September 6, 2010 | 10:20am
Twenty years ago, Michael Arciola was at the center of a firestorm in Lauderhill. The city's mayor accused the then-41-year-old finance director of sexually harassing a clerk, a problem for which he'd apparently been reprimanded twice before.
That fight is ancient history, but today it's kicking up a fresh storm in the tony village of Biscayne Park, which hired Arciola as its finance director in May. Letters about Arciola's past have been arriving at city hall, and one commissioner is asking why the village manager never addressed the old incidents before hiring him.
Arciola, meanwhile, says he never harassed anyone and shouldn't have to talk about decades-old battles. "My name was cleared," he says. "I don't need to bring it up to anyone."
In 1988, Arciola made headlines when Lauderhill Mayor Ilene Lieberman suspended him and charged him with harassing a clerk named Vita Gunther. Lieberman said Arciola tried to date his 32-year-old underling and bothered her when she refused.
Arciola countered that Gunther was a "flirt." But reports soon surfaced showing it wasn't Arciola's first complaint.
While working in Pompano Beach from 1975 to '79, he was criticized for his management style, and then in Pembroke Pines in 1980, a panel found he'd made "insensitive remarks" to a 19-year-old female worker, the Sun-Sentinel reported. In 1986 in Lauderhill, he faced another complaint from six female employees that resulted in a reprimand, the paper wrote.
Arciola today declines to discuss those cases except to say he was never "found guilty."
Lieberman tried to fire Arciola, but the Lauderhill city council rebuffed her. In 1989, Arciola resigned and filed an ethics complaint and a lawsuit.
Both were dismissed in 1991, and Arciola has kept his nose clean since.
He worked on and off in city governments, in South Bay, Belle Glade, and -- most recently -- Lauderdale Lakes until 2007. No civil or criminal cases against him are on record.
In May, Biscayne Park hired him as finance director for around $40,000 per year. Ana Garcia, the village's manager, says she knew nothing about the old cases. "We contacted his old employers and references, and no one had a bad word to say," she says.
Then, a few weeks ago, anonymous letters with clips about the Lauderhill conflict began appearing at city hall. Garcia says she then found old stories on the Internet but wasn't concerned. "It was 20 years ago, and there were no criminal charges," she says.
But Biscayne Park Commissioner Steve Bernard says he wishes the commission had at least been notified about the past issues. "No mention was ever made of these cases," he says.
Arciola says there's no need to mention them. He says he has a letter from Gunther herself rescinding the complaint (though he says the letter is "in storage"). And he says his conscience is clear.
"You're talking to an Apostolic Pentecostal man here," he says. "We don't do stuff like this."