Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade inspector general Christopher Mazzella retiring after 14 years

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

Christopher Mazzella, Miami-Dade’s first inspector general, plans to retire at the end of the month after 14 years on the job as the county’s independent watchdog.

Mazzella announced his retirement last week in a letter to Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa. His resignation is effective April 26. His four-year term was set to expire in December.

“I feel the time has come,” Mazzella said Tuesday. “I leave with no regrets. I’m very happy with what we’ve achieved and accomplished. It’s always good to have new blood and a new approach.”

Mazzella was hired in 1998, two years after county voters approved the creation of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust. The inspector general’s office has since become independent of the ethics commission.

He came in with 34 years of experience in the FBI, where he investigated organized crime and corruption cases — including, notably, Operation Gangplank, which brought down Philadelphia mobsters. Mazzella earned a law degree during his FBI tenure, eventually moving to Miami in 1981 to focus on public corruption.

As inspector general, Mazzella grew the office to 38 employees from its original two, and oversaw a $5.2 million budget, he said. “We saved the county hundreds of millions of dollars, arrested some 220 people, indicted corporations that have been defrauding the county.”

The office also monitors the Miami-Dade public school system.

Among his most significant achievements, Mazzella said, was stepping in after the chaotic 2002 primary elections, in which some precincts didn’t open on time, poll workers didn’t know how to turn on new voting machines and the elections department took a week to tally all the votes. Then-County Mayor Alex Penelas tasked Mazzella with conducting a hurried investigation to prevent the problems in the quickly approaching general election.

Mazzella recommended treating the general election as a crisis, bringing in the Miami-Dade Police Department to oversee the preparations.

“It enfranchised the Dade County voters so that their votes counted,” he recalled.

Mazzella found a foe in the Police Benevolent Association, which once memorably depicted him as a turkey on the union’s website. The inspector general’s office criticized the PBA for its handling of a county-funded retirement program and later for paying the union chief more than $100,000 to perform off-duty work.

The feud resulted in several union lawsuits against Mazzella, including one in 2006 in which the PBA unsuccessfully argued that county commissioners should not have given Mazzella another four-year term.

Mazzella, 70, said he plans to spend his retirement in Martin County, where he has a home. A baritone who used to sing Broadway, jazz and pop standards at weddings, anniversaries and other festivities, he said he will remain involved in community theater.

Under county rules, the new inspector general will be selected by a committee made up of several prominent local officials: the state attorney, public defender, ethics commission chairperson, president of the police chiefs association and regional director for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The selection will then require ratification by county commissioners. The IG can serve for an unlimited number of four-year terms.

Mazzella’s annual salary is nearly $247,000.

If a successor is not in place by his last day, Mazzella recommended that Sosa appoint Patra Liu as the interim inspector general. Liu, a former Miami-Dade prosecutor, is currently assistant inspector general and legal counsel for the office, and has worked under Mazzella for 13 years.

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