Doral

A brash return for Joe Carollo

 

The former Miami mayor, in his first day as Doral city manager, takes issue with Merrett Stierheim, the veteran public servant who had been the city’s interim leader.

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Former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo began his term as Doral’s latest city manager — the third to hold the position in just five weeks — by suggesting his predecessor, Merrett Stierheim, was biased against Hispanics.

“Apparently, what he thought is that Hispanics can’t govern themselves and that we need someone like him, that he considers himself the ‘great white hope.’ He is very mistaken,” Carollo told El Nuevo reporter Enrique Flor in an interview Thursday at Doral City Hall.

Stierheim, a respected 45-year municipal manager who abruptly resigned Wednesday as Doral’s interim city manager, said Thursday he wouldn’t “dignify that kind of comment. It’s not worthy.

“Joe Carollo’s comments speak more to his character than to mine,’’ said Stierheim, 79. “I think my life has been an open book. And that’s it.’’

It was the first day on the job for the bombastic Carollo, 57, who was hired the night before by the Doral City Council in a 5-0 vote. He will make $144,000 a year.

Stierheim was tapped to fill the manager’s position temporarily after former city manager Yvonne Soler-McKinley stepped down a week after Mayor Luigi Boria was elected in November. Stierheim was hired to lead the search for a new manager.

In his resignation letter to the mayor, Stierheim wrote he was “disappointed” he was not included in the selection of a new city manager — a task that was outlined in Stierheim’s $9,500-a-month contract.

“I would be less than honest not to express my disappointment with your reluctance to share with me who your candidate is and that you do not want a period of transition between me and the next city manager,” he wrote to Boria, a self-made millionaire who runs a computer wholesale company. “The wisdom and reasons for that decision are certainly questionable.”

There may be other reasons for Stierheim’s sudden departure.

Stierheim acknowledged Thursday that he got into a verbal argument earlier this week with Carollo — though neither man would say what sparked the confrontation. During the argument, Stierheim said he threatened to quit.

“We got into a confrontation, and I said the resignation statement,” Stierheim told The Miami Herald during a telephone interview Thursday morning. “I don’t deny I said it, but it was directed at Joe.”

Boria said he wasn’t present for the verbal spat — even though Stierheim said it happened in the mayor’s office. The mayor called Stierheim a friend and said he was mostly happy with his performance — except when it came to the abrupt firing of Doral’s police chief.

“I would have liked that I was informed ahead of time,” Boria said.

Stierheim gave chief Ricardo “Ricky” Gomez the boot in December because of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the chief’s possible misuse of public funds. The State Attorney’s Office found no evidence that Gomez committed any crime.

Stierheim said Thursday he got the impression that, after the argument with Carollo, Boria wanted him to resign.

Carollo served as Boria’s campaign advisor and has recently become a fixture at city hall.

The two met at the Alpha and Omega Christian Church in Southwest Miami-Dade, where Boria is an ordained minister. A pastor introduced the men about three years ago, Boria said.

But they only became close in the past few months, the mayor said. Recently, Carollo has joined the Borias for lunch at the family home, has sat in on the mayor’s media interviews and has kept track of his schedule.

Carollo’s new position marks his latest foray into South Florida politics. He served as a sharp-spoken Miami commissioner in the 1980s. He lost a 1997 Miami mayoral bid to Xavier Suarez, but then became mayor after successfully arguing in court the election was tainted by ballot fraud.

His four years as Miami mayor were rocky. He had bitter disputes with then-commissioners Tomás Regalado and Arthur Teele Jr. At one point, Teele and Carollo got into a physical confrontation at Miami City Hall as a meeting was taking place.

Carollo lost his reelection bid in 2001. He was arrested shortly before leaving office for throwing a cardboard tea box at the head of his wife Mari, police said. The charges were dropped and the two have since divorced.

Despite the controversies, Carollo gained recognition for helping to pull Miami out of a $68 million budget hole. And he was not implicated during one of Miami’s darkest scandals, Operation Greenpalm, which sent several city officials to prison in a bribery scheme.

It was Carollo who had suggested to Boria the city hire Stierheim as interim city manager — an endorsement that Carollo now calls an “embarrassment” and a “regret.”

“I recommended this man,’’ he said. “I brought this man here and I feel very responsible for what has happened here. So I felt I had a responsibility to come and help at this time.”

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