Sweetwater

Sweetwater Commission will name a new commissioner Monday; candidates remain a mystery

 

bmedina@ElNuevoHerald.com

The Sweetwater City Commission is set to name a new commissioner and vice chairman Monday night. But the identities of some of the candidates are still a mystery.

The vacancies date back to early August, when then-Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño was suspended by Gov. Rick Scott after the FBI arrested him on charges of accepting bribes.

Following the city charter, deputy mayor and commission chairman José M. Díaz assumed the position of mayor while commissioner José Bergouignan occupied the position of commission chairman.

The vice chairman must be a current commissioner, and that person’s seat on the commission must then be occupied by a city resident proposed and elected by the commissioners. But only Commissioner Prisca Barreto has revealed the name of the person she plans to propose for the vacancy: Cecilia Holtz-Alonso, a former Sweetwater commissioner.

“I am confident that she can do a good job because she has the experience,” Barreto said about Holtz-Alonso, who was a commissioner and commission chairman in the ’90s and failed to get reelected in 1999.

Commissioner Isolina Maroño and Manuel Duasso declined to tell El Nuevo Herald the names of their possible candidates.

“I have three persons in mind, and I want to propose one of them,” Commissioner Maroño said on Friday. “But I cannot tell you their names because I have not reached a decision. I can only say that they have been devoted to the community.”

Isolina Maroño initially became part of the commission after being appointed in January 2012 by the other six commissioners upon the death of then-commissioner Abel J. Abelairas.

The appointment was controversial because Maroño is the mother of former mayor Manny Maroño. The position was filled after an election in May in which Maroño won the vote over candidate Deborah Centeno, a strong critic of Sweetwater’s administration.

Sweetwater is run by an executive government whereby the mayor, who is also the city manager, has no vote on the commission.

Commissioner Manuel Duasso suggested that he could submit a candidate for the vacant seat, but he said that he would rather wait until the meeting and consider the proposals from his colleagues.

“If I feel that the people they submit deserve the position, I will consider voting for them,” Duasso said. “But I will make my decision the moment I know who all the candidates are.”

The rest of the commissioners — Bergouignan, Orlando López and José Guerra — did not answer messages left by El Nuevo Herald on Friday.

Florida’s Sunshine Law forbids elected officials from communicating among them to reach consensus before making decisions.

Duasso said that some Sweetwater residents have been lobbying to be submitted as candidates, calling commissioners and showing their credentials.

“Some people have called me. I listen to them and consider their records,” Duasso said. “But I am not committed to anyone. I will make the best decision for the city.”

The commission’s election will take place at the commission meeting at 8 p.m. on Monday. The elected candidate will hold the position until 2017, when it will go to an election.

The next Sweetwater elections will be held in 2015, when the position of mayor and three other commission seats will go to the polls.

The city of approximately 21,000 residents has been at the center of multiple scandals in recent weeks.

On Aug. 5, Manny Maroño was accused — along with lobbyists Jorge Forte and Richard Candia — of allegedly being part of a fraudulent scheme to take money from the federal government through subsidies to be granted to the city. That same day, Miami Lakes’ mayor Michael Pizzi was also arrested under similar charges.

Additionally, on Aug. 28, the FBI arrested detective William García under accusations of credit-card fraud and identity theft. García is being charged of using false credit cards in Miami Beach, Key Largo and at other businesses in South Florida.

The FBI has launched a broad investigation of the Sweetwater Police Department, sources familiar with the case have told the Herald. On Tuesday, Sgt. Reny García and detective Octavio Oliu were suspended with pay as a result of the federal agency’s investigations. On Aug. 30, civil employee and police assistant Richard Brenner was suspended with pay for reasons that remain unknown.

The commission meeting on Monday at the Sweetwater City Hall will be followed by a press conference, according to a press release on Sept. 4. Mayor Díaz and Police Chief Roberto Fulgueira will answer questions about the election of the vice chairman and the new commissioner, as well as the city’s future and other police matters.

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