Commissioners defend $800 car allowance

Mayor offers up idle cars for commissioners

MIAMI - Why do Miami-Dade commissioners get an $800 a month car allowance, when the county has a fleet of unused vehicles sitting in the Earlington Heights Metrorail Station garage?

All 13 commissioners get the allowance. It's an executive benefit that's been funded by the taxpayer for years. But last month, Local 10 found more than 100 new count- owned minivans, hybrid vehicles, pickup trucks and full-size vans sitting idle. Most were bought in 2006 and 2007.

The county said its fleet was reduced in 2007 and the vehicles were already bought and delivered and are being put into service as needed.

Records show at one time, there were more than 1,000 vehicles stockpiled in the garage. But, as the vehicles sat, commissioners were and still are getting an $800 a month car allowance.

"You have tried to blow this whole car issue out of perspective," Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss told Local 10's Jeff Weinsier.

"I don't think the county goes into the parking lot, gets a car and gives it to the commissioners. It doesn't work that way," said Commissioner Jean Monestime.

Commissioner Audrey Edmonson uses her $800 a month tax dollar-funded car allowance to lease a Cadillac SRX.

Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz leases a GMC Yukon Denali with his $800 dollar car allowance.

"It's part of a package we got when elected. That's what was offered to us," said Diaz.

Records show Commissioner Javier Souto rents a car for $719 in tax money a month. Souto said he agrees that commissioners should be using cars the county already owns.

"It's immaterial to me. I'm not here for the money," Souto said.

Miami-Dade commissioners make less than $7,000 a year for what's supposed to be a part-time job. But what's even more surprising, is on top of the car allowance, commissioners technically have access to a driver.

Local 10 spotted Commissioner Barbara Jordan being chauffeured to a recent County Commission meeting in a county-owned Lincoln Navigator. The man driving her was a Miami-Dade police officer who serves as one of the sergeants-at-arms for the Commission.

It's officially classified as a "security escort," and it's provided to all Miami-Dade commissioners when available.

"I don't get a car service," said Jordan.

Jordan is not the only county commissioner who has taken advantage of the security escort by the sergeant-at-arms office. Commissioners Edmonson, Monestime, Sally Heyman, Bruno Barreiro, Souto, Rebeca Sosa, Lynda Bell, Diaz and Joe Martinez have also this year.

"Once in a while, I do that when I am having phone meetings on my way in here," Jordan said.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez eliminated car allowances for himself and member of his administration when he was elected, but has no say in the Commission car allowances. The commissioners govern themselves on this issue.

Would the mayor offer up those fleet vehicles to the Commission?

"I will make that available to the commissioners and let them know there are vehicles available for their use, and if they want to take advantage of it, they can," said the mayor.

But so far, there are no takers.

Commissioners say Miami-Dade County employees who use their personal vehicles get paid mileage while on county business, so their car allowance is justified.

"I believe the system we have now is a fair system," Moss said.

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