Sunday, December 21st, 2014

New on PolitiFact Florida: the Carlos-O-Meter

Carlos Gimenez first won a special election in 2011.
Carlos Gimenez first won a special election in 2011.

Miami-Dade voters sent a resounding message -- we'll call it a scream -- for reform on March 15, 2011, when they recalled Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

The question is, can Alvarez's successor Carlos Gimenez deliver?

PolitiFact Florida today unveils its Carlos-O-Meter to determine if Gimenez's actions in County Hall match his promises on the campaign trail. The Carlos-O-Meter will analyze each Gimenez campaign promise, we found 18, and ultimately rate whether it was kept, broken, stalled or resulted in a compromise. The concept has become an integral part of PolitiFact, which is tracking the promises of President Barack Obama, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and others.

Gimenez cannot deliver most of his promises alone, he needs help from the county commission or voters. And Gimenez will face resistance on some promises from commissioners, unions and others who have a stake at County Hall.

"I don't think it's going to be easy," said Fernand Amandi, a Miami pollster. Gimenez must contend with county chairman Joe Martinez, who plans to run for mayor in 2012, Amandi said. "You also have the labor unions, which are going to be very weary of renegotiating contracts," he added. "The mayor is going to have to utilize and leverage the bully pulpit in his election to get a lot done."

No matter the outcome, Gimenez will face the judgment of voters quickly. He is up for re-election in August 2012.

"Yeah, I made the promises. I should be graded on them," Gimenez said this week. "Certainly I intend to keep all of them and do that to the best of my ability."

Promises about taxes and money

Gimenez's promises boil down to two themes: careful spending of taxpayer money and restoring public trust.

Work is already underway.

Gimenez's first proposed budget includes the reversal of the 2010 Alvarez tax rate increase that Gimenez promised if elected. County commissioners -- who tentatively approved the proposal -- still must finalize the tax rate in September. But it's highly improbable they'd attempt to walk the tax rate cut back.

So for Gimenez, that's a Promise Kept.

He also has kept his word on a proposal to cut the mayor's salary and benefits in half -- from about $323,000 to $160,000. Gone is the mayor's car allowance and Alvarez's fattest expense account.

We checked Gimenez's pay stub to prove it. For the Carlos-O-Meter, that rates another Promise Kept.

Gimenez promised to shed staff and budget from the mayor's office by 10 percent in order to restore funding to programs providing meals to seniors. The Carlos-O-Meter has ruled that pledge In the Works, noting that Gimenez's budget still must be approved by the full county commission, and that he still must identify about $75,000 in funding to make the senior meals programs whole.

Other promises will prove trickier. Among them, Gimenez's vow to avoid laying off police officers or firefighters.

John Rivera, president of the Police Benevolent Association that represents Miami-Dade police officers, correctional officers and dispatchers, said he isn't certain Gimenez will keep that promise. Gimenez "certainly is indicating that if unions don't cooperate that there will be layoffs," said Rivera, who has met with Gimenez since he was elected.

Gimenez told us if the police union doesn't agree to concessions, the county goes through an impasse process and ultimately a special master would make a recommendation. "The layoffs there are only possible if the commission doesn't agree to the concessions," he said.

Other promises include cutting the number of county department from 60 to 25 and taking back some of the raises Alvarez handed out.

Charter reform promises

Some of Gimenez's promises would require changing the county charter, including a call for term limits.

"Term limits eliminate the advantages of incumbency, break ties to special interests, improve the tendency for elected officials to vote their conscience rather than engage in quid pro quo, and open the door to fresh thinking and new ideas," Gimenez wrote on his campaign website, advocating for two, four-year terms.

Among the other promises that would require charter change: reducing the number of commissioners from 13 to nine, making the recall process easier and making elections concurrent with state and national elections. If county commissioners won't agree to put the proposed changes on a future ballot, Gimenez or his allies would have to launch a petition drive and collect signatures to get the questions before voters -- a timely and potentially costly process.

Gimenez's promise to reduce the number of commissioners could carry its own pitfalls if people in minority communities fear they will lose representation.

"It took many years of local and federal litigation to get some single member districts," said Miami Gardens mayor Shirley Gibson who is African-American and endorsed Gimenez's opponent, Julio Robaina. Any plan to reduce the number of commissioners is something that would need to be scrutinized, she said.

Gimenez said he wouldn't support any commission reorganization that would result in the loss of a Haitian-American commissioner. (Jean Monestime became the first Haitian-American Miami-Dade commissioner after he won his seat in November 2010.)

While commissioners quickly helped Gimenez achieve his tax rate promise, charter reform could prove more difficult.

"Let's see how hard it is to convince commissioners to put charter questions on the ballot," Gimenez said. "If they somehow resist I've got to go to the public. .... I would hope at this time that (commissioners) have heard the public loud and clear. If they stand in the way, remember seven of them are up for re-election in 2012."

Other promises

Two Gimenez promises relate to the troubled transit department in light of the federal government withholding more than $180 million in funding. Gimenez promised to conduct an independent audit of the transit department and restore federal grant funding.

The FTA agreed to restore partial funding, with some of that easing coming shortly before Gimenez took office.

One promise should be easy: Gimenez promised to post his calendar on the Internet. He also promised to make most county records available online. County spokeswoman Suzy Trutie said Gimenez will start rolling out a financial transparency website Aug. 1, which will include vendor payments, bondholder reports and eventually employee salary information.

"In my administration, there will be no place for power," Gimenez wrote on his campaign website. "Just public service, pure and simple, with nothing to hide."

Did we miss any promises Gimenez made while on the campaign trail? Let us know by e-mailing politifact.florida@gmail.com