Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Impasse part of campaign game

An anticlimactic impasse declared by Hialeah city officials on the fire union explains some seemingly out-of-nowhere machinations by intern mayor and opportunist bully pulpit candidate Carlos Hernandez, who falsely fingered the firefighters Friday at a staged press conference that should have had a paid political advertisement disclaimer.

The city declared impasse about two hours after labor negotiations began with the fire union -- which has been successfully battling attempts for the last few years to cut firefighters' benefits without showing cause and which had brought a proposal to save $600,000 a year to the table. That's good faith. But the meeting would have probably ended even sooner if not for the reporter or reporters that attended, to the surprise of the city's attorneys who now had to make it look real. Because it was really just more theatrics in another episode of As Hialeah Churns.

That impasse was premeditated, and not just moments before the bargaining session, although Ladra suspects that if someone made a public records request (read: done) for Grodnick's computer history from Wednesday morning, one will find the impasse document created or at least tinkered with before the meeting. But, it's actually been part of the plan since intern mayor Carlos Hernandez and the Three Blind Mice -- Finance Director Vivian Parks, Budget Director Alex Vega and Water and Sewer Director Armando Vidal -- realized just how bad the city's financial crisis is (read: you ain't seen nothin' yet, folks) and decided, more importantly, they had to find someone to blame in the eyes of the voting public in what promises to be a particularly pissy election year.

Enter the increasingly influential firefighters' union. They've been a stubborn thorn in the side of the administration for years, arguably costing one-time county mayoral front-runner Julio Robaina the election, forcing the city to hire back 16 firefighters that were illegally fired by Robaina for political motivations and generally annoying the hell out of city officials with pointed public records requests and demands for financial transparency. So they're perfect scapegoats. Imagine this "mayor's conference room powwow" episode on As Hialeah Churns:

  • Hernandez: "The *&^%$#@ firefighters are perfect! Hell, we can turn the other employees against them because they are the only ones who haven't made any &^%$#@ sacrifices." (Whispered: "*&^%$#@ celebrated a^%$#les think they're better than cops.")

  • Parks: "Well, sir, actually, and as we have explained to you five or six times each, the firefighters are the only ones we haven't been able to take concessions from."

  • Vega: "Yet. But maybe there is a way we might make it happen before the November elections. Maybe." (Inner voice, without his lips moving: "And we can all keep our jobs a little longer.")

  • Hernandez (watching a couple lizards go at it on a tree outside the window): "I'm listening."

  • Vidal: "Can I have the rest of that sandwich?" (Takes half of Vega's sandwich without waiting for a response).

  • Hernandez: "Well, Alex?"

  • Vega:"Sure, he can have it."

  • Hernandez: "No, your idea to save our jobs."

  • Vega: "It's actually Vivian's idea."

  • Parks (shakes her head): "Armando told me." (Everyone looks at Vidal, gnawing at the sandwich in oblivion, and then back at Parks with a 'yeah, right' face). "Okay, Bill told me.

  • City Attorney William Grodnick, who has been sitting at the end of the table unnoticed: "It's rather easy and genius, if I do say so myself. We declare impasse, no matter what, just declare impasse and then we impose on them whatever cuts we want. To make it more credible, Carlos (and the actor playing Grodnick slows his speech) you will issue a media alert a week or two earlier, next Monday in fact, denouncing the fire union's refusal to respond to our five requests for a meeting to discuss their contract. It's classic media crisis management: We force them to defend themselves. We are the alpha dog."

  • Hernandez: "But we did meet. Then I told them to hold off until after the county election."

  • 'Grodnick: "Who cares? Who knows that for a fact? They will still be in a defensive mode. And some people will believe it. You are the mayor. Put it out on an official media alert. It's official. The media is lazy and stupid anyway."

  • Hernandez: "But the ^&%$#@ bomberos did respond, didn't they? Hey, wait, didn't we even meet with them once?"

