Eight months, 60 candidates and dozens of interviews later, Miami Beach finally has a new city manager.
Miami Beach native Jimmy Morales was voted into the position Wednesday with a unanimous vote by city commissioners.
“I’m not here as a politician. I hope to be a very solid administrator,” Morales told commissioners.
He cried as he recalled growing up on Miami Beach, and lamented that his dad isn’t around to see him become the city’s top administrator.
“I’m a little emotional. This place is very special to me, Morales told commissioners, sniffling.
Commissioners on Wednesday agreed in principle to a two-year contract with Morales, who will be paid $255,000 — on-par with the city’s attorney. He’ll get 20-week severance pay, in accordance with state law. The city will pay his insurance costs and give Morales a car allowance, among other perks.
A written agreement still needs to be drawn up by the city attorney.
Morales starts April 1.
A graduate of Miami Beach High and Harvard, Morales is a former Miami-Dade County commissioner and current city attorney for Doral. He has no previous experience leading a city.
Morales earned a reputation as a reformer during his time in county government, leading the way for the creation of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, and to afford discrimination protection for gays.
Morales served as a special master for Miami Beach from 2005 to 2007. He also was a registered lobbyist with the city from 2006 to 2011. Among his clients: hotels such as the Loews, Ritz Carlton and Fontainebleau; the Smith & Wollensky restaurant; and others.
Miami Beach has been without a top administrator since July, when Jorge Gonzalez was forced out of the position amid high-profile public corruption arrests in the city. Gonzalez was never implicated in any of the hanky-panky and reported some of the wrong-doing to authorities himself.
Morales takes the helm of the city at a crucial time: Miami Beach is winding down its search for a team to complete an up to $1 billion overhaul of the city’s convention center. He’ll also be tasked with restoring residents’ faith in a city government that is openly derided as corrupt.
“You are going to be rebuilding the city of Miami Beach during a very difficult time,” Vice Mayor Michael Góngora told Morales.
Frank Rollason, a long-time city of Miami administrator, also was a finalist for the job. A third candidate, Assistant to the Broward County Administrator Monica Cepero, dropped out of the running in late February.
Miami Beach has a city manager/commission form of government, meaning that the elected officials set policy and the city manager is responsible for implementing it, as well as running the day-to-day functions of the city.