Luigi Boria stood center stage before dozens of Doral residents to talk to them about peace, love and unity.
The Doral mayor, an ordained Christian minister who will complete his first year in office next month, joined the four women who round out the City Council at the city’s 10th anniversary celebration at a local park a week ago.
Everything seemed rosy for the pre-adolescent city’s civic leaders. On a night filled with music, food and smiles, Boria told the crowd what he thinks about his community.
“In Doral, we are a family,” he said, to applause.
But every family has its dysfunction, and Doral is no different.
Boria’s first 11 months at the helm have come with political scandal, bitter feuds on the dais and questions about the first-time mayor’s ability to lead.
Just last week, Doral police arrested Juan Carlos Tovar, a former business partner of Boria’s grown children. Tovar was charged with lying to police about an alleged altercation with City Manager Joe Carollo at City Hall in September. Surveillance video showed no physical tussle.
And even though city residents are enjoying low taxes, steady growth and a strong parks system, Doral’s reputation suffers.
Councilwoman Ana María Rodríguez put it bluntly.
“Now when you say Doral, we’re the laughingstock of cities,” she said.
The most recent wave of controversy culminated Wednesday, when Boria failed to run City Manager Joe Carollo out of town and instead saw a majority of the council give the manager a vote of confidence.
Carollo, a former Miami mayor and commissioner, was hand-picked by Boria in January to fill the manager’s seat, where he has generally earned the praises of his council and staff — but not without some his trademark outspoken manner.
Boria has levied public criticisms at Carollo in recent weeks, calling his behavior unprofessional and erratic.
Carollo, grateful for the vote of confidence, assured that he won’t respond to pressures from the mayor and has even promised to reveal some damning information about Boria at special council meeting this week.
Boria emphatically asserted he will defend himself after Carollo implied a possible federal investigation may be coming.
“I will spend every penny I have to protect my integrity,” Boria said at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Don’t threaten me with your money,” deadpanned Carollo.
Boria has had three city managers during his tenure. Yvonne Soler-McKinley resigned shortly after Boria was sworn in. Then came Merrett Stierheim, a veteran in county and municipal administration, who was replaced by Carollo.
The relationship between Boria and Carollo started to fray during the summer, when Boria’s children sold their shares of a company they owned with their partner, Tovar. The sale happened amid concerns the mayor may have a conflict of interest, as the project was financed with millions of dollars Boria had gifted to his children. Boria recused himself from votes regarding the matter.
The mayor has insisted his problems with Carollo have nothing to do with Tovar.
“I don’t have any personal issues,” he said. “It’s about conduct and behavior.”
Vice-Mayor Bettina Rodríguez-Aguilera praised Carollo for building a strong team of department heads and for his work on the budget.