I have been fortunate during my years in public service to see how government works from the bottom up, and from the top down. My seven years as a legislative aide in the Florida House of Representatives gave me great insight into the way statewide policy is developed. Yet my service as a member of the Miami Lakes Town Council has proven to me that the best government is the one closest to the people.
Local government is where regular citizens have the greatest opportunity to help their neighbors through service in public office. And it is also where those neighbors enjoy the best chance of reaching out to their elected officials, of having their voice heard by officeholders who may literally be their neighbors.
That’s why I am especially proud that last year I was honored when the Florida League of Cities presented me its 2015 Home Rule Hero Award. “Home rule” may sound like some lofty term, but what it really means is leaving local decisions in the hands of local officials.
That is, of course, how it should be. And for more than 40 years, the concept of home rule has been enshrined in the Florida Constitution, which says municipalities “may exercise any power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.”
However, it remains up to the Legislature to determine what exceptions are “provided by law.” And lately, it seems our state lawmakers are leaving less and less authority in the hands of local officials.
Just one example is the much-discussed proposal that would require all cities in Florida to hold their elections at the same time as statewide and federal elections. Almost two-thirds of Florida municipalities hold their non-partisan elections at a time other than November, and forcing all cities’ elections to November ballots would inevitably inject partisan rhetoric into municipal elections. Worse, voters would be inundated by national and state campaign ads and would not have the opportunity to take a close look at and analyze their local candidates.
There are many examples of the Legislature trying to pre-empt the appropriate authority of local elected officials. It has happened many times on a wide range of issues, from local election dates to public safety issues to zoning. It would be easy to write this off as just a petty turf war -- a local official objecting to the state taking away a piece of local authority. But there is so much more at stake here than that.
Local authority is the very essence of self-government, and it’s vitally important that local officials maintain jurisdiction over fundamental decisions that affect the residents of their communities, especially pertaining to public safety and quality-of-life issues.
Legislators have plenty to deal with in true state issues. There is no need for them to pre-empt the authority of local officials, interfering with decisions that rightly should be made at the community level by those closest to the people being affected.
I wholeheartedly agree with Thomas Jefferson, who observed: "That government is best which is closest to the people."
Manny Cid, town councilman in Miami Lakes, is a recent recipient of the Florida League of Cities’ Home Rule Hero Award.