  • Grodnick: (Sigh) "That's not the point. We put it out with our spin, the TV soundbites and radio briefs will eat it up. People are sick of public employees with fat paychecks." (Under his breath) "As long as it's not public lawyers with fat six-figure paychecks." (Back to his normal voice) "They'll buy this."

  • Hernandez: "We're selling something else to make up the budget gap? Great idea!"

  • Parks shakes her head.

  • Vega slumps his shoulders.

  • Vidal freezes in motion momentarily, then pops the last bite of sandwich into his mouth.

  • Grodnick: "No, Carlos. Just trust me. Issue the media alert. Then we can agree to a forensic audit, because it will never happen before we declare impasse. Then have a press conference to discuss the city's financial situation, but make sure you blame the firefighters for the bulk of the shortfall. Yeah, that should do it. First, the media alert that puts them on defensive. Second, agree to their demands for transparency, which makes you the good guy. Third, blame them for the shortfall, which makes them the target."
Okay, maybe that's too much creative license. There is no way to know, for sure, if there was a sandwich in the room. But one thing I do know: The firefighters were set up and the impasse was always the city's intention. The media alert sent 10 days earlier to complain about a lack of response smelled fishy from the onset, and Ladra questioned it's motives even then. Especially, since it was easily proven false. Fire Union President Mario Pico, taken by surprise when the media showed him the press release, was able to show emails where he had, indeed, communicated within the dates of the supposed lack of cooperation. And in my two decades of government journalism, I have never seen a city issue an official "media alert" on the labor union's alleged lack of response. Sure, it could happen. I haven't seen it. Is that intended to get a better response? Hardly. It is intended to get media coverage and spin it one way. Because it looks real. But, like the mayor agreeing at last week's council meeting to a forensic audit he never intended to allow, and like the false accusation that $5 million of the $7.8 million shortfall is due to a lack of concessions from the fire union (false because the 2010-2011 budget clearly states that the $5 million in demanded cuts was never factored into the numbers), what we have here is scenery. The backdrop, if you will, for the impasse episode. Not the grand finale, however. That comes next.

Remember at the beginning of the conference room scene, someone said action must be taken before November? That's because of the elections in which Hernandez could lose his $190,000 job. Impasse could allow the mayor to flex his muscles in front of voters by imposing pay cuts on the firefighters, like the 17 percent cuts illegally imposed on the general employees (which was ruled by PERC an unfair labor practice -- surprise, surprise -- and will end up costing the city millions it does not have). That, my dear handlers and fans, is the end game. Why would the city want to do that again? If it's going to be ruled illegal anyway and they'll have to pay more in the end? Maybe 'cause that end could come post election. It only has to look real for a few months.

But the press and the public appear to be on to the city's plans -- especially after Hernandez refused to answer questions about the city's finances at a press conference he announced Thursday for Friday so he could repeat practiced soundbites (read: campaign opportunity) about no tax increases and vague plans to fix city finances -- and have already started to ask more questions.

Let's hope they demand answers and transparency that aren't staged to simply look real.


  1. You call this writing?

  2. Yep. You call that a comment? You are slipping, Won't.

  3. Actually, I think Ladra has quite the dramatic flair. This drama that continues to unfold in City Hall, "As Hialeah Churns",is certainly worthy of Telenovela status. Truth may be stranger than fiction, and I just don't understand why the Mayor and cohorts just don't go with the truth. Why all these mendacious machinations?
    And I may have the answer to this last question. Have the Mayor and the Councilpersons ever vistited Arizona? According to the Legend of the Hassayampa, anyone who drinks from the waters of the Hassayampa River, can never tell the truth again. Or perhaps, what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive, may apply. Once they started lying to cover Robaina's and their mis-steps, well, the momentum of their mendacity just keeps them going in that direction.
    As for the City Attorney, who though in the City's employ, is still a member of the court, and should be bound by legal ethics not applicable to politicians, which could bite him in the ass some day. I believe Grodnick is a true believer in the philosophy of Mark Twain.
    Twain advised, “Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.”
    Samuel Clemens was a river man, thus the river based nom de plume "Mark Twain". I believe he would like the story of the lie inducing waters of the Hassayampa, especially since the river is now a dry river bed. Yes, the river is dry, just as the well has run dry in Hialeah City Hall. So, dear audience, please wait for the next episode of "As Hialeah Churns",
    where we all go down and drink from the Hialeah River,and never can tell the truth from fiction again.


    nice to see carlito has time for commentary....should be looking for the missing money.

