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

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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 government. The mayor plans to announce Wednesday in a news conference that he’s nominating former Miami International Airport director Emilio Gonzalez 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.


But Suarez may not get what he wants.

Because 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 seems to have other plans.

Carollo, a former mayor and city manager himself, has sponsored a resolution on Miami’s 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.


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.


“A nationwide search will provide for a transparent process for the citizens of the City,” states a resolution that he sponsored on the city’s Dec. 14 agenda. The “selection of a City Manager is perhaps the most important decision that local elected officials will make for their community.”

Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Suarez said he believes the commission has and should give “wide deference” to the mayor when it comes to naming a city manager, and touted Gonzalez — a Miami resident — as a top-flight administrator. The mayor said Carollo, who could not be reached by text message Wednesday morning, previously indicated that he would support Suarez’s pick.

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 Gonzalez 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 have called news conferences Wednesday at City Hall — 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. Suarez’s proposal is also 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.

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, January 12, 2017.

Roberto Koltun

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.

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