West Miami-Dade


Rival says Sweetwater mayor is misusing authority


Special to the Miami Herald

Sweetwater City Commission Vice President Orlando Lopez says current Mayor Jose Diaz is misusing his authority. But Diaz said Lopez is just playing politics.

On May 14, Lopez called for an "emergency meeting" asking the commission to appoint an independent investigator to look into the mayor’s actions. However, the commission did not approve his suggestion.

Unlike most small cities, Sweetwater has a strong-mayor system, in which the mayor is chief executive of city government.

Lopez and Diaz are both running for mayor in next year’s election. Community activist Deborah Centeno has also stated she will be part of the contest.

“These are not political moves on my part,” Lopez said after the meeting. “Look outside the box and think about all the actions the mayor has done. It is not a political move. It is just that little by little, when you have water coming into a glass, eventually it’s just a drop and a drop and a drop and it fills up the glass. It [spills over] and enough is enough.”

According to Lopez, Diaz has used his power to intimidate a local business owner. Recently, the city cited the Finish Line gas station, at 10900 W. Flagler St., for violating a city rule that prohibits storage of rental trucks. Lopez says the move was payback because Finish Line owner Tony Cuevas has allowed Lopez to place his campaign signs on the site. Lopez has been posting his signs in the city since last November.

But, Diaz, who smiled at times during the special meeting, said Lopez is using his position for his campaign's advantage.

“He is not going to win, and ... the signs don’t win any election, nor bumper stickers,” Diaz said. “Have you seen my signs? I have money enough to cover the city with signs. I think it’s detrimental to the city.”

Code compliance supervisor Jorge Vega has said that posting the signs around the city this early doesn’t violate Sweetwater’s code.

Last August, Diaz took over as mayor after former mayor Manny Maroño was arrested by the FBI on bribery charges and was later suspended by Gov. Rick Scott. Maroño is now serving time in prison.

Lopez questioned the Finish Line citation.

“My question now is, ‘if he has had the rental trucks for over 20 years, why the enforcement today?’ ” he said. “Is it being fueled [because] he has my sign on the corner?”

Cuevas said he is afraid the city will continue to come after him.

“I am in fear of conducting business,” he said outside the commission chambers.

The City Commission’s president Jose Bergouignan said Lopez didn’t have grounds to call an emergency meeting.

“For you to call an emergency meeting for a bunch of gossip,” he said. “You don’t have anything in writing. These are political problems.”

Lopez also complained about the mayor’s recent decision to fire several department managers.

But Diaz said Lopez is bringing issues from the past and wants to move forward.

Although the commission didn’t support Lopez’s suggestion, he said he was going to file a complaint to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.

Diaz said he would consider filing a complaint against Lopez for bringing unfounded allegations.

Read more West Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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