West Miami-Dade

Several Sweetwater positions still in limbo under new administration

Commissioner Jose Bergouignan, left, and Vice Mayor Jose M. Díaz, center, were among the elected officials who voted not to ratify Plácido Díaz as the permanent Sweetwater police chief, while Commissioner Manuel Duasso, right, voted to keep Díaz as chief.
Commissioner Jose Bergouignan, left, and Vice Mayor Jose M. Díaz, center, were among the elected officials who voted not to ratify Plácido Díaz as the permanent Sweetwater police chief, while Commissioner Manuel Duasso, right, voted to keep Díaz as chief. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Sweetwater elected officials pointed out once again during Monday night’s commission meeting that Mayor Orlando López has not named new city department directors other than a police chief, and even that position is still uncertain.

The main item

The city commission on Monday voted 4-3 not to ratify Plácido Díaz as the permanent chief of Sweetwater police.

Díaz took charge of the department as interim chief in mid-May, shortly after López fired 15 police officers. The city commission later voted to reverse the controversial firings, which López had argued was a budget-cutting measure.

Díaz had replaced Jesús “Jesse” Menocal, who announced his retirement just before López was elected mayor in May. Menocal, a longtime Sweetwater officer, became police chief in August 2013, when then-Chief Roberto Fulgueira left the department amid a federal investigation of the department for alleged corruption and fraud.

“We do need to do some internal house cleaning in order to deal with those past issues,” Díaz told commissioners on Monday night. “A lot of things you were not made aware of. This is by no fault of yours.”

He told commissioners he has assigned two internal affairs investigators to help compile evidence for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to help expedite the ongoing investigations following the arrest of then-Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño for public corruption in 2013.

“I cannot change the past, I can just move forward,” Díaz said before the commission vote. “This is the situation we’ve all been put in. I want to be given the opportunity to do the job.”

Díaz is still in charge of the department as interim chief, and a member of the city commission could still ask to ratify him into the position permanently at a future meeting, López told the Miami Herald on Wednesday.

In the meantime, the position will be posted on the city website, along with the still-open jobs of maintenance director, parks and recreation director, finance director and building and zoning director.

Commissioners argued that López was violating the city charter by delaying the appointment and ratification of new department heads in the city.

The charter states the mayor must appoint department heads or directors before the first regular meeting of the city commission after taking office, which was on June 1. Commissioners allowed a three-week extension so candidates could apply to the positions online.

López, who was absent from Monday’s meeting because of a back injury, said on Wednesday that there has been a poor response to the job postings online.

“Maybe it wasn’t posted long enough,” López said. “Or maybe because of all the turmoil in the city, people are hesitant to apply.”

Other business

▪ New city attorney: Guillermo Cuadra, the former mayor’s chief of staff, was appointed as the new city attorney by Sweetwater commissioners on Monday.

▪ New employee salaries: Elected officials approved an ordinance that requires approval by the city commission of any new hires with salaries that exceed $50,000.

▪ Food bags: City commissioners approved a resolution that prohibits elected officials, political candidates or anyone directly involved in a political campaign in the city from providing for monthly distribution of bags of food to residents in the city.

They said it

Before the commission voted on the ratification of Díaz as chief of the police department, Commissioner Eduardo Suarez asked whether there was some mechanism that would allow commissioners to fire the head of a department before the mayor’s four-year term expired.

Gilberto Pastoriza, the interim city attorney, said it would require a 5-7 vote from the city commission to remove a city department director.

Vice Mayor Jose M. Díaz commented that he has never seen a majority of the commission vote to remove someone.

“This never happens,” he said. “You would have to catch them killing someone [out] in the street.”

The next meeting

▪ When: 8 p.m. Aug. 3

▪ Where: 500 SW 109th Ave.

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