal. The current stock piling of these dollars is a bad idea.

sergio said...

SERGIO SAID..... I just checked with the State&County officers& employees Retirement system known as SCOERS, that regulates Miami-Dade County public employees, and in view of the comments made by an anonymous caller pointing out inaccuracies, I am happy to report what they say. Fire fighters,police officers,emergency care and others in a Special risk class can retire after 25 years of service, or when they reach age 55. For all others ,they can retire at age 62 or when they reach 30 years of service. For regular class employees they offer a formula that is equivalent of the number of years worked ,times 1.60%, times the highest 5 years salary average. The pension for those working 30 years will amount to 48%. The formula is higher for police officers and high risk public servants. Until yesterday, State of Florida Employees were not required to pay anything into their pensions. Now they will pay to pay 3% into their pension. We need to find out about the portion of their medical care ,the state pays for them. That amount is also pretty high. Lets the newspapers find all the facts and disclose it. For sure people in the private sector retiring on social security do not get a pension or medical coverage, not even close to what people get when they are in public service.
Since these salaries, pensions, and medical benefits are paid by all citizens of our county,we need to have STATE, and COUNTY salaries and benefits to be in line with private industry. When you are over 65 and getting less than $25,000 in social security payments,as most of us do, it is difficult to understand why the county and the STATE should go bankrupt over situations, similar to the one with George Burgess.

Anonymous said...

Well said last poster. But, These pensions and or "Buregessesque" are not bankrupting Miami-Dade County. Miami-Dade's pension fund is well above the "healthy line". Cities like Miami and Coral Gabers are in their own individual pension programs, and their in deep shit. But the County's (FRS - State System) is not bankrupting anyone.

M

Upton Sinclair said...

Congratulations to the right-wing for making Teachers, parole officers (often the same), health inspectors, social workers, public defenders, firefighters, police, nurses, and cafeteria lunch ladies into Enemies of the State.

It surely wasn't (as stated earlier) the uber-rich banking class and their exotic pyramid schemes and paper flipping bullshit that sent the entire world economy over a cliff - it was the civil servants and their outrageous pensions that amount to half their salary after 30 years of service. Why didn't I see it sooner!

By the way, all those that scream that "the private sector doesn't get that." Well, you USED TO! They've steadily stripped unions of their power to fight for a living wage and basic benefits like health care and told you that it was the Japanese that did it to you and you gobbled it up.

Now they're sitting on piles of cash and moving all your jobs to Indonesia and blaming public school teachers for your ills and again your eating it up.

Maria said...

The last anon sees no financial problem with county pensions when taxpayers pay 100% of the pension contribution. 100%!!! If FRS is solvent, it's only because taxpayers have been soaked for the entire bill!

Imagine the hundreds of millions of our tax dollars that could have been used for a better purpose if county employees were required to spend just 5% of their income towards their own pensions. Better yet, if county employees contributed to their own pensions, we could have received a substantial tax cut in this budget instead of a tax increase.

It's time to re-examine the priorities and stop giving government employees a free ride.

Maria said...

Sergio,

This is to give you a more complete picture of the county pension issue. Taxpayers pay 100% of the pension contributions for all county employees. Every pay period, the county sends money to the Florida Retirement System (FRS) in Tallahassee for each employee. The following shows you the percentage of the employee’s gross salary that the county sends to Tallahassee.

Special Risk Class* - 23.25% of gross salary is sent to FRS
Elected Officials Class – 18.64% of gross salary is sent to FRS
Senior Management Class** - 14.57% of gross salary is sent to FRS
Special Risk Admin Support Class- 13.24% of gross salary is sent to FRS
Regular Class- 10.77% of gross salary is sent to FRS

So when taxpayers paid George Burgess $422,118 last year, we sent an ADDITIONAL $79,000 for his pension to Tallahassee. In 28 years, Burgess never contributed a dime towards his huge anticipated government pension.

The gross salary calculation for county employees includes overtime pay which is absolutely ridiculous. In their last five years of service, hourly employees will do everything in their power to earn overtime pay and their supervisors are generally complicit. This stupid rule drives lots of expensive and unnecessary overtime in the county. It is not unusual for a firefighter or police officer to earn more than $200,000 annually in their last 5 years so that they can jack up their 5-year average and get a much higher pension payout. Overtime is another aspect of the broken pension system that needs immediate attention.

Finally, many county employees will claim that they received a 5% pay cut in FY 2009-10. In fact, there was no pay cut. It was a 5% pre-tax contribution to the health insurance program so that the gross salaries of county employees would remain unchanged for overtime and pension calculation purposes. It was big scam perpetrated by George Burgess, Carlos Alvarez, and the unions that should be a crime.

You can verify the pension salary percentages on page 20 of the county’s personnel and payroll reference guide which can be found HERE.

It’s great to see someone excited about reforming our broken government. Hope this helps!

* Includes most Police, Fire, Corrections, and Medical Examiner employees.
** Includes the County Manager, Assistant County Managers, all Department Directors, and a few other select and/or politically connected individuals.