Miami Beach Commissioners Still Unsure Why They Gave Extra Cash To Ousted Manager
June's Miami Beach commission meeting ended with what seemed like a heartfelt bit of humanity. Commissioners agreed to keep axed City Manager Jorge Gonzalez on the books for another nine months while he burned vacation days so his family could keep its health insurance.
But this is Miami Beach, the most corrupt town in Dade! So it should shock no one that a month later, the commission exploded into chaos when they finally realized what they'd actually done -- given Gonzalez, who was forced to resign because the code department spiraled into an FBI-investigated catastrophe on his watch, up to a $15,000 annual boost to his pension. Two weeks later, they're still trying to sort out the mess and decide who's to blame.
"At its best, it was an oversight," Commissioner Ed Tobin says. "At its worst, it was a very sneaky trick to take hundreds of thousands from the taxpayers."
Here's the backstory, CliffsNotes-style: In May, commissioners forced Gonzalez to resign after 12 years in his $273,000-a-year post, following the feds' arrest of seven code and fire inspectors in a corruption sting.
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At the tail end of June's meeting, Commissioner Jonah Wolfson introduced a brief motion to keep Gonzalez on the books for the purpose of health-care coverage. It passed with little discussion.
But as the July 18 followup meeting inched toward 10 p.m., commissioners quizzing City Attorney Jose Smith quickly realized they had made a huge blunder. By keeping Gonzalez on the books, he would continue accruing sick and vacation days to cash out and would also add nine months of service time to his pension.
As Tobin pushed for a revote, Mayor Matti Herrera Bower erupted with anger. (You can watch video of the bananas end to that meeting here; watch video two and skip ahead to around 4:15:30 for the best ranting).
"Where were the lawyers?" she demanded, glaring at Smith. (Smith says his office wasn't notified ahead of time, so it couldn't offer an opinion.)
Wolfson, angrily rolling up his sleeves, claimed he'd been lied to. "It's starting to make me sick," he said. "It makes me want to vomit."
Before anyone could resolve anything, though, Bower abruptly ended the meeting and the commissioners stormed off.
With more than a month to go before the next meeting, they still don't know what to do. Tobin says he'll push for a revote. Bower says terms should be renegotiated in private.
Smith says he'll try to get Gonzalez to forgo any financial benefit from the snafu when they sit down for negotiations later this month. Gonzalez, presumably, is chortling all the way to the bank. (Riptide was unable to reach him.)
"It's very sad," Tobin says. "We tried to give him the benefit of the doubt over and over... and he has no respect for city commissioners."