Doral’s city manager last week called a special council meeting that upset several residents who say they weren’t given 48 hours legal notice, as per the city charter.
One item on the emergency agenda: Whether Doral should pay legal fees for council members accused of ethics violations.
According to the city charter, special meetings should be called with “no less than 48 hours' notice to each member and the public, or such shorter time as a majority of the Council shall deem necessary in case of an emergency affecting life, health, property or the public peace.”
City Manager Edward Rojas called the meeting with less than 24 hours notice. The emergency agenda featured three items:
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▪ Legal expenses: A “Defense of Public Officials in Ethics Matters” ordinance would have the city pay legal expenses for any official who becomes part of an ethics complaint in the course of their employment or office. This item was placed at a time when four of the five city council members find themselves embroiled in ethics investigations and lawsuits.
Mayor Luigi Boria, Vice Mayor Sandra Ruiz, and Councilwoman Christi Fraga are co-defendants in a lawsuit against former City Manager Joe Carollo, who was fired by the council during a special meeting in 2013 to evaluate his administrative performance. Also, Councilman Pete Cabrera has been sued by former City Clerk Barbara Herrera, who alleges that he discriminated against her in the workplace and had her fired.
▪ Economic development and trade: This item would establish an Economic Development and International Trade Travel Program aimed at building relationships with domestic and international cities, to “promote the city of Doral as a global gateway and a prime location to establish and/or relocate businesses from a variety of industries, through coordinated trade missions.”
Early in the meeting, the council unanimously voted to defer these two agenda items, agreeing they were not emergencies and not permissible for a special meeting, as per the city charter.
▪ Police sub-station: The only agenda item to be discussed involved emergency approval of a conceptual plan for a new police station on Northwest 97th Avenue. City Attorney Dan Espino told the council that the plan had been deferred several times and now had to be approved immediately or the city risked losing its state lease for the property. The council voted unanimously to approve the plan.
Usually, public comments are held at the beginning of every Doral council meeting, to allow residents and others to address the concerns on a variety of issues. At the start of this meeting, however, Boria moved public commenting to the end of the meeting.
On Tuesday, Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez said she disagreed with Boria’s decision to change the order, but that he was within his rights to do so. “The mayor is the chair of the meeting, so he has the right to change the order if he wants,” Rodriguez said. “Is it the right thing to do? I would say no. ... It gives me the same feeling of uneasiness that residents feel.”
Residents Norberto Spangaro and Claudia Mariaca each questioned whether proper notice had been given to the public for the special meeting, in accordance with the Doral city charter.
As they each spoke, Cabrera attempted to shout them down, calling their remarks “out of order.” He told both residents they must limit their comments to discussion about the police station.
Mariaca continued to discuss the legality of the emergency meeting and Ruiz asked the council’s sergeant-at-arms to remove her from the chamber. The council then backed off asking her to leave.
“I’m very concerned about how these meetings are being called and how decisions are being made,” Mariaca told the Miami Herald after the meeting.
She described the special meeting as the city council “trying to pull a fast one” on residents.