As television cameras, heckling residents and bickering council members packed Doral City Hall on Monday, Joe Carollo sat quietly on the dais in the city manager’s seat.
On Friday, he had predicted he would lose his job.
Thirty minutes later, his prediction came true.
Council members voted 3-2 to fire the outspoken manager, during a meeting that erupted at times into shouting, name-calling, spontaneous boos and applause. Carollo had been on the job for 15 months.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Vice Mayor Christi Fraga opened the meeting she had called by saying she had wanted to discuss the state of the city’s staff, noting that several directors and other employees have left during the last year.
“The intention of this meeting was to evaluate the administration and the fluctuation of key staff and institutional knowledge that have left our city in the last 12 months,” she said, adding that she grew concerned after another human resources employee resigned last week — the second one in a year.
“However, this meeting has now escalated to nonsense, untrue allegations, insubordination, intimidation, and bullying by our manager.”
Carollo remained quiet, occasionally smirking during critical comments made by Fraga and Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz. But after the vote where Fraga, Ruiz and Mayor Luigi Boria fired him, Carollo walked out of the chambers and began vigorously defending himself in front of a gaggle of reporters. He compared his firing to the unexpected dismissal of a former city attorney earlier this year.
“Look, there’s no surprise to me. I made it clear at the press conference Friday that this was being planned,” he said. “That there was an ambush being planned at me just like they did to the city attorney last month.”
Carollo reiterated his accusations, implying the three council members who removed him were corrupt and insisting his statements would be vindicated in due time.
“Let me be clear, I have whistleblower protection,” he said.
At his press conference Friday, he referred to a scheme where someone familiar with Fraga offered to sell her vote in an October attempt to remove him. He survived that meeting in the fall, where Boria and Ruiz voted to fire him, with a vote of confidence from a majority of the council.
But Fraga later denied Carollo’s bribery accusations on Monday.
“Absolutely not. Never,” she said. “Those are all rumors.”
During the meeting, she told the council that more than 20 key staff members, many of them directors, have left the city.
She later said the council made the right decision for the city, especially its staff.
“I think that all the negative energy and the bullying from [Carollo] was really taking a toll on us,” she said.
But Councilwomen Bettina Rodríguez-Aguilera and Ana María Rodríguez supported Carollo, citing his role in building the city’s reserves to nearly $40 million.
Rodríguez-Aguilera said she wanted to hear from Carollo about the dismissals and resignations before making a decision, but he was not given an opportunity to speak.
Rodríguez later said she believed the high turnover in City Hall has to do with Doral being a young city with a limited payroll.
“We pay a lot less money than a lot of other cities,” she said, adding that several staff members left for higher paying jobs.
Boria brought Carollo, an outspoken former Miami mayor and commissioner, back into the limelight to be a first-time city manager in January 2013.
On Monday, he voted against his former friend and political ally with few comments.
“I have nothing to say, but the future of Doral is brilliant,” he said.
The council agreed to name public works director Jose Olivo as interim manager. The council later will meet to discuss a search for a new permanent administrator, which Fraga already suggested could be former planning and zoning director Nathan Kogon.
Monday’s meeting was expected to be tense, but at some point, it grew more heated than usual.
Rodríguez-Aguílera tried to make a point, but was interrupted by Boria’s call for a vote.
“You see, Mr. Mayor, you think you’re in Venezuela,” she snapped. “That’s the problem.”
The large crowd gasped and groaned at the comment, which later drew criticism from Boria and citizens.
But such was the atmosphere, as residents praised or decried Carollo’s dismissal. Some offered optimistic thoughts for the future of Doral. Others called the move a mistake.
But most agreed the bickering on the dais makes the city look bad.
“If we locked you all in a room for more than an hour, nobody would come out alive,” said resident Richard Glukstad.