Miami Beach attorney named interim city manager, first openly gay city executive
by Martin Vasollo

Hailed as a “trusted adviser” to the Miami Beach
Commission, City Attorney Raul Aguila was
appointed interim city manager Wednesday.

Aguila, 58, will run the city government for the next
several months while the city hunts for candidates
to replace the outgoing Jimmy Morales, who will
leave his job Friday to work in the administration
of newly elected Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella
Levine Cava.

Aguila’s appointment, which takes effect Saturday,
was officially a unanimous vote. Two members —
Commissioners Ricky Arriola and Micky Steinberg
— listed another candidate, Fire Chief Virgilio
Fernandez, as their preferred choice. In all, five
senior-level city employees applied for the
temporary position as the city’s top administrator.

Aguila’s $314,908 base salary, which is more than
Morales’ $305,736 salary, will remain unchanged
as Aguila switches jobs, a city spokeswoman said.

When the city appoints a permanent manager,
Aguila said he will return to his role as city attorney.
In the meantime, Deputy City Attorney Rafael Paz
has been promoted to city attorney.

Aguila is Miami Beach’s first openly gay city
manager, according to the city. His appointment
means that five of the 10 city leaders and senior
officials who sit on the City Commission dais are
openly gay men. The city has two gay
commissioners, and a gay city attorney and city

“For the first time in [Miami
Beach] history, we have an
openly gay manager, city attorney and city clerk,” Aguila said in a statement.
“It’s historic.”

Aguila, who enrolled in law school at 19, graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1985 after completing his undergraduate
studies at Florida International University.

He joined the city’s legal department in 1993 and has served under 6 different mayors, including the late Seymour Gelber and his son,
current Mayor Dan Gelber. In 2014, Aguila was unanimously appointed city attorney after working for two decades as an assistant city
attorney. Prior to his stint in Miami Beach, he briefly worked for Monroe County as an assistant county attorney.

He plans to retire as city attorney in March 2022 after his contract ends.

Commissioner Michael Góngora, who made the motion at Wednesday’s meeting to appoint Aguila as interim city manager, said Aguila’s
experience working directly with commissioners on proposed legislation made him the ideal choice for the job.

“I made the motion to support Raul Aguila as interim city manager because our city needs stability at this time and someone with broad-
based knowledge of how our city works to steer pending projects forward,” Gongora said in a statement. “Raul has been with Miami
Beach for over 28 years through six different mayors and is nearing the end of his distinguished career, and I believe him to be our best
choice as interim manager.”

Aguila will assume the emergency powers commissioners granted to Morales during his declared COVID-19 state of emergency. Since
March 12, Morales has used his unilateral decision-making authority to impose curfews, business closures and alcohol-sale restrictions.
City law allows the manager to wield his emergency authority for a 72-hour period, but the commission has regularly extended Morales’

Following Wednesday’s vote, Aguila told commissioners that he would rely on public health experts to make policy decisions related to
the pandemic. He also affirmed that he did not intend to apply for the permanent city manager position.

Assistant city managers Eric Carpenter and Alina Tejeda Hudak, and Chief Financial Officer John Woodruff, have said they will apply to
replace Morales. The city is nearing an agreement with firm Ralph Andersen & Associates to conduct the city manager search.

City leaders expect the process to last about six months. Before Morales became city manager in 2013, interim City Manager Kathie
Brooks served for about eight months.

“I hope to be able to leave things perhaps a little better even for our new manager so that he or she can hit the ground running,” Aguila
said. “I look forward to being able to go back to being city attorney but in the meantime there is work to be done, and I hope to be able to
work with the team over there and meet with them as early as tomorrow to hit the ground running.”

The other candidates for the interim position were Fernandez, Code Compliance Director Hernan Cardeno, Public Works Director Roy
Coley and Assistant City Manager Mark Taxis.

Of all the candidates for the interim and permanent city manager position, Coley is the only one who lives in Miami Beach. Aguila lives in
Coconut Grove and Morales lives in Coral Gables.

Arriola, who has been a frequent critic of the city’s COVID restrictions, said he has “extremely high regard” for Aguila but supported
Fernandez for the job because of his emergency-management experience. He said he deliberated until late Tuesday night about who to
choose, but settled on Fernandez because navigating the pandemic with a vaccine around the corner is the “most urgent matter facing our

“I can make the case for any one of these candidates,” he said.

Gelber, who said the city has an “embarrassment of riches” among its senior-level staff, said Aguila’s understanding of city operations
made him a sensible choice.

“He is a trusted adviser to the commission,” Gelber said. “He’s been on the dais, and he’s watched all of the issues.”

Miami Beach’s form of government gives commissioners the authority to vote
on policy decisions, but the city manager is responsible for carrying the laws
out and running the city.

Morales, who recommended Fernandez or Taxis be appointed the interim manager, said Wednesday that Aguila knows more about
Miami Beach than almost anyone in city hall.

“I will make myself available at any time to assist. Phone calls, Zoom calls, I’m just across the bay,” Morales said. “Not that Raul needs it.”


Five out of the ten officials who sit on the
City’s dais will be openly gay individuals
with the appointment of Raul Aguila as
interim City Manager and Rafael Paz as
acting City Attorney. The motion was made
by Commissioner Michael Góngora, who
they will join together with Commissioner
David Richardson and City Clerk Rafael
Granado as Miami Beach charter officers
who are part of the LGBTQ community.

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