Next time you pony up for one of those $6 parking meters downtown, consider this: That cash has helped the guy running the Miami Parking Authority avoid his own parking fees for years. It also bankrolled stays at top-end Vegas hotels, ritzy meals, and Heat tickets.
Those are some of the expenses Riptide found by reviewing the credit card records of MPA head Art Noriega. But did Noriega really do anything wrong? Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado thinks so.
Regalado, who wants voters November 2 to give the city control over the semiautonomous MPA, says the spending shows Noriega shouldn't be trusted to run the city's garages and lots.
"They've been living la vida loca over there for too long," Regalado says. "It's very troubling to me that he seems to be using public money on personal expenses."
Noriega, though, says the expenses were legit. What's more, MPA leaders say Regalado wants to privatize parking to cover gaping holes in his own budget, a process that could lead to higher fees.
Riptide asked Noriega to justify the ten most egregious-looking bills on his credit card based on partial records we received. We found several pricey junkets: $1,246.60 for a hotel in Dallas in June 2008; $920 for hotels in Hollywood, Florida, later that year; and $780 in Tallahasse, also in 2008.
The trips were for parking or leadership conferences, Noriega says.
We also highlighted some eye-popping meals: $1,624.53 for eats in Dallas; $817.18 at Caesar's in Atlantic City; $1071.98 at Marco Island Resort in southwest Florida; $647.53 for lunch at Washington, D.C.'s Capital Grille; and $466.61 for a staff outing at a Brickell restaurant. Each was a valid expense, Noriega says, accounting for dinners with "industry leaders" or as holiday staff lunches.
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Oh, and the $1725.29 that Noriega charged for "parking and tolls"? "It's entirely normal for a business executive to submit work-related tolls and parking expenses for reimbursement," he says.
The larger point, says MPA board member Tom Jelke, is that Noriega had to spend money to make contacts and earn contracts. That $600 dinner in D.C. netted $250,000 in new leases, he says. "[Regalado] just wants our assets," Jelke adds.
Regalado, though, says voters won't stand for leaders spending on luxuries, no matter the reason. "We've cut police and firemen's salaries so much that they could never afford lunch at these kinds of restaurants," he says. "They could have been more responsible with our money."