Less than five months ago, Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo got fellow board members of the Biscayne Park Management Trust — which oversees all activities at Bayfront and Museum parks — to approve a no-bid $2 million contract for a playground that would be paid for with funds from the Omni CRA.
Tuesday, he will ask the same board to forgive many more millions in future fees they would have collected from the same community redevelopment agency.
But could this be more than a typical bait and switch? Is this just one more step in the commissioner setting himself up for a cushy job?
First, Carollo pushed out the longtime director, Timothy Schmand — who had been managing events at both parks or writing grants for the trust for 25 years — after the two became involved in a debate about the Rolling Loud music festival, which Carollo tried to get cancelled. Schmand has said he was long considering a move, but everyone believes that Carollo pressured him. And the timing sure was convenient.
Then, he convinced the board, which voted 4-5, to buy a $2 million playground for Museum Park with no competitive process and bill the Omni CRA for the cost.
Around the same time or soon after, Carollo pushed for a significant pay increase for the executive director — a position that is still vacant — from $135,000 to $148,000, and a 25% increase in retirement benefits. for the position, presumably to attract a more and better applicants.
And, most recently, he proposed an increase in ticket surcharge for all events at Bayfront Park and the commission passed it two weeks ago. The more expensive the ticket, the higher the surcharge — and the more money collected by the parks management trust for the executive director, whoever she or he is, to spend.
Carollo, who loses chairmanship of the trust when he leaves office next month, has no place to land. He was supposed to run for mayor against Commissioner Francis Suarez, but that fizzled when his brother, Crazy Joe Carollo, filed to run for commission. Nobody was going to vote for two Carollos. Still, he waited until the last possible moment to let Suarez off the hook, until almost the qualifying deadline that he was not going to run. The next best thing is county commission, which some say Carollo, a public accountant, has had his eye on all along, but Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro doesn’t have to resign to run for Congress. And, in the meantime, executive director of the Biscayne Parks Management Trust is not a bad gig. Especially now that he’s made it so much better.
And if he doesn’t want the job, why won’t he say so? At the last trust meeting in August, board member Ralph Duharte asked point blank if Carollo was angling for the executive director’s position — and Carollo refused to answer. “I think that question is off-base and I’ll be honest with you, I won’t even dignify that question with an answer,” Carollo said. A Miami Herald story said that Duharte later noted that the exchange was curiously deleted from the minutes of the meeting.
And Carollo has been cagy and cryptic with his answers to others who have askedthe same question, never fully putting it to rest. A former trust board member said “there is no doubt that Mr. Carollo has been and is now maneuvering to give himself the job as executive director of the trust.”
It sure looks that way. And it wouldn’t be the first time he uses his palanca as commissioner. In 2012, after he was stopped by a Miami police officer in his vehicle, Carollo told him to “call the chief” and got out of the ticket. An ethics investigation ensued and he pleaded no contest, paying more than $2,000 in fines.
A sitting board member, however, cannot be hired by the trust for two years after he or she leaves the board. But that rule can be waived by a unanimous vote of the city commission. Enter the Omni CRA thing.
The speculation is that Carollo cut a deal with the head of the Omni CRA to “remove all current and future obligations with respect to the Omni CRA’s monetary contribution for capital improvements at Museum Park, as contained in the Inter-local Agreement” in exchange for supporting his bid for the trust director’s job. The endorsement is not the only thing that would give him an edge with the commission. Political observers expect Carollo to say the incease in the tickeet surcharge will make up for the lost CRA funds — which could be somewhere between $20 and $30 million — that the CRA can then use for affordable housing.
Key words: Affordable housing. Because that is how he’s trying to sell it to the commission. Everybody loves affordable housing and more money for it.
Maybe Frank makes for a great executive director. But he’s already awarded one no-bid contract with the playground. And he’s abused his position before. And the fact that he’s making this power play behind the scenes and being so cryptic about it is enough warning to give commissioners pause.
They should let Carollo run for Congress like everybody else.