Chair­woman has con­cerns as term lim­its ar­rive for county com­mis­sion

Miami Herald - - LOCAL & STATE - BY DOU­GLAS HANKS [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

Au­drey Ed­mon­son took the oath as chair­woman of the Mi­ami-Dade County Com­mis­sion on Fri­day and re­minded the au­di­ence that this could be the last cer­e­mony of its kind once she and other vet­eran com­mis­sion­ers are forced to make his­toric ex­its in 2020 when termlimit rules take ef­fect.

“The board will never have as much com­bined ex­pe­ri­ence as it does to­day,” Ed­mon­son said to a packed com­mis­sion chambers at the Stephen Clark Cen­ter dur­ing her first of­fi­cial day as chair­woman of the 13-seat com­mis­sion.

She said one of her priorities dur­ing the next two years will be to strengthen the com­mis­sion’s au­dit of­fice to churn out more re­ports and in­for­ma­tion to keep newly elected com­mis­sion­ers in­formed once she and other vet­eran board mem­bers are re­quired to go by term lim­its that county vot­ers en­acted six years ago.

“There will be a great loss of in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge,” said Ed­mon­son, a for­mer El Por­tal mayor who took of­fice in 2005.

With term lim­its, she will be the first com­mis­sion chair to leave of­fice once her twoyear ten­ure ends.

County vot­ers in 2012 ap­proved lim­it­ing com­mis­sion­ers to a pair of con­sec­u­tive four-year terms. In­cum­bents re­elected that year will be the first to be cov­ered by the rules man­dat­ing their de­par­tures in 2020. That in­cludes Ed­mon­son and four other com­mis­sion­ers, with six oth­ers barred from run­ning again in 2022.

Fel­low com­mis­sion­ers elected Ed­mon­son chair­woman in De­cem­ber, and no­body ran against her. The po­si­tion makes her the most pow­er­ful mem­ber on the board, since she con­trols the agenda, makes com­mit­tee as­sign­ments, and has au­thor­ity over county of­fices that re­port di­rectly to the com­mis­sion.

Ed­mon­son used the bulk of her in­au­gu­ral speech to lay out a leg­isla­tive agenda fo­cused on re­duc­ing crime, hard­en­ing against cli­mate change, ex­pand­ing af­ford­able hous­ing and tran­sit, and in­creas­ing mi­nor­ity par­tic­i­pa­tion in county con­tracts.

“We can drive around con­struc­tion sites and see that dis­par­i­ties re­main,” Ed­mon­son said.

With Ed­mon­son tak­ing the cen­ter seat on the dais, there will be five for­mer chair­men and a chair­woman around her. She served as vice chair dur­ing the last two years un­der Este­ban “Steve” Bovo, who is also facing a 2020 exit un­der term-limit rules. For her fill-in, Ed­mon­son picked for­mer chair­woman Re­beca Sosa as vice chair­woman. Sosa was re­elected in Au­gust, and her fi­nal fouryear term ends in 2022.

Flush with do­na­tions from county lob­by­ists, ven­dors, and devel­op­ers, in­cum­bent com­mis­sion­ers rarely face chal­lenges from es­tab­lished politi­cians. But with forced open­ings loom­ing in 2020, sit­ting of­fice hold­ers are toss­ing their hats into the county races.

Mi­ami Com­mis­sioner Keon Harde­mon, who sat in the front row of Fri­day’s in­au­gu­ral, said he planned to run for Ed­mon­son’s Dis­trict 3 seat in 2020. Both rep­re­sent some of the same Mi­ami neigh­bor­hoods. Sit­ting near him was Oliver Gil­bert, the Mi­ami Gar­dens mayor who said this week he would run for the Dis­trict 1 county seat that Barbara Jor­dan must re­lin­quish in 2020 after 16 years in of­fice.

A black Demo­crat born in Mi­ami, Ed­mon­son takes over as chair­woman after a sig­nif­i­cant shift in the non­par­ti­san com­mis­sion’s de­mo­graph­ics and pol­i­tics. The elec­tion of Eileen Hig­gins last year to an open Dis­trict 5 seat ended the His­panic ma­jor­ity on the com­mis­sion. It also left a board that had been al­most evenly di­vided by party with seven Democrats, five Repub­li­cans, and one in­de­pen­dent.

Ed­mon­son said she wanted to ex­tend the co­op­er­a­tion among the 13 com­mis­sion­ers that she cred­ited Bovo with main­tain­ing dur­ing his two years as chair­man. Sosa, a His­panic Repub­li­can, used her re­marks after be­ing sworn in as vice chair­woman to tout cor­dial de­bates on the board.

“We can dis­agree on points,” Sosa said. “That makes us stronger.”

For the swear­ing-in cer­e­mony, Ed­mon­son tapped flag-bear­ers from the ROTC pro­gram at her alma mater, Mi­ami Jack­son Se­nior High. The pledge of al­le­giance was led by chil­dren from the Head Start pro­gram at the Caleb Cen­ter, where she keeps her dis­trict head­quar­ters. (“They al­ways come by my of­fice for Hal­loween candy,” she said.) Join­ing her for the swearingin was daugh­ter Ebony Dunn and grand­daugh­ter Bianca Casher.

“I will never for­get who I am here,” Ed­mon­son said, ad­dress­ing con­stituents who have sup­ported and op­posed her. “I want to help make this county a lit­tle bet­ter than it was yes­ter­day, and with your help I know we can achieve ‘bet­ter’ and more.”

Ed­mon­son

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