Friday, September 30, 2011

Candidate permits fast-tracked?

One of the candidates in the Hialeah elections may be in the race or may have switched his group at the last minute to get favorable treatment for his business from the city and alcaldito Carlos Hernandez.

Tony "Phony" Vega, the owner of a gun shop cited for building an illegal gun range last year, told a firefighter in July through a facebook message that Hernandez had offered to help him get his permits. "Yo Bud. I met with the Hernandez camp. They are gasping for support and offering sweet deals," Vega wrote to Eric Johnson, an 10-year veteran of the department and vice president of the firefighters union. "My range is getting fast tracked as a result."

Let Ladra say that again: "My range is getting fast tracked as a result."

This week, Vega said it was a dirty trick.

"With the ease in which you can do that with a network that is so open like facebook, it must have been someone hijacking my account," Phony Tony tells Ladra in this video by my news partner, freelance cameraman Raul Torres. "It's not unlike Hialeah politics. It's a dirty trick," Vega said. "I'm telling you whole heartedly right now it is not me, they are not my doesn't come from me... Here's what you got here. You got fabricated messages with a picture that is publicly available on facebook."

Well, I told him, when the State Attorney investigates, they can do a forensic audit of Eric's hard drive and establish the legitimacy of these messages. "I will cooperate with any investigation."
See the interview yourself:

Ladra's heart is warmed by that. Because the message thread is already in the hands of Assistant State Attorney Johnnie Hardimon, who met with Johnson and Ladra Thursday to go over the apparent bribe and the permit history on Miami Guns, which had every inspection denied on August 24 and started getting approvals the second week in September after he was allegedly walked through the process by one of the mayor's lackies. Hardimon took the allegation seriously -- and a full page of notes.

We went to the state attorney's public corruption unit because this sounds a lot like the promise that former mayor Julio Robaina, the alcaldito's mentor/master, made to Luther Campbell when he vowed to hire a campaign aide for Campbell's endorsement. What would the deal be this time? Support for the mayor's candidacy? Or was it to switch from Group 1, where Hernandez already had a slate mate in Lourdes Lozano, to Group 3, where he had nobody to run against incumbent Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz and former cop Danny Bolaños?

Both Vega, who told Ladra he switched because Group 1 was a  and Hernandez deny being on the same slate, though their platforms sound exactly alike and Vega's signs were posted on Hernandez's poles all over town the first week he had them. He has since taken them off, after this blogger noted it in an earlier post, and el alcaldito has supposedly complained to City Clerk David Concepcion about it. But in the facebook message thread, on August 29, he said that Robert Blanco, who was implicated in shadow banking loans and a ponzi scheme with Robaina and Hernandez, would be supporting him as well.

"Ok, Eric. Here is the deal with me. I went to school with Robert Blanco, it just so happens that he is in the heart of the storm in Hialeah," wrote Tony Phony. "He is a big fundraiser for the political machine here. He's raising money for Carlos and soon for me as well. I am keeping an arm's length from everybody for obvious reasons but I need the political machine to get elected."

On Sept. 8, he wrote: "Carlos people were feeling me out but I have no deal with them. I think seat 1 would be the easy choice." Later the same day, which was one day before the qualifying deadline, he said he was switching. "Yo Big Dog, I'm going to try to unseat Vivian group 3. I can do this. Don't get ruffled by my alliances. Tony Vega is still the same. I gotta get in there to be able to help."

But Johnson says he is not the same and he and other firefighters are appalled at the apparent about-face. Vega had told Johnson in the private message thread that he would help them get transparency and a fair contract because he understood their anger and frustration. "I told him [Hernandez] he should take the offer of the forensic auditor you guys extended and lay the cards on the table. I'm allergic to bullshit and double dealing. I told him that lack of action with regards to the fire deal showed him as incapable of solving city problems." But he apparently abandoned that attitude when he qualified. He told Ladra on the day he qualified the union leaders were being unreasonable. "There's a big push to satisfy the unions who don't want to take any steps down," Vega said right after he qualified. "They want what's best for their members, but not what the city needs."

He has also lauded the alcaldito's efficiency law, making  illegal rooms legal for a fee.

For his part, Hernandez denied any connection to Vega. "I don't know Tony Vega," he said when Ladra asked him about it on Thursday at the IHOP lunch campaign event where both he and Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez had a meltdown.

Vega's nickname was almost "Wasn't Me" because he continues to deny, deny, deny. He also denied writing a post by MiamiGunRange on a forum in the Florida Shooter's Network website under the title line "Help Hialeah Closing me Down and banning gun shops" in April of last year. "It wasn't me," he said. Even though his Miami Guns shop was cited with a violation for building without a permit. "It wasn't me," he said, even though the post asks his "fellow shooters" to support him at his hearing April 27.

Later, the MiamiGunRange writer posts a comment on his own post: "Folks it's a really bad empty feeling when your elected officials turn their noses at you. I have spent the last 2 days at city hall and the reception has been very mild. Luckily I made a few donations during election season and those guys were more receptive." Really? Do we have to worry about him being "receptive" to campaign contributors to his campaign.

