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'He needs to resign': Former Miami city managers sound alarms over Art Noriega allegations

City Manager Arthur Noriega gives his remarks during a special commission meeting regarding the city’s budget at Miami City Hall on Monday, December 11, 2023.
Carl Juste
The Miami Herald
City Manager Arthur Noriega gives his remarks during a special commission meeting regarding the city’s budget at Miami City Hall on Monday, December 11, 2023.

Several former Miami city managers on Monday called for an investigation into whether current city manager Art Noriega violated any ethical code or law, after WLRN reported that companies connected to his wife’s family have received over $440,000 in contracts since he was appointed to office in 2020.

Duiring Spanish-language Actualidad Radio’s “Contacto Directo” show, four former city managers — Danny Alfonso, Emilio Gonzalez, José García Pedroza and Carlos Gimenez, currently a Republican U.S. congressman — called for a thorough investigation.

Another former city manager, Joe Arriola, called for Noriega's outright resignation over what he alleged ethical issues connected to spending taxpayer dollars — directly or indirectly — to family members.

READ MORE: Miami city manager's wife was hired for office remodeling, raising ethics concerns

“Noriega needs to go. He needs to resign,” said Arriola, who served as city manager under Mayor Manny Diaz in the early 2000s. “The immorality and corruption in the city of Miami is severe.”

The remarks by the former city officials during calls in to the show were made during an interview with WLRN's investigative reporter Danny Rivero, who co-authored the story on the city furniture contracts.

The show is hosted by Roberto Rodríguez Tejera and Juan Camilo Gómez.

Kenia Fallat, a city spokesperson who also called into the show, said Noriega followed all proper necessary procedures. As WLRN previously reported, Noriega wrote a memorandum disclosing a conflict of interest with his in-laws company and said he would “recuse” himself from any decision making connected to the company.

“There has been for many years a relationship between the city and his in-laws’ company,” said Fallat, going back at least to 2008.

Gonzalez, who ran city hall before Noriega, said Noriega should “at minimum” be given the chance to publicly explain himself. Gonzalez said he is "reaching the point" where resignation is in order but didn't outright call for it

“After a thorough investigation the mayor and the city commission are going to have to decide the future of this man,” said Gonzalez. “And beyond that — if he informed someone about the conflict or not — we are seeing the damage that all of this is doing to the city of Miami. The city of Miami is losing legitimacy every day. Residents have had enough of what they are seeing, what they are reading.”

Noriega's ethic concerns are among a laundry list of issues facing Miami officials, including the suspension and arrest of City Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla on felony charges. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is dealing with an ethics complaint for accepting tickets to high-priced sporting events. And a federal jury in June found Miami commissioner Joe Carollo liable for violating the First Amendment rights of two Little Havana business owners.

Noriega told WLRN that he and his wife, Michelle Pradere-Noriega, discussed pausing business dealings with the city while he was city manager but ultimately decided against it. Noriega also said he did not think the potential conflict of interest rose to the level where he would have to get an ethics opinion on the matter for guidance.

Even though his wife is listed as the salesperson on over $37,000 in contracts for furniture in Noriega’s own city hall office in early 2023, the city manager maintains he had nothing to do with any decision making connected to the contract.

Noriega's 2020 memo was sent to the five sitting commissioners and Mayor Suarez. However, since that memo was sent, three new commissioners have been elected — a majority of the board — and a commission staffer told WLRN that he was approached by the administration with a catalog to purchase new furniture from Pradere Manufacturing, the company owned by Noriega’s in-laws, in which his wife works.

“It is not customary to have to send a new memorandum,” said Fallat, the city spokesperson.

Republican Congressman Gimenez, who was Miami city manager in the early 2000s, said WLRN's reporting on the furniture contracts raise serious ethical questions.

“There needs to be an investigation to see if [Noriega] followed all the rules of the city of Miami — if he did everything correctly,” said Gimenez. “When you have someone so close to your family involved with city business, the best thing is to remove yourself and give the decision to someone else.”

Ethics experts have told WLRN that the contracts raise potential conflicts of interest because of Noriega’s high-ranking position in the city and may violate state ethics laws.

“These are the types of facts that often give rise to ethics complaints filed with the commission on ethics,” Caroline Klancke, the executive director of the non-profit Florida Ethics Institute, told WLRN. “At its heart, ethics laws are designed to protect the impartiality of the decision making of public officers and public employees, and the fairness of the process.”

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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