  5. I like how the firefighters live anywhere but in Hialeah live in better homes better cars and make more money than a most of Hialeans but we pay for all there retirement and salaries who ever the new mayor would be he better not keep given to the unions because they will be booted out of office and i have no problem with someone that works hard make money but enough is enough i would like to see and audit on how much firefighter indivisualy make so Mr pico the last time i saw a fire in Hialeah i was a kid police Officer risk there life everyday and make a lot less then the firemen which risk more on ankles twisted playing basketball at the station yes they do a good job for the most part but thats what you are paId to do i think when the citizens are struggling financially you should keep your mouth shut till we the citizens are not suffering specially when unemployment in Hialeah its 18 percent and you guys dont have that problem and if you are strugling its your own fault for living in plush luxuriuos developments thats your own mistake in Cuban is TIRARSE EL PEO MAS GRANDE DEL CULO

  6. -> Last Anonymous. There is a reason that punctuation was invented, nevertheless, your input is appreciated. I do enjoy the stream of consciousness aspect of your post; and you certainly have the right to express your opinion, in whatever format you find most comfortable.
    Collective bargaining is an integral part of our economic system. The organization of Labor was a very needed chapter in the story of manufacturing and industry in the United States.
    Exploitation of workers was the rule, not the exception. Without going through the entire history of Organized Labor in the US, and since we are on the subject of Fire; I would direct you to read about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, one of the darkest days in our Labor history, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of NYC. 146 workers died, many of them young girls of only 13 or 14 years old, jumping to their death from the high rise factory windows, 8, 9, and 10 floors up. The owners of this factory had not acceded to the demands of strikers, that other factory owners had acceded to. These horrific conditions that continued at the Triangle Shirt company led to this tragedy.
    Just as collective bargaining is an integral part of our economic system, so are market forces. When times are good, and municipalities are hiring, a city that wants to retain its quality workers has to pay a wage in parity with other local municipalities, or the workers will leave for better pay. I am more knowledgable of these market forces in the Hialeah Police Dept. Many years ago, in his own inimical style, Raul Martinez told the Hialeah Police Officers that "if they didn't like it, they should leave." They did leave, in droves. Many went to departments in Broward and Dade. Hialeah was left with officers that no one else would hire. New recruits only selected Hialeah because no one else would hire them. Often taking pay from Hialeah to complete the police academy, once the officers were certified, they left Hialeah as soon as possible, sometimes breaking their contract with the city. The quality of the police officers has suffered greatly, and consequently , the public has suffered. Now the market forces have reversed. No one is hiring.
    Municipal workers are damn happy just to keep their jobs. Still, the workers have the right to organize and be represented, but as the market forces changed, so does the equation at the bargaining table.