And why is he even running for office after he wrote on that forum "I plan on moving a mile or two up and be free of the political septic pool we call Hialeah."

Oh, that's right. It wasn't him.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ladra y Raul, slated on flyer

Guerilla campaign tactics in Hialeah elections are not always very sophisticated. But they are almost always kind of unique to the flavor of Hialeah. And sometimes that makes them silly.

Ladra went from the surreal to the completely ridiculous when she stepped outside City Hall during Wednesday's budget hearing after she was trespassed from the building by police on orders of the chief. As she took a short walk to a group of fellow bogus budget objectors talking outside, a gentleman came up to her and asked if she was Elaine de Valle. "Yes," I said a little hesitantly, thinking he could be another Sergio Gonzalez. But the man only wanted to thank me for my work and hand me a flyer he found on his car in the parking lot at City Hall when he left the council chambers (apparently on his own accord). On the plain letter-sized, white paper, in all capital letters, a very rudimentary flyer with zero creative flair says that former Hialeah Mayor and current candidate Raul Martinez and I are communists.

"It's on all the windshields on all the cars in the parking lot," the gentleman said.

What surprised me was not that someone in Hialeah might call us communists, erroneously of course, since communists don't really exists. Except inside City Hall where they try to conceal information and intimidate their enemies, firing employees for political payback and hiring cronies and campaign contributors. More and more Ladra has heard people compare the current climate at City Hall like Cuba or Venezuela, where individual freedoms and constitutional rights do not exist. Martinez knew this would come as a Democrat who did the most unCuban thing you can do in exile and ran against fomer U.S. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R., District 25). Eh, I've been called a communist before, too, and it really doesn't bother me because there is no such thing. The people who call themselves communist are almost without exception opportunists in disguise. And the people who call other people communist really mean to say Democrat.

No, what surprised me -- and perhaps even gave me a little lift in my step -- was that I got top billing. How do you like them apples, Mr. Mayor? "ELAINE DEL VALLE Y RAUL MARTINEZ" Not "RAUL MARTINEZ Y ELAINE DEL VALLE." Oh, just wait one cockamaney minute. That's why I got the first line: the Y is awkward and the writer didn't know if it was proper to use an E instead. Aw, man. Well, still... it's absolutely a dubious yet somewhat thrilling honor to be on a double-header billing with the Raul Martinez no matter where that is. Although we should shoot for a marquee or a headline next, don't you think Mr. Mayor?

While the flyer is an obvious, albeit tiny, attempt at a smear campaign, it is so insignificant and misdirected that it is infinitely more amusing than troubling. I mean, I am not even a candidate. But since I have felt like people are campaigning against me, perhaps someone got confused and thought so, too. I also find the flyer a little fulfilling. In fact, I'm going to have it framed. And I practically had to fight Martinez for it. He wanted to keep it but gave it back when I promised to make him a copy.

Martinez was similarly tickled by the lackluster leaflet -- you know, even though his name was second. At least it's spelled right. Those who know Ladra are nodding their heads because that little annoying and unwanted l in the middle de has been the bane of my existence since grade school. But even with that extra needless letter, the flyer was totally worth having been ejected from the building by order of Police Chief Mark Overton, who should have maybe been outside watching for these political vandals rather than inside harassing council critics and protecting su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez from I don't even know what.

Well, Overton can make it up to me for all the times he's tried to mess it up for me by investigating now. I wonder if there are any video cameras outside City Hall, the courthouse across the street or any of the nearby shops on Palm Avenue that we can peruse for the hours of the meeting.

Now that could be even more amusing than the flyer. I want my own copy on DVD. And I would definitely post it on youtube for everyone's amusement.

Hialeah council's criminal cuts

Just when you thought the election season in Hialeah could not get more surreal, the Seguro Que Yes council passed su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez's bogus 2011-2012 city budget Wednesday night calling for the illogical and unnecessary termination of 105 of 271 firefighter paramedic positions despite a packed house of protestors and a barrage of honest, researched, logical and impassioned pleas from residents, employees, firefighters, police officers and children -- and without asking a single real, legitimate question. That practiced-in-front-of-the-mirror peppering by Councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz does not count. All she did when she asked smirky questions she knew the answers to already was present a premeditated and written justification of her eventual Oui nod-and-bob to help her at the ballot. Watch for some of that dramatic "challenging" to come out in her literature or campaign speeches.

The rest of the council was as criminally negligent to their community as she was when they sat silent and did not give anyone in the audience the courtesy of answering one question. How would this affect response times? Silence. How would this affect services? Silence. Has this 40 percent cut in fire rescue personnel been analyzed to predict or forecast potential ramifications? Silence. How many firefighters are needed, mimimum, to keep the city safe? Silence. Where are the operational plan and the reorganizational chart that go with these cuts, both public records that were requested Monday? Silence. In fact, Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garica-Martinez spoke more when she was ejecting four or five of the objectors (including yours truly) from the council chambers or from the building as she and her colleagues ignored laws, constitutional rights, Robert's Rules of Order and legal processes to make strategic campaign platform speeches about a month from Election Day. And alcaldito Hernandez left the dais again in the middle of a public budget hearing, in the middle of someone's comments, snubbing residents and employees he shows no respect for, so he could give TV interviews (read: campaign for votes). Really? Ladra has a question (well, another one): Is this the way elected officials should act?

