February 21, 2020
Activists officially launch petition to recall Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo

A group of activists filed paperwork Thursday to officially begin a recall petition against Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo.

Carollo represents Miami’s District 3, which includes Shenandoah, Little Havana, The Roads and a sliver of west Brickell. Rob Piper, a retired Marine who lives in Shenandoah, filed paperwork Thursday morning to open a political committee called “Take Back Our City” to organize the effort. Piper, the committee’s chairman, signed the first petition at City Hall after opening his committee.

“We’re sick and tired of corrupt politicians abusing their power, breaking the law and thinking there’s no one to hold them accountable,” Piper told the Miami Herald.

Carollo dismissed the effort as run by a group of outsider political operatives who don’t respect democracy. 

“That’s really something,” Carollo said in response to Piper’s statement. “I hope Mr. Piper remembers these words. They may come back to haunt him.”

The petition states that Carollo “should be recalled from his elected office as the District 3 City Commissioner for committing misfeasance and malfeasance,” referencing Carollo’s well-publicized efforts to identify and push for enforcement of code violations at a Little Havana nightclub.

Though not named in the petition, Ball and Chain has been the focus of Carollo’s ire following his election in 2017. In an effort to beef up code enforcement in his district, Carollo has drawn much attention to the nightclub and other properties affiliated with one of the co-owners, Bill Fuller. Carollo was the subject of an investigation by county ethics investigators after Fuller complained.

That complaint was later withdrawn, though a summary of interviews confirmed some of the complaints both men hurled at each other — violations at Fuller-owned properties were real, and Carollo took a special interest in identifying such violations. The report included testimony from a former Carollo aide telling investigators the commissioner pressured him to lie during the inquiry. 

Carollo denied this and said the report was full of exaggerations and lies, though he proudly admitted to going on late-night stakeouts to spot violations and generally pushing for tougher code enforcement, particularly against Fuller, whom Carollo called a “street hoodlum.”

The feud sparked a public shouting match and led Fuller to file a federal lawsuit against Carollo, in which Fuller claimed he was the target of political retaliation for supporting one of Carollo’s opponents in the 2017 municipal election. That lawsuit is pending.

Piper’s petition also cites an incident where Carollo hosted a paella luncheon for seniors in his district, and Alex Diaz de la Portilla, then a County Commission candidate, was present and greeted residents.

“Carollo abused his power and violated state law by using public funds to support the political campaign of a political ally,” the petition reads.

Both Carollo and and Diaz de la Portilla, who lost the county election but was elected to represent the city of Miami’s District 1 in November, have denied any wrongdoing since prosecutors began an inquiry in June 2018. No charges have been filed.

“That’s all false, and they know it,” Carollo said of the statements on the petition.

To file the recall paperwork, Piper was joined by former Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairmanJuan Cuba and former District 1 candidate Eleazar Meléndez — an opponent of Diaz de la Portilla and District 1 resident. Both Cuba and Meléndez said they were volunteering to help organize the effort, and they plan to start canvassing the district with volunteers on Saturday.

“I’m just frustrated, completely frustrated with no one holding corrupt politicians accountable for anything — not the state attorney, not other people in government,” said Cuba, who does not live in District 3. “So it’s on us, the citizens, to do that. Even though I’m not in this district, I’m happy to lend my efforts in organizing.”

Carollo emphasized Cuba’s residency outside city limits in his comments, saying Cuba and Meléndez are “socialists that live off this game.”

“This is not serious,” Carollo said. “This is not a grassroots effort from people in my district.”

The city of Miami’s laws do not outline a procedure for recall, so Piper and his group are following state law. Mounting a municipal recall effort is a tall order due to state laws that require the use of volunteers and two stages of gathering signatures.

The petitioners have 30 days from the day the first signature is collected to gather signed petitions from at least 5% of the district’s registered voters. In District 3, which has 31,536 voters, the recall effort would need 1,577 signatures to move forward.

If the requisite number of signatures are verified, Carollo would have the right to write a 200-word statement defending himself against a recall. This statement would then be included on the petition for a second round of signature-gathering, where the recall campaign would need to collect petitions from 15% of District 3’s voters, or 4,730 signatures.

If the recall effort reached this point with enough verified signatures, Carollo could either resign or go to a recall election, where voters would decide whether he should be removed from office.