  7. As far as there being little or no fires in Hialeah, please let me tell you a short tale of my temporary displeasure with the Hialeah Fire Rescue Dept. I was cruising down East 4th Avenue, which I believe should be the archetypal street for all driver training videos, and I see a 317, a serious accident. As I pass the accident scene and continue on, I see the fire truck turning onto East 4th Ave, but it is going in the wrong direction. "Yo, Knuckleheads, you are going in the wrong direction!" As I continued on, I learned that I was the knucklehead, for there was a more serious accident further down the road on this same avenue. I don't think Hialeah Fire Rescue ever has to make practice runs, for Hialeah seems to be the city of eternal sirens. Always an accident on the streets of Hialeah. (Hey, let's do away with the red light cameras, save the citizens some fines, instead of saving lives.) Do you shop for the cheapest Doctor when you need surgery, or do you want the best?
    That paramedic who is holding your heart together with his gloved hand, as your steering wheel has just pierced your chest, do you want him wondering how he is going to make his house payment that month, or do you want him to be the most experienced paramedic, not some bargain brand just out of some local college for profit.
    Along these same lines, the police officer who responds to your business in the middle of the night because you break in alarm has sounded; do you want him to be proud of his career, want him to realize that he makes a damn good salary and shouldn't do anything stupid to sacrifice his great career? If he is worrying about making his house payments , granted he should learn to live within his means, he might covet those belongings to which he was sworn to protect.
    The United States has grown strong through individual efforts and organized efforts, with laws and regulation that protect the public, industry, and municipalities. To disregard the law, to agree to binding arbitration and then refuse to be bound by the arbitrator's findings
    (as in Robaina vs. Hialeah Fired Dept.), to disregard Civil Service rules, as Robaina did to promote his friends and co-conspirators, to disrespect the city workers and the bargaining process that has made us great, which was Raul's modus operandi, well, it doesn't benefit the City or the citizens in the long run.

  8. Amen to that Licker

  9. Well said, Licker. Let me add one or two things.

    Firefighters in Hialeah, who I believe still ride three to a truck rather than four as in most places, don't have TIME to play basketball. This is one of the busiest departments in the state. Ladra can find out how many calls there are on average per 24-hour shift, but will bet anybody now that it is a shockingly high number. Firefighters don't just put out fires, they pull babies out of swimming pools and breathe life back into them. They pull teenagers out of wrecked vehicles and stop their bleeding so they have a chance. They do not hesitate to walk into possible danger when they are called to multiple gunshot wounds at a cafeteria or a stabbing over a $5 domino debt at a park. They are covered in vomit as they save poison or overdose patients. They rush to little viejitas having un patatún and are gentle and kind to her and treat her with dignity and honor, even though she is fine, just lonely. I don't know how to put a price on that, but I would venture to say that most of them don't make enough. You couldn't pay ME enough to put my life on the line for yours and your children's -- without thinking, no matter who you are. Even Julio Robaina. And to get vomitted on by strangers on crack later in the 24-hour shift.

    While they do more with less for less, they are slandered and maligned by the administration, which wants to make them a scapegoat for their own mismanagement and errors without giving them a chance to see where the funds are going and what the city plans to do in the long term to solve the financal situation. Wouldn't anybody with any brains want to see the books before giving away $5 million in earned benefits for a really hard job they love? Politicians have to be re-elected every now and then (or so one might think). The firefighters have been there for 15, 20, 25 years.

    Yes, it's true that Ladra, like all dogs, loves firefighters. So what? You should too. Yeah, some of them MIGHT take legal advantage of built-in benefits that -- by the way -- they earned and that, yes, should be re-negotiated (and that happens everywhere). But the Hialeah firefighters are ready and willing to make concessions if they can see that the city is not pissing the general fund away -- or worse. All they have asked for is to see the books. This is not so unreasonable given the fact that they have been given conflicting information before and that last week, days after intern mayor Hernandez gave a press conference to report a $7.8 million deficit, he told the Miami Herald that there was no deficit. This is not so unreasonable given the fact that he said $5 million of that shortfall was due to unmaterialized concessions from the firefighters when those savings were NOT calculated into the 2010-2011 budget by Robaina. Which raises another, more interesting question: Where did that money REALLY go? More on that later.

    Damn. That was more than one or two things, wasn't it?

  10. Carlos Hernandez is a major disappointment. The city illegally fired 16 firefighters. His best friend Mr Robaina ignored the law. I hope the citizens of Hialeah are getting the message. Hialeah has been run by an adminstration that was self serving and had no regard for the citizens of Hialeah. They were in it for themselves. But worst yet they forgot who they work for (THE CITIZENS OF HIALEAH). They (the citizens of Hialeah) need to clean house if Hialeah ever wants to get back on the right track.


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