Just another day in the Hialeah races.

Wednesday's bogus budget hearing has been called a circus, a joke, a train wreck, a show. But Ladra's favorite was a crime. Because what this council did when they rubberstamped the budget they know is false and full of holes just has to be criminal. It's fraud. It's robbery. It's abuse of power. It's all of that and it's blackmail and extortion, too. Because the firefighters who went armed with truth and the support of the community were told they could make the layoffs, at least the immediate ones, go away. Disappear. Just like that. If, of course, they agreed to an offer from the city that was made in writing on Monday, more than two months after the administration prematurely declared another impasse during a bargaining session, which is the appropriate setting for a new contract offer, and at which this offer was never made.
It's not that the firefighters would not consider giving up holiday pay. Union President Mario Pico -- speaking to reporters outside the chambers after he, too, was thrown out when he challenged the criminal lies at the hearing -- has repeatedly said that the firefighters -- many of whom have been serving Hialeah longer than some council members -- are willing to make sacrifices to help the residents preserve their quality of life. They simply want transparency and the comfort of knowing they didn't sell everything they had to earn to keep giving funds away to questionable quid pro quos and that they won't have to do it again next year because there is a solid recovery plan. Hernandez and his herd should applaud them for that. Everyone who has watched this 2 1/2 year process -- in which the city has been found guilty twice of unfair labor practices, declared impasse three times and illegally fired 17 firefighters to try to affect the contract vote (a decision that cost the taxpayers $800,000 in overtime plus the backpay they are now ordered to provide for the 16 firefighters they were ordered to hire back) -- knows it wouldn't be that easy, though, and that the city only made that phony offer because they know it can't be accepted without going back to the table, where they intend to add a few more demands, of course, but don't want to have to show nada to justify it. All that offer is, in truth, is an illegal and improper 11th hour Hail Mary pass made publicly to save el alcaldito and the incumbent candidates from the critical backlash and career-ending fallout their dubious and dumfounding decision has already had. This phony profer, which would have saved only $1.3 million when the city last week was demanding cuts to "balance the budget" that totaled more than $7 million, is a bait and switch con job and Ladra would not be surprised if it was not planned all along. It is not the only thing the council will need, but if the firefighters had conceded, they would have claimed victory and use the contrived "compromise" to promote their questionable candidacies.

Councilman Luis Gonzalez -- who probably drew the short straw because he is not on the Nov. 1 ballot -- actually took the opportunistic liberty to ask about the offer (read: campaign stunt) in a question to the mayor that was obviously staged for the benefit of the TV cameras. It was such a set-up for su alcaldito to start proliferating on how he was willing to negotiate and trying to protect the residents with this offer, that Ladra could not control her bark and was tossed from the council chambers -- and the building -- again for speaking out of turn. I take whole responsibility. Something the Seguro Que Yes mess could learn to do. I know I wasn't supposed to object, but I found the scene ridiculously abusive. And someone had to stop that charade. "Excuse me, the councilman can't make an offer here at a budget hearing. Or in that letter you sent," I interjected. "That is why there is a bargaining process." Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez warned me to stop talking. But Gonzalez -- after regañando me with a whiny "I don't even know who has the floor" -- went on with his pre-scripted, made-for-TV effort to give el alcaldito his two-cent soundbite. There was no way this watchdog was going to let that happen. "I'm sorry but he simply cannot make an offer like that from the dais," I said again, asking deputy city attorney Lorena Bravo, who sat in for William "Go-Between" Grodnick on his paid Jewish holiday, to advise them that a contract offer in this venue (read: political campaign stunt) would be illegitimate. She did, actually, eventually. And I applauded -- as I was led out of the chambers by a police officer on order by Police Chief Mark Overton, who later trespassed me from the building -- even before I received the public records I requested about Ladra's first-ever trespass warning at the Hernandez et al campaign office opening Sept. 10. This time, they didn't give me a case number but maybe it was because Overton (who las malas lenguas say is looking to get a job in Broward county) realized he stepped in it and sent a sergeant to tell me once I was outside the building -- yes, escorted outside the building by three police officers -- that I could return to the lobby only and only if I behaved. Yeah, this is the thanks I get for basically helping them out by pointing out a mistake they were about to make.

But while it is fun to watch former Mayor and current mayoral candidate Raul Martinez consistently show all the council members up on budget issues with trick questions they fail every time and it's entertaining to watch former councilman and current candidate Alex Morales teach them a lesson or two at every meeting, you don't have to be a professor or a successful administrator for a quarter of a century to know more about the council membrane's jobs and roles than they do. Even a watchdog and one pissed off, redneck firefighter and a whistleblower cop and a single mom and a pre-teen child -- who got a standing ovation when he told them that if they were in school, "you would get an F in budget" -- know more than these bobble heads.

