Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioner’s top aide also a partner in his business

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro speaks during a meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro speaks during a meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. EL Nuevo Herald File 2015

Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro’s chief of staff also works for a small water-meter firm Barreiro helped start three years ago, according to an Ethics Commission report released this week.

Loreta Sanchez, who last year earned $131,000 running Barreiro’s commission office, is also a shareholder of IUSA Water, a firm where Barreiro sells water meters to apartment buildings and condo towers, Barreiro confirmed Wednesday. Sanchez’s after-hours employment at IUSA was noted near the end of an Ethics Commission report clearing Barreiro for proposing county legislation governing water meters, since his firm sells devices unrelated to the ordinance.

Barreiro defended the arrangement, saying his role as Sanchez’s employer in Miami-Dade has no bearing on her role as a fellow partner in IUSA.

“She’s an owner,” Barreiro said, adding that he and Sanchez own equal shares in the company formed three years ago. “She’s not working for me. She owns stock in the company.”

Sanchez has worked for Barreiro’s government offices for about 20 years, stretching back to his time as a state lawmaker. In February, she filled out the required outside-employment form for Miami-Dade disclosing her private-sector position at IUSA. Barreiro, as her county supervisor, signed his approval.

In an interview, Sanchez said the outside job trying to sell IUSA’s internal water meters to apartment and condo buildings has hardly meant a new career. “All I have earned is $1,096,” she said Wednesday. She said she joined IUSA at the start of 2016, and needs to close sales to earn money through commissions. Sanchez said she and Barreiro’s business partnership at IUSA is separate from his role as her boss in the county. “One thing has nothing to do with the other,” she said.

Sanchez was first listed as a director on IUSA corporate documents filed with Florida this year, in an annual report submitted in February. Barreiro and Sanchez are listed as two of the company’s five directors, with longtime Barreiro associate Luis Garcia-Fanjul holding the title of president.

Both Barreiro and Sanchez called IUSA a start-up that has yet to turn a profit; his annual financial disclosure form lists his ownership in the firm, but no income. (The 13 County Commission seats are considered part-time positions, and bring a $6,000 salary plus various stipends that can amount to about $45,000 a year.)

Barreiro’s District 5 includes parts of Miami with heavy concentrations of new buildings with a mix of residential units and first-floor retail or office space. The legislation he sponsored would force Miami-Dade to provide two water meters for multi-use buildings, so that residential water customers wouldn’t be forced to pay the higher commercial rate. Currently, Miami-Dade provides only one meter for each property, and a single commercial use triggers the commercial rate for all.

On July 5, the Miami Herald reported on the legislation and Barreiro’s role as an owner of IUSA. The Miami firm specializes in selling internal water meters to multi-family complexes. Known as re-meters, they let buildings track use by unit and issue customized bills.

Barreiro said his legislation would not benefit his firm, since IUSA doesn’t sell the kind of external meters that Miami-Dade would require. He noted county rules already ban his company from doing business with the county.

In a report dated Aug. 11 but released this week, Ethics investigators agreed. “The new ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Barreiro will not benefit his private company,” the report said, “because IUSA does not manufacture or sell the type of meters that will be required in the new mixed-used buildings.”

Joseph Centorino, the commission’s director, signed off on the report. He said the inquiry, which followed the Herald’s story, focused only on a potential conflict-of-interest between Barreiro’s 22 percent stake in IUSA and his legislation. He declined to offer an opinion directly on Sanchez’s work for IUSA, but said supervisors routinely approve outside work for county employees.

“As long as there is not a conflict of interest, it’s up to the discretion of the supervisor,” he said. As for whether a supervisor can approve work for a firm that the supervisor owns, Centorino said he did not think the commission has tackled that question. “I don’t think that particular issue ever came to us,” he said.