For more than two years now, Miami’s volatile city government has been remarkably tranquil under top administrator Daniel Alfonso.
A city not so long ago in financial crisis is now flush with cash. A high-profile dispute with the U.S. Department of Justice over police shootings ended weeks ago with nary a slap on the wrist. And a City Hall that seemed to burn through senior officials like Spinal Tap drummers took on a semblance of stability.
But Miami’s political nature leans toward turbulence. And on Thursday, commissioners made clear that Alfonso shouldn’t get too comfortable when during an emotional morning they nearly moved to fire him.
Mr. Manager, this is your come-to-Jesus moment with this commission
Commissioner Ken Russell
“Mr. Manager, this is your come-to-Jesus moment with this commission,” said Commissioner Ken Russell.
The unsuccessful push to fire Alfonso — whose tug-of-war with commissioners seemed to be coming to a head in recent months — began Thursday morning when a large group of protestors filed into City Hall to demand that Alfonso take back his recent firing of the manager of the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
Alfonso’s quick trigger in firing Sandy Dorsainvil last week caused a tempest in the tight-knit community, which quickly organized and planned to fight for her reinstatement. Angry over her sudden removal — and Alfonso’s unwillingness to explicitly explain the reason she was let go amid a yet-to-be-released audit of the center — her supporters demanded again and again Thursday that Alfonso return her to her position.
“This action breaks trust with us. This action breaks faith with this Haitian community,” said Gepsie Metellus, executive director of the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center.
When Alfonso refused, commission chairman Keon Hardemon, who’d just announced that he’d hired Dorsainvil to his office staff, walked off the dais with tears in his eyes. Someone in the audience began to cry, and then State Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, began yelling “Fire him!” in a clear reference to Alfonso.
Commissioner Keon Hardemon, on how the manager handled the firing of Sandy Dorsainvil
Moments later, as protestors filed out of City Hall chanting “No justice, no peace!” Hardemon returned and suddenly moved to fire Alfonso. Commissioner Frank Carollo, a frequent critic of the city manager, seconded the motion, setting the stage for a vote.
“When I hear the deaf ear of a manager who wouldn’t consider the community’s outcries in the face of the issues the Little Haiti community is going through, I’m appalled,” said Hardemon.
As Hardemon stewed over Dorsainvil’s firing, Carollo and Commissioner Francis Suarez vented about Alfonso’s recent decision not to open a new artificial-turf covered park on Virginia Key by a March deadline the commission set a year ago. They acknowledged Alfonso’s exemplary handling of the city’s finances, but also criticized him for focusing too much on money and not enough on relations with the community. They said they felt Alfonso has too often ignored their directives or failed to consult them on important issues.
At one point, in what seemed a clear slap at Alfonso, Suarez indicated he planned to give Dorsainvil a commission commendation for her job running the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
But though it seemed a majority of the commission might be willing to fire Alfonso, Mayor Tomás Regalado said he’d veto any vote to do so. City Attorney Victoria Méndez told commissioners they needed four votes to do so. And commissioners Wifredo “Willy” Gort and Russell said they weren’t ready to get rid of the manager, leading Hardemon to rescind his motion.
I expect one day I will be sitting in this chair and the commission will be terminating my services
City Manager Daniel Alfonso
Alfonso, who over the summer avoided a move to take his job, didn’t speak after commissioners declared the vote on his employment a no-go. But he said earlier, before it became clear that his job was on the line, that he’d taken the decision to fire Dorsainvil seriously.
“Whenever I make a decision to terminate somebody, I fully understand the ramifications, as I expect one day I will be sitting in this chair and the commission will be terminating my services,” he said. “Because it is the thing that happens to all city managers.”