Pathetic. Sad. Unacceptable (read: rejectable come November). And it has to be criminal. It just has to be abuse of power when the city administration suddenly finds $3.5 million in cost reductions from one budget hearing to the next in order to make this hollow campaign season offer. That just has to be a crime. They are holding the citizens and the people who work in Hialeah hostage for their personal and political gain. That just has to be a crime. They make up positions and programs to pad the budget in other areas so they can dip into these funds later on down the year. That just has to be a crime. They give away fist over fist of taxpayer funds by awarding millions of dollars in no-bid contracts and change order increases for campaign contributors. That just has to be a crime. They hide monies and change the story every other day from surplus to deficit to surplus to shortfall. That just has to be a crime. They intentionally turn their heads to the poor math skills, gaping holes and padded pillows all over the budget presented as a "budget in stages" -- a new term nobody has ever heard of that was invented for convenience. Let's call it a pretend budget instead. That just has to be a crime. And they commit all these crimes against the residents and their own employees while risking the lives and property of the taxpayers who pay their $44,000-a-year salaries and the salaries of their assistants and their multiple lackies and botella friends. That just has to be a crime.

Ladra felt uncomfortably and uncharacteristically numb for several hours after she left the scene of the crime Wednesday night and took a walk for a cortadito, dark, like the night. It is almost time to get ready for the next day and I still can't believe sometimes that it wasn't all a nightmare. Because how could anyone get away with so much? Where's the cavalry? And just where were our other electeds that should be representing Hialeah's people against the criminals? Miami-Dade District 13 Commissioner Esteban Bovo, State Sen. Rene Garcia (R, District 40) and State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez (R, District 102) did not return my calls and were absent at both the first and second readings (read: accessories before, during and after the fact). So was former State Sen. Rudy Garcia (R, District 40), who is running for the mayor's seat also but has been criticized for not having attended one meeting or voiced one concern over the aforementioned crimes. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has been a busy bureaucrat with his own budget, but has anyone at the county given a thought to or looked at how Miami-Dade taxpayers could be impacted when the Hialeah council starts stealing their service providers to cover for a fire rescue department that was decimated for political retribution motives. That just has to be a crime.

After all, somebody -- or some body --  has to be held responsible if even one person dies as a result of longer response times or decreased services caused by these unnecessary cuts. Because that really has to be a crime.

Ladra calls it political homicide.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gimenez in Hialeah again, but Jr.

While Papi has been mum on the threat to fire firefighters in Hialeah -- and potential impact to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue when the county starts taking up the slack on the city's 911 calls -- Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's namesake son and spitting image has been spotted in Hialeah in recent days.

Attorney Carlos "Junior" Gimenez was seen in the city clerk's office at City Hall, at the Hialeah Housing Authority and, twice, at Maruch restaurant, the unofficial meeting place (conveniently behind the fire union office) for the Back to the Future slate that Gimenez is supporting.
"I was meeting with candidates whom I believe have the capacity to lead, and, equally as important, have the best interests of the city at heart," Gimenez told Ladra. He said he is not working for any of the candidates officially, but was "reviewing several legal issues" and advising them pro-bono. "Let's just say that rule breaking, and circumventing Florida Public Records Law and city financial disclosure rules seems to be an all too consistent pastime in the City of Progress. That practice needs to end, immediately, and that may require private citizen action if the City cannot govern itself accordingly," Gimenez said and immediately stole Ladra's heart. Hey Junior, if it goes to court  and you want to make it a class-action headliner, I know a wiseass watchdog and one pissed-off firefighter who will sign on as plaintiffs.

Friday, he met with former councilman Alex "The Professor" Morales, who was also the director of Hialeah Housing until former mayor Julio Robaina fired him, at Maruch. On Monday, he met with Morales again, Cindy Miel, and veteran campaign consultant, freelance fundraiser and Hialeah homegirl Irene Secada, who is working with or for both candidates as well as former councilman and mayor Julio Martinez. On Friday, Junior was with Secada again in City Clerk David Concepcion's office requesting public records (and I bet he has a quicker response than Ladra gets). He wants the contacts on all the council members blackberries and cellphones (Hey! Ladra wants a copy of that!) a list of all employees with addresses, date of births and phone numbers (me too!) and a list of every resident in Hialeah Housing (ditto!), according to Concepcion. (Public records requests are public records, too! Ain't Florida law grand?)

Gimenez told Ladra he will likely be hosting a fundraiser for the four council candidates (including former cop and HHA employee Danny Bolaños) in mid-October. He and his boss, State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R, District 36) already had a fundraiser for Frank Lago, who is not yet officially on the slate but is not running against a slate mate (despite pressure from the back-stabbing council incumbents that urged him to go against the professor). Lago, former chief of staff to Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño -- who is supporting former State Sen. Rudy Garcia (R, District 40) for mayor --  has walked door-to-door with Miel, who is definitely on the Back to the Future slate, and has been hanging around the Back pack. Gimenez Junior's involvement might be as close as dad gets to this heated race and the candidates that helped him in Hialeah. After all, it could get ugly and his allies have baggage that could hurt him come time for his turn in less than 12 months (for the primary). Junior and fellow Gimenez allies the DLPs will likely collect checks for slate boss, former Mayor Raul Martinez, but no fundraisers.

