In my 11 years as a North Miami Beach commissioner, I have seen a lot. But, until recently, I have never seen our commission make a decision that puts the health and safety of the public at risk.
In 2017, when North Miami Beach voted to outsource our water utility, it was controversial. Though I voted for it, I now believe the scope was too broad. At a special meeting recently, the commission was presented with the option to narrow the scope to what it should have been in the first place. Instead of taking a reasonable remedial action, my colleagues voted to entirely terminate the contract with our vendor and in-source our operations.
The decision endangers the public health of our residents and customers. I can’t remain silent in the face of the danger we have created.
An expert hired by the city made clear that we are unlikely to be able to fill the critical jobs required by the state of Florida just to meet the minimum safety standards. Our staff shared those sentiments and all but begged us not to make this mistake. As I have come to learn, hiring licensed water-plant operators in Florida is a challenge with which many public and private utilities struggle. Failing to meet those regulatory minimums means risking the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of people. It also means that North Miami Beach risks losing its greatest asset.
We have no plan. We have no reason to believe we will be able to accomplish what seems to be almost impossible. I wonder if we have set city management up for failure.
In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, which isn’t going away any time soon, we can’t risk the public’s health and safety. It’s reckless. It’s unconscionable.
My colleagues also brushed off our consultants’ estimated $9 million minimum cost for in-sourcing. The city’s chief financial officer told us in no uncertain terms that we would have to pass that cost on to our residents and customers in the form of a possible rate increase. So many people are struggling just to pay for the necessities right now. How can we look them in the eye and tell them we are hitting them with massive, unnecessary rate increases?
While I am sure that my colleagues did not cast this vote with bad intent, I believe they cast it without an appreciation of the risks we are taking.
Florida’s Sunshine Law prevents me from communicating this directly to them, so I’m obliged to communicate it here so that they, and the public, understand the likely peril that has been created. This could be North Miami Beach’s doomsday.
At our next commision meeting, I will ask my colleagues to reconsider their vote. I implore them to backtrack and reach a compromise that will protect the public from the consequences of this mistake. If we fail to take the appropriate action, I can’t honestly tell the people who rely on our water that it will be dependable in six months.
We have to do better.
Barbara Kramer is a North Miami Beach commissioner.