Miami mayoral candidate Suarez fires city staffer who bashed constituents on Twitter

08/14/2013 5:13 PM

08/14/2013 9:11 PM

Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez on Wednesday fired a staffer who griped about constituents on Twitter, a day after maintaining that the apologetic aide would keep her job.

Christina Haramboure, a 24-year-old special aide and administrative assistant, tweeted about her dislike of constituents for more than a year, dispatching a series of particularly offensive posts Monday in which she suggested some constituents should get “a lobotomy.”

“I want to first apologize to the residents of District 4 for the inappropriate and clearly offensive comments made by my commission aide,” Suarez said in a statement announcing Haramboure’s termination Wednesday afternoon.

“Her tweets are unacceptable and are in no way a reflection of the culture within my commission office, and furthermore there is no justification for the disturbing things that she posted.”

Among the tweets posted to her personal @ChristinaHam account, which has since been deleted, Haramboure hurled what many Spanish speakers consider a racially tinged insult: tira flecha.

The phrase, which translates to “arrow thrower,” is a Miami-centric slur most commonly directed by people of Cuban descent toward Central and South Americans. It is also less commonly used to refer to an ignoramus.

What Haramboure meant by her use of the phrase is unclear. She did not respond to a reporter’s email asking about it.

“I guess someone has to like tira flechas....#quepena,” she tweeted July 12, 2012 at 1:10 a.m., about the time she was complaining about her noisy neighbors.

Qué pena is Spanish for how embarrassing.

Haramboure shut down her account Tuesday after reporters from the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald contacted her and Suarez about her tweets bashing “angryoldpeople” and criticizing a city resident who complained about garbage service.

“I regret the Twitter postings and I apologize to anyone I may have hurt,” Haramboure said in an email Tuesday about the constituent-bashing tweets.

Suarez said at the time that she offered to resign, but he kept her on because she does good work and this was a “mistake.” Haramboure began working for Suarez in 2011 and received an annual salary of $31,000.

“This has come to light now because I’m in a political election,” Suarez said Tuesday.

But the commissioner, who faces incumbent Tomás Regalado in the city’s November mayoral contest, changed his mind about Haramboure on Wednesday.

“I have terminated her employment with my office,” Suarez said in the statement. “This incident does not reflect my track record or how I have served the residents of District 4. Our office will continue to serve District 4 with utmost integrity while placing constituents first.”

Regalado said Wednesday that Suarez should have dismissed Haramboure a day earlier.

“I think he showed a lack of leadership, because he should have fired her immediately,” he said. “It was a long-held pattern — not a bad day she had, not a mistake.”

Of the tira flecha phrase, he added: “It’s completely racist.”

“That required an immediate reaction. It’s unacceptable,” he added.The mayor acknowledged that the city, which unlike many private-sector companies does not have a social-media policy for its employees, should adopt one. Other governments, including Miami-Dade County, the city of Hialeah and the Miami-Dade school district, have written guidelines on using popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The city of Miami’s social-media pages are managed by staffers in the office of communications, without any set rules.

The county government does not allow employees to use their work email for personal social media. It also limits the use of social-media sites during business hours to business purposes.

Miami-Dade demoted a fire captain last year after he posted a Facebook rant on his personal profile about the shooting death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin. An arbitrator ruled this year that the county had overstepped its bounds and ordered that the captain’s rank and pay be restored.

Hialeah adopted its guidelines after a controversy erupted last year in which the vice president of the city’s firefighters union was suspended without pay for two days over Facebook pictures on his personal profile that the city deemed inappropriate. The firefighter called the move political retaliation for his vocal opposition of the mayor.

The policy helps establish expectations for future behavior, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez said Wednesday.

“It’s important to have policies so there is no gray area, no confusion,” he said. “Everyone knows exactly what the policy is, and everyone is forewarned before something happens.”

The Hialeah policy emphasizes common sense.

“Ultimately, you are solely responsible for what you post online,” it says. “Consider how the content posted may affect your relationship with your job, fellow workers, reputation, and/or goodwill in the community.”

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