Af­ter a his­tory of bad sher­iffs, vot­ers will elect them again

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Local & State - BY DOU­GLAS HANKS AND CHARLES RABIN dhanks@mi­ami­her­ald.com cra­bin@mi­ami­her­ald.com

The last time Dade res­i­dents elected a sher­iff, it didn’t go well. County vot­ers elim­i­nated the post in the 1960s. It’s com­ing back, thanks to a new state amend­ment re­quir­ing elected sher­iffs in ev­ery county.

Mi­ami-Dade had bet­ter hope its fu­ture of elected sher­iffs winds up bet­ter than its past.

Florida’s Amend­ment 10 passed statewide Tues­day, a con­sti­tu­tional change that re­quires Mi­ami-Dade to join the rest of Florida’s coun­ties in elect­ing a sher­iff. The amend­ment also re­quires elec­tion of other ap­pointed of­fices in Mi­ami-Dade and else­where, in­clud­ing elec­tions su­per­vi­sor and tax col­lec­tor. Broward al­ready elects its elec­tions su­per­vi­sor, too, but vot­ers there will be­gin pick­ing the county’s tax col­lec­tor un­der Amend­ment 10.

Lo­cal lead­ers op­posed the amend­ment, and Mi­ami-Dade un­suc­cess­fully sued to try and block the bal­lot item. But Mi­amiDade vot­ers backed it by a wide mar­gin in this week’s elec­tion, 58 per­cent to 42 per­cent. Statewide, the re­sults were a bit wider, with 63 per­cent in fa­vor and 37 per­cent against.

The re­sults of the vote will be slow mov­ing, since elec­tions for sher­iff, tax col­lec­tor and elec­tion su­per­vi­sor aren’t re­quired un­til 2024.

But with Mi­ami-Dade’s law en­force­ment op­er­a­tions be­ing run by a new elected of­fi­cial in­stead of some­one ap­pointed by the mayor, the county must fig­ure out how to spin off two of its largest agen­cies from its 27,600-per­son

pay­roll. The new sher­iff would run not just the 4,400-per­son po­lice de­part­ment, but the 3,000em­ployee jail sys­tem, too.

“Our de­part­ment’s uni­forms and col­ors may change,” Mi­ami-Dade Po­lice Di­rec­tor Juan Perez, an ap­pointee of Mayor Car­los Gimenez, said in an email sent to his de­part­ment’s staff on Wed­nes­day. “But our com­mit­ment, pro­fes­sion­al­ism, in­tegrity and val­ues re­main the same.”

Florida’s most pop­u­lous county hasn’t had an elected sher­iff since the 1960s, when a pair of cor­rup­tion scan­dals led vot­ers to pass a ref­er­en­dum to abol­ish it.

The first of those was in 1950, when a U.S. Se­nate com­mit­tee made its way to Mi­ami to grill mob­sters and cops about al­leged il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties. Back then, Metro Dade Sher­iff “Smil­ing” Jimmy Sul­li­van had a tough time ex­plain­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors and the 30 mil­lion re­ported tele­vi­sion view­ers how some­one on his salary had man­aged to build a hefty bank bal­ance.

The scan­dal that put an end to the elected post came 16 years later, when a Mi­ami-Dade grand jury re­port de­scribed a bur­glary racket led by Sher­iff T.A. Buchanan. The re­port claimed cops di­rected crim­i­nals to homes filled with ex­pen­sive goods. The trade­off: Cops would be else­where when the prop­erty was stolen on the con­di­tion that a share of the bounty went to po­lice.

Buchanan was in­dicted that sum­mer and later ac­quit­ted. Still, vot­ers later in the year chose to do away with an elected sher­iff and the county has been ap­point­ing one ever since.

Cur­rently, Gimenez holds the author­ity of sher­iff and ap­points the county’s po­lice di­rec­tor, who is con­firmed by the County Com­mis­sion.

