Suarez vs. Carollo Round 1: Fight brewing over selecting city manager

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, left, and Commissioner Joe Carollo.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, left, and Commissioner Joe Carollo. Miami Herald File Photos

The race to win Miami’s elections is over.

The race to run City Hall is on.

Coming into office with a specific set of plans in his first year as mayor, Francis Suarez wants to install a city manager of his choosing next week to oversee Miami’s billion-dollar city government. The mayor announced Wednesday that he’s nominating Emilio González, former director of Miami International Airport, to fill the post, which will oversee more than 4,000 employees and handle the launch of a $400 million general obligation bond program that voters just approved, among many responsibilities.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez gives his remarks after being sworn in by Judge Robert Luck on Nov. 15, 2017. CARL JUSTE cjuste@miamiherald.com

But Suarez may not get what he wants.

In order to hire someone, the mayor needs three of the city’s five commissioners to ratify his appointment. And newly elected Commissioner Joe Carollo has other plans.

Carollo, a former mayor and city manager himself, has sponsored a resolution on the Dec. 14 commission agenda that would direct Miami’s current administrator to lead a national search for a replacement. Carollo proposed that the city go head-hunting for candidates and whittle a list of applicants down to six for Suarez to consider, calling the selection of a manager “perhaps the most important decision that local elected officials will make for their community.”

Joe Carollo is congratulated by supporters after being sworn in on Dec. 2, 2017, as the newly elected Miami city commissioner, as his wife, Marjorie Carollo, looks on. C.M. GUERRERO cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

“You should not get to pick a manager in closed rooms,” said Carollo, whose own appointment as city manager four years ago in Doral was done without a competitive process. “We’re not a city like Doral or Coral Gables, where it might be fine to just pick whomever to be your city manager. They’re small cities.”

In an interview, Suarez said he believes that Miami’s charter gives the mayor “wide deference” when it comes to naming a city manager, and touted González — a Miami resident — as a top-flight administrator. The mayor said Carollo previously indicated that he would support Suarez’s pick, which Carollo strenuously denied.

In Emilio Gonzalez, we’re getting a top-notch administrator.

Mayor Francis Suarez

“In Emilio, we’re getting a top-notch administrator, someone who’s run top organizations, whose ethics are unquestioned and someone who has government and private sector experience,” said Suarez, who’d like to offer González better pay than his $265,000 airport salary.

The competing proposals come as the city’s new mayor and five commissioners — two of whom are also new — try to feel each other out in their first days working together. They’re coming off an election in which some old battle lines were redrawn: Carollo, an old foe of Suarez’s father, called out “the whole Suarez family” on election night for attacking him and opposing his campaign.

The two men — both of whom called news conferences Wednesday at City Hall to talk about their proposals — seem to be jockeying for position, as both want to take a strong role in steering the city. Suarez is planning a referendum to empower his office with “strong mayor” administrative powers, while Carollo has reminded people that unless something changes, Miami’s power lies with its five-member commission.

Both men have promised to pursue affordable housing and public safety as top priorities, but their visions seem to conflict even when they align: Both have sponsored items on the Dec. 14 agenda to end the city’s red light camera program with American Traffic Solutions. The proposal submitted by Suarez, who tried in 2013 to end the city’s program, is endorsed by three city commissioners, something Carollo couldn’t seek out because of Florida law that prohibits city commissioners from talking shop behind closed doors.

Carollo’s item, however, was submitted first, and he posited Wednesday that it was his efforts that got Suarez to follow suit given that the city has had the ability to easily terminate its contract with American Traffic Solutions since August of last year.

“My resolution was placed on the agenda first. It should be heard first,” Carollo said.

Whatever commissioners decide to do on Dec. 14, they’ll likely need to find someone new to carry out their will.

Outgoing Miami City Manager Daniel J. Alfonso, during a commission meeting on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Current administrator Daniel Alfonso plans to make the Dec. 14 commission meeting his last day on his $231,402.93-a-year job. He’s asking commissioners to vote next week to allow him to burn vacation time through Jan. 2, grant him six weeks of severance pay and allow him to cash in all his earned and unused vacation and sick hours, equal to about $70,643.75.

Alfonso’s contract doesn’t entitle him to that money, but Suarez has called the request “reasonable,” even if he isn’t planning to go to bat for the proposal.

“I’m probably not going to advocate for or against it,” he said.