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Miami-Dade County just shrugged at 127,000 citizen petitions

On Aug. 2, two U-Haul trucks pulled into the Miami-Dade elections HQ in Doral. They contained 127,000 petitions from Miami-Dade County residents urging the county commission to put campaign finance reform on the November ballot  — 77,000 more than the initiative needed.

But actually, it won’t be on your November ballot. In fact, it might not be on a ballot until 2018, because the commission couldn’t reach quorum at an emergency meeting to move it along. (The commissioners need to formally ask the supervisor of elections to vet the petitions.)

The reason? It’s August recess.

This is the one month of the year that commissioners don’t have scheduled meetings, so it’s reasonable to go on vacation and take appointments. But it isn’t unusual for county commissioners to miss important meetings, and when 127,000 citizens ask you to do something, it’s a big deal to not figure out a way to make it happen.

“I was disappointed because I think 125,000 people expressed their will to have this matter on the ballot. We don’t know that the commissioners would have approved it to go on the ballot, but the next step would have been to validate the signatures and that did not happen,” said Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, using an earlier tally of the petitions. She’s been a vocal supporter of campaign finance reform on the commission.

The next official meeting isn’t until September, when it would most likely be too late to get on the ballot. The chances of holding another special meeting before then that would get the required number of commissioners (seven) are not looking good.

Accountable Miami-Dade, the group pushing the initiative, is looking at all its legal options and is pushing the supervisor of elections to begin reviewing the ballots without the sign-off from commissioners.

Let’s clarify: The commissioners aren’t being asked to enact campaign finance reform. They are being asked to put it on the ballot so voters can vote on it. Back in March, Levine Cava convened a workshop — at the request of other commissioners — to workshop her own campaign finance reform initiative. Only one other commissioner came.

So this is where we’re at: the county commission is in the middle of August recess, we have an important governance issue trapped in a few dozen boxes, and if the commission doesn’t get enough people together, we’ll go another two years without any of the reforms suggested in the initiative.

“Our lawyers are looking into legal action. We are trying to pressure the commission to meet in August. Their charter dictates they should meet in 30 days,” said Juan Cuba, the executive director of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party and one of the leaders of the initiative.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the county bureaucracy doesn’t kill this and we give voters a choice in November.”

Commissioners sounded skeptical when interviewed today, so the best shot appears to be getting the supervisor of elections to waive the need for a formal request to begin vetting them.

“It was just terrible to have it the month of August,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who emphasized that she was one of the early supporters of the initiative but had to leave for a medical appointment before the vote could happen. “I can’t fault them for not attending a special meeting, because plans were made.”

Even Levine Cava, the most vocal supporter of the effort, says it doesn’t look like there’s much that can be done to get it on the November ballot unless some sort of legal exception is made.

That means Miami-Dade County is probably facing at least one more election where county contractors can give money to the people who will end up hiring them in the future, and one more election without public financing to level the playing field between candidates.

Accountable Miami-Dade, a coalition of local groups, is organizing a rally tomorrow at the Supervisor of Elections’ office at 2 p.m.