With the shift from a hired po­lice ex­ec­u­tive to an elected one, the con­sti­tu­tional change has launched spec­u­la­tion of who might seek the post in 2024. Gimenez, a for­mer Mi­ami fire chief, has openly toyed with idea. When asked about the pos­si­bil­ity ear­lier this year, he didn’t dis­cour­age the idea, not­ing: “I am the sher­iff.”

County Com­mis­sioner Joe Martinez and Hialeah Mayor Car­los Her­nan­dez, both for­mer po­lice of­fi­cers, are also con­sid­ered po­ten­tial can­di­dates, as is for­mer state law­maker Frank Ar­tiles.

But the wait til the mid­dle of the next decade may be too long for cur­rent po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. Stead­man Stahl, pres­i­dent of the county po­lice union, said he ex­pects the sher­iff elec­tion to be a pop­u­lar one.

“I think you’re go­ing to have as many peo­ple run­ning for sher­iff as you will for the next mayor’s race,” Stahl said, re­fer­ring to the open race for mayor in 2020, when Gimenez must leave un­der the county’s term-limit rules.

The union Stahl heads, the Po­lice Benev­o­lent As­so­ci­a­tion, backed Amend­ment 10, ar­gu­ing a county is bet­ter served by some­one elected solely to fo­cus on law en­force­ment. “When your is­sue is tran­sit,” Stahl said, cit­ing Mi­ami-Dade’s on­go­ing trans­porta­tion de­bate, “some­thing has to fall off to the side.”

For­mer Mi­ami-Dade County Man­ager Mer­rett Stier­heim called a statewide vote to elim­i­nate the ap­pointed post of Mi­amiDade’s po­lice di­rec­tor, “out­ra­geous” and “a tyranny of the ma­jor­ity.”

He said Tues­day’s vote promises to in­ject po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions into the ques­tion of who will run what’s cur­rently a pro­fes­sional po­lice or­ga­ni­za­tion. Stier­heim re­called how he was able to fire a county po­lice chief in the late 1970s who re­fused to re­make the de­part­ment to re­flect the de­mo­graph­ics of the county.

“Now, you get a politi­cian who wants a place to park, so he runs for sher­iff. Who thinks a po­lice de­part­ment needs to be politi­cized?” he said.

“It’s re­ally dis­ap­point­ing. Look what hap­pened to Ken Jenne.”

Jenne, the for­mer elected sher­iff of Broward County, was forced to re­sign from of­fice in 2007 af­ter fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined he was com­mit­ting crimes in his per­sonal busi­ness deal­ings.

He even­tu­ally pleaded guilty to tax eva­sion and mail fraud, ac­cept­ing a penalty of one year and one day in prison in a case that could have been much worse for him had a grand jury had the chance to in­dict him on money laun­der­ing charges.

Even with an elected sher­iff, the cur­rent sys­tem of fund­ing law en­force­ment is likely to re­main the same. In Broward, the County Com­mis­sion ap­proves the bud­get for the sher­iff’s of­fice. Mi­amiDade’s mayor has veto power over bud­get votes.

In his email to the po­lice staff, Perez said he was work­ing with Gimenez’s of­fice “to create a strate­gic plan” needed for a smooth tran­si­tion. He also wrote that the county ex­pects the first sher­iff elec­tion in 2024, with the win­ning can­di­date sworn in the fol­low­ing Jan­uary.

“As it stands now, our de­part­ment will not un­dergo im­me­di­ate changes,” Perez wrote. “The transi- tion to the Of­fice of Sher­iff will not come with­out chal­lenges. How­ever, we are a great or­ga­ni­za­tion and have al­ways been adapt­able when faced with chal­lenges.”

PE­DRO POR­TAL ppor­tal@mi­ami­her­ald.com

A group of ac­tivists protested in front of the Mi­ami-Date Elec­tions De­part­ment on Satur­day, de­mand­ing that all bal­lots be counted.

Mi­ami Her­ald staff

The Mi­ami-Dade Po­lice De­part­ment is a county agency, but it is set to be spun off into its own gov­ern­ment en­tity un­der a new state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment re­quir­ing the elec­tion of sher­iffs. Mi­ami-Dade is the only county with­out a sher­iff.

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