Is the fix in for the next town manager of Miami Lakes? Lots of people apparently think so.
Town Manager Alex Rey isn’t leaving until next March, and a selection committee that is supposed to keep the process super transparent and clean hasn’t even met once yet (it will next week) because Town Attorney Raul Gastesi hasn’t shortlisted the 55 — or 58 or 57 or 59, “in high 50-s and not 60,” but he doesn’t remember exactly (really?!?) — candidates that had applied as of the April 20 deadline.
But at Tuesday’s council meeting, a move by Councilman Tim Daubert to speed up the process was seen as evidence that the rampant rumors about an in-house “preferred” candidate (read: Assistant Town Manager Andrea Agha) were true. Daubert withdrew his agenda item after a number of residents complained that it was inappropriate and smacked of cronyism.
“I don’t want an heir apparent and that is what seems to be occurring,” said Abel Fernandez, a retired firefighter and town activist. “What is the hurry? It is inappropriate, it is a travesty that we circumvent the power of a committee.”
Longtime activist Maria Kramer, a member of the selection committee, said she had heard the rumors about the fix from two veteran municipal administrators, a manager and an assistant manager, who had told her for years that the minute the position opened in Miami Lakes, they would jump on it. When they didn’t, she asked them why.
“They said, ‘Why would I apply? It’s fixed. It’s going in house. Why should I upset my council members?’ This pisses me off beyond belief,” Kramer said. “And whoever has been putting that rumor out, this council and this mayor needs to extend this process and go on record and say that this is an open process. If not, you are cheating yourselves and you are cheating us.
“You are going against the will of the voters of Miami Lakes,” she said. “This process was set up by the voters, by a huge number of voters.”
Robert Ruiz agreed with her about opening up the process again. “I am getting calls from city managers that are 10 and 15 years working in this community who decided not to apply because they thought this was a done deal prior to the selection process,” Ruiz said. “There are good names we want to consider.”
Kramer and Fernandez noted that there was plenty of time to vet all the candidates and go through a thorough selection process, which the charter had recently changed to be a citizen driven process. They have until December at the earliest.
“We deserve a process that is fair. We deserve the very best possible administrator in all of South Florida to apply. We need to take Miami Lakes to the next level,” Kramer said. “Please don’t make a mockery of the process. If someone takes another job [in the meantime] they weren’t meant to be our manager.”
In fact, all the residents concerned about the process asked the council to extend the application period, rather than speed up the selection process. The council unanimously set a new deadline for any applicants that stayed away the first time: June 15. Kramer said the town should do the same as Key Biscayne, which kept its selection process open through the end, but some of the council members weren’t willing to leave it open that long.
Gastesi seemed to try very hard to get the council to leave the application deadline closed.
He said the process that resulted in more than 55 — but less than 60, he’s not sure exactly (seriously?!) — applicants was “open, public, recorded, advertised. It can’t be any more transparent as to what we were looking for. We discussed every aspect of what were the minimum qualifications, the educational requirements, size of their management experience, private vs public.”
He dismissed the rumors. “If you didn’t apply, you made that decision on your own. We’re adults and whoever decided not to apply, maybe the reason they didn’t apply is they didn’t want to create friction from where they are. It’s kind of an affront to everybody sitting up on this dais. It’s an affront to everybody on the committee, that somehow they have made that decision.”
Gastesi disclosed that he and the human resources director are going through the resumes to decide whether or not the applicant meets the requirements before passing them along to the final selection committee, which will then make a recommendation to the council, any one of whom, by the way, can bring in their own recommendation. If Gastesi has a doubt about anyone, he will submit them to the committee, he said. He was visibly and audibly upset by the accusations that the position had already been promised or decided for someone (read: Agha).
“I don’t know how else we can make it more transparent,” Gastesi said. “If someone decided not to apply, that’s on them… If there’s a rumor out there as to who’s in the bag or who’s going to get this, it’s not appropriate.”
Councilman Frank Mingo, who is running for the seat in House District 103 — where Manny Diaz Jr. is jumping off to run for the Senate seat vacated by Rene Garcia (more on that later) — agreed with Gastesi.
“It’s sad to hear some people didn’t apply because they made assumptions or heard rumors,” he said. “Nobody controls that committee and nobody controls this council. There is nothing set in stone. that I’ve learned.”
Well, maybe not stone.
But Gastesi tried again, really hard it seems, to talk the council out of re-opening the window of opportunity.
“We have a deadline to apply to get the recommendation to the committee,” Gastesi explained. “The committee process that we set up is the committee process that we set up. We worked long. We worked hard. People worked long and hard to get their applications in under the deadline and comply with the rules and procedures. There are 50-some people who did that.”
Remember, he can’t remember the exact number. Around 57. Or 58 maybe. Or 55. Something like that. No, that doesn’t sound sketchy at all.
Then Gastesi went on and on and on about how opening up the application window again would interfere with “a bunch of work to get to where we are” in the process.
“The fact is that this committee has done a lot of work, met, discussed parameters, input, emails back and forth to us inquiring of certain issues,” Gastesi said. “We’ve gotten public records requests from members of the committee. So we’ve done a lot of work so far.”
Councilman Nelson Rodriguez asked the right question when he asked what committee? What work? The committee, remember, will meet for the first time May 8.
Um, er, Gastesi stammered. “The only work that’s been done… the committee itself has not met. We’ve called meetings… by May 8, I will have reviewed all the resumes, discussed what piles they are going to go into and then turn them over to them and then they can decide what steps to take next.”
So in other words, the committee — whose own members asked for the window to be opened again — hasn’t done any work yet. Not “a bunch” of work. Not any.
Rodriguez was the one who pushed the issue. Daubert expected it to go away when he withdrew the item from he agenda, but Rodriguez wanted to talk about it and was assured that it would come up in the attorney’s report.
“The name of Miami Lakes is being smeared and I dislike it a lot,” he said, adding that he, too, had heard “it’s a done deal” was in the rumor mill. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to discuss this. I wanted to make it clear that nothing is a done deal. Nobody is going to control my vote and tell me how to vote.”
Councilman Ceasar Mestre said the council should “stick by our procedure” and not change the process midstream. He said this could also set a precedent for more changes which is contrary to what the committee was about.
“We are trying to be transparent and now we are coming out with a little way to get around it,” Mestre said “That kind of bypasses everything and if we do get a resume that did not apply on time and for some reason that person gets picked… if there’s rumors now can you imagine what it’s going to be like?”
Which does raise the question that maybe this is being done for a particular applicant.
Said Gastesi: “There is not a process in the country without a rumor mill.”
Councilwoman Marilyn Ruano said that her opinion was guided by the committee members who wanted to open the window again. “We’ve been abundantly transparent. That’s been the idea. And it has backfired.
“There were several committee members here tonight and it was their desire to reopen the process. It’s an abundance of caution at this point,” Ruano said. “We want to make it clear that this didn’t happen…I don’t want the perception to remain that we’re closing it off because that is what we wanted to do from the beginning.”

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