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Miami Herald - July 7, 2007

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Troubled housing agency gets new temporary chief
A 26-year city employee and Iraq War veteran was appointed director of Miami's scandal-plagued housing agency after the previous director refused a demotion.

By Larry Lebowitz

Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez on Friday appointed a 26-year veteran employee as the interim director of the housing agency that has been rocked by scandal, scathing audits and criminal investigations.

Hernandez picked Hector Mirabile to serve as the interim community development director while the city launches a ''broad search'' to replace the ousted Barbara Gomez.

Gomez, 49, was suspended indefinitely earlier this week after she refused to accept a demotion to a $120,000-a-year assistant director's post in another city department.

Gomez's seemingly successful tenure managing the community development agency was derailed in recent weeks after The Miami Herald published investigative articles detailing financial mismanagement, cronyism and botched housing projects that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Pressure has been mounting on Gomez to step down after the newspaper reported that Gomez had steered contracts to companies that employed one of her ex-husbands and her son. Prosecutors are now investigating. City leaders have also been slammed on radio, television and news editorials for trying to give a financial buyout to Gomez -- who has said that city politicians knew about, and supported, her deals.

''The Department of Community Development provides essential services to city residents, and it is imperative that this important work continue with as little interruption as possible,'' Hernandez said in a statement. ``After carefully considering Hector's professional skills and dedication, I have determined that he is the most fitting candidate to head the department on a short-term basis.''

A decorated U.S. Army reservist who served as an infantry battalion commander in Iraq, Mirabile most recently served as management's chief negotiator in recently concluded contract talks with the city's four largest labor unions.

AUDITING EXPERIENCE

The bulk of Mirabile's city service is with the police department. As an administrative major, he managed a $180 million budget, purchasing, grant management, capital improvements and legislation. He also has extensive auditing and accounting credentials, which will come in handy in a department that was recently slammed by auditors for failing to abide by basic city rules for competitive bidding and tracking affordable housing payments and loans.

''We are satisfied that Barbara has been suspended without pay,'' Mayor Manny Diaz -- once a key Gomez supporter -- said in a prepared statement. ``We strongly support the appointment of Hector Mirabile. I look forward to working with him on implementing a series of reforms identified from our examination of the audit.''

PAY CUT REJECTED

Gomez refused to accept a $24,000 pay cut and a demotion to an assistant director's post in the Neighborhood Enforcement Team office, which responds to street-level citizen complaints and requests for services.

If she had taken the demotion and held it for a year, she would have completed 10 years of city service and vested for a pension that could have paid out upward of $1 million in her retirement years.

But Gomez failed to respond by a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline, and Hernandez suspended her without pay. Reached by phone at her Miami Lakes home, a sobbing Gomez declined to comment: ``I really can't talk.''

Miami Herald staff writer Michael Vasquez contributed to this report.