Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales has resigned as the city’s top administrator.
Morales, who led the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, announced his resignation in a video address published by Mayor Dan Gelber on Wednesday afternoon after informing the City Commission and his staff.
Since declaring a citywide state of emergency in March, Morales has steered the city through COVID-19 with unilateral decision-making powers granted to him by the city charter and the commission.
In a statement to the mayor and commissioners, Morales said he is leaving on Feb. 1 to explore the “next chapter” of his life.
While he said he is not leaving to accept another job offer, the 58-year-old said he had “always wondered” what it would be like to work at a different level of government, teach at a university or run a nonprofit.
“Given the incredible issues that have come up during this 2020, not the least of which is addressing existential issues like climate change, pandemics and systemic racism, I feel the need to regain my voice and use what I have learned in my many years of service at the local level to perhaps influence a broader regional, state and federal agenda.”
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, left, and City Manager Jimmy Morales tour the Miami Beach Convention Center as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers builds a coronavirus field hospital inside the facility on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
Miami Beach has had just two city managers in the last 20 years. Morales was appointed in 2013 following the resignation of former city manager Jorge Gonzalez amid high-profile corruption arrests in the city.
Morales, a former two-term Miami-Dade County commissioner, left his role as the city attorney in Doral to take the city manager job. He grew up on the Beach, attending Miami Beach Senior High and receiving a Miami Herald Silver Knight award for general scholarship in 1980 before graduating from Harvard and Harvard Law School.
After law school, he served as a judicial law clerk and later nabbed associate and shareholder positions at several international law firms. He previously served as the city attorney for the city of Marathon.
Morales was a Miami-Dade commissioner for eight years, the same period of time he will have spent at Miami Beach come February. In 2004, he ran for county mayor but lost in a runoff to Carlos Alvarez.
As a commissioner in 1997, he championed the creation of the county’s Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, which voters later approved. In 2001, he drafted campaign finance legislation reducing the maximum allowed individual contributions to candidates from $500 to $250.
At the next City Commission meeting, commissioners will discuss the process of replacing Morales.
“Where life takes me after that and what challenges I will tackle are still not certain, but I am excited to explore the opportunities,” Morales said in a statement. “I can assure you that for the next four months, I will continue to work hard on your behalf, and work with the mayor and commission to ensure a smooth transition of leadership.”
In Miami Beach, city commissioners set policy and the city manager is tasked with executing that policy while running day-to-day operations.
During the pandemic, Morales assumed emergency powers in order to take swift action without convening a full commission meeting.
In his letter to the commission, he said that while his tenure “has certainly not been perfect,” he led the city with “integrity, honesty and transparency.”
During spring break in March, the head of the Miami-Dade County NAACP called for Morales to resign after cellphone footage documented the rough arrests of Black vacationers in South Beach.
One of his toughest critics, Commissioner Ricky Arriola, has spoken out against the business closures and public health restrictions Morales imposed throughout the pandemic.
Morales, who acted before the county in shutting down stretches of public beach and imposing a curfew in March, has expressed sympathy with businesses and residents affected by the measures.
As city manager, Morales oversaw the redevelopment of the Miami Beach Convention Center and approval of a convention center hotel, the passage of a $450 million general obligation bond program and the introduction of a free citywide trolley system.
Gelber, who has been friends with Morales since they attended Nautilus Middle School, said he served the city effectively and admirably.
“We were fortunate to have someone of his character and talent steering our ship, and he will leave our city a much better version of itself,” Gelber said in the video. “Our community will miss him, as will I.”