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Miami commissioner's campaign pays city staffer's company $100k. It’s legal

 Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes
Matias J. Ocner
Miami Herald
Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes, pictured here in 2019.

In Tuesday’s Miami District 4 race, incumbent Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes is facing a longshot opponent who spent only a few hundred of his own dollars on his campaign.

Yet the Reyes campaign has spent more than $200,000, and steered more than half the money to a public relations company that is owned by the wife of his chief of staff.

County ethics rules do not prohibit government workers from working on political campaigns if they don’t use government resources or time, but the payments to Reyes’ top employee constitute the highest spending in what appears to be a less than competitive race.

The election

The City of Miami’s two most heated races this election are in commission Districts 1 and 2, where a slew of candidates are aiming to replace a suspended commissioner (Alex Diaz de la Portilla in District 1) or unseat a relatively new incumbent (Sabina Covo in District 2).

But the race with the highest spending among candidates comes in Miami’s District 4, where Reyeslooks to preserve his seat against Andres Vallina — a District 4 resident the Miami Herald called a “longshot” candidate.

READ MORE: Municipal elections in Miami-Dade are coming up. Here’s what you should know

Vallina has spent just $585, much of it in personal money he loaned to his own campaign. Reyes, meanwhile, spent a whopping $255,927 as of the Nov. 2 reporting period, according to campaign finance data from the Miami-Dade Elections Department.

Reyes is a well-regarded candidate who has been on the Miami Commission since 2017 and landed the Miami Herald Editorial Board’s endorsement. Vallina, his opponent, is a political newcomer lacking Reyes’ name recognition in the district.

More than half of Reyes’ campaign expenditures through Nov. 2 — $135,435— have gone to a single company for media placements: Public Relations Concepts, LLC.

Public Relations Concepts, formed only two years ago, is owned by Patricia Arango, wife of Esteban Ferreiro, Reyes’ Chief of Staff and a City of Miami employee.

The website for PR Concepts, Inc., Esteban Ferreiro's company that was dissolved in 2015, according to the Florida Division of Corporations.
The website for PR Concepts, Inc., Esteban Ferreiro's company that was dissolved in 2015, according to the Florida Division of Corporations.

Ferreiro works for Public Relations Concepts as a consultant and media buyer, and the company is registered to the couple’s home address, according to records from the Florida Division of Corporations. Ferreiro previously owned a company called PR Concepts, Inc., which was dissolved in 2015.

Ferreiro has been Reyes’ chief of staff since 2017 after his election to the Miami commission in 2017. Ferreiro told WLRN in an interview that he also works as Reyes’ campaign consultant during his off time from city business. Before answering questions about his consultant work, he asked a District 4 office employee to clock him out during the interview.

“You know, all government people have outside employment. It's just the way you do it,” Ferreiro said. “You have to make sure that you cross your T's and dot your I’s and that you're not doing anything that's not right.”

Ferreiro explained that his company receives a 15% cut of the money Reyes’ campaign pays for media buys. So, of the roughly $135,000 Reyes spent on media buys in the recent reporting period, Public Relations Concepts was paid roughly $20,000. The rest goes towards ad placements.

Reyes' campaign also cut a check on Oct. 3 for $5,000 to PR Concepts, Inc. — a company that dissolved in 2015. Ferreiro said this was done erroneously and he's asked the campaign to fix the name and address for that payment.

Practice is allowed under ethics code

Government employees commonly work as either volunteers or paid workers on political campaigns, and the practice is allowed under Miami-Dade County’s Ethics Code.

Jose J. Arrojo, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, told WLRN that employees must make sure that their outside work does not conflict with their government duties.

"It is legit and it is legal. I play by the book."
Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes

“The employees cannot use public resources for campaign purposes, and they cannot work on the campaign while on the clock for their government employer. Also, if the campaign work is paid, then the employee must ordinarily get permission and report the payments as outside employment as required by the Ethics Code,” Arrojo said in a statement.

Ferreiro declared his employment with the campaign consulting firm on forms submitted to Miami’s City Manager, according to documents reviewed by WLRN. He says he’s responsible for writing and placing ads with TV stations like Univision 23.

Asked if he considered using any other company to purchase ads for his campaign, Reyes said he did not because he has worked with Ferreiro on all of his previous campaigns.

“What should I be looking for? Somebody else that I don't know, that doesn't know the way I think and the reason that I'm running? Why should I?” Reyes said.

Both Ferreiro and Reyes say that his campaign work is done when he’s not on the clock and according to ethics standards.

“It is legit and it is legal. I play by the book,” Reyes told WLRN.

Reyes has raised more than $291,000 in campaign contributions as of Nov. 2 — all of which needs to be spent or donated after the election is over.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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