The Dark Prince told Ladra himself he doesn't favor the fund-stumping fetes. "If someone wants to make a donation, send me a check. You don't have to get dressed up for an event," Martinez said.

He'd rather debate anyway.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Alcaldito plays with fire, again

We saw this coming. We told everyone that this alarmist threat to fire 105 of 271 firefighter paramedics in Hialeah was blackmail, or extortion (you pick your term), and that the very politicians who proposed it would come in at the 11th hour with a salvation plan or last-minute Holy Mary pass.

But I didn't imagine the scare tactic would be so obviously revealed. Or is it me? You be the judge, dear readers.
On Monday, a day after El Nuevo Herald reporter Enrique Flor published a story based on a source's [conveniently-placed] tip about the city's offer to renew negotiations with the firefighters union, union representatives actually got a letter expressing this offer from City Attorney Bill "Go-Between" Grodnick, who as a legal representative of the city knows that neither the letter nor the deal uttered at a public budget hearing are legitimate or proper offers in the labor bargaining process that has been halted by a declaration of impasse on the city's behalf. Nah. This is obvious campaign strategy. So the city attorney is playing politics now at the behest of su alcaldito Carlos Hernandez while accusing others of doing it (Can he be disbarred for any of this? Where do we complain?). The letter comes two days before the final public hearing where the Seguro Que Yes council is poised to pass a bogus budget that cuts 40 percent of the fire rescue staff and -- again, this is odd for a city official -- whines about not getting calls returned. It's even odder from the city official who prematurely declared impasse less than two hours into the last negotiation session in July. This is becoming a broken record. Union President Mario Pico told Hernandez at the budget hearing that he would meet with him at his earliest convenience. "We can go get a cafecito right now after the meeting," Pico said. "I don't want coffee, Mr. Pico," the mayor said, adding that he preferred to meet the next day. But he never made good on that because by then the TV cameras were gone. So, on Saturday, someone in the administration leaks the story to El Nuevo. On Monday, Grodnick sends the letter with the new offer, which is basically that in exchange for giving up holiday pay for 11 days, they can keep not only the 14 firefighters who would have been fired Oct. 1 but also the nine recruits at the academy that the city has already invested in.
But is it legitimate? Or is it a bait-and-switch hat trick (read: campaign stunt)? Because how can this be a possible solution if the holiday paycut will only save about $1.3 million and the budget, to be balanced, calls for more than $7 million cut from the fire department. Where did the city all of a sudden find another $5.5 million? "I can't give you the details because I was not involved in it. But significant operational and costs savings were made," Grodnick told me on the telephone, in a very proud tone. "We made substantial inroads in savings. Of the $7.5 million, half was saved through cost reductions in other changes." Really? Someone found $5 million worth of "cost reductions" that were not apparent two weeks ago, when su alcaldito threatened to fire 105 firefighters. Or is this offer just for that first phase of the "budget in stages"? Are there still going to be 35 layoffs Dec. 1 and 35 more next year? That was the original plan and it would also serve to delay the overwhelming negative reaction su alcaldito has been getting, even from his supporters, until after Election Day? It would also delay the mandatory return of $1.8 million in federal homeland security grants for minimum staffing until after Election Day. Yes, Grodnick said. Those terminations are still on the table. "We hope to cut the other $3.5 million during the year through concessions in the fire department or further workforce reductions. But we hope and sincerely expect to come to an agreement once we get through the political season," Grodnick told me. Really? I thought this was going on for two and a half years?

This is the longest shell game Ladra has ever watched and this dog is getting dizzy

After I asked for details on these "significant operational savings" (one would think Grodnick could recite one or two if they were so significant), Grodnick told me to call Fire Chief Marco de la Rosa. "I can't talk to you about that. That was done through the fire chief and the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] Director." But the fire chief didn't seem to know about his own amazing "significant cost reductions" that saved his department's positions (at least for now). "I have to see what operational plan he is speaking to," de la Rosa said, buying some time and seemingly satisfied with the city offer (Ladra can't help but wonder if he was the tipster). "It's the same offer made at the council meeting, which was stated publicly." And when asked why savings of $1.3 million are suddenly enough, de la Rosa said "at least the partial costs are deferred through the holidays." He then said he had to get permission from su alcaldito before he could speak with me anymore about the "significant costs savings" in his department's operational plan and the re-organizational structure plan. But he is not, apparently, go-between material like Grodnick: When I called him back about a half an hour later, he told me he had been told not to provide me with any information. "As per direction of the mayor, all budgetary questions are referred to his office," de la Rosa said. I had already left two messages with someone at the mayor's office Monday, as I have done nearly every day in the last two weeks. But I likely will not get a call back. And I may ask him in person when I see him at City Hall, but he will likely ignore me again. So Hernandez won't answer questions and won't allow de la Rosa, Budget Director Alex Vega, Finance Director Vivian Parks or Water and Sewer Director Armando Vidal to clarify questions about the budget. That means that nobody gets to know what we are dealing with. And that's exactly what the fire union is facing and has been facing for two and a half years. No answers to real questions of substance. No checks or balances. (We have filed a public records request, but history has shown us not to hold our breath).

