Miami-Dade’s former ethics czar has a new mandate: to ferret out fraud and waste in Miami Beach.
Joseph Centorino, who was the executive director and general counsel of the county’s Commission on Ethics and Public Trust from 2011 to 2018, was selected from 60 applicants to lead the newly created inspector general’s office in Miami Beach.
Miami Beach commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to allow the city attorney to negotiate a contract with Centorino, encouraging him to focus on identifying wasteful spending.
“It’s all about efficiency,” said Commissioner Mark Samuelian. “This is an exciting day for Miami Beach. It is a great day for good government.”
Vice Mayor Ricky Arriola similarly stressed that Centorino should focus on fiscal responsibility.
“It’s the waste, it’s the inefficiencies,” Arriola said. “If all you’re looking for is fraud and bad stuff, you’re not gonna have enough to do. There’s just not enough of that activity to warrant a department with full staff to do that.”
City Manager Jimmy Morales added that the role is “more principally about efficiency in management than [about] fraud.”
Still, Centorino said the city ordinance establishing the agency gives him a “very broad mandate.” That includes shining a light on fraud and misconduct.
“I intend to fulfill all of that mandate and will welcome the input of all of you as we go forward in terms of how this office is to evolve,” Centorino told the commission.
Centorino told the Miami Herald he would soon begin meeting with city employees to make sure they know they can turn to his office to blow the whistle and be protected from retaliation.
“If they think something is wrong, they can go [to us] and they’ll be protected. They can do it anonymously,” Centorino said.
City voters overwhelmingly supported the creation of an independent inspector general’s office, with 81 percent voting in favor on a referendum in November. Centorino was picked by a committee that included the Miami-Dade state attorney, the county inspector general, the director of the county’s ethics commission and Miami Beach’s attorney.
Centorino will serve a four-year term and can be reappointed.
The office is unique for a city of Miami Beach’s relatively small size. Centorino and Mayor Dan Gelber said they were unaware of any other municipalities in the county with a similar office, and Centorino expressed his desire to make the one in Miami Beach a model for others.
“There are not that many municipalities that would want an independent oversight agency coming into their cities,” Centorino told the commission.
Centorino’s initial staff will consist of nine city employees who previously worked in the internal audit department, which is being rolled into the inspector general’s office.
Some residents raised concerns earlier this year about the ability of the seven-member City Commission
to remove the inspector general with only four votes, although the office itself can’t be dissolved without a citywide referendum.
Centorino told the Herald he has some concerns about language in the ordinance that could limit the office’s independence, though he didn’t specify what they were.
“There may be a couple of tweaks I’m gonna suggest,” Centorino said. “I’ve seen in some places an oversight agency or function that’s been put in place [where] they’re under the thumb of either the elected officials or under the thumb of the administrative officials, and that never results in the same product.”
Centorino, 68, ran the public corruption division of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office from 1995 to 2011 before going to the county ethics commission.
Morales said the new office will be housed in the former city hall building in a space that will be ready for use by the end of October.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Miami Beach commissioners gave Centorino his first formal task, directing him to review every department in the city for efficiency ahead of next year’s budget process. Commissioner Michael Góngora initially proposed sending the task to the finance committee, but Samuelian recommended that the committee collaborate with Centorino’s office on the review.
Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán initially questioned the idea, noting that the city manager is already responsible for reviewing department budgets and pointing out inefficiencies.
“Are we asking the inspector general basically to do our city manager’s job? How is this different?” Alemán asked.
Góngora responded that the regular budget review process leaves limited time for the commission to look at staffing and other line items within each department.
“I wanted to start this process earlier rather than rush” at the end, Góngora said.