Miami strong mayor proposal gets court challenge

Activist's lawsuit claims referendum misleading, legally invalid

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter

MIAMI - Days before early voting gets underway, a new lawsuit challenges the strong mayor referendum on the city of Miami Nov. 6 ballot, claiming it violates Florida's sunshine law. 

Miami resident and activist Bruce Matheson filed the 10-page complaint in Miami-Dade County circuit court Friday evening, alleging the strong mayor referendum is misleading and legally invalid.

The ballot question, propelled by current Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, proposes changing the city charter to a strong mayor form of government, with a dozen changes, including: mayoral salary increase and guarantees; mayoral control over the city budget and all department heads including city attorney and chiefs of police and fire; and power to appoint his or her own successor.

While those proposed changes are stated in the question appearing on the ballot, dozens of other changes are not, including language that exempts a strong mayor from Florida sunshine law requirements when he or she meets or communicates with city commissioners.

According to Matheson's complaint, "... the ballot does not inform voters that, despite granting the mayor broad and unprecedented powers within this new structure of government and transforming the mayor's role to serve as chair of the city commission, none of the mayor's communications and meetings with commissioners will be required to be open to the public, with minutes recorded and open to public inspection, even if made in connection with official business." 

The lawsuit asks the court to find the referendum unconstitutional and unlawful, by diminishing public accountability and public access to open government.

Matheson recently lost an unrelated legal appeal against Miami-Dade County's no-bid land deal in Overtown for the property formerly selected as a stadium site by soccer star David Beckham and his partners.

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