Hernandez does have the time and werewithal, however, to record misleading robocalls paid for by his mayoral campaign account and leave messages for residents sullying Pico's good Winnie-the-Pooh name. He has time to make up outright lies, saying the firefighters want to raise taxes "to protect their juicy benefits." His emphasis, not Ladra's. But the strong mayor (yeah, I did a double-take, too) won't negotiate with them himself. He won't meet cara a cara, at the table with rolled sleeves, ready to do what is necessary. The firefighters, many of whom live in the city and others who have served residents for decades, do not want anyone to raise taxes. In fact, they believe the city does not have to. They just want to stop frivolous spending and corruption. And they know that if the city loses its Class 1 rating, insurance rates could go up and Hernandez can claim no accountability yet again. Su alcaldito is desperate, meanwhile, to keep his $190,000-a-year job ($244,000 if you count his pension, since he is making a campaign issue of it) and has resorted to campaigning against the firefighters because its trendy and he has to rail against someone. He's lost both the TV and radio debates with co-candidates: former State Sen. Rudy Garcia, (R, District 40) and former Mayor Raul Martinez. And he likely fears the planned live radio debate with Pico Wednesday morning on Actualidad Radio (1020 AM) because Pico (who is not a candidate but will still beat su actor alcaldito) brings documents and asks specific questions Hernandez won't or can't answer. Truth is on Mario Pico's side.

But while Hernandez will pontificate perfidiously in public, el alcaldito sends the go-betweens to negotiate his will so he can later claim ignorance when they botch things up -- as they have so many times. Shall we count the ways? The most recent finding of sufficient cause from state regulators came last week and the fire union can file a complaint about what is clearly a premature impasse (the third in this process, which has clearly been prolonged by the city). How can you say it wasn't premature when even you are still willing to negotiate, Bill? Or was that also blackmail and extortion to get the firefighters at the table in a disadvantaged position? Was it extortion when former mayor Julio Robaina tells the union reps (who have it on video) that if they just shut up and bend over, the city will rehire the 16 firefighters that were illegally fired to influence a union vote (the same firefighters that have not been made whole yet even though the city was legally ordered to backpay them for those five months they sat at home and were covered with other staff on overtime)? Because every time su alcaldito and Go-Between Grodnick say it's been two and a half years of negotiations, they forget to say the part about how the city is the one that has thwarted any real dialogue with hostility and heavy-handed tactics. They also forget to add that during that time, they have been found to violate fair labor practices not once, but twice. It's been two and a half years because of them, not because of the firefighters who simply asked to see the books that show the city needs them to sacrifice so that political pals can keep getting juicy no-bid contracts (that emphasis is mine) and cronies who crank it out for their campaigns keep getting "salary adjustments." It's been two and a half years because there is no transparency about the numbers and the figures that are presented change from day to day. It's been two and a half years because city administrators have dug in their heels and won't show their real financials or even present a recovery plan so the community is not faced with this again in 12 and 24 and 36 months.

Thank goodness we have the firefighters answering a different kind of emergency in the city. They are performing a different kind of triage. The victim is the community at large and the sickness is the corruption, lack of transparency and conflicts of interest that spread like cancer at City Hall. Rather than take their medicine to cover up the symptoms, the firefighters want to treat the disease -- perhaps even remove the tumor -- so that the patient can live and thrive again for many more years. They have sacrificed their own time to educate the public and the union leaders have sacrificed their personal lives to defend not just their own, but the entire city, and fight for what's right.

And for this, they are heroes once more.

They are certainly not the politicians that bargain-rate politico pretenders try pathetically to paint them as.

Botellas should go before firefighters

Some city employees get fired or transferred for real or perceived political alliances that aren't in line with the current administration. Others get a 17 percent paycut forced on them or threatened with a 40 percent downsizing for retaliatory reasons.

But not everybody who works in Hialeah has it so bad.

There are created and choice jobs and "salary adjustments" for those who are connected to the Carlos Hernandez (read: Julio Robaina) administration and/or help pave their political aspirations.
Enrique Flor's story about what is clearly a conveniently created $75,000-a-year position for a one-time (or current, who knows?) hottie of Budget Director Alex Vega in Sunday's paper might be the most salacious example so far, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. ( Ladra already wrote about the multiple program coordinator positions that could easily be combined for easier coordination and other seeming botella or needless positions -- in this economy I'd rather lose a literacy program director than a firefighter -- and later heard about this woman, who serves now administrating "workforce capacity" grants from the state. I wonder how much the city got for that. This is her second transfer. She was an internal auditor during her 2009 affair with her boss, Vega. Five months after his wife (they are now divorced) found them necking in the parking lot and tore apart his office (that is according to a police report), then mayor Julio Robaina -- who lost his heated bid for the county mayor's seat in June -- transferred the little homewrecker. In the Herald, he said it was his decision. But he did not explain why it took him five months after Flor asked repeatedly. I don't know anything about this woman or what she does, but I do think it's worth looking into before the city fires one single firefighter paramedic.  (Ladra is thrilled that other reporters are calling his non-answers and Enrique had another great story about political retribution last week.

