Bend the Rules for Beckham

On second thought, hold on a minute. Government involvement in non-government matters all too often leads to problems. In Miami, this has spawned a conflict between soccer proponents and golfers when former soccer great David Beckham and his investor group set their sights on a city owned golf course as the location for a new professional soccer stadium. The issue centers upon what to do with city owned land. Both sides emotionally push their cause with all the logic and rationality of a hooligan fan after downing 8 pints or, shall we say, a weekend hacker who just hijacked the hospitality cart.
Some years ago, the Miami government developed a golf course and ever since has managed the Melreese public “country club”. A golf course is a bizarre endeavor for a municipality as it involves a great deal of land and resources that serve very few people. Additionally, golf courses are very expensive to maintain as greens must be groomed, fairways constantly mowed, fertilizer applied, a fleet of carts and other equipment must be maintained, etc. With the golf course subsidized by taxpayers, the situation is ripe for the ‘tragedy of the commons’. Golfers using this course may not be inclined to treat the course and facility with care as compared to a privately owned course where the public doesn’t pitch in to pay a portion of the golfer’s green fees.

In an ironic twist, it is the golfers who have cast themselves as poor, downtrodden children being steamrolled by the evil spouse of a Spice Girl, thus, tugging on the heart strings of the public. At the city commission meetings, the golf camp sent minority children to the podium exclaiming that the golf course “…is teaching them core values” and that without it, their well-being will be diminished. Wait a minute. Tiger Woods literally grew up on golf courses yet, as an adult, his now ex-wife still had to teach him core values using a 9 iron. One conjures up a vision of the golf kids standing on a Le Jeune Road traffic island, holding buckets along with handwritten signs saying, “Please help me pay my country club dues!”.
Advocates of the soccer stadium strung together a mostly incoherent argument before the City Commission crowds. One proponent told the audience that, “Soccer makes our city great!” while another counseled the Commission that Miami just needs professional soccer. Even Beckham himself addressed the government powerbrokers by saying that, “…a great city deserves the great, global sport”. Finally, another speaker told a packed meeting that, “Soccer helps fuel our community” – whatever that may mean. Not one of the futbol fanatics mentioned that Miami had a professional soccer team, the Fusion, from 1998-2001 and this sports franchise folded due to dismal attendance.

The Beckham Soccer Stadium bandwagon, unlike a Baseball billionaire, has vowed to use private funds to build the venue and, get this, pay property taxes. These are very commendable objectives as they place less of a burden on taxpayers. But alas, this is Miami. Beckham’s group has hired an aunt of one of the Miami City Commissioners. True to form, Commissioner Hardemon did not recuse himself from the stadium votes.
Miami’s City Charter stipulates that the selling or leasing of public lands can only be done through a competitive bid process. This safeguard is in place, ostensibly, to protect the public from being ripped off. Unfortunately, the rules and timeline of the Major League Soccer organization do not allow sufficient time for a bid to be conducted. Thus, we protect the public’s interest unless we are in a hurry. Allowing the sale of the golf course land to the Beckham group without a bid requires amending the City Charter and this can only be done through a ballot initiative. The Commission must first vote to allow the ballot initiative to move forward and this vote is where the golf course proponents and the soccer stadium advocates have clashed. After a delay or two, the swing vote came in favor of the ballot initiative when Commissioner Ken Russell sided with soccer. Russell explained his vote by saying that he will have the power to demand a “living wage” for all workers involved with the stadium’s construction and those working on the property thereafter. Of course, “living wage” is a wage above the market rate meaning the stadium will cost more than it should and fewer workers will be employed than would otherwise be the case. If Mr. Russell possesses special powers to set wages above market rates, why stop in Miami? Russell’s sorcery can be aimed at Florida or the United States or the world. Clearly, this politician is on an upward trajectory through the ranks of economically ignorant government officials.

This mess all started with a city government getting into the golf course business. Miami can do the right thing by conducting a competitive bid to privatize the land then the marketplace will determine the land’s best use over time. If this is not fast enough for David Beckham, he can take his circus to another city (and take Ken Russell with him). If Beckham’s group were to win the competitive bid, so be it. If this enterprise puts forth a viable product without being subsidized by taxpayers, everyone wins. Then again, this is Miami.

by Steve Litton – Member of the County Executive Committee, Libertarian Party of Broward County