Columns

City of Miami Executive's Expenses Raise Eyebrows

Robert Ruano, Miami's director of grants and sustainable initiatives, spends a lot of money dining out and traveling on the taxpayers' dime. 

According to copies of the reimbursement forms and receipts Ruano has submitted to the Miami's finance office between 2006 and January this year, the city has picked up his tab for lunches and dinners all around town, including an outing to Monty's Raw Bar in Coconut Grove on December 7, 2006, that ended up costing Miami residents $1,023.

Banana Republican became aware of Ruano's lavish expense reimbursements via an anonymous letter detailing how he had violated a city rule barring employees from seeking repayment of alcoholic beverages when he submitted 16 receipts that did not list the items Ruano purchased. The unknown tipster alleges the unlisted items were booze -- which Ruano vehemently denies. "Whenever I order drinks," he insists, "I pay for it separately."

Not always. According to a November 18, 2008 receipt from the Beantown Pub, when Ruano was in Boston on city business, he was reimbursed for four beers. "I guess I didn't catch that one," he says. "But I will pay the city back for that."

The anonymous complainer also takes issue with Ruano's out-of-state travel. The city allows employees to take only one out-of-state trip on city business. Subsequent trips have to be approved by the city manager or one of his assistants. In 2006, Ruano took three out-of-state trips -- eight in 2007 and four in 2008, including two excursions to Boston. During a February 2007 trip to the Hispanics Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, Ruano rented himself a Mercedes-Benz C320. Taxpayers picked up the $246.73 bill. 

On one of the Boston jaunts, from November 11 to 18, 2008, for the U.S. Green Building Conference, Ruano racked up $7,490.55 on his city credit card to pay for airfare, conference fees, food expenses, and hotel accommodations for himself and one of his employees. The two men each had his own room at the luxurious Lenox Hotel in downtown Boston. They paid $345 a night for a three-night stay.

"It was one of the few hotels we could find," Ruano explains. "The conference attracts some 25,000 people."

Ruano says all of his trips were approved by Miami Chief Financial Officer Larry Spring or City Manager Pete Hernandez. 

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.