David Di Pietro invited to speak at the Tower Forum
with Lori Parrish and Bob Butterworth

On whether Broward County should have a “strong mayor”

Is it time for Broward County to have a “real” mayor?

A proposal to remake county government — creating a countywide elected mayor position — has resurfaced. The controversial idea has been floated before, only to be rejected by voters and county leaders.

At a Thursday morning discussion hosted by the Tower Forum — a nonprofit business networking organization — the business-heavy audience and political panel favored the idea. Some say the proposal’s time has come: A county Charter Review Commission with authority to approve items for the 2018 ballot was seated earlier this year and is expected to debate it.

Currently, each of the nine county commissioners is elected from a district, and commissioners take turns holding the one-year ceremonial mayor spot. Palm Beach County has a similar system, but Miami-Dade County is run by a strong mayor.

Broward’s current mayor is Tim Ryan.

A professional manager, Bertha Henry, runs the $4 billion operation.

Advocates for a longer-serving mayor elected by voters from throughout Broward say business owners need one point person to deal with when considering relocating here. The current system is parochial, they complain.

“I really do believe the time is here and I think the time is even before this that Broward does need a mayor,” said former state attorney general Bob Butterworth, one of three panelists before an audience of about 175 on Thursday. “Right now we all love our nine county commissioners — all wonderful people. Even though they all care deeply about Broward County, they also more deeply care about their district because that’s how they get there.”

Property Appraiser Lori Parrish, a former county commissioner and one of the panelists Thursday, said she, too, believes it’s an idea whose time has come. And the third panelist, North Broward Hospital District Chairman David DiPietro, said Broward should go even further and abolish “redundant” governments like the 31 municipalities.

Critics of the idea say a powerful mayor beholden to the business community would diminish the influence of commissioners trying to do right by their constituents.

Butterworth said the more powers added to a potential mayor’s job, the more opposition will grow. For instance, the mayor could have veto powers, could have authority to create the budget and hire a county manager, and could be in a non-voting position so he or she could meet privately with commissioners. But he suggested the county start with a weaker mayor and change it over time.

“What you’re saying is baby steps,” said the event moderator, attorney Charles Caulkins. Caulkins is chairman of the Broward Workshop, a behind-the-scenes group of business leaders who have pushed the mayor proposal for years. Voters rejected it in 2000. A 2010 effort fizzled.

The 19-member Charter Review Commission reviews county government every 10 years and has the power with a two-thirds vote to get items placed on the ballot.

The committee holds its first retreat on Oct. 17, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Nova Southeastern University Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography building, 8000 N. Ocean Drive, in Dania Beach. The retreat is open to the public.

Mayor Ryan said his appointees to the committee said they intend to raise the issue. He said the 2000 proposal for a mayor with strong executive powers was poorly written, and the chances are better this time. The county’s growth and complex economic landscape call for a single point person the business community can deal with, he said.

Dealing with nine commissioners instead “brings a level of uncertainty that might make a difference between a business deciding they want to be in Fort Lauderdale, as opposed to Miami or Palm Beach,” he said.