Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Manny Diaz succeeds so well in the city that he may get drafted for the county mayor's race

Yet Diaz has shown he's not so frugal when it comes to his own personnel costs. This year the mayor's office budget totals $1,032,940, up $204,005 from last year. When Diaz took office in 2001, the mayor's budget stood at $653,935. About three-fourths of Diaz's costs, $772, 645 to be exact, is for salaries and fringe benefits. On the administration side, Arriola is receiving a $177,385 salary, which he is donating to the local chapter of the United Way. Gimenez, by contrast, had a salary package of $163,209. The three former assistant city managers under Gimenez each earned an annual $141,653, compared with the $160,000 annual salary for chief operating officer Victor Monzon-Aguirre (who has since been terminated by Arriola following his arrest on charges that he committed forgery and grand theft on business unrelated to the city); the $155,000 salary for chief financial officer Haskins; and the $150,000 salary for chief information officer Peter Korinis.

Diaz defends his personnel costs and those of the new city administration. "Being efficient is not a function of how much you spend," he asserts. "It's about spending money well by bringing in the right people. You attract the best people by paying them good salaries."

For instance, Diaz points out, his decision to hire Otto Boudet-Murias as his economic development advisor has paid dividends. The mayor hired Boudet-Murias, a building contractor, this past March to act as a liaison between developers and the city's building, economic development, and planning and zoning departments. For this, Boudet-Murias earns $90,000 a year from the city. "Developers are thrilled that the mayor's office in Miami," Diaz says, "unlike other cities, goes out of its way to meet with them, welcome them, and help them get through bureaucratic red tape."

Diaz, with Commissioner Joe Sanchez and City Manager Joe Arriola, addresses the media in his office
Bill Cooke
Diaz, with Commissioner Joe Sanchez and City Manager Joe Arriola, addresses the media in his office
Commissioner Johnny  Winton wants to know if you'll vote for his pal Manny Diaz for county mayor
Bill Cooke
Commissioner Johnny Winton wants to know if you'll vote for his pal Manny Diaz for county mayor

Daniel Pfeffer, president of Midtown Equities, a New York development outfit, says he wouldn't be doing business in Miami if it weren't for Diaz. Pfeffer's company is developing the old Florida East Coast Industries railroad yard between NE Second and North Miami avenues and NW 36th and 29th streets, into a mixed-use project zone featuring a big retail outlet like Target and single-family residences. "He made a lot of promises to get the project moving," Pfeffer says during a phone interview. "He and Otto have come through every single time. You really have true businesspeople running city government now."

Of course there are always exceptions. Carlos McDonald, the city's communications director and a childhood friend of Diaz, earns a $105,000 salary from Miami, as well as a car allowance. In addition the city covered $12,552 in moving expenses for McDonald when he relocated from Tallahassee; he previously worked for former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Diaz supporter. Technically, Gimenez hired McDonald, but everyone knows McDonald is Diaz's boy. And since McDonald took over, the city's communications department has come under fire. Citizens and commissioners have complained that it doesn't interact well with the public. "The city's cable access channel is now more devoted to airing social gatherings and documentaries than to actually informing the public," complains Commissioner Tomas Regalado, who earns his living as news director of two Spanish-language radio stations in Miami. The department has stopped airing meetings of the code enforcement board and the waterfront advisory board, as well as planning and zoning hearings. "McDonald has been censoring parts of the city commission meetings they don't want the public to see," Regalado charges. "The people need to be informed on these issues."

If that is the case, Diaz says, then McDonald needs to correct the situation. "Yes, it needs to be addressed," he says.

In his defense, McDonald insists all board meetings went back on-air this month. "Code enforcement is back on," he says. "Planning and zoning is back on. The problem is that we had a number of bugs to work out in our new system." As part of the $1.6 million restoration of city hall, McDonald's department spent $300,000 on a new broadcasting system. He adds that his department has gone out of its way to air city board meetings held outside city hall. "We've transmitted meetings of the Community Redevelopment Agency," he says. "The city never did that before. We're doing all of this with a staff of nine people."

5. Early on May 7, Manny Diaz, sweating profusely in gym shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "One City, One Future," methodically slaps another coat of salmon-colored paint on the exterior of Robin Miller's new Overtown house. Diaz, Arriola, and their staffs have taken the morning off from city hall business for a little community-building with Habitat for Humanity (the nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to help poor families build their own homes).

Diaz doesn't say much, instead focusing intently on the task at hand. Within five minutes, he's painted an entire wall. He stops to take a deep breath as he wipes the perspiration from his pronounced widow's peak. Then he deliberately dips his brush into his paint bucket and smears chief of staff Francois Illas's right arm. The mayor chortles heavily, then takes a few whacks at Arriola: "Hey Joe, does your wife know you're out here doing manual labor?" he cracks. "I bet this is the first time your fine French-manicured hands ever touched a paintbrush!" But Arriola is no chief of staff. Wordlessly he slops his brush on the mayor's dome.

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