Sweetwater mayor and City Commission clash over personnel

07/10/2014 4:41 PM

07/10/2014 5:20 PM

Sweetwater Mayor Jose Diaz has vetoed a proposal that would have limited his control over personnel decisions.

The City Commission approved a measure last month that would have required commission approval before the mayor could hire an employee with a salary of more than $40,000 or give a raise in excess of 10 percent.

But the mayor vetoed the proposal, and on Monday, the City Commission attempted to override the mayor’s veto, but failed for lack of a fifth vote in favor. According to the City Charter, the commission may override a veto by a five-sevenths vote. But the vote to override was only 4-2. Commissioners Jose A. Bergouignan and Manuel Duasso voted against overriding the veto. Commissioner Prisca Barreto was absent.

Diaz said the measure would have encroached into his job.

“This type of action by the majority of the commission is improper,” Diaz said. “It is bad policy for the city. I don’t think you should have so much involvement in the administration.”

Sweetwater is one of the few South Florida cities in which the mayor serves as chief executive of the city government. In most other cities, the city commission hires a city manager to serve as chief executive, and the mayor serves as the chairman of the commission.

Also at the meeting, Diaz presented candidates for the director positions of the departments of finance and of parks and recreation. The City Charter requires approval of the commission for new department heads.

Diaz fired Luis Quintero as director of parks and recreation and Anny Chez as finance director back in May as part of his “Clean House” project.

He suggested Pablo Bermudez for director of parks and recreation and Lilliana Vargas for director of the finance department. The commission postponed action on the appointments.

Commissioner Orlando Lopez, who has stated he is running for mayor next year, said he didn’t feel comfortable hiring Bermudez and Vargas because he had not seen their job applications. Lopez said he had requested the résumés of those who had applied for the positions, but didn’t receive anything.

“It’s insulting that we request information from the city and we don’t get it,” Lopez said.

Commissioners Isolina Maroño and Jose Guerra also said they had requested additional information, but hadn’t received anything either.

The mayor’s acting chief of staff, Marcos Villanueva, who stepped into the position after serving as Sweetwater police lieutenant, said the city has been overwhelmed with requests for public records.

“There has been a bombardment of public records requests, of which I am at the mayor’s lead,” Villanueva said. “We have all the public records requests. The data is not complete because it is so much.”

Diaz said his administration isn’t holding anything back from commissioners.

“You ask for so many things,” he said. “If we have it, we give it to you.”

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