Miami city manager details spending with wife’s furniture company

City Manager Arthur Noriega gives his remarks during a special commission meeting regarding the city’s budget at Miami City Hall on Monday, December 11, 2023.

Update, March 19: The office of Miami City Manager Art Noriega said Tuesday that it had released inaccurate data on Monday “due to anomalies in the tracking system used to retrieve purchase information.”

The original story is below.

Facing criticism over an alleged conflict of interest, Miami City Manager Art Noriega on Monday morning released a PowerPoint presentation and three spreadsheets with information about the city’s spending with furniture vendor Pradere Manufacturing, a company owned by his in-laws that employs his wife.

According to the data Noriega shared with city commissioners and the press:

  • The city manager’s office only started buying furniture from Pradere Manufacturing after Noriega took office in 2020. But since 2010, his office was the third highest spender with Pradere in city government.

  • In 2020, Pradere’s only city project involved providing furniture for the city manager’s City Hall office and for his Miami Riverside Center office, at a cost of $10,649. Noriega’s office contracted with Pradere Manufacturing again in 2021, 2022 and 2023, spending $39,387 last year on three custom pieces, including work stations and seating for his Miami Riverside office.

  • The company was also paid $57,670 in 2022 for work related to a remodel of City Commissioner Christine King’s office.

The data presented by the city manager indicate that from 2020 to 2023, the city’s spending with Pradere Manufacturing totaled $228,234. But that figure is far less than the number reported by WLRN, which broke the news about the contracts and the potential conflict of interest in January. According to public records obtained by WLRN, Noriega’s wife’s family’s company has been awarded more than $440,000 since Noriega took office.

The reason for the roughly $211,000 discrepancy is unclear. The Miami Herald was unable to independently verify whether the data sets presented by Noriega are complete.

City spokesperson Kenia Fallat said late Monday that she had asked for clarification from procurement but was unable to immediately provide further explanation because the Herald’s request came in after standard business hours.

Noriega did not ask the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust for its opinion about the potential conflict of interest when he took the job as city manager, instead sending a letter to the mayor and commissioners in the summer of 2020 simply disclosing the relationship and saying that he would recuse himself “from any and all involvement, decision making and/or approvals between the city and the company.”

The dissemination of the report comes on the heels of criticism about Noriega’s lack of transparency and accountability to the public after the WLRN investigation. It was released more than two months after Noriega told city commissioners on Jan. 11 that he would present a “full reporting and accounting” of the vendor relationship, the procurement process and the disclosures to “create transparency” at the next commission meeting on Jan. 25.

But three meetings passed before his presentation was finally scheduled for Thursday. After a marathon city commission meeting Thursday that lasted until around 9:15 p.m., King, the chairwoman, decided that Noriega would disseminate the report on his own and take questions at next month’s commission meeting on April 11.

In his letter Monday to the mayor, commissioners and other city employees — with the presentation and data attached — Noriega denied any wrongdoing.

“Throughout my tenure as a public servant, I have never derived personal benefit beyond my standard salary and benefits,” he said. “I have maintained strict adherence to my responsibilities, I have refrained from advocating for any particular vendor, consultant, or professional engaged by the City.”

Noriega said in his letter that the ethics commission has his case under review. According to WLRN, the commission began requesting documents regarding the business between the city and the furniture company after WLRN reporters asked questions about it.

Spending with Pradere Manufacturing

From 2010 to 2019, before Noriega was city manager, the city paid Pradere Manufacturing $522,181, or an average of $52,218 per year, according to the data Noriega presented.

During that time, the vendor’s largest city clients by dollar amount were the parks department and fire-rescue. The city manager’s office did not contract with Pradere during that time, according to the data Noriega provided.

From the time Noriega became city manager in 2020 through 2023, the city’s purchases with Pradere amounted to $228,234, or $57,059 per year, according to Noriega’s data.

In 2020, Noriega’s office was the only city office that contracted with Pradere. In 2021, Pradere received the most city income from the office of Mayor Francis Suarez, and in 2022, King’s office had the top billing. In 2023, Noriega’s office spent more than any city department on furniture from Pradere, with the three custom pieces totaling almost $40,000, according to the data Noriega provided.

Although the actual dollar amount spent with Pradere was greater after he became manager, Noriega noted in his presentation that the percentage of overall city furniture purchases made from his wife’s company was lower after he became manager. Purchases from Pradere Manufacturing accounted for 9.3% of the city’s spending on furniture from 2010 to 2019, and 7.4% of the city’s spending on furniture from 2020 to 2023.

Noriega did not address the purchases made for his own offices. In 2022, the city paid Pradere Manufacturing $39,901 to remodel the office that houses Noriega’s direct reports at Venture Miami, a city initiative launched by the mayor that used city funds and federal COVID-19 relief money to attract tech companies to the region.

According to WLRN, Noriega’s assistant signed off on some of those orders, and his wife was listed as the salesperson.

Noriega also did not address questions about his time as head of the Miami Parking Authority, where he worked for 20 years before becoming city manager. According to WLRN, in 2009, Noriega hired Pradere Manufacturing to do a remodeling of the corporate offices in downtown Miami for $569,865.

Commissioners Manolo Reyes, Miguel Angel Gabela and Damian Pardo have all expressed that they want to see Noriega respond to the allegations in a public forum, where people would be able to ask questions.

During Thursday’s commission meeting, commissioners took a roughly two-hour break at 7 p.m. to go into shade meetings, where they discussed litigation the city is involved in behind closed doors. Over that break, commissioners discussed deferring the rest of the items left on the agenda, including Noriega’s presentation.

But by 9 p.m., after City Hall was mostly deserted, Noriega still wanted to present. Commissioners Reyes, Gabela and Pardo asked that Noriega deliver his presentation at the next commission meeting in April so that more people would be in attendance. By that time, even Commissioner Joe Carollo had left.

Noriega tried to bargain, saying he would hand over the relevant reports to commissioners and have a private meeting with each of them so they could “grill” him with any questions. Noriega also said he would disseminate his reports through the media.

In the end, King, the chairwoman, abruptly ended the meeting after deciding that Noriega would disseminate the report as he stated and take questions at the April commission meeting.

In the letter sent out to the mayor and commissioners Monday, Noriega expressed regret that the matter had been postponed because of time constraints at Thursday’s meeting.

On Friday, Gabela told the Herald that he is calling for Noriega’s resignation “unless something changes.” He went on to say that he is tired of the way city employees, including Noriega, delay opportunities to be held accountable.

“What they’re hoping is for people to forget,“ Gabela said. “If we’re going to play these games in the city of Miami, then I think it’s time for some people to start thinking about retirement.”

“I’d like to see for [Noriega] to finish what he said he was going to do,” Gabela continued. “He was going to do it in public, do it in public. That’s the deal we had.”

When called Monday morning after the report was disseminated, Gabela said he hadn’t had a chance to look at it but stood by his comments made Friday.

Miami Herald investigative reporter Sarah Blaskey contributed reporting.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that an order from Commissioner Christine King’s office contained a single chair that cost $7,528. The data provided by Noriega described the purchase as a “GLB DRIFT, Side Chair, Fully Upholstered w/ 4 Legged Wood Fixed Base, GLOBAL SEATING USA,” with the word “chair” in singular form. After the Herald published the story, the city provided a purchase order for the project that noted the $7,528 purchase was for 12 chairs, which were sold at $627.38 a piece.