In a move that sent shockwaves through political corridors, Doral Mayor Luigi Boria’s nomination of former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo as the new city manager Wednesday night was unanimously accepted by the five-member council, with brief discussion.
Carollo, a political lightening rod who has not held office since a failed reelection bid in 2001, replaces Merrett Stierheim, who resigned abruptly only a few hours before the announcement. Stierheim was hired as the city’s interim manager last month after Yvonne Soler-McKinley resigned.
Stierheim’s mission: To lead the search for a full-time manager, and help in the transition.
In his resignation letter, Stierheim said he “played no role whatsoever” in the selection process, “nor was I aware of it.” Reached later he called the appointment of the quick-tempered and often bombastic former public servant “a terrible decision.”
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Boria’s announcing of Carollo’s nomination came shortly after the 6 p.m. city council meeting began. Most of the 200 or so in attendance sat quietly and listened intently. A brief discussion ensued in which Vice Mayor Sandra Ruiz questioned the wisdom of hiring a new manager without a search, but in the end the five-member council voted together for the Carollo appointment.
Carollo, who is expected to sign a contract and begin work Thursday will earn $144,000 a year in salary, plus benefits. He will oversee a staff of 277 workers.
A short while after his successful nomination, Boria presided over a hastily-called press conference in a small room outside the City Hall chamber. Carollo was absent. The mayor read off the highlights of Carollo’s resumé, but refused to answer any questions posited by the media about his new city manager’s past.
“Carollo was always here,” said Boria, a former councilman who won the mayoral run-off in November. “He was always helping and giving me ideas. Remember I am not a career politician. I am just a business owner. I need somebody who really has expertise in that arena and I am open to receive advice.”
Reached at home after the announcement, Carollo said he will gladly fill the position, and will not accept any type of severance in his contract. He wouldn’t go into specifics about what his plans are for the city. The new manager said he has been doing government consulting work, but refused to say for whom.
“I know how both the mayor and the council members feel, and what to expect from the other side,” said Carollo. “I think that gives me a great advantage.”
Asked if he will move to Doral, Carollo said selling his Miami home would be difficult, and besides he said, “the city manager’s job is probably the most unstable in the whole country.”
Carollo was offered the same position when Soler-McKinley resigned in December, but declined.
It was not until late Tuesday and early Wednesday that rumors began to circulate of Carollo’s possible nomination – a move that would have him back serving the public after an 11-year absence.
In recent weeks Carollo was seen visiting the Boria home for lunch. The family has the tradition of eating together every day. Carollo has also sat in on Boria’s media interviews and keeps track of his schedule, reminding Boria of upcoming appointments. The two also share a spiritual bond: They go to the Alpha and Omega Christian church in southwest Miami-Dade.
Carollo was instrumental in Stierheim’s interim appointment last month, visiting the Stierheim home with Boria to entice the former county manager to oversee the city during what was expected to be a difficult transition.
He was mostly absent from public view until early 2010, reemerging in time to bash old political foe Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado’s fundraising tactics, and later taking his concerns to the airwaves. Last year Carollo publicly supported Rod Vereen’s failed attempt to oust Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, mostly bashing the state attorney for ignoring perceived wrongdoings by Regalado, Carollo’s long-time political foe.
Carollo is responsible for one of the greatest coup attempts in Miami political history: In 1983 as a Miami commissioner he denounced mayoral candidate Maurice Ferré in a press conference – that Ferré called to publicize Carollo’s endorsement. Ferré still won the election.
Carollo rocketed to prominence in the early 1980s as a Miami commissioner, finally winning the mayor’s seat he had so coveted in a 1997 race. He actually lost the vote to popular incumbent Xavier Suarez, but was able to move into City Hall after a successfully arguing the election was tainted by ballot fraud.
His four years in the mayor’s office were rocky. Fights were constant with Regalado and former Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. At one point Teele and Carollo got into a physical confrontation in a corridor of City Hall as a meeting was taking place. As mayor of Miami during the Elian Gonzalez affair, Carollo fired his police chief for not informing him of the federal raid at the family’s Little Havana home ahead of time.
Carollo was arrested shortly before leaving office in 2001 for throwing a cardboard tea canister that hit his wife Mari in the head. The charges were later dropped, and the two divorced.
Despite all the fiascos, Carollo has never been implicated in political wrongdoing. He earned credit in helping Miami become solvent after the city’s finances were handed to a state oversight board when it was discovered it had been operating in a $68 million hole. Carollo also managed to stay unscathed during one of Miami’s darkest scandals, Operation Greenpalm. Off to prison for bribery and other charges in an undercover police sting in 1996 were the city manager, a commissioner, and a top financial manager.