South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard understands it is only the city manager that is able to remove the chief of police from his duties.
As a result the FIU scientist seems to have launched a “take no prisoners” campaign to get Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro fired by way of soap box submissions to the Miami Herald, blog postings, crime statistics research, and voluminous departmental public records requests. As Interim city manager Steven Alexander prepares to address the demoralized officer ranks in a long delayed contract meeting to release a reserved two percent salary bonus, the mayor appears to have only amped up his efforts to replace the chief.
“I have found additional things where the chief has violated the law and procedures,” said Mayor Stoddard in an interview, “the more I look into it, the more problems I see.”
The problems may have begun during the mayor’s re-election campaign in January of 2012 when a 911 dispatcher sent a squad car out to a residence complaining about “solicitors.” The “solicitor” was campaigning for the mayor who criticized the decision to respond to the call as interference with the democratic process.
“This all goes back to the election and his (the mayor’s) delusion that the chief was playing politics with his opponent,” said Chief supporter Commissioner Valerie Newman. Since then the list of complaints grew to include the mayor’s assertion that friends and neighbors were targeted for arrest and forfeiture funds were being misspent.
Chief Martinez de Castro is currently being investigated by the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission on the charge of steering business to his wife’s company. Based on pending litigation and the advice of his attorney Simon T. Steckel, he chose to not comment for the story.
During Interim Manager Alexander’s inaugural city commission meeting on January 11, Mayor Stoddard, Commissioner Bob Welsh, and Commissioner Walter Harris passed a symbolic “no confidence” resolution against the chief. Commissioner Newman and Vice Mayor Josh Liebman were the dissenting votes.
“He (Mayor Stoddard) is so hung up on whether or not the purchase of $80 for canine vitamins was a legitimate expense,” said Vice Mayor Liebman, “It’s so petty. The constant slandering reflects poorly on the entire city, everything that’s been written about the chief is just amateur, childish and pathetic.”
Stoddard claims he regularly receives confidential complaints from cops against the chief: “Cops have told me they are very much supportive of my efforts to see the chief go. I get anonymous letters written by a girlfriend, daughter-kids handwriting. You won’t get a quote because they know that anybody who says anything will get his head chopped off.”
Alexander acknowledges that morale is down city wide. “You can’t have the turnover in management in a city this size with this much stuff going on and not demoralize people.” Alexander’s May 16 meeting to review a bonus for SMPD, may be affected by a recent stalemate on approval of his pending $175,000 a year contract.
“In the last three years there have been six managers and the effects of that can be seen,” said Alexander. Former City Manager Hector Mirabile was fired by the same trio of commissioners opposing the chief as Mirabile was about to begin police contract negotiations.
Preceding his removal, Stoddard emailed Mirabile his own crime analysis report. He later claimed it was prematurely leaked to staff. The Police Benevolent Association subsequently submitted a public records request to look into a formal recall process for Mayor Stoddard and Commissioner Welsh.
“We are feeling desperate, frustrated, and morale is lower than it has ever been,” said PBA Representative for SMPD Detective Jose Lopez. “Before Mirabile was fired in November 2012 he was getting ready to negotiate a salary merit increase. But the mayor took it upon himself to do the city manager’s job and negotiate directly with us. He reviewed the budget, if I recall correctly, and the city manager blew a gasket.”
Stoddard questions Detective Lopez’s position. “Detective Lopez is really the chief’s assistant and he is extremely loyal to the chief. I can tell you he wrote false things in my burglary file six months after. He has been out to get me with the chief so take what he says with a grain of salt.”
Stoddard says he wants officers to know he appreciates them and is simply doing his job. “When it is called to my attention that a member of the city staff is violating the law, I have an obligation to take it seriously and investigate.Although crime is down in South Miami as opposed to an uptick in surrounding Pinecrest, Coral Gables, and unincorporated Dade, he does not attribute these successes,-nor the celebrated two minute response time—to the chief’s leadership.
“I am in awe of the department,” said Commissioner Newman. “If it was anybody else you would see a total shut down by now, but the chief is a professional and perseveres. Because of his leadership we are seeing an incredible reduction in crime.”
Interim Manager Alexander has made it clear publicly that he is the only one who is able to fire the police chief. When asked if he was impressed with his performance to date Alexander said, “I think the crime numbers are pretty good and you know that’s a major factor in how you view your police department.”