In a move that was surprising to some, the city of Doral fired Alfredo E. Ortega on May 21 after 14 months of employment as Mayor Luigi Boria’s chief of staff.
When approached by el Nuevo Herald regarding Ortega’s firing, Boria responded, “I don’t know what happened. I suppose he’ll open up a business.”
But on Sunday, Ortega released a statement in which he denounced the mayor’s comments and outlined his own version of the events that led to his departure.
In the statement, Ortega alleges that Boria told him “he had two assistants who he did not control and wanted to keep one who could be controlled,” and that City Manager Edward Rojas told him “the mayor had to pursue his reelection and for that reason decided to change direction” in relation to Ortega’s job.
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Ortega also refuted the mayor’s statement about “opening a business” by asking, “Why would an employee with a 1 1/2-year-old daughter and a wife who is eight months’ pregnant decide to leave a job with a stable salary and health insurance in order to ‘start a business?’”
Ortega used words like “humiliating” and “disrespectful” to describe the mayor’s treatment of him during his tenure. He accused Boria of making inappropriate comments, shouting and taking jabs at his religious observance.
He also says that after the passing of an August 2014 amendment to Doral’s city charter that gave city council members the authority to hire and fire their assistants, Boria would consistently make threats reminding Ortega that he was “now dependent on him.”
“The relationship was a roller coaster. He was a very unpredictable character,” said Ortega.
Ortega also questioned the ethical merits of the “separation agreement” that the city asked him to sign on May 21, which would have had him resign his position as opposed to being terminated. Ortega refused, leading to an official termination instead.
Signing the agreement would have gotten him a letter of recommendation and payoff of about 220 hours. However, it would have had him give up his right take to legal action against the city, seek assistance from any official agency or speak to the press about his dismissal.
Since Ortega’s comments, Mayor Boria’s office has not commented on the issue. Boria’s administrative aide Rafael Pineyro, now acting as the mayor’s chief of staff, told el Nuevo Herald that he would only field questions sent by email.
Boria was not available for comment regarding the accusations made in Ortega’s press release. On Thursday, he boarded a flight to Barranquilla, Colombia, in connection with a proposed Sister Cities program that is being explored by Doral officials.
Rojas said in a statement that “the mayor verbally brought to my attention a series of incidents that occurred involving his chief of staff in the weeks prior to his termination which were violations of the city charter and employee policy manual and justified termination, in my opinion. I provided notice of my intent to terminate and gave Mr. Ortega the courtesy of resigning, which he refused.”
The firing comes as a surprise to some in Doral, particularly after Ortega’s was graded as “exceptional” in his yearly performance evaluation in March. But because Doral has an “at-will employment” policy, the city “may terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause or prior notice” as per its charter.
“I was shocked. It’s pretty clear to me that [Ortega] did not choose to ‘start his own business,’ particularly when his wife is eight months’ pregnant and they depend on the city’s health insurance to cover their medical expenses,” said Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez. “There’s obviously some type of political motivation.”
Ortega is not the only high-profile firing in Doral’s recent past. In December 2014, Doral fired longtime city clerk Barbara Herrera a couple of weeks after then-newly elected Councilman Pete Cabrera called for her resignation. In April 2014, former city manager [and former Miami mayor] Joe Carollo was fired by the council in a heated city council meeting that featured heckles, boos and unsubstantiated allegations of bribery, among others. The previous month, former city attorney John Herin was fired one month before his contract with the city came up.
“It’s a little discouraging to see some of the things that happen [in Doral],” said Councilwoman Christi Fraga. “I think it affects public service and the perception of public service.”