|Daniella Levine Cava being sworn in by Miami Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin (photo By Geniusofdespair)|
Daniella, There have been eight voting meetings of the county commission and various committees in just your first month. What has the transition been like?
DLC: I had three months from the election and used that period to a very good purpose. I met with each of the commissioners, I met with the mayor, with department heads, and with agencies that are allied with the county, from the convention and visitors people, to the Beacon Council, and of course with community advocacy groups that supported me and with non-profit groups that couldn't get involved politically in order to deepen my knowledge and preparedness for the job so when I finally got to be sworn in, I hit the ground running.
What is the biggest challenge for you?
DLC: We do not get meeting agendas very far in advance and there is alot of background and then research beyond what is given, that you have to do. I am relying on staff who are knowlegeable for historical background but I also want to get input from department heads and from the community. The part that is new and challenging is to be adequately prepared on a tremendous number of issues.
And your relationship with other commissioners?
DLC: We have had a number of public hearings and I've been very attentive. I have attended from start to finish every one of those eight meetings and only absented myself to go to the bathroom where, by the way, the meeting is broadcast. So I have heard every single word said and listened to every person coming to county hall to give public testimony.
What is the biggest surprise to you?
DLC: I find that the conversation on the dais can go on too long on issues and items where we already know how people are going to vote and, as a result, it doesn't go on long enough on some matters that require deeper attention. I understand that each commissioner is not only trying to get information to inform the decision but also trying to communicate with the public where they stand on certain things. Sometimes that has led to conversations going on longer than I wish, only because it makes us hurry up on other matters that require more attention.
What's the second biggest surprise?
DLC: People who wouldn't give me the time of day during the campaign are very eager to establish relationships now. That's not a surprise. It reminds me not to allow myself to be seduced by the treatment one gets as an elected official. I'm working very hard to stay grounded.
What are key issues facing the Miami-Dade County Commission in new year?
DLC: I am very concerned about the way the county spends money voted by the people. Like the $9 million recently approved for the tourist attraction on the bay, Skyrise. I will propose a moratorium until such time as new criteria are developed that will be more about spending money for community infrastructure like climate resilience and transit, rather than to create "job generators" as the primary focus, because these are very difficult to verify and document. There are also technical and timing problems related to the county requirements with these new projects that have surfaced so we really need to look hard at how to accomplish what we want.
I'll give an example how timing becomes an issue relative to the budget process. The Climate Change task force recommendations are not due for another year, but we need information by spring or summer at the latest to make the deadline for the mayor's next budget proposal. I don't want to wait two years to get started and so I proposed an amendment which was passed, to produce quarterly reports so we can start policy making and funding where necessary.
And on the budget itself?
DLC: The mayor seems very confident of the revenue stream, but I'm not so sure. In the past, there has been moving around of funds. That may not be sustainable for some of our core county functions that might be at risk. I'm very worried about parks ... our parks department is on life support. We are down to some park managers managing several parks and part time employees who are spread so thin and might not have the experience to meet the needs. They likely want full time work and could leave at any time. Our parks are our treasures. I also focused on the implementation of Amendment 1 and how we are going to get the benefit of it. Ludlam Trail, for example. Parks are quality of life issues that make this a place where we want to live. We need to spend more time and money on infrastructure that has to do with residents and not only visitors and investors. We have to have a different set of priorities and I really hope the other commissioners who are concerned with a lack of vision will take that step forward with me.
Speaking of Amendment 1 (that will create billions for land conservation and other public purposes from a percentage of the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions, approved by 78 percent of Florida voters in the Nov. election), how are you dealing with the Miami-Dade state legislative delegation?
DLC: We need to provide our lobbyists to the legislature with a clear direction on priorities. I do not know yet how we should work to accomplish both purposes through Amendment 1 funds: acquisition of endangered lands and park lands that might be better described as infrastructure.
One of the big issues we have followed for many years at Eye On Miami is the possible expansion of State Road 836, a major beltway, down into farmland and open space in southwest Miami-Dade: where are you on that issue?
The same way that water is the key issue for our sustainability in South Florida, transportation is the driver for the economy. In the south part of the county, no single road is going to solve our transit problems. This policy area is the biggest challenge we face, as anyone knows who commutes to work or from work to home at rush hour. We are recruiting a new leader of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and I recently talked with the county's human resource director about the kind of leadership we need; someone who can bring a lot of different interests together and find a common vision. Transportation is the problem we have to wrestle to the ground, and I intend to invest a lot of energy in this issue.
I'm concerned about the extension of 836 and the dollars that could be used in a way more aligned with better land use and smart growth. I would prefer that we use our dollars for a longer term and more sustainable approach to development. We really haven't had a strong vision to accomplish the land use and development we want. We need stronger policies to change the dynamic.
DLC: Two points I'd like to make: in the midst of all the growth of Miami-Dade, our county continues to grow more unequal. The recession accentuated the economic divide. So I am looking at ways our policies can create more equity including more mixed income housing development and promoting things that would change neighborhoods so we wouldn't have so much concentrated poverty.
Lastly, my fundamental foundational issue is lack of trust in government. I am so delighted with the level of support I get from staff and the County Attorneys Office. There are so many people to help with history and drafting and strategy. You can't do alot of things if you don't have the public's confidence. We need to show the good things that our government does so taxpayers can see the return on their investment and we need to support efficient, productive government in the service of what is most important to people. It sounds trite to say that "people come first", but people really do come first. And thanks for making my election, Eye On Miami's story of the year! And thank Eye On Miami for being my first campaign endorsement!