Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Miami-Dade voters don’t want demolition of libraries in name of efficiency

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is right about one thing: Voters want “a leaner, more efficient government,” he said, responding to the results of a Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald poll.

But Gimenez doesn’t fully grasp that this means less high-paid bureaucracy and more enhanced services – not the demolition of an essential institution, the Miami-Dade Public Library system, to save the average household $25 a year.

If people see their property taxes wisely invested in services that impact quality of life and the value of real estate in their communities – well-maintained and operated parks, libraries, and roads, friendly not only to drivers but bicyclists and pedestrians – then, we’re happier donors to the cause of government spending.

But, too often, that utopia isn’t what voters experience. They see the tax bill going up, services cut – and ills lingering.

A community information and outreach department chief – his salary: $160,000 – spending county time and money on making “Harlem Shake” videos to boost employee morale. A county employee charged with stealing parts from the Water & Sewer Plant for 10 years. Too many police officers gathered in the eateries of safe, upscale cities and too few of them in communities that could use their presence.

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Voters know wasteful spending – even when it’s packaged as a savings.

Take, for example, the mayor’s idea of streamlining his office.

When Gimenez replaced his communications director in May, he paid his new hire $140,000 – $15,000 more than than his predecessor. The new guy, whose expertise is politics, got an automatic raise without working a day.

That kind of money could pay for a part-time library staffer to keep a library running longer.

Gimenez said the additional funds came from not replacing the communications deputy who left to become marketing and public affairs director at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens.

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But that’s no savings to taxpayers since that employee may have left the mayor’s office, but not the county payroll.

Or, take commissioners’ periodic mailings to their district residents. They may see it as “communication,” but it’s campaigning to remain in office for life.

I don’t need my county commissioner to send me a letter – seven months after I called 311 when short-staffed Miami-Dade Animal Services didn’t pick up the phone – to ask me if my issue had been resolved “professionally and efficiently.”

I don’t need elected officials to send me birthday or Mother’s Day cards. Instead of wasteful office spending, buy newly published children’s books for a library in the inner city.

So true, the mayor’s perception that voters don’t feel we have lean and efficient governance. We also don’t have shared values when it comes to funding education, culture, and access of information over erecting an overabundance of stadiums.

Not surprisingly, Miami-Dade’s public libraries – gutted the last four years – are on the chopping block again.

Gimenez can point to the Herald poll showing that voters oppose (56-41) a tax hike to fund public libraries and continue to quote as a reason to cut hours and gut staff the public misperception that libraries aren’t needed.

But what those numbers show, more than anything else, is voter mistrust of government – and that should worry Gimenez plenty.

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