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Eyeing a run for county mayor, Xavier Suarez wants to cap officials' pay

@doug_hanks

Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, a potential mayoral candidate in 2016, is prepping a petition drive to establish a cap on county salaries for Miami-Dade employees.

Papers filed this month would let Suarez lead the charge on the voter-approved rule, which would prevent county employees from getting paid more than what Florida's Supreme Court justices make. At the moment, that's $162,200 -- far less than the $200,000 earned by Miami-Dade's best-paid employees in 2013, according to a Dade Data report. Many of those top earners were in the county attorney's office, and Suarez seized on the report as revealing something that needed to be fixed.

"Somebody has to tell Mr. Gimenez that the folks out there aren't happy with the 1 percenters in government," Suarez said in an interview Wednesday.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," he continued. "The need to reform the county bureaucracy can be manifested in many ways. High salaries are one of them...It's symbolically important" 

The petition drive, which would give Suarez a platform for media coverage, comes as Suarez is prepping to raise the money he would need to challenge Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016. This month, Suarez has been writing supporters with an invitation to an Oct. 10 fundraiser. That's adate date tied to Cuba's fight for independence, so Suarez could see the day as an appropriate time for Miami's first Cuban-born mayor to formally announce his run against Gimenez (who was also born in Cuba).

In a Suarez email viewed by The Miami Herald, there's no explanation for the nine-month advanced notice on the date. The email mentions the salary plan obliquely, and also indirect criticism of Gimenez's tenure.

"[T]here is no visionary plan to improve mass transit or make our county a livable, sustainable, prospering community," Suarez wrote. "Instead, we have a proliferation of tolls that tax us for using highways built and financed decades ago."

Suarez could be prepping a run for county mayor. Or he could be positioning himself as a contender willing to forego a run if Gimenez champions some of his pet causes, which include putting I-395 underground where it traverses the Miami waterfront and reviving the Coconut Grove Playhouse. 

He is planning a press conference Wednesday afternoon to announce the petition drive. In a letter Tuesday, County Clerk Harvey Ruvin wrote Suarez, a lawyer, that he had not followed the law governing petition drives since he did not attach a separate document with the proposed ordinance and title in English, Spanish and Creole. 

Suarez's moves come as Gimenez has begun calling large donors to support his 2016 campaign, and on the heels of a favorable profile in the Miami New Times of another potential Gimenez challenger, school board member Raquel Regalado. 

Once Suarez has his petition paperwork in order, he'll have 120 days to secure signatures from at least 4 percent of Miami-Dade's 1.3 million voters -- meaning he'll need about 52,000 verified signatures. That's about 3,250 a week. If he meets the signature threshold, Suarez's proposed ordinance would go on the ballot for the county's next scheduled county-wide election.  

 [This post was updated at 12:06 p.m. to say Suarez is proposing a voter-approved ordinance, and not a charter amendment, and at 2:16 to elaborate on Ruvin's letter to Suarez.]

 

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