After Joe Carollo was fired as Doral’s city manager last week, the city’s image took a beating as another flurry of infighting and unsubstantiated accusations emerged.
This time, Vice Mayor Christi Fraga, who led the charge to dismiss Carollo, an outspoken former Miami mayor, is blaming him for creating a “toxic environment” in City Hall that has driven away 20 employees during the last year, including some department directors.
For his part, Carollo has said employees left because the city couldn’t afford to pay competitive salaries, many found better job opportunities elsewhere and constant political instability on the City Council made their work difficult.
Records obtained by the Miami Herald show that 20 high-level employees have left the city, but not all for the same reasons or under the same circumstances. Some left for higher-paying jobs in other cities or better professional opportunities, according to their exit surveys and resignation letters.
For example, after former Doral City Attorney Jimmy Morales became Miami Beach’s city manager in April 2013, he recruited some Doral directors to join him. Wanting to be closer to home, former Doral public works director Eric Carpenter left that month to direct public works in the Beach. Former assistant city manager Mark Taxis left to take a similar post in the Beach.
Some of the exit forms for the 20 employees note that Doral offers lower pay and benefits than other cities. Others cited medical reasons or retirement for leaving.
One of the more recent and notable departures was Nathan Kogon, who had been Doral’s planning and zoning director for nine years. He resigned in February to take a job as assistant director of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources.
He could have been Carollo’s successor, as Mayor Luigi Boria met with him to make the offer last week. After leaning toward accepting, Kogon pulled back.
Kogon told the Miami Herald that while Doral’s day-to-day operations are run by a talented staff, the welcomed challenges at his new job and the volatile politics on the Doral City Council swayed him to stay put.
“With the political influences and the infighting, I felt that I would not be able to administer in a way that I thought would be appropriate,” he said.
He worried that anyone who sits in the manager’s seat will have the same issues with the manager’s bosses — the five members of the City Council.
“I don’t think the council as a whole really understands their role as policy makers,” Kogon said. “Council decides what that boat looks like and where it’s going to go. The city manager pilots that ship. He will make sure it’s well oiled, make sure it stays afloat. What the council wants to do is they want to decide where the boat goes and drive that ship, but they don’t know how to drive that ship.”
He echoed a glowing endorsement for Carollo from his resignation letter when saying he enjoyed a good working relationship with the manager.
On Thursday, Fraga said the manager was responsible for keeping staff members regardless of the circumstances and that the departures reflect poorly on the city and his performance. She added that much of the instability came from the tension between Boria and Carollo.
“It was known that most of them felt the instability,” she said. “You had a mayor who was trying to fire the manager whenever he had a chance.”
Because of the rocky relations, she said one of them had to go.
“And if I can’t get rid of one of them, I’m going to get rid of the other,” she said.
Carollo maintained he constantly protected his directors from improper influence from council members, even if he had to pay for it later with his job.
Boria has remained generally silent since Carollo’s firing, only saying he’s looking forward to a brighter future in Doral as the city solicits candidates for the next manager.
This latest chapter in Doral’s ongoing political drama is set against a backdrop of dysfunction in City Hall over the last year — including accusations and insults hurled across the dais during daylong council meetings; the unexpected dismissal of former City Attorney John Herin; a previous attempt to remove Carollo; and controversy about a real estate deal involving land formerly owned by Boria’s children.
In a city of about 50,000 residents with low property taxes, lush parks and a burgeoning business community, political turmoil has often taken center stage. At the center of Doral’s political mess was the deterioration of the friendship — and working relationship — between Boria and Carollo.
In January 2013, Boria sent shockwaves through South Florida political circles when he hand-picked Carollo, a former Miami mayor and commissioner known for his outspoken manner, to be Doral’s top administrator. Carollo had advised Boria during part of his mayoral campaign in 2012.
The nomination was met with unanimous approval from the City Council, thrusting Carollo back into public service as a first-time city manager.
But it didn’t take long for the relationship to sour.
Amid widespread criticism over his financial role in a real estate project that had been partly owned by his children, the friendship unraveled. (The county ethics commission eventually found Boria could not vote on the matter but had not violated the ethics code.) Boria unexpectedly moved to fire Carollo in October but the votes weren’t there. Fraga and councilwomen Bettina Rodríguez-Aguilera and Ana Maria Rodríguez instead gave Carollo a vote of confidence and urged him to speak his piece.
At a subsequent meeting, Carollo was given time to air out accusations of impropriety against Boria related to his children’s project and alleged illegal campaign contributions.
Since his firing, Carollo has taken to the microphones again to criticize Boria in the Spanish-language media for the mayor’s alleged connections to the Venezuelan government through business clients who profited from government agencies.
When asked about why he’s choosing to share this information publicly now, Carollo said watchdogs in the media and the government have not done their jobs.
“The two pillars of democracy are an investigative media and, on the other hand, an investigative governmental body,” he said. “When they start crumbling, you see corruption.”