Almost a month to the day after the Miami Beach Seven – the crooked seven, not the Commission Seven – were busted and City Hall became more mistrusted, yet another city employee may be about to bite the dust:
The city manager himself.
Some City Hall watchers, in fact, sense that this may finally be the death watch for the Jorge Gonzalez administration. When the City Commission meets for its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, the feds’ April 11 corruption arrests of five city code compliance officers and 2 city fire inspectors are expected to be addressed for the first time by the commissioners. And from their discussion and debate is anticipated to emerge a motion by one or more to hold Gonzalez ultimately accountable for the city’s latest black eye – and fire him.
A motion to do just that was first brought up by Commissioner Jonah Wolfson at the December 2011 session. Deferred until March of this year, the matter was never heard from again. Had it been brought up then, a handicapping of the Commission’s likely vote tally awarded Gonzalez the edge to comfortably survive any effort to oust him.
What a difference a few weeks – and a major criminal case against corrupt city employees – now make.
Now, when the Commission Seven preside next week, the beleaguered manager – at the lowest point of his almost 12-year-long managership – could face a vote on his fate that he may not be able to survive.
Wolfson has not changed his stripes. Deede Weithorn, who seconded the original motion in December, and Ed Tobin, who has in recent weeks become more vociferously outspoken in his opposition to Gonzalez’s remaining in office, are expected to vote for dismissal. Michael Gongora’s is thought to be a fourth vote in favor of dumping the city manager.
Mayor Matti Bower, Gonzalez’s most ardent and unflagging supporter on the dais, and Jorge Exposito, who has previously pledged his fervent support, can be counted as solidly in the Gonzalez column. Jerry Libbin, currently with a group of 750 locals on tour in Israel, has been removed from all the political heat swirling around 1700 Convention Center Drive this past week, but watchers think he, too, will cast his lot with the manager.
The consensus now developing is that if he is voted out, Gonzalez would be given a respectable cushion of time in which to clear out his desk while his successor is found. What with the city about to meet its next crucial test in three short weeks – Memorial Day weekend, with revelers again descending by the hundreds of thousands – commissioners may not be disposed to give him the bum’s rush.
But should the manager be summarily dismissed next week, commissioners could choose to appoint an interim manager in his stead from among several current assistant managers, including Hilda Fernandez, Jorge Gomez, and Duncan Ballantyne.
The prospect of a leadership musical-chairs does not portend well for their futures, either: The fallout from the corruption arrests, coupled with a rising tide of public anger and disgust with a scandal-prone organization increasingly upstaged by misbehaving cops, complimentary ticket-demanding officials, Memorial Day weekend rowdiness run-amok, and – add to that growing list – bribe-taking, drug-trafficking city inspectors, could compel commissioners to opt for a permanent Gonzalez replacement who hails from anywhere else but from within City Hall’s troubled corridors.
Still others believe that it is not merely Gonzalez’s desk at which the buck stops but also those of his subordinates in the city manager’s office. They believe that the entire Gonzalez team – Fernandez, Gomez & Co. – may need to be shown the door alongside their boss if there is to be any hope for a fresh, clean start and a restoration of the public’s trust and confidence in municipal government, a trust and confidence that has been soiled and sullied by a series of embarrassments, recent and older, that leaves many wondering about their city, “What’s next?”