The city's financial state is somewhat of a question mark and, while more and more people have been asking, answers are elusive. Mayor Carlos Hernandez, Finance Director Vivian Parks and Budget Director Alex Vega (why two separate people? Beats me, but Ladra sees an opportunity for savings right there) have each refused to talk about the city's finances and rumors of a possible shortfall that will need to be overcome before even considering next year's budget.
In fact, the city may not be able to make payroll after two more checks, maybe three. But nobody wants to talk about this. Not publicly, anyway.
Privately, there is evidence of scrambling: The city offers 38 eligible employees -- including seven from solid waste and six from water and sewers -- a "window" (expires Aug. 15) to retire and cash out their "timebank" (earned sick and vacation time) at pre-salary cut hourly rates. Some of these are the longtime, highest paid workers the city intends to replace with part-timers or lower-level employees. Watch the flies DROP, ladies and gentlemen. It might be a good time to bail.
The mayor, also privately -- publicly he satys the union leadership will not meet with him -- threatens the same leadership with layoffs if they don't get $3.2 million in concessions. Is that how they plan to make payroll? Because it worked so well for them last time the city illegally fired firefighters and were ordered to hire them back and make them "whole" to the tune of $687,000 (which the city still had not done as of the last paycheck) and made them 115% overbudget in overtime in the fire department as of last month.
Hialeah Finance Director Vivian Parks told me last week, on Wednesday -- before the mayor shut her up -- that the city had $12 million in the bank, enough for four payrolls, or two months. (Yeah, I know: bad sign when the finance director can't multiply $3.5 million by 4 which is $2 million more than what they had last week... unless she knows something the other employees don't know). I say two paychecks because there are other bills to pay (or not pay, as it were, since we also hear that some vendors have been unpaid for months. But we can't get an answer on this, either). Parks said the city has other income, franchise fees and the like. But will that be enough? She said it would be. Ladra caught up with her at her home to ask about the shortfall and the payroll, about a supposed surplus of more than $10 million that seemed to have been paid to the city according to the monthly accounts receivables in which one month has $10.7 million and the next has $44,000. Someone would logically think that the city was paid and it's a legitimate question to ask where the money went. But Parks said she would answer specific questions the next day when she was in the office. After she did not return two calls the next day, Ladra went to her Miami Springs home again. "I cannot speak to you," she said, adding that administrators had gotten an email from the mayor directing them not to talk to any members of the press and refer all inquiries to the city clerk's office. She then swiftly slammed the door in my face. (Yeah, not the first time, lady).
Budget Director Alex Vega was reached at his office Monday morning and also said he could not answer any questions and that everything had to go through the mayor's office and a public records request. But Mayor Carlos Hernandez has not been too accessible and apparently takes his media [cross]training from former mayor and defeated county mayoral candidate Julio Robaina. I only got to talk to Hernandez for, like, 90 seconds and that was only because I did not leave a message when he did not answer his cell phone and he called me back not knowing whose missed call that was. When I introduced myself, I asked the softball about his cutting back his salary, you know, something he wants to talk about. (Should have gone for the big guns). He said he would do it immediately, not as of the November election as I had written, and that the council did not have to approve it. "I already did it," he said. And kudos to Hernandez for, again, cutting the mayor's salary that he had voted to increase (and it is still about a 400 % raise from his own salary two months ago and the salary on which his pension will be based. More on that later.). He calls this leadership. But leaders do not hang up on people as they ask the follow-up question. He said he had to go and I was trying to ask him to call me after his "meeting" or tell me when I could call him again. It would have taken the same amount of time as his "I'm sorry. I have to go. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." But, alas, I did not get the chance to tell him that either. And he has not returned one call. He may have saved my number on his phone by now so he would know when I am calling.
So, because I imagine some email or memo that says all queries must be made through the mayor's office or a public records request, and since Ladra loves public records and has found City Clerk David Concepcion to be far less evasive and much more polite and professional, we will file one today. And we will share it here with the public, too. Perhaps these questions can be answered at Tuesday's public council meeting.
- If the city collected the nearly $11 million in accounts receivables, where did those funds go or get transferred to? Please provide specific department and line items.
- Or, alternatively, did those $11 million never really exist and were they put on the books purely for cosmetic reasons?
- How much does the city have in the bank(s) right now? This includes all accounts, reserve and capital improvement or storm water if separate.
- How much is the city expecting in revenue for the total month of July, of August and of September?
- Which private companies donated, and how much did they give to the city in order fore the public parks to be reopened in the mornings? Also, when and how was this funding initiative and avenue developed and by whom?
- If there is at least $11 or $12 million in the bank now, why has the city still not "made whole," as ruled by an independent arbitrator in April, the 16 firefighters wrongly fired last December and illegally unpaid for five months?
- What are the accounts payables for last month and for July, August and September?
- What vendors have not been paid in the last 60 days and have accounts payables outstandings (please provide amounts as well)?
These are questions that should easily be answered and since there is some advance notice here, I suggest city staff be prepared to give answers at Tuesday's council meeting.
In fact, the first ones who should be asking are the council members-- especially those up for re-election -- and the candidates who want to replace them.