November 14, 2019
After Carollo parts ways with chief of staff (MPD vet Richie Blom), accusations fly of lying, mistreatment
 
 
By Joey Flechas
 

A personnel shakeup in Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo’s office has sparked a flurry of accusations that paint vastly different portraits of the commissioner as a boss, either as an ill-tempered crank or respectful supervisor. The disparate views are framed by accusations of workplace harassment and extortion, claims hurled between two men whose alliance has crumbled over the course of the last few months.

The break between Carollo and his former chief of staff, Richard Blom, ignited controversy inside Miami’s halls of power Tuesday, a few days after Blom shared memos he’d written about issues in Carollo’s office with the city’s top administrators. 

Blom, who had been out of the office for several weeks due to medical problems, writes in two of the letters that Carollo undermined the authority of his staff by reprimanding and scolding employees in public, that Carollo went on “profanity laden rants” when Blom greeted people who were “not welcome“ in the office, and that Blom felt uncomfortable researching properties owned by a recipient of much of Carollo’s ire in the last year, Ball & Chain co-owner Bill Fuller. These letters were delivered to Carollo’s office on June 16 and July 1.

In a third note sent July 15 via text message, Blom asked to be given a smaller, 15-hours-a-week role as a liaison with a few neighborhood groups in the part of the city Carollo represents, District 3. On Friday, Carollo had a letter hand-delivered to Blom telling him he rejected the idea and accepted Blom’s request to step away from the chief of staff position as a resignation. 

After receiving Carollo’s letter, Blom emailed the three messages to Deputy City Manager Joe Napoli, who forwarded them to City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, Miami’s top administrator. When Carollo learned of the letters’ dissemination on Monday, he prepared a searing response that he shared in media interviews Tuesday.

The commissioner fired back at Blom, saying his former staffer lied about Carollo’s workplace demeanor, produced multiple statements signed by employees refuting Blom’s letters and accused Blom of trying to extort him for a high-paying job with few responsibilities. Carollo said Blom’s letters with damaging information about Carollo’s behavior were part of an effort to intimidate him into giving Blom a cushier gig.

“He is trying to get me, against my will, to to give him a no-show job for $100,000 a year,” Carollo told the Miami Herald. Carollo added that in Blom’s biweekly letters over the summer, Blom asked if Carollo would prefer to have the messages via email — which Carollo said he felt was a pressure tactic.

Blom, a retired Miami assistant police chief who once served as Doral’s police chief, dismissed the accusation. He was already working part-time hours — 29 1/2 hours weekly — and he would have expected to earn $50,000 for 15 hours weekly, if Carollo had approved.

“I never asked for $100K. Why would he say that?” Blom said Tuesday evening. “How could I get the same pay for half the hours?”

The commissioner also shared a letter that one of his youngest aides, 22-year-old Tanjha Quintana, sent to the city’s human resources department complaining that Blom, her boss, made her feel “uncomfortable and awkward” in the office. In a two-page letter dated July 29, Quintana wrote that Blom took an unwelcome interest in Quintana over other women in the office, sitting next to her to talk about his past and personal life almost daily and buying her lunch without her asking.

Quintana also wrote that Blom tried to get her to lie about Carollo’s actions, writing that he contacted her in late June to get her to say that the commissioner had mistreated her and had created a hostile work environment.

“While I had already been feeling uncomfortable and awkward as to why my supervisor, chief Blom, was so overly interested in being nice to me, I have now been experiencing major stress with the concern of not knowing when he will come back to work and having to work under his supervision after this whole extremely unpleasant situation that he has tried to involve me in,” Quintana wrote.

Blom pushed back against the allegations, saying he often offered to buy lunch for multiple staffers in the office and didn’t pay any special attention to Quintana.

Blom’s departure marked a rift between two men who have faded and re-emerged in Miami’s political scene twice together. After years away from the public eye, Carollo returned to the spotlight in 2013 when he was hired as city manager in Doral. His pick to head Doral police: Blom, who left the city shortly after Carollo’s firing about a year later.

In spring 2018, a few months after Carollo prevailed in a legal challenge to his November 2017 election, the commissioner hired Blom to be his chief of staff.

By Blom’s account, his year in Carollo’s office was “confusing, frustrating and disturbing,” peppered with unpredictability from a commissioner who refused to meet with certain community figures and even some city administrators. Blom told the Herald he remembered being dragged into Carollo’s office and loudly berated for allowing a department director into the District 3 office.

Carollo has bellowed at people who have upset him during city commission meetings multiple times since his re-election. In February, he had a tense exchange with Fuller, who referenced Carollo’s 2001 arrest for hitting his ex-wife with a tea container.

On Tuesday, Carollo denied Blom’s account of his behavior toward employees and attitude toward visitors in the office.

“That is totally untrue,” Carollo said. “This is a public office.”

Carollo pointed to three signed statements by city employees working in his district office that state the commissioner has never yelled at them, disrespected them or used profanity in the office. 

The back-and-forth comes one year after another dismissal in Carollo’s office. Amid accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct, former aide Stephen Miro was fired in June 2018. At the time, Blom said Miro was creating “an atmosphere of gender-based hostility.” Miro has since challenged his firing.

Around the same time, news broke of a criminal investigation into Carollo’s office. Investigators were looking into whether Carollo spent public funds to cater events at senior centers where Alex Diaz de la Portilla, then a county commission candidate, appeared.

Both men denied any impropriety and chalked the suspicions up to political attacks from opponents. No charges have been filed in the matter.

On Tuesday, Carollo told reporters he was saddened and shocked by Blom’s words. Carollo recounted his hiring of Blom, who had close ties to former Miami mayor and Carollo foe Xavier Suarez, adding that he owed Blom nothing but gave him Doral’s top cop job based on his qualifications.

“I gave him respectability,” Carollo said.

Blom agreed with Carollo on one point — that Carollo owed him nothing. Blom said he was happy to have been given part-time work on top of a $100,000 police pension, he expressed his disagreement with how the job turned out after a year, and he asked for a change. When that change was denied, Blom said, he was fine with it.

“Sometimes when people can’t refute the facts, they go on personal attacks,” Blom said. “I guess he was able to get people to refute the letter because they work for him. But again, I wouldn’t write anything down there that wasn’t factual.”