Boria struggles with role in Doral’s ‘weak mayor’ system

Doral Mayor Luigi Boria was handed one defeat after the next at a 71/2-hour City Council meeting Wednesday night, until he finally just slammed down his gavel and stormed out of the council chamber.

He asked to keep the current vice mayor in place for another year. He wanted to hire a mayoral chief of staff at his own expense. He tried to kick the city manager out of the council chambers. All his proposals were defeated.

Meanwhile, Boria complained that no one on city staff has been listening to him.

“Right now, I’m not getting any support from any department,” he said. “Nobody wants to talk to me.”

In each case, the mayor was looking for the kind of support that any chief executive might expect.

The problem: As with most South Florida cities, Doral’s mayor is not a chief executive. Or any kind of executive. The mayor is the chairman of the City Council. He has the same single vote as the other four members. To lead, he has to persuade, not issue commands.

According to the City Charter, the mayor and other council members can ask questions of city employees, but can’t “give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately.”

The council’s only employees are the city attorney, the city clerk and the city manager. The latter is the city’s top administrator.

The system is designed to insulate professional staff from politics, said George Gonzalez, a political science professor at the University of Miami.

“The idea is that good government flows from appointed positions,” Gonzalez said, adding that the council-manager system rose a century ago to create local governments where workers are selected more for their skills rather than for their connections.

“Government had to be more professionalized, and in order to do that, you have insulate it from corrupting politics,” he said.

The mayor, who runs a computer parts distribution company in his day job, says he understands this system, but Wednesday night’s meeting was the latest blowup between him and City Manager Joe Carollo over who’s in charge.

(Carollo is an example of a variation on the city-manager model that is common in South Florida but unusual elsewhere: administrators turning into politicians and vice-versa. Carollo is a former Miami mayor and city commissioner.)

One of Boria’s gripes Wednesday was that the city’s public relations staff didn’t listen to him.

“The people from the communications department — from public affairs — those people, I cannot count on them because they don’t listen to me because they don’t want to do anything.”

Lucy Tamajon, administrative assistant in the public affairs department, said Thursday the mayor has approached the department with requests without going through the city manager. She said any city employee would ask any council member if the manager has approved actions before doing them.

“If you’re going to do something,” she said, “you ask if there’s approval. [Boria] doesn’t want to do that. He wants to give orders to staff.”

On Thursday, Boria told the Herald that he felt like needed more support from the public affairs office, but denied giving orders to any city staff.

“Anytime any reporter or any TV media calls, they are supposed to organize my agenda,” he said. “They’re supposed to help the office of the mayor. Because of the manager having everything to do with them, I can’t ever interact with them.”

Boria said Thursday he saw no problem with his decision to walk out on a meeting that still had two items left on the agenda.

“No, not for me, because I’m the mayor,” he said. “There were only two items left, and it was 1 a.m.”

The fireworks on Wednesday started earlier in the night, as the council moved to elect a new vice-mayor. They picked first-term councilwoman Christi Fraga, 26, but not before Boria nominated then-vice-mayor Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera to remain in her post until March.

Rodriguez-Aguilera did not accept the move to extend her term, saying she’d prefer to follow the charter’s rule, which calls for election of the vice mayor in November.

In a unanimous vote, the council then picked Fraga.

After the mayor left, council member Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera proposed a motion to prevent the mayor from hiring his own chief of staff without going through proper city channels. It passed 3-1, with Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz dissenting.

Wednesday’s council meeting, which began at 6 p.m., finally ended at 1:41 a.m. on Thursday.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.