Doral council fires its city clerk

City of Doral clerk Barbara Herrera, who was fired on Wednesday by the city council.
City of Doral clerk Barbara Herrera, who was fired on Wednesday by the city council. El Nuevo Herald

Longtime Doral city clerk Barbara Herrera was fired Wednesday night after newly elected councilman Pete Cabrera called for her resignation during the Thanksgiving weekend.

The vote was 4 to 1, with Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez dissenting. Cabrera, Vice Mayor Sandra Ruiz, Mayor Luigi Boria and Councilwoman Christi Fraga supported the move, even though Boria and Fraga in September voted to give Herrera and her office a 20 percent raise.

Cabrera and Ruiz have consistently pushed for the clerk’s termination, accusing her of making errors, being late, giving people special treatment and withholding records from their offices. Hererra contends that Cabrera's move is retaliatory for a lawsuit she filed against him in 2009 for gender discrimination in the workplace. They settled in 2011 for $34,000.

Cabrera said his decision was based on Herrera’s performance. After Cabrera called for her termination, Herrera filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Cabrera for gender discrimination.

Councilwoman Rodriguez, in her dissent, said terminating Herrera on Cabrera's grounds “would continue making Doral the laughing stock of Miami-Dade County politics."

Fraga asked that Herrera be given a severance package; the mayor had no opinion.

“I understand that there is a past that cannot be forgotten. I would ask my colleagues to give a severance to this individual,’’ Fraga said. “It's the least we can do up here. Offer her a generous severance package for her nine years of work so that we can amicably move forward."

Cabrera refused.

"I don't reward misconduct," he said.

Ruiz said the issue was "not a matter of rewarding a misconduct, this is a matter of the city taking a high road."

Ultimately, the council gave her a three-month severance package plus any existing benefits, effective immediately.

Rodriguez and Fraga asked their fellow council members to allow Herrera to speak. Boria, Cabrera and Ruiz replied: “absolutely not.’’

“I will not debate publicly with an employee,’’ Cabrera said.

The moment the council passed the motion, the mayor called for a five-minute recess. Herrera left the building and her assistant immediately took her seat on the dais.

“Of course I am disappointed with the votes, but even more disappointed that they did not let me speak or defend myself,” Herrera told the Herald on her way out. Certainly the accusations that were hurled against me were unsound and unsubstantiated, and plain-old unfair. I hope that what happened here today does not have the chilling effect on the employees that I'm afraid that it will.’’

Her attorney, Scott Behren, was there with her.

“Not once did they ever confer with the city attorney to ask about the legality of the actions that were taken,’’ he said. “You would have thought that they would have actually spoken to the city attorney for his opinion on what actions should be taken when there's an EEOC complaint that has been filed against the man that made these allegations.’’

On Nov. 29, the recently elected councilman requested to fire Herrera. Prior to that, Cabrera had asked City Attorney Dan Espino for a legal opinion on how to go about it. Cabrera, who served on the council for nine years before losing to Boria in 2012, returning to the council in 2014, accused Herrera of being late to work, and making mistakes and oversights.

Residents had flooded council members' email inboxes, arguing for both keeping and terminating her.

“If this Charter Official was really a problem, why was it not discussed before?’’ wrote Claudia Spangaro Mariaca in an email to council members. “Did all of you ignore such a sensitive issue? I find that hard to believe, but find it easy to conclude that this is nothing more than a personal vendetta.’’

More than a dozen residents sent a uniform email to the press and council members, defending Cabrera.

“This email is to share my outrage with the City Clerk making false slanderous accusations of gender discrimination against Councilman Cabrera. Discrimination is a serious matter that should not abused for personal political agendas. Her statement to the press alone should be grounds for her termination. I have known Councilman Cabrera for numerous years and nothing could be further from the truth," most of the emails read.

The deputy city clerk will take the city clerk’s role on an interim basis while a search for a new permanent clerk is completed. Cabrera cited city Charter Section 3.02(a), which requires naming a search committee for the selection process. Council members each appoint one member to the search committee. Cabrera, Ruiz and Rodriguez nominated themselves to the committee, while Boria nominated Eduardo Gomez and Fraga chose Pierre Christ.

Shortly after the item came to a close, a Venezuelan chorus abruptly marched into the chambers, broke out in song wearing their country's flag around their necks.

Residents stared in confusion. The mayor cheered. Council members looked around.

Follow @MoniqueOMadan on Twitter.