The Doral council on Wednesday passed a controversial item that would have the city’s taxpayers pay for the legal defense of public officials in “ethical matters.”
The ordinance, named “Defense of Officials in Ethical Matters,” provides a way for council members to recover legal costs in instances of “malicious, frivolous, or groundless complaints.”
The item was originally to be heard at the council’s Aug. 18 special meeting, which was called with less than 24-hour notice. Per the city’s charter, the council has to give at least 48-hour notice for public hearings, unless the council has to address an “emergency affecting life, health, property or the public peace.”
The item was pulled after council determined that it did not meet those conditions.
Several residents at the Wednesday night meeting spoke against the item. Felipe E. Madrigal accused council members of having ongoing investigations with the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission and state attorney’s office.
“You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” said Councilman Pete Cabrera, and named Madrigal as the source of many of the “frivolous” complaints. “They have all been dismissed without basis. In fact, one was dismissed today.”
The Ethics Commission on Wednesday announced it dismissed a complaint Madrigal filed against Mayor Luigi Boria for violating the “Truth in Government” section of the charter, when Boria claimed that no public funds would be used to fund the Miss Universe Pageant in January.
Cabrera went on to say that these complaints waste city resources.
“It’s not fair that I have to take my resources and my time to pay for something when someone just has a political motivation,” Cabrera said.
As recently as last month, both Boria and Vice Mayor Sandra Ruiz had ongoing investigations related to alleged campaign violations in the 2012 election, according to the state attorney’s office. Doral also has an ongoing case with former City Manager Joe Carollo, which they are fighting on appeal. Carollo alleges several ethical violations by council members.
The item’s language makes it so that the city can apply this ordinance retroactively to cases that are still ongoing.
“It gives me such a creepy feeling to see this sitting in front of us today,” Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez said. “To me, this ordinance gives all of us all carte blanche to do whatever we want, be it ethical or unethical, and the taxpayers of Doral will have to pay for our unethical behavior.”
The rest of the council was quick to point out during Rodriguez’s comments that if a city official is adjudicated guilty of a crime, they will have to pay for their own legal costs.
Ultimately, the item passed on first reading by a vote of 3-1. Councilwoman Christi Fraga was out sick Wednesday, but has expressed opposition to the item.
▪ Economic Development and International Trade: This item was also pulled from the Aug. 18 special meeting. The item would create a mechanism for private-sector entities to donate to a “travel fund” for public officials to participate in trade missions. Ruiz and Rodriguez both expressed concern regarding the ability of outside agencies to “curry favor” with council members. The council decided to table the item to the next regular council meeting so that Fraga could vote and speak on the issue.
▪ Property tax rate: At Tuesday’s budget hearing, the council voted 4-1 to approve the proposed tax rate for property owners. The rate will remain where it has the past two years at $1.93 per $1,000 of taxable income. Though the tax rate has not changed, property values in Doral have gone up, so the amount paid in property taxes will go up about$4 to $6 per average home. The only dissenting opinion came from Boria, who was adamant that the council should reduce the tax rate — a departure from his stance last month, where he voted to move forward the proposed rate.
▪ 2015-16 budget: The council voted to approve the budget on first reading. The current version has the city dipping $18 million into its reserves to balance the budget for capital improvements. Fraga and Ruiz voted against it.
They said it
“This in no way gives carte blanche for anyone to just go out there do unethical things, so whoever is buying that, I advise you to beef up on your civics.“ – Vice Mayor Sandra Ruiz, in reference to the “Defense of Officials in Ethical Matters” item.
You said it
“We need more people to concentrate on what the residents need. You need to start listening to the voices because I guarantee you, you’ll be listening to their votes.” – Claudia Mariaca, a Doral resident who is part of a First Amendment lawsuit against the city that was filed Wednesday afternoon.