Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Miami Anticorruption Effort Hits the Books New $500 Fine for City Workers Who Go over Budget without Permissionmay Be First of Its Kind in a US City

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Miami Anticorruption Effort Hits the Books New $500 Fine for City Workers Who Go over Budget without Permissionmay Be First of Its Kind in a US City

Article excerpt

When Donald Warshaw accepted his appointment in June as Miami's sixth city manager in a year, he knew he was joining a government with a reputation for corruption, where stories often emerged about dead men voting, commissioners pocketing bribes, and lobbyists awarding kickbacks.

What the former police chief didn't know was that he would continue in his role as a cop - fining city administrators for going over budget.

Last fall, the Miami City Commission approved a landmark ordinance that slaps administrators with a $500 fine for exceeding their annual allotments without permission. Everyone from emergency service managers to park supervisors will be subject to civil charges and a state attorney's investigation for busting their budgets. "Many people were concerned this might be too restrictive," Mr. Warshaw says. "But there is now a clear message: The executives of the city have to be aware of what they're doing. The budget can't run itself." The "antideficiency" ordinance - which may be the first of its kind in a US city - is aimed at ending this cash-strapped city's habitual problem of administrators acting behind commissioners' backs, or with their wink-of-an-eye approval. Things hit a low point in 1996, when then-city manager Cesar Odio was arrested, and subsequently convicted, in a federal corruption probe. The city's $68 million deficit prompted former Gov. Lawton Chiles to appoint the state's first oversight board and threaten to take over the city if commissioners didn't approve a credible bailout plan. The ordinance fining budget-busters - based on a federal law that subjects managers to criminal charges if they exceed allocations without notifying Congress - should remove the threat of the state stepping in. Still, critics of the new fining system wonder if it's not just avoiding the problem, or creating new ones. "Why not just hire people who can do their jobs?" says Ken Goodman, co-director of the programs in business, governmental, and professional ethics at the University of Miami. "What happens if there's a good reason for a cost overrun? …

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