In a shouting match at Miami Beach City Hall last week, Commissioner Michael Grieco told his city aide that she would lose her job if she refused to take a leave of absence and work for his mayoral campaign, according to a written account of their confrontation.
Grieco was “cursing loudly during the meeting,” according to a memo written by Elizabeth Wheaton, Mayor Philip Levine’s chief of staff.
The teary-eyed aide, Danila Bonini, had asked to meet with Wheaton even before the fight took place Wednesday morning, the memo says. After the confrontation with Grieco, Bonini again sought out Wheaton and said she liked her city job and wanted to keep it.
“She is concerned about losing her job if she does not go to work on his campaign full time,” wrote Wheaton, who oversees commission aides. “She stated that he has threatened to ‘get rid of his commissioner aide position’ if she does not leave willingly.”
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Bonini also described Grieco as “unstable,” according to the memo.
In a written statement to the Herald, Grieco did not directly address whether he and Bonini had argued.
But he called the memo “election-year nonsense” and said Bonini was “great” at her job.
“I cannot fire [her] nor would I ever ask for that to happen,” he wrote.
In a follow-up phone-call, Grieco said he and Bonini may have had a discussion that was overhead by others.
“Realistically, I have disagreements with city staff probably every week,” he said. “A lot of times I raise my voice on purpose so people will hear us.”
Wheaton’s written description of the incident was confirmed to the Herald by another City Hall employee who overhead the exchange while working in the cramped office-space shared by commissioners.
The confrontation was audible to commission staff in part because Grieco took his door off its hinges after being elected in 2013. The open-door policy was meant to encourage constituents to come visit.
Grieco is locked in a battle for mayor with former state Sen. Dan Gelber. The Beach mayor’s chair has lately become one of the highest-profile political seats in Miami-Dade County. During a contentious campaign, Gelber and Grieco have accused each other of unethical behavior. Last month, a series of Herald stories about Grieco’s undisclosed ties to an outside political fund-raising group led the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office to open an investigation.
The election is Nov. 7.
Reached by the Herald Tuesday morning, Bonini declined to comment. She said she was not aware of the memo and wouldn’t discuss its accuracy. “You understand the position I’m in,” she said.
A City Hall source said Bonini had not filed a complaint with human resources.
Grieco denied cursing or yelling at his aide, and said he never discusses campaign work with staff in City Hall or on city time. He said he did not remember what he and Bonini talked about Wednesday.
“The only people asserting there was a shouting match are people who don’t want me in City Hall and they will do everything they can to make that a reality,” he said.
On Friday, Wheaton emailed the memo to her boss, Levine — a Grieco foe — and several other officials, including the city attorney, manager and human resources director.
Each commissioner is assigned one aide. The aides are jacks-of-all-trades who coordinate schedules, serve as policy advisors, deal with constituents and handle communications. But commissioners cannot fire their own aides. Only the mayor has hiring and firing power over aides, who are political appointees. However, Grieco could ask the mayor to fire his aide. He could also say he no longer needs one. In that case, Bonini could be reassigned to another position. She makes roughly $69,000 a year and has worked at City Hall since 2013. She previously worked as a paralegal at Grieco’s law firm.
Another issue raised in Wheaton’s memo: the possibility that Bonini is working for Grieco’s campaign on city time, something Grieco says is not true.
Bonini “often comes to the office very late, leaves early or is out for large periods of the day,” the memo says.
Miami Beach policy prohibits municipal workers from campaigning during office hours. Wheaton wrote that she reminded Bonini of those rules during their meeting.
In a Tuesday interview, Wheaton said she had no evidence that Bonini was working for Grieco’s campaign inappropriately. She forwarded the memo to reporters at the Herald’s request after rumors of the fight began leaking out from City Hall.
‘Don’t rock the boat’
The confrontation between Grieco and Bonini happened around 10 a.m., according to a City Hall employee who said he heard the commissioner repeatedly tell his aide to “shut the [f---] up.”
“They were both shouting, but she was more calm,” said the source, who asked not to be identified speaking about a commissioner.
Grieco also told Bonini, “ ‘You don’t rock the boat when it’s taking on water,’ ” the person said.
One source of trouble for Grieco’s campaign: People for Better Leaders, a political action committee now under investigation by Miami-Dade public-corruption prosecutors.
For months, the commissioner denied ties to the group.
But two forensic handwriting experts — one retained by Gelber and one by the Herald — concluded Grieco himself filled out some of the group’s campaign paperwork. After the Herald stories appeared, Brian Abraham, the chairman of People for Better Leaders and Grieco’s friend, said the group would shut down and refund contributions, something it has yet to do.