Miami-Dade County has 13 commissioners who each represent a separate geographic district -- which means they have to protect their home turf if they want to get re-elected.
That system is too parochial for some, who would like to see fewer commissioners representing larger districts.
Norman Braman, a wealthy businessman who launched a successful recall of the county mayor in March 2011, and Victor Diaz, a Miami Beach lawyer who chaired the 2008 Charter Review Task Force, wrote an eight-point convenant for reform after the recall. Carlos Gimenez and the other county mayoral candidates signed that pledge, the Miami Herald reported March 21, 2011.
The top two parts of that pledge stated:
"Revamp the county commission and reduce the cost of government by reducing the number of commissioners from thirteen to nine” and "preserve political diversity while promoting a more regional focus by providing for seven district county commissioners and two at-large commissioners.”
We combined those two parts of the pledge into one promise for Gimenez.
When the Miami Herald asked him about that promise in a Feb. 24, 2012, interview days before his first state of the county address, he said that during the campaign he didn't specify the number of districts versus at large seats that he wanted.
"I never said I would reduce the number of commission seats,…” Gimenez said. "What I said, and I stick to it, is that what that pledge was about was at-large and district. I said that it was important to make sure that we have adequate representation and that nobody knows what that number is right now.”
Gimenez told the Miami Herald that he supported putting a panel together to recommend a number of commission seats, which would then be vetted by the courts to ensure it meets the Fair Voting Act. He said that some sort of combination of district and at-large "is a good model but I don't know what the number is. … A mix of at-large and district commissioners is a good idea.”
Gimenez raised concern that reducing the number of commissioners could reverse the gain of the county electing its first Haitian-American commissioner in 2010.
Before PolitiFact unveiled the Carlos-O-Meter in July 2011, we sent a copy of the promises to a Gimenez spokeswoman and his office did not dispute that promise at the time. Some of those promises, including this one about reducing the number of commissioners, were based on Braman's pledge.
But county spokeswoman Suzy Trutie told us in March that Gimenez "considers his campaign promises to be the promises he made during the campaign. He signed Mr. Braman's covenant because he agrees with, and/or, supports Mr. Braman's proposals. The Mayor's immediate priorities are the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget, implementing his reorganization plan, and charter review. His long term priorities include reviewing the proposals in Mr. Braman's covenant and exploring the feasibility of each one.”
We decided to research Gimenez's stance on at-large and district seats to determine if we accurately stated his promise. He clearly signed Braman's pledge, which specified seven district commissioners and two at-large commissioners. But had Gimenez called for something different on other occasions?
We started with Gimenez's proposals while he was a county commissioner, although we will only rate his work based on his tenure as mayor.
In the fall of 2010, Gimenez sponsored a resolution to ask voters to abolish the system of 13 district commissioners and create a two-tiered system of three at-large seats and six district seats. His resolution was withdrawn. He made a similar proposal in March 2011, again withdrawn, which was more vague, calling for "the minimum number of at-large and single member commissioner districts necessary to provide meaningful countywide and local perspective” to be placed on the ballot after approval by a federal court. The same proposal, which did not specify the number of at-large versus district seats, resurfaced and was defeated by county commissioners May 3, 2011.
An article by blogger Joy-Ann Reid about a May 2011, NAACP mayoral debate in which Gimenez participated said that in a series of questions in which candidates were asked to raise their hands, "On whether the number of county commissioners elected from single member districts should be reduced from the current thirteen, an idea that would add at large members to the commission, only [retired police chief Eddie] Lewis raised his hand.”
In a 2011 Miami Herald editorial board questionnaire in response to a question about whether there should be a mix of at-large and single-member districts, Gimenez wrote: "A two-tiered system should be established, however, great efforts need to be taken to assure that proper representation is maintained. For example, our community just celebrated the election of the first Haitian-American commissioner. Would this have happened with larger single-member districts and countywide seats? I strongly believe that if a two-tiered system is proposed, it should be vetted by the federal courts to assure compliance with the Voting Rights Act prior to being placed on the ballot.”
Gimenez has shown support in the past for at least exploring changing the makeup of the commission to have some at-large and some district commissioners, and he signed Braman's pledge that spelled those numbers out. But we couldn't find any steps he had taken since he became mayor toward this goal.
If Gimenez revisits this issue, we will re-examine this promise, but for now we rate this Promise Broken.