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Despite commission vote, South Miami manager won’t fire police chief

Commissioner Valerie Newman attacks Mayor Philip Stoddard as South Miami commissioners terminated City Manager Hector Mirabile Friday.
Commissioner Valerie Newman attacks Mayor Philip Stoddard as South Miami commissioners terminated City Manager Hector Mirabile Friday.

South Miami commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday to send a message to the city’s new interim city manager — we can’t fire the police chief, but if we could, we would.

Commissioner Bob Welsh introduced the resolution, which passed 3-2. Vice Mayor Joshua Liebman and Commissioner Valerie Newman were the dissenting votes. This was the first commission meeting for interim city manager Steven Alexander, the former city manager of Cutler Bay, who is vying for the manager job at Miami Beach.

“I am the only person who can fire or hire the chief,” Alexander said Friday. “If the commission would have directed me to fire the chief, it would have been a violation of the charter.”

The resolution “was intended as a message, but it’s clearly not a direction,” he added.

Alexander said he did not have a “reason at this point to suspend” the chief. Meanwhile, Newman described the resolution as an “assault” on the chief. And she accused Welsh of trying to “micromanage” the city.

“When a vote of no confidence is brought against a police chief, it’s generally the police officers that do this through the” Police Benevolent Association, Newman said. “It is not in the commission’s place.”

South Miami’s PBA representative, Officer Jose Lopez, said that’s unlikely to happen. The union endorsed Liebman and Newman, and recognized Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro with its leadership award May 19, 2012.

Commissioners “have been hurting the police department,” Lopez said. “Something like that would hurt the city.”

Welsh, also known as Bicycle Bob, believes that it is in the best interest of the city to hire a police chief “who is more frugal” and “ethical.” He said his mistrust started when he found out Martinez de Castro was a good friend of Camilo Padreda, a convicted felon and former FBI informant.

As the former president of the Latin Builder’s Association and the former Republican Party finance chairman, records show Padreda has been involved in U.S. politics since the 1960s.

Before leaving Cuba, Padreda “was a member of Fulgencio Batista’s Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities,” Welsh said Thursday. “You don’t want to be associated with him -- and they are close friends.”

In South Miami, Padreda has supported Mayor Philip Stoddard’s opponents Julio Robaina and Newman.

Martinez de Castro believes Stoddard’s mistrust is linked to a Jan. 15, 2012, incident when a resident called police to complain about a Stoddard campaign volunteer “soliciting” door-to-door. The 911 dispatcher sent officers to the area, because she understood that soliciting was not allowed in the city. Stoddard complained.

“He is exercising his First Amendment right. Since when is South Miami not part of the United States?” Stoddard said to the 911 dispatcher. Political campaigning is “guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

After auditing records, Stoddard published his findings in his blog and has been complaining that city staff skipped a few steps when the state forfeiture account was used.

“This is about the chief’s failure to follow state forfeiture rules and his unethical behavior,” Stoddard said. “This is about him misusing his power.”

Martinez de Castro has not responded to any of the accusations in public meetings. He is also dealing with a pending case with The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust about the city doing business with his wife’s tag agency.

“I’m very proud of all that I have accomplished during my tenure. I have improved technology and given my officers everything they need to do their job,” Martinez de Castro said. “I know the city is safer. ... People were getting shot, and drug dealers were getting away before I came back” in 2010.

Martinez de Castro supporters in and out of City Hall include several restaurateurs in downtown South Miami and leadership from First National Bank of South Miami, Baptist Health South Florida and Larkin Community Hospital.

“Except for a handful, the community is very happy with the police department,” Liebman said. “This shouldn’t be happening. From a business standpoint the city stands to lose a lot of money, if he is fired. ... The truth is our constituents are losing confidence in the commission because of actions such as this.”

If Martinez de Castro was fired, the city would have to pay him at least $320,000.

In other business, commissioners authorized the city manager to buy a $13,500 Global Electric Motors vehicle for the parking management program, $2,500 in paint work for the Sylva Martin building renovation, $9,715 in software, and about $15,000 in athletic field products. Commissioners also approved renewing two grants with Miami-Dade — $26,775 for after-school tutoring and $18,400 for senior meals.