The Miami Beach City Commission chose to vote in a new City manager at Wednesday’s city commission meeting. Their choice was Jimmy Morales.
Morales, wept openly at the news, thanking the commission for their unanimous vote.
To show solidarity behind the new City Manager, the commission voted by acclamation and unanimously appointed Morales.
“I apologize for my emotion,” Morales said. “This place is very special for me,” he said in a cracked voice of the city he grew up in, “I love Miami Beach.”
Mayor Bower stepped off the dais to bring Morales some napkins, someone then handed him a bottle of water.
“I wasn’t looking for a new job as a manager in another city,” he said. “Nothing seemed so right as this place.”
This decision closes a challenging seven months since his predecessor Jorge Gonzalez resigned after a series of city employee corruption arrests. Kathie Brooks stepped in as interim City Manager while a search firm was hired to cull candidates. Ironically, Morales did not come from that search but threw his hat in the ring via a lengthy letter (see box) to the city commission.
The candidates were narrowed down to three – Morales, former Miami city manager and longtime figure in local government Frank Rollason and former State official Monica Cepero. Cepero removed herself from consideration as the City Attorney moved onto background checks of the final candidates. On Feb. 22, Smith told SunPost that it would take 14-21 days approximately for principals of Moore and Plasencia Investigations LLC to produce their research.
Morales was the clear front runner of the two and not just because he was a commission suggested candidate. City employees and residents alike were all in favor of the former Miami Beach special master and lobbyist taking the helm.
Well-known civic activist Frank Del Vecchio has also championed Morales taking the position.
“The city commission has the opportunity to change the headlines from corruption and negativity to integrity and promise by appointing Jimmy Morales as city manager,” Del Vecchio told SunPost. “Of the three finalists, Morales was the only one confident that he would hit the ground running, saying, ‘The new manager literally won’t have time to play catchup…on day one, if you select me as manager, you send a message that this is our commitment: competence, integrity, ethics and reform,’”
Del Vecchio continued. “Morales has the stature and respect necessary for our city to turn the page on a devastating chapter in its history and put the focus on the future, not a past from which our city government has not yet been able to separate itself.”
Although Morales, has no actual City Manager experience, but he does have a background filled with civic and public service management positions. He is currently the City Attorney of Doral and was a former District 7 Miami-Dade Commissioner from 1996 to 2004, a one-time county mayoral candidate and a past chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.
Morales, 50, graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School in 1980 and then went on to attend Harvard, graduating from its law school, magna cum laude, in 1987.
After a period in which he was a practicing attorney for law firms based in Miami, New York, and Washington, D.C., he was elected a Miami-Dade county commissioner, representing Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Pinecrest, South Miami, and portions of Miami.
While on the Commission, he chaired its budget and finance committee and the mayor’s task force on efficiency and competition, and served as the county’s liaison to Miami’s Downtown Development Authority.
Morales was chief special master for Miami Beach from 2005 to 2007 before leaving to serve as city attorney for Marathon, Fla., for three years. In 2009 he assumed the Doral post.
He serves on the board of trustees of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, among other civic affiliations.
Del Vecchio, in a letter to city leaders last year, praised Morales as having a “compelling personal story, prestigious academic and professional qualifications, wide experience in government, and an unblemished record of integrity.”
Morales, he said, “can meet the challenges we face with no learning curve to overcome” and is “ready to give his all to what our city needs.”
Del Vecchio also told the SunPost that “a person of Jimmy Morales’s stature [as city manager] will enable our city to turn the page on an unfortunate chapter in its history and focus on the challenges and opportunities before us.”
Morales faces many challenges when he assumes the position. Commissioner Jerry Libbin told the SunPost that the chief issues facing the new manager upon arrival are the $1 billion convention center project, budget season and union negotiations to name a few.
“There are a lot of challenges including a depleted executive staff,” Libbin said. “There are three assistant manager positions that need to be filled; the Public Works director is resigning; and there are other positions that need to be filled.”
Vice Mayor Michael Gongora cited similar concerns, and in particular the convention center project. “A final decision has to be made in June,” he said. Gongora addressed Morales today after the vote “You are going to be rebuilding the city of Miami Beach during a very difficult time.”
Morales acknowledged the difficult challenges ahead of him. He promised to raise the morale of city employees and regain the trust of the public.
“I pledge to the residents that I’m not here as a politician, but a solid administrator,” he said.