Another position to look at is another suspected botellaJonathan Martinez, who has worked for both Robaina, as an aide, and now alcaldito Hernandez as a "mayor's liaison" (read: spy) in four different departments: Building, planning and zoning, code enforcement and occupational licenses. His $37,500 annual salary comes in 25% allotments from each department. That way each department expense looks like it has gone down. (That comes from the cheater, Vega, we are sure). A little trip to the Human Resources department this week -- made possible by a public records request for personnel records made last week -- confirmed that Martinez had gotten the same 17 percent cut that the rest of the employees got last year. His salary went from $2,140 a month to $1,776 a month. But then he helped boss Robaina with the doomed Miami-Dade mayoral race. And his salary went back up to $2,884 a month. If Ladra's math is right, that's a 60% raise. That's hard to justify in these tough economic times that su alcaldito keeps claiming as the reason for the threates against the fire firefighters (because it's really political retribution, as these botella positions show). Martinez refused to answer questions about his position and his duties when asked at a recent council meeting. He also did not return voice mail messages left for him at City Hall.

Hernandez has another staffer whose duties and position may be questionable. Arnaldo Alonso, who took a leave of absence during the mayoral race to help Robaina, is officially the Social Service Family Assistance Supervisor. The job description says that individual coordinates referral services to individuals and families requiring assistance of social service agencies... "conducts comprehensive client assessments to collect functional, environmental, psychosocial, financial, employment, housing, educational, and health information as appropriate to develop and create a cost effective care plan; develops support systems to meet client needs by identifying and coordinating a variety of available services; evaluates client risks and assess need for immediate intervention; prepares written reports for funding agency, city, and cooperating agencies; assists in the recruitment, training, supervision and support of volunteers; interprets and explain laws, regulations and service programs to clients; determines need for and conducts inter-agency and/or family conferences; provides supportive counseling and advocacy for clients... interviews clients with problems such as personal and family adjustments, school attendance, finances, employment, food, clothing, housing and physical needs to determine nature and degree of problem; refers clients to community resources and other organizations; performs job search activities and provides job referral opportunities; coordinates and organizes community outreach workshops for clients; complies records and prepares reports; reviews service plans and performs follow-up to determine quantity and quality of service provided to client and status of client's case; accesses and records client and community resource information; secures supplementary information such as employment, medical records or school reports; responsible for case management involving individual counseling, monitoring and motivating clients; assists with the progress of clients in the fulfillment of their individual employment and training program service strategies..." among other things. Whew. But does he really do that? Alonso did not return calls from Ladra to let us know what he did and give us a peek at some of those client case reports, etc. Because from our vantage point, it looks like his duties for $3,760 a month are to drive su alcaldito around at times, answer calls for his mayoral campaign and schedule his debates as a campaign contact for the media.  That does not seem like something that he should be doing on taxpayer dime and time. Maybe Hernandez's political consultant and absentee ballot broker, Sasha Tirador -- who took the time to call Ladra while I was perusing Alonso's file at the city's Human Resources department to ask if I had found anything interesting in Arnie's file (I'm actually flattered people are spying and reporting my whereabouts at City Hall) -- should be representing the candidate instead of letting a city employee do it while she calls to harass a political blogger. At least she gets paid out of campaign funds.

Interestingly enough, I couldn't find Alonso's position in the new 2011-2012 budget. But I wonder if that's because he'll be transferred or because it's divided into four or five or six different departments.

Friday, September 23, 2011

2 candidates expelled by PAC man

Police arrived Wednesday to one of the monthly senior parties thrown for the residents of Hialeah Housing Authority facilities after someone called in a "disturbance". But it wasn't a fistfight between two viejitos over the Marlins MVP or a hair-pulling meleé de abuelas over the last piece of cake.

No, the police were called to eject two candidates in the upcoming election: former councilman and former HHA director Alex Morales -- who was fired by fomer mayor Julio Robaina after he refused to break the rules for him -- and former Hialeah cop turned HHA intake specialist (he processes new applications) Danny Bolaños, son of the former longtime police chief. Two other candidates on the November ballot -- incumbent councilmen Jose Caragol and Pablito "Huh" Hernandez, who are being backed by HHA Director Julio Ponce -- were left to chat with the housing residents (read: absentee voters) in the dining room Villa Aida, 20 West 6th St., and even allowed to walk around and roam the hallways freely, as photographed here.

Neither Bolaños nor Morales had any campaign materials to hand out. They were just saying hello. While Ladra knows that they were there for votes, so were Caragol and Hernandez, and the rules don't say they couldn't attend the party, only that they cannot campaign there. In addition, there were another 10 or so HHA employee colleagues of Bolaños there that were not made to leave.

"I went there to say hello to friends who have seen me grow up since 2003 when I came to housing," Bolaños told me Thursday. "I did not tell anyone that I was a political candidate. The policy says you can't solicit. I wasn't soliciting. I was saying hello." Bolaños has been to dozens of other parties -- until 2009 when he first ran for office (lost to Councilwoman Katherine Cue and Robaina's absentee ballot machinery). "That's when Julio Ponce forbid me from going."

