By Michael E. Miller
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Bayona is among a growing number of Miami residents dissatisfied with Arriola's arrogance and disdain toward the average citizen. "Arriola doesn't respect the taxpayers," Bayona says. Incensed that Arriola has not been terminated for his role in the fire fee debacle, Bayona decided it was time to take action. So she e-mailed messages and distributed flyers to hundreds of homeowners and enlisted the fire union to show up at city hall and demand Arriola's head.
"How can Manny Diaz continue to support someone with such ignorance and low class?" Bayona raps. "Arriola thinks he will be there forever. So does the mayor. But we are the ones who have the say, not their political machinery."
Meanwhile Arriola acted as if there was no protest. He went about his business as usual. He later incorrectly dismissed the gathering as a ploy by the fire union to rattle him and the mayor. "Only 42 people showed up," Arriola sounds off. "Three-quarters of them were from the fire union. The rest of them were people who supported the losers in the election. So why should I care?"
Arriola's reaction did not surprise Tomas Regalado. "The guy attacks everyone who doesn't agree with him," Regalado sighs. "And it's not just people who have criticized him regarding the fire fee. He's had a lot of turnover with department directors who have clashed with his agenda."
For example, Regalado notes, Arriola forced the resignation of former zoning administrator Francisco Garcia in late 2004. Despite protests from local developers, Garcia had issued a reinterpretation of the city's zoning code that required proposed projects taller than 40 feet be set back farther from single-family homes. Regalado says Garcia's ruling led to his departure. Arriola claims Garcia left his post because he was not capable of doing his job.
Regalado also cited Arriola's tussle with city auditor Victor Igwe concerning the latter's scathing inquiry into how the administration awarded $39 million in no-bid contracts to companies represented by lobbyist Steve Marin, a close friend of Arriola and Mayor Diaz's. "Arriola threw him out of his office because he didn't like being investigated," Regalado says. "If you play by Joe's rules, things get done. But you better not question his judgment."
It is midmorning February 3. Arriola has just wrapped up an appearance on Bernadette Pardo's WQBA (1140 AM) radio show, where yet again he addressed the fire fee quagmire. Radio journalist Edwin Bautista, who does man-on-the-street interviews for El Vacilón de la Mañanaon El Zol (WXDJ, 95.7 FM), approaches Arriola outside WQBA's studio on SW Eighth Street.
The city manager, who was engaged in a cell phone conversation and being videotaped by a WPLG-TV (Channel 10) cameraman, tried to ignore Bautista. The El Zol reporter, holding his cell phone in front of Arriola's face, grilled the city manager with questions, asking why only seven residents received the seven-million-dollar settlement. The encounter was being broadcast live on El Vacilón, a popular Spanish-language radio show hosted by Enrique Santos, who last year ran against Diaz for mayor and lost. Not surprisingly the fire fee has been a constant subject of ridicule on El Vacilón.
After walking half a block, Arriola turned around and snapped at Bautista. Arriola squeezed Bautista's flip-phone shut and slapped the reporter's hand away. Arriola barked in Spanish: "Get that shit away from me, man!"
Bautista scurried off. He later filed a complaint with the Coral Gables Police Department and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, alleging Arriola assaulted him. Back at his city hall office, Arriola defends his actions. "I didn't punch the guy," Arriola fumes. "I didn't even shove the guy. All I did was shut off his phone. But don't worry I'm gonna get him for filing a false police report."
Bautista is not the first person to complain to the state attorney's public corruption unit about Arriola. Richard Dunn, a former city commissioner who lost his bid against Spence-Jones last year to represent District 5, asked prosecutors to investigate Arriola for official misconduct during the city election this past November. Dunn claims Arriola is guilty of abusing his position as city manager to help Spence-Jones get elected. Regalado is among several people who also filed complaints with the SAO, requesting an investigation into possible perjury by witnesses, including Arriola. Joe Centorino, head of the SAO's public corruption unit, acknowledged he is looking into the complaints, but stopped short of saying Arriola was the target of an criminal investigation. "It is something that bears our attention," Centorino haws. "Beyond that, I really can't comment."
Yet Arriola detractors such as Bayona don't think Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle will conduct a thorough investigation. "She hasn't done anything," Bayona grumbles. "If she investigated Art Teele, she should also be investigating Diaz, Arriola, and the rest of them, because something definitely smells bad."
Meanwhile Arriola is reclining in his chair at city hall. His feet are propped up on his desk. A Marlboro hangs from his lips. He says he is not worried about being investigated, because he has not done anything criminal. But the public beatings are beginning to take a toll. He reveals he is unsure he will stay on the job for the duration of Diaz's final term as mayor. Two commission aides who asked to remain anonymous say Arriola has hinted he will step down by the end of May. "I love my job, but I'm also 58 years old," Arriola says. "I need to find new challenges."