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Doral City Manager Joe Carollo survives attempted ouster

 

jflechas@MiamiHerald.com

In the course of an hour Wednesday night, Doral City Manager Joe Carollo went from witnessing a motion to have him fired to being given a vote of confidence by the majority of the City Council.

The council chambers teemed with residents and reporters Wednesday night as the council’s regular meeting opened with Mayor Luigi Boria proposing to oust Carollo, a motion that failed after about an hour of discussion. Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz seconded the motion to trigger the discussion before withdrawing, killing the measure.

Earlier in the day, Doral police charged a business associate of the mayor with filing a false police report accusing Carollo of assault, but that wasn’t what Boria wanted to talk about Wednesday night.

Instead Boria aired other grievances, saying Carollo traveled without approval to Las Vegas in June to try to promote Doral as a future host city for the Miss USA pageant, snooped into council members’ spending habits and took a week off without approval.

“I deeply believe that he has problems with conduct, and it’s hard for me to live with this situation,” Boria said.

Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez disagreed, saying Carollo had done nothing to merit dismissal and pointing out that the whole council commended Carollo during the budget season.

She and Councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera cited Boria’s past actions in opposing Carollo’s firing, including unexpectedly kicking Sandra Ruiz out of the vice mayor’s seat in February and recently appearing on radio shows during which rumors of Doral councilwomen taking bribes were discussed.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for you, but I think that the pattern of erratic behavior has not been from our manager,” Ana Maria Rodriguez said. “I think it’s been from you.”

Councilwoman Christi Fraga said that while she has had her own differences with Carollo, differences are not reason enough to ask for his resignation.

“I never came up here and asked for his removal because we disagreed,” she said.

Ruiz suggested the city come up with a code of conduct and evaluation process for the city manager. She said as an aside that communication among Doral’s leadership needs to improve, adding that she feels the state’s Sunshine Law, which requires public business to be conducted in public, is “abused” sometimes.

“There are times when people see you in a restaurant eating with another person, and then someone takes a picture and sends it to the Ethics Commission,” she said.

Carollo sat, quiet and calm, during the discussion, which ended with a 3-2 vote of confidence in him. Boria and Ruiz dissented.

But Carollo, a former Miami mayor and city commissioner, was not to be silenced all night.

He later explained that he was given permission by the mayor and council to travel, and showed reporters expense reports signed by Boria. And he promised to make public some unsavory information about Boria at a special council meeting next week.

“I will get into everything,” he said. “The good, the bad and the ugly.”

Carollo said Boria’s problems with him began after Carollo told the mayor he would not tolerate being threatened with his firing or by businessman Juan Carlos Tovar, who had accused Carollo of pulling him forcibly into a locked room in City Hall to curse at him and insult his heritage.

“I told him [after a meeting two weeks ago] I was going to the FBI the next day,” he said, without explaining what he meant to tell the federal agents.

Before returning to the meeting, Carollo said he wasn’t going anywhere.

“I am not leaving,” he said. “I am going to do the job that the people of Doral want me to do.”

Tovar turned himself in to Doral police Wednesday morning to face a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report for his accusations against Carollo.

Tovar, 32, initially complained to police that Carollo grabbed his arm, pulled him into a room, and then called him a “Venezuelan piece of s---” and a “ chavista,” meaning a follower of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

But Wednesday, police released surveillance video from City Hall showing Tovar entering a locked room on the third floor without being grabbed or pushed. According to the investigation, Tovar later gave a sworn statement that contradicted his first account, emphasizing that he felt more offended than threatened by Carollo.

When investigators asked Tovar how he was touched, “he was unable to or unwilling to explain how he was pushed, or with what force,” according to police.

Police often handle nonviolent misdemeanors by asking the accused to sign a promise to appear in court, rather than making an arrest. But in this case, Doral police had Tovar surrender and go through the booking process.

Tovar was booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, with bond set at $1,000.

Doral Police Chief Richard Blom told the Miami Herald that investigators contacted the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office twice — once by telephone and once in person — to get guidance on how to proceed with the Tovar case. The state attorney’s office told him no battery had occurred, after which Blom contacted Tovar’s attorney to negotiate his surrender.  

Blom compared filing a false police report to pulling a fire alarm without an emergency.

“There should be consequences for that,” he said, adding that he has faced a rash of unsubstantiated citizen complaints since he became chief in February — a problem he is trying to fix. He said this is the first instance this year in which someone went as far as filing a false police report, and so it is the first arrest on such a charge.

Blom has known Carollo for a few years. He said that apart from crossing paths a few times while they were both with the city of Miami, they met in earnest in 2010, and talked about law-enforcement philosophies. At that time, Carollo was out of politics and Blom was with the Miami Police Department.

Tovar’s attorney, Jesus Suarez, told reporters that Tovar believes his arrest is politically motivated.

“We think that the fact that Mr. Tovar was arrested today is to serve Mr. Carollo’s political interests,” Suarez said.

Blom said police are handling it appropriately. “You don’t look at the names,” he said. “You look at the facts.”

Boria told reporters Wednesday morning that he had not seen the details of the investigation, but he felt another agency, like the Miami-Dade Police Department, should get involved to avoid any conflict of interest since Carollo, as manager, oversees the police.

“The manager would have a conflict of interest if he was involved,” the mayor said.

Boria has ties to Tovar, an ex-client of Boria’s computer component distribution company and a former business partner of his adult children.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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