The Doral City Council rebuffed an attempt by Mayor Luigi Boria to fire City Manager Joe Carollo Wednesday night as its members supported Carollo in a 3-2 vote of confidence. NBC 6’s Gilma Avalos reports.
The Doral City Council rebuffed an attempt by Mayor Luigi Boria to fire City Manager Joe Carollo Wednesday night as its members supported Carollo in a 3-2 vote of confidence.
The vote came on the same day that a Venezuelan developer surrendered to police and was arrested for allegedly filing a false police report after accusing the city manager of the Miami suburb of physically and verbally attacking him.
Developer Juan Carlos Tovar Barrios, 31, surrendered to Doral Police shortly after 9 a.m. He faces a charge of false report of crime to law enforcement authority, according to online records. He was in jail on $1,000 bond.
Tovar had accused Carollo of pulling him by the arm and calling him a chavista – a supporter of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – following a Sept. 25 city council meeting.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening, the city council discussed Carollo's conduct. It was the first meeting since the mayor expressed his opinion that Carollo should be fired.
Boria made a motion to recommend Carollo’s dismissal – an item that was not on the meeting agenda.
"You had it on the agenda, you took it off. I was not prepared to make a decision like this tonight," said Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz.
Boria accused the city manager of erratic behavior, taking a weeklong vacation to Las Vegas without letting anyone know, and even of hacking into emails.
"He attacked my integrity, first, one. Second, he abused his power and the third one, his conduct is not appropriate for a manager," the mayor said, listing off his reasons for wanting to terminate the manager's contract.
But when the question was called for a vote after an hour and 10 minutes, Ruiz withdrew her second of the motion, so it died.
Vice Mayor Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera then motioned for a vote of confidence for the city manager, which was seconded by Ruiz. Rodriguez Aguilera, Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez and Councilwoman Christi Fraga supported Carollo, while Boria and Ruiz did not.
The mayor didn't allow Carollo to speak at the city council meeting – but the city manager had plenty to say afterward.
"They have conspired to try to discredit me, defame me, try to get me out of here, by putting me in jail, by falsely accusing me of assaulting someone. If Mr. Boria wants to get me out of here he better get the votes. I am not leaving. I am going to do the job that the people of Doral want me to do," Carollo said.
He addressed Boria's accusation that he disappeared for a week on vacation. Carollo presented a document that he said Boria himself signed, which gave him the green light to travel to Vegas on business.
"To discuss the possibility of bringing the Miss USA pageant to the city of Doral," he explained.
Carollo said he had taken two days and a few hours of a third day of vacation, but he would explain that during a special meeting next week where he is expected to address the accusations the mayor made against him.
Details about the alleged incident involving Carollo and Tovar emerged after the developer's arrest earlier Wednesday.
In a statement to police written in Spanish, Tovar said Carollo had a threatening attitude and cursed at him. But according to a Doral Police arrest affidavit, Tovar later changed his initial account of the incident and said Carollo pushed him.
Doral Police Chief Richard Blom said he contacted Tovar's attorney, and arranged for him to surrender to police Wednesday.
"Mr. Tovar at the request of the Doral Police Department made himself available today to be taken into custody," said Tovar's attorney, Jesus Suarez. "We don't think that the fact that the Doral Police Department responds to Mr. Carollo is appropriate. The city manager was the person who was the subject of the complaint made by Mr. Tovar, and Mr. Tovar looks forward to the day he can present these facts in the court of law in accordance with the American way and the United States of America."
Tovar allegedly exchanged words behind closed doors following the Sept. 25 meeting, where the city council unanimously approved a plan to benefit Tovar's luxury development.
"Me, as a mayor, as being elected by the people, I have to keep the peace and try to focus on what were going to do in the city and the plans that we have, which by the way has been, stop it, because I don't know, all this soap opera that we have seen in the city," said Boria after the arrest.
The alleged incident was captured on surveillance video, which shows Tovar in the lobby and walking into another room after the meeting.
"Mr. Tovar's statement about being 'pushed' is clearly contradicted by the video obtained during the follow-up investigation," the arrest affidavit said.
Suarez said he hasn't reviewed the video but that it only comes "from one side or one perspective."
Assistant State Attorney James Chimera said in a statement that detectives came into the felony screening unit on Monday, and "we went through the elements regarding the charge of making a false report to police, as we do with any detective when asked about specific charges," Chimera said.
"After reviewing the video, I informed the officers that they would have to compare the statements of the alleged victim, which they did not show me, to the video, and that would either provide sufficient evidence to charge or not," Chimera said.
Chimera said that since he did not see the statements given to authorities by Tovar, he would not be able to determine if the evidence was sufficient with regards to filing a false police report.
Doral Police said they concluded that there was no battery.
"After conducting a thorough investigation which included interviewing numerous witnesses and examining video footage, it was evident that no battery took place and the actions that Mr. Tovar alleged to have occurred simply did not happen," Doral Police said in a statement. "Once the case was concluded, the case information was reviewed by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office. The State Attorney’s Office also concluded that a battery did not occur."
Carollo had previously denied Tovar's accusations, calling them "a lie."
"It's not a message from the police chief. It's a message from the American way, and the American way is through process, checks and balances," Carollo said of the arrest. "Our police department went to the state attorney's office to make sure that they would give us the go-ahead and scrutinize what we had, not once but twice."
"I think his behavior is not good for the city – having a person that thinks everybody is a criminal is not good for the city," Boria told NBC 6 last week.
Suarez said the timing of Tovar's arrest, on the day Boria is expected to recommend the firing of Carollo, wasn't a coincidence.
"We don't think that it's a coincidence that this arrest took place on the eve of a meeting to consider terminating the city manager, we think the city manager's conduct in all this has been horrendous," Suarez said. "We think that the fact that Mr. Tovar was asked to be arrested today is to serve Mr. Carollo's political interests and we think that's unfortunate."
Carollo defended his performance while speaking with NBC 6 last week, saying he's done a good job in his nine months in the position.
"Look, I think that I have been involved in very difficult situations in government and the record speaks for itself, that I have done an excellent job," Carollo said.
On Wednesday his job was spared, with some councilmembers including the vice mayor, Rodriguez Aguilera, pointing out that the mayor himself had praised the manager's work.
In the end, she said stability was important in a city that's had a revolving door of city managers.
"Every time we change the city manager, all that brings is instability, so the vote of confidence, is to continue the stability of our city," the vice mayor said.
Ruiz was the only city councilmember to side with the mayor and express her lack of confidence in Carollo.
"My experience has been one of good days, bad days, almost like good cop, bad cop," Ruiz explained.
"I have had the manager tell my guests that they would be arrested if they didn't leave the building," she added.
After Wednesday's very public confrontation, the mayor resolved that the city will get back to business.
"We're going to move forward. We're working as a team. That's the idea," Boria said.
He added that he will continue to request the termination of the city manager's contract if he "doesn't behave."