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Miami promises 'full accounting' of controversial vendor relationship with city manager's wife

Miami city manager Art Noriega Pradere
Instagram screenshot
Miami city manager Art Noriega (right) celebrates St. Patrick's Day in 2022 with staffers of his wife Michelle Pradere-Noriega's family company. The companies have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in city contracts since Noriega was appointed city manager in 2020.

Miami’s city manager is set to give a "full accounting" of the controversial business relationship between the city and his wife’s family business —which received upwards of $400,000 in city contracts in four years — at the next commission meeting, more than a month after he promised to do so.

Early this year, WLRN reported on the furniture company Pradere Manufacturing and its familial ties with the City of Miami. The firm is owned by the family of Michelle Pradere-Noriega, wife of Miami City Manager Art Noriega.

The company and its related entities have received more than $440,000 in furniture contracts with the city since 2020, when Noriega became manager. Pradere-Noriega herself was listed as a salesperson on refurnishing contracts for Noriega’s own office in early 2023, one that came with a $37,000 price tag.

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

Experts from the Florida Ethics Institute and the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics (COE) told WLRN the sales raised questions about a possible conflict of interest because Noriega is the city’s top executive. After WLRN’s initial report, a COE executive told Noriega that government officials should seek ethics opinions before performing conduct that could be questionable, according to new records obtained by WLRN this week.

In response to WLRN’s reporting, Noriega said he had nothing to do with his wife’s family business or any of its transactions with the city. Noriega told Miami city commissioners on Jan. 11 that he’d give a full explanation of his wife’s business with the city at the next public meeting.

“I wanted to just put forth to you my intent to come back ahead of the next city commission meeting with a full reporting and accounting of exactly the vendor relationship, the procurement process, the disclosures, everything we did roughly four years ago to create transparency around that,” Noriega said at the meeting.

But the next scheduled meeting on Jan. 25 came and went without a presentation from Noriega. As did the meeting on Feb. 8, and the one on Feb. 22.

Finally, when asked by WLRN on Feb. 22, city spokesperson Kenia Fallat said the manager has been preparing his full accounting and will present it at the first meeting in March.

“He is currently meeting with the different commissioners about this. The information should be made public at the next meeting on March 14,” Fallat told WLRN.

Additional public records released after the initial report show that the city created two new invoices on Jan. 11 for work done by Pradere Manufacturing in late 2023. The company furnished the city manager’s office again last October, and furnished an assistant city manager’s office in December. The work under the new invoices totaled $17,794.58.

A man in a black suit and plaid shirt stands in front of a wall.
Daniel Rivero
Miami City Manager Art Noriega

Calls for investigation

Immediately following WLRN’s reporting on Pradere Manufacturing, members of the public and former Miami administrators called for greater scrutiny of Noriega and his wife’s transactions with the city.

Four days after the story was published — on Jan. 8 — a panel of former Miami City Managers called in to Spanish-language radio program Contacto Directo on Actualidad Radio to discuss WLRN’s reporting. Danny Alfonso, Emilio Gonzalez, José García Pedroza and Carlos Gimenez called for a thorough investigation of the company’s transactions with the city.

“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, a current Republican U.S. congressman who was Miami’s city manager in the early 2000s. “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.”

One guest took things even further. Former Manager Joe Arriola called for Noriega’s outright resignation.

"We encourage persons to seek guidance before they act."
Jose Arrojo, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics.

Noriega, for this part, had disclosed his wife’s business with the city in a memo to Mayor Francis Suarez and the city commissioners who were on the dais when he was appointed in 2020. He said that at the time, he decided not seek out a formal opinion from the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics (COE). After facing public scrutiny, however, he told commissioners at the Jan. 11 meeting that he would request ethics guidance.

Noriega emailed the COE on Jan. 17 and pledged to give a full package of disclosures and transaction history between Pradere Manufacturing and the city, according to records received by WLRN as part of a public records request.

“In consultation with the City of Miami’s elected body, I would like to provide them with a history and clarity on the relationship between myself, as City Manager, and Pradere Manufacturing. As such, I am requesting an opinion from the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust regarding that relationship,” Noriega wrote.

Jose Arrojo, executive director of the COE, told Noriega in a responsive email that he can only give prescriptive opinions to government officials on future conduct. Guidance about past actions can only be provided as part of a preliminary investigation, per commission rules.

“This is why we encourage persons to seek guidance before they act,” Arrojo wrote to Noriega.

Michelle Pradere Noriega Linkedin
The LinkedIn profile of Michelle Pradere-Noriega.

State contract

Noriega previously told WLRN that he had no involvement with any furniture purchases involving his wife’s family business. He said they kept a strict firewall between them, and that Pradere Manufacturing had a relationship with the city for many years before he became manager.

Pradere Manufacturing is an approved vendor under a State of Florida furniture contractfor municipal governments. It has provided furniture for entities including the City of Doral and Miami-Dade County. Vendors on the state list are competitively solicited, meaning they are vetted and go through a bidding process to be part of the contract.

According to Miami’s city code, any contract above $50,000 “must be approved by the city commission upon recommendation by the city manager,” and any purchase above $25,000 must be open to competitive bidding with multiple vendors.

Pradere Manufacturing has had several contracts with Miami that have exceeded the $25,000 threshold, as well as one large contract totaling $56,833.64 for a total revamp of District 5 Commissioner Christine King’s office in May of 2022. None of these purchases were put out for bid or approved by the commission.

According to the city procurement department, the purchases did not need to go through bidding or commission approval because Pradere Manufacturing is on the state’s approved vendor list. A resolution passed by the city in 2006 allows the city to buy furniture through the state contract without requiring votes by the commission, no matter the cost. The code also allows the city to bypass regular bidding rules when it enters into contracts with other government agencies, like the State of Florida.

In the time it’s taken for Noriega to prepare his full public disclosure of his wife’s business connections with the city, other city managers in Miami-Dade County have come under fire and been removed from their positions.

On Jan. 31, Doral City Manager Barbara Hernandez was terminatedby a 3-2 city council vote after a councilmember raised concerns about Hernandez abusing her public office to enrich her husband, Miami-Dade School Board Member Danny Espino. Two weeks later, Coral Gables Manager Peter Iglesias was fired for alleged insubordination.

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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