Miami-Dade County

Committee launches effort to pick new Miami-Dade inspector general

The process to hire a new Miami-Dade inspector general kicked into high gear Friday, when a selection committee began sifting through applicants for the powerful post.

The five-member committee chose to check the backgrounds and likely offer in-person interviews to an initial round of 15 people out of 122 who put in for the job following the April retirement of Christopher Mazzella, who served for 14 years as the county’s first independent watchdog.

More candidates could be offered interviews after committee members review résumés for additional applicants. All will be advised that the committee will ask finalists to disclose their finances.

“There are some that are standouts that we know we’re going to interview,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, who was named the committee’s chairwoman.

Eight of the initial 15 candidates work in Florida — most of them in Miami-Dade and Broward — and seven work out of state. They range from an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami to a U.S. Navy inspector general in San Diego to an Arizona judge.

In addition to asking them to fly in for interviews in late September and October, the committee plans to first sit down with local officials to find out how other agencies work together with the inspector general.

“We’ll be able to find the right fit much more knowing those pieces,” said Coral Gables Police Maj. Scott Masington, president of the Miami-Dade Association of Chiefs of Police and a committee member.

The other committee members are Charlton Copeland, a University of Miami law professor and chairman of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust; Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez; and Addy Villanueva, special agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Miami regional operations center.

Among the people the committee hopes to hear from is Mazzella, who became Miami-Dade’s first inspector general in 1998 after 34 years investigating organized crime and corruption for the FBI.

The prominent inspector general’s position was created to ferret out fraud, waste and corruption in Miami-Dade government. In addition to watching over the county, the IG also monitors the Miami-Dade school district.

In advertising the job, the county said it has one of the few inspectors general in the nation who has the authority to investigate any public official, including elected politicians.

A new IG, once ratified by county commissioners, will manage an office with 38 employees and a $5.3 million budget. County code allows the inspector general to serve an unlimited number of four-year terms.

While the new top watchdog’s salary will have to be negotiated, at the time Mazzella retired he made nearly $247,000 a year. Fernández Rundle, noting that other high-profile public officials make significantly lower salaries, suggested that the committee might recommend a lower pay range for commissioners to consider.

All but one of the 15 candidates were picked from 21 applicants the county’s human resources division considered highly qualified because they had extensive managerial experience or oversaw agencies with budgets or in cities comparable to Miami-Dade. The committee chose one candidate from — and asked for résumés and further information on — the 26 applicants considered qualified for meeting minimum requirements for the job.

Those requirements were having a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience serving as a law-enforcement officer, judge or government attorney or managing an investigative public agency. The county advertised the position nationally from May 6 through June 5.

Seventy-three of the 122 applications were deemed unqualified, and two applicants withdrew their names from consideration. Interim Inspector General Patra Liu, who worked under Mazzella for 13 years, did not apply.

Eventually, the committee plans to narrow the candidate list to a handful of candidates before making a final recommendation to the county commission.

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