Bettina Rodríguez-Aguilera, elected to the Doral City Council just three months ago, is the target of a recall effort launched Thursday that accuses her of abuse of power.
The effort was announced by Vanessa Brito, president of the Miami Voice PAC, who accused Rodríguez-Aguilera of taking advantage of her position as public servant for her own benefit — becoming a candidate for the council after living less than the required two years in Doral and filing a lawsuit for millions of dollars against the city alleging gender discrimination.
“The abuse of power is an evil that exists in several cities of the county,” Brito said at a press conference Thursday outside City Hall. “Bettina Rodríguez-Aguilera is an example of that abuse.”
The councilwoman rejected Brito’s allegations, and said the recall campaign is motivated by an “internal war” fueled by “politicians who refuse to accept that she won her seat cleanly” in the November election.
“This recall is a mockery of democracy,” Rodríguez-Aguilera said. “Brito, whom I don’t know, doesn’t even live in Doral, and what she is creating is a political circus.”
Brito, who is remembered for leading a recall campaign against Miami-Dade County Commissioner Natacha Seijas in 2011, said that her campaign has the support of 10 volunteers who are walking the streets of Doral to gather about 2,000 signatures — the 15 percent of the electorate required to recall a city official.
Brito said that Miami Voice has raised about $5,000 in small donations from residents apart from the committee’s reserve fund. She acknowledged that one of the contributors in previous campaigns was Al Maloof, a lobbyist from the legal firm Genovese Joblove & Battista, based in Miami.
In an email sent to an El Nuevo Herald reporter, Maloof said that a month and a half ago that the legal firm was interested in replacing Stearns Weaver, which has an annual contract worth almost $500,000 with the city.
“They told us they were leaving,” Maloof said in the email. “Shortly after, on our own, we withdrew.”
A city source who asked not to be identified said Mayor Luigi Boria’s administration vetoed the Miami firm for having represented government entities in Venezuela. The source added that the Rodríguez-Aguilera recall effort, as well as recent questioning by Deputy Mayor Sandra Ruiz of a real estate project of Boria’s children in Doral, “would be motivated by the veto of the legal firm.”
Ruiz said that was not the case.
Brito told El Nuevo Herald that she knew nothing about those issues and that her criticism focused on the belief that Rodríguez-Aguilera’s company, Bettra Inc., had provided services to the city sometime between 2008 and 2010, while she was the city’s economic development coordinator. However, Brito did not present any evidence of that.
“That is a lie,” Rodríguez-Aguilera responded. “All I’ve done is work tirelessly in the more than 100 days I’ve been a councilwoman.”
Brito added that Rodríguez-Aguilera, who was elected in November 2012, did not meet the requirement of residing in Doral two years before the election. She said that in 2011 Rodríguez-Aguilera registered as her primary residence a house in Westchester, for which she received a homestead tax exemption.
Before the election, a lawsuit filed by Francois Illas — a Doral resident who was director of the consulting firm Quantum Results — alleged that Rodríguez-Aguilera had lived in the city for 22 months, two months short of the requirement.
Rodríguez-Aguilera said that during the two months in question she lived in her nephew’s apartment. In October 2012, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lester Langer ruled in favor of Rodríguez-Aguilera.
“If justice has already ruled in my favor, I don’t understand why this issue is being discussed again,” the councilwoman said.
Brito also questioned why Rodríguez-Aguilera had filed a $4 million lawsuit against the city for gender discrimination.
The councilwoman responded that she did so because she suffered “permanent harassment” by Deputy Mayor Ruiz and former council member Pete Cabrera. She said that if she won the case, she would donate all the money to city programs supporting elderly people and cultural promotion.
Mayor Boria said he thought the recall drive was bizarre.
“I believe this is an injustice,” Boria said. “Let’s call things by their name. I believe that, regardless of the existing political rivalries among council members, in my humble opinion Bettina is doing a good job.”