In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: In Doral, mayor puts on a show

Give Luigi Boria credit for accomplishing the improbable. He made Joe Carollo seem the voice of reason. Luigi out-crazied Crazy Joe.

It was stupefying, watching the Doral mayor perform this magical feat, employing a spasmodic harangue through much of the city council meeting last week, trying to badger an unreceptive council into terminating the famously combative city manager.

At times, it was as if Boria was more at war with Robert’s Rules of Order than Carollo, interrupting council members, talking over them, bursting into impromptu arguments with Joe. It was like watching a City Hall version of the old Jerry Springer Show.

Accusations just popped out of the mayor’s mouth. No matter who was talking. More like a barroom argument than city council debate. He claimed the city manager was given to threats and unprofessional behavior. That he “started screaming on me.” That Carollo spies on the council members. That he’s “always conspiring against us.” That he is “trying to poison your mind.”

After Boria accused Carollo of “erratic behavior,” Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez countered, “I think the pattern of erratic behavior has not been from our manager. I think it’s been from you.”

Boria’s rantings only convinced the council majority to give Carollo a vote of confidence.

It was Boria, after all, who foisted the always-controversial Carollo onto City Hall 10 months ago, causing anyone with a memory to wonder what the hell the mayor was thinking. The fiery former Miami mayor had none of that calm, impervious stoicism, that “thick skin” needed in an administrator whose job requires him to humor elected officials while he runs the city bureaucracy.

City council members reminded Boria (when they could get a word in) that just two weeks before the mayor had been complimenting Carollo’s fine work, particularly in preparing the city’s lean new budget.

Suddenly, Mayor Boria wanted Carollo’s head on a pike outside City Hall. (History buffs might have been reminded of how Henry VIII turned on his chief minister Thomas Cromwell. Though the analogy with the oft-married Henry Tudor broke down when Boria tossed out another of his peculiar non sequiturs, “When I married my wife, I decided to stay with her all my life.”)

Several council members reminded Boria that he was not the king of Doral — not even a strong mayor — opening the angry subtext running beneath the Carollo debate: that Boria, with no more power than a single, equal vote on the council, has been making unilateral decisions and usurping powers beyond those given him by the city charter.

The Joe controversy gave council members an excuse to disabuse the mayor of his high-handed ways.

Then there was the Tovar affair.

On Sept. 25, after a council meeting, Carollo and developer Juan Carlos Tovar had angry words in a City Hall corridor. Tovar claimed it was more than that. He filed a criminal complaint, charging that he had been physically assaulted by Carollo and forcibly pulled through a doorway by the angry city manager. The confrontation prompted Boria to call a council meeting the following Monday in his first attempt to fire Carollo.

But Boria discovered that getting rid of Carollo was not so easy. First the mayor couldn’t rouse a quorum for his hastily scheduled meeting. He had to wait until the regular council meeting on Wednesday to go after the city manager. By then, police had examined the video of the Tovar incident taken by a city hall security camera. Police Chief Richard Blom played the tape for the city council. Nothing captured by the camera corroborated Tovar’s version. The video shows him walking through the doorway of his own accord, in contradiction to the assault charge.

Police charged Tovar with filing a false police report, and Javier Bellón, Tovar’s business associate and supposed witness to the tussle, with giving police false information. The Doral Police Department issued a statement: “After conducting a thorough investigation which included interviewing numerous witnesses and examining video footage, it was evident that no battery took place and the actions that Mr. Tovar alleged to have occurred simply did not happen.”

The imbroglio only reminded folks in Doral about the mayor’s discomfiting, convoluted business relationship with Tovar. As the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust noted in an investigative report last month, Tovar’s computer export firm maintains a $500,000 line of credit with the mayor’s Doral-based company, TWC, or The Wise Computer.

More bothersome was the 50 percent partnership the mayor’s adult children formed with Tovar to develop a luxurious gated community with 61 homes on 17 acres in the city (provided the project could get city council approval.) The children had financed their share of the purchase price in 2012 with $1.4 million tax exempt gift, one to each child, from their father’s estate. In May, the children sold their half of the company, The Grand Floridian at Doral LLC, to Tovar for $8 million but only after they had loaned him the $8 million. The ethics commission report noted, “While Luigi Boria can legally claim that he holds zero ownership in any of the companies proposing to develop the Grand Floridian at Doral LLC properties, the mayor’s money was inextricably entangled in the original capitalization of the company.”

The commission discovered no technical ethical violation here, but warned the mayor that he “cannot vote on or participate in any official actions related to The Grand Floridian.” The report added that “the mayor is urged to recuse himself from voting on matters affecting any related financial interests of his immediate family.”

Carollo told the council, with a bit of acid humor, that he decided not to sue his accusers. “The last thing I want to do is end up being owner of the Grand Floridian and have a conflict of interest.”

The Grand Floridian got the council approval it needed at the Sept. 25 meeting without the mayor’s vote. But Carollo has told reporters that he has uncovered incriminating information about the deal, which explains why the mayor suddenly wants to get rid of him. He promised that he will reveal his findings at a special council meeting this coming Wednesday. The particular agenda item is entitled: “City Manager’s Rebuttal to Mayor’s Comments.” Might as well be called, “Joe Carollo, Unleashed.”

As last week’s meeting moved toward midnight, Joe was looking mean; Boria was looking overmatched.

“I am not a criminal,” the mayor insisted. “I’m going to do everything I can, if I have to spend my own money, not to allow him to criminalize me.

“This is not a show,” he insisted to a city council clearly unhappy that this low-down spectacle had come to Doral City Hall. “I’m trying to make this very clear. Trying to be honest, not try to make a show.”

But it was — and so much more entertaining than reality TV. Luigi, for all his protestations, put on a hell of a show.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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