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City of Miami moves to create an independent inspector to investigate corruption

Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes at a Jan. 11 city commission meeting, where he proposed the creation of an Independent Inspector General's office to investigate alleged corruption in the city.
City of Miami
Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes at a Jan. 11 city commission meeting, where he proposed the creation of an Independent Inspector General's office to investigate alleged corruption in the city.

During a government meeting marred by explosive arguments, accusations of corruption and a near fistfight between elected officials, the Miami commission united to vote through a move to cut through the cloud that's hung over city hall — to create a new body to hold the government accountable.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes on Thursday put forward an agenda item to dissolve the city's existing Office of the Independent Auditor General and create a new, stronger body — the Office of the Independent Inspector General.

"What we need is a structural change," Reyes told WLRN after the meeting. "The inspector general will have the authority to look into any activity of the administration. They can even investigate us [commissioners.]"

READ MORE: Miami Commissioners vote to keep Victoria Méndez as City Attorney for only a few more months

The Miami commission voted unanimously in favor of Reyes' item, which will put a ballot question to Miami voters during the August primary election this year. The ballot question will ask if voters wish to amend the city charter to create the inspector's office.

According to the city charter, the existing Auditor General's office is led by a certified public accountant, has the power to analyze the finances and accounting systems of city boards and offices and ultimately issues audit reports based on their findings.

Reyes explained that an Inspector General would have a wider scope of duties and powers than the Auditor, and would have more latitude to independently investigate corruption. The new office would have subpoena power to require someone to appear and answer questions as part of their inquiries.

Currently, the Office of the Independent Auditor General technically reports to the commission itself, despite its name, according to the city charter. Reyes said an Inspector General should be truly independent in order to fully separate investigations from politics.

The commissioner brought up an investigation from the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General that played a leading role in the arrest of former school board member Lubby Navarro that hit the news just as the commission meeting was underway. He said the city version should emulate that kind of investigation.

It was also the county Inspector General’s office led an investigation into former county commissioner Joe Martinez, resulting in his arrest on corruption charges in 2022.

Miami Beach residents chose to create an Office of the Inspector General in a ballot referendum in 2018.

A line of corruption allegations

In a time when city hall is up to its rafters in corruption allegations — a$63.5 million civil verdict against Commissioner Joe Carollo for harassing local businesses with city power, former Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla being arrested for alleged bribery and money laundering and Mayor Francis Suarez reportedly being investigated by the FBI — a new layer of accountability is what several residents and observers have been asking for.

Reyes, who was first elected in 2017, said he's been wanting to create more transparency in the city government for some time.

And following Thursday's commission meeting, where Carollo and new Commissioner Miguel Gabela nearly got into a physical fight after lobbing accusations at each other, Reyes said the public needs a reason to trust their elected officials.

"What happened [Thursday] was embarrassing. We need to change the culture in the city," Reyes said.

The full scope of the Independent Inspector General's Office's duties will be drafted and approved by the Commission in the coming months before ballot language is submitted to the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections.

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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