Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hialeah catches recall fever

Hialeah may be in a money mess in the wake of former mayor and county mayoral candidate Julio Robaina's mad dash to County Hall. There are some rumors of fiscal mismanagement that have left the city with a budget shortfall. Robaina certainly seemed to be less focused on his job and more on the campaign in recent months and may have made costly mistakes (the firing of those firefighters that had to be rehired and paid retroactively comes to mind) that would be discovered after he was long gone.

Yes, most of the buzz might be coming from people who support former commissioner Carlos Gimenez in the June 28 runoff, which is becoming a closer call every day. Or people who are just against Robaina, who seems to be less confident these days, figuratively and literally sweating it more, (more on that later). They are fueled, however, by a financial report that says the city started the fiscal year in September with a $19 million surplus some believe has been squandered -- or stolen. And that has led to some talk about recalling council members who were either complicit in the cash drain or turned a blind eye to help an ally.

"It seems JULIO ROBAINA has left Hialeah in a state of "FINANCIAL EMERGENCY" (BANKRUPTCY)," wrote Eric Johnson, vice president of the firefighters union (his caps, not mine), on his facebook page, right after the union's first getting-to-know-you meeting with interim Mayor Carlos Hernandez.

"If this is true, and the council was lied to, so be it," Johnson wrote on his page, which has quickly become one of the No-To-Robaina go-to sites on the social network. "If the Hialeah Council knew the city was being diminished for Julio's political gain then I will be pushing for a recall of every Council seat in this city."

Johnson, who lives in the Redland, is not an accountant, though he is pretty good at and seems to have an akin to what Ladra likes to call government math. He is more of a rabid anti-Robaina Energizer Bunny, one the candidate's biggest and loudest critics -- and one of several people that told Ladra they are being followed (more on that later) -- who is publicly obsessed with removing the smoke and mirrors and abuses of power and process he sees rampant in this campaign. While Ladra knows he's got a vested interest, his zest for public records, his quickness to connect those records to people and money and government, and his facility with flowcharts makes her tail wag. But, like I said, he is not an accountant. All he does is pore over the numbers for hours and days with other firefighters who are not accountants to come up with more questions than answers. Really good questions, though. And not the expected "Why would the city, with a $19 million surplus, want to cut employee pay by 30 percent and demand $4 million in concessions from firefighters?"

No, not just that. More general questions like, "How come a city that began its fiscal year in September with a surplus around $19 million has to close police stations at 5 p.m.?" Like, "If there is around $19 million in surplus funds, why are park hours cut by more than half in some cases and swimming programs in a city that was once a beacon for swimmers offered at only four or five of the 30 pools?" Questions like, "Where is that money?"

While interim Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez said that only a little more than $8 million is accessible right now (the rest are monies due but not in hand), former mayor and current Hialeah mayoral candidate Raul Martinez went to the last council meeting and said he was concerned about the financial state of the city. He mentioned that the comprehensive audit of finances made available to the council last week should have been released earlier and that council members should, in fact, get quarterly reports to review. He pointed at each of the council members and said they would be held responsible for any shortfall. But he may not have been campaigning so much against Robaina as for himself.

And let's be fair, gentlemen. The city's financial people are not too good at adding and subtracting and that kind of thing, according to a forensic auditor and an arbitrator that have looked over the budgets for the fire union in their cases against the city (both won by the union). Miami Beach Commissioner Deede Weithorn, a forensic auditor hired by the fire union in their PERC unfair labor practices victory (which the city apparently has the funds to appeal), said she was surprised at how many mistakes she found in the the budget and their supporting data. "We found some errors on the financial picture painted by the city," Weithorn told Ladra a few weeks ago. "They were claiming a fiscal crisis, and upon further analysis, it wasn't. And there were some glaring errors." The arbitrator who looked over the financial reasons for firing 17 veteran firefighters last December in the days leading to a vote on a new contract said that the city's justification over economic reasons were basically bogus. "From the limited available numbers provided in this record, it can be reasonably concluded that hardly any savings, if at all, results from this decision to terminate the grievants," wrote Robert Hoffman, out of Tampa.

Leaders at the fire union, which has been battling with the administration for years and is actively supporting Gimenez, said they asked Hernandez last week if he would ask a forensic auditor to look at the numbers. Hernandez didn't say no, but indicated that he was confident in the current analysis, said union President Mario Pico. Or maybe he could be embarrassed (and recalled) by what they find. Pico told Ladra the board might ask Weithorn to take another look. Ladra thinks it's a great idea. In fact, maybe Weithorn can recruit other community leaders who are financial experts/forensic accountants to take a group look at Hialeah's books for all of us before June 28.

The firefighters -- who started going out Saturday on their own time to talk to absentee voters about fraud and how to prevent their vote from being stolen (more on that later) -- can't be the only heroes among us. Ladra calls on the financial experts of the 305 to stand up and give the financial wizards of Hialeah a hand.

Then maybe we can find out who knew about what and when and see if there is anyone on that dais who truly deserves a recall effort.


  1. Off with ALL their heads!!!!!

  2. I hope civil minded citizens/ financial experts will step up to help figure out the mess in Hialeah. It really is ashame. Great article. The Mayor and councilmen need to distant themselves from ex mayor Robaina and do what is right for Hialeah.


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