On Wednesday, they were told they were not allowed to be there, per HHA policy. But Morales said they intentionally bent the rules in order to violate his and Bolaños rights.

"I wrote the policy and it says you can't campaign door-to-door or solicit door-to-door for funeral packages, for HMOs, for anything," Morales said. "But at those parties, everyone went. We just don't allow the distribution of literature." The Professor reminded Ladra about a 2008 visit to one of the housing buildings by former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart when he was campaigning for re-election against Morales friend and ally Raul Martinez, the former Hialeah mayor now running to get his old job back. "Lincoln showed up unannounced with mariachis and I adjusted the program," Morales said. "I stood next to him. I smiled. I introduced him. I gave him the microphone. I asked him not to distribute cards, 'But you are welcome to go table to table and say hi to everybody.'"

The most interesting thing about the whole incident, to Ladra anyway, were the photographs shown to me by one of the viejitas who snapped away as Morales said hi to people he has known for decades: Hovering over him the entire time, like a giant intimidating shadow, was HHA adult activities director Adriel Sanchez, who was physically pushing him and trying to block him from greeting residents.

"I was assaulted and battered," Morales said. "He was pushing me, he was grabbing me by the arm. I repeatedly told him stop touching me. You are battering me and I am going call the police." He didn't have to. Someone, and we suspect it may be HHA Director Ponce, called police and had him and Bolaños escorted out. He is not going to press charges for battery, though, he may pursue a violation of his constitional rights. Both Morales and Bolaños -- and this could show they are still solidly on the same slate supporting each other -- have consulted an attorney. "We may take action that way," Morales said. "You cannot allow free speech for one group of individuals and not to another group of individuals."

But Adriel Sanchez sounded like a familiar name to Ladra. And it is. We wrote about him in June. Adriel Miguel Sanchez, chairman of  the Citizens to Reclaim Miami-Dade Government PAC, which is curiously out of Tampa, and Ladra wrote about him in June when she was tabulating the millions [badly] spent on Robaina's failed bid for county mayor. That PAC raised and spent more than $1.12 million, mostly funneled to other PACs for Robaina, including The [Non]Accountability Project, Citizens First and Citizens for Clarity -- which used some of those funds for attack radio ads against then-candidate Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez -- according to campaign finance reports. Curiously, no funds from Citizens to Reclaim Miami-Dade Govenment went to Truth for Our Community PAC, which is chaired by his boss, Ponce (another quid pro quo botella as director with a $125,000 salary and a $900-a month car allowance, despite having only a high school diploma and zero experience in the field). But the final report from the Reclaim PAC, "disbanded" on Sept. 8, is not due until Oct. 11.

Ladra can't help but wonder if Sanchez's $31,500-a-year HHA job is another one of those botella positions (read: political quid pro quo) given to people who help the powers that be with their political aspirations and campaigns? Or was his name simply used by Ponce and Robaina to front another of more than eight or nine PACs that were working for the former mayor and real estate mogul. The Citizens to Reclaim Miami-Dade Government PAC was formed on December 20, two months after Sanchez was hired Oct. 4, 2010

I called Sanchez to find out if he was the chicken or the egg, and he put me on hold.  "Hang on a second," after I introduced myself and he told me his title and confirmed he was hired in October. After a few minutes, a woman came on the phone. "Can I help you?" I said I was speaking with Mr. Sanchez and he had put me on hold but said he would be right back. I was then connected to his voice mail.

Sanchez, curiously, also has addresses in Las Vegas and Orange County, California, and Ladra can't help but wonder if he has any casino or gambling ties. Jesus Navarro, the maquinita king of Hialeah, gave the Citizens to Reclaim PAC at least $5,000 and the Brunetti family, who own Hialeah Park racetrack, gave more than $50,000 to the PAC.

Ladra likes to play with chance a little as much as the next dog and, in fact, has a little wager to propose: How much does anyone want to bet that Robaina is still involved in Hialeah politics?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Police lives in danger with layoffs

Ladra has provided this space to republish a blog post by Hialeah Police Officer Antonio "Sergeant" Luis about alcaldito Carlos Hernandez's proposal to fire 105 of 271 firefighters -- which puts patrol officers at risk.

The whole thing can be found at, but here are a couple of the best graphs:

"Afternoon shift two major traffic accidents occur 15 minutes apart, one in sector 5, the other in sector 1. Just about that time a small kitchen fire happens in sector 3. While all that is going on, an officer gets into a shooting. How long will it take a fire department with 40% less manpower take to get to that officer? Wait a second all the fire units in the city are tied up.

"Do not be fooled for one second OUR LIVES are in danger if the city goes through with this. This cannot be allowed to occur."

The date and time of the final budget hearing at the end has been changed from Sept. 26 to Sept. 28, but the rest of the post from this 13-year veteran -- who has been put through hell for denouncing political favoritism and is fighting injustice in his own department -- is right on target.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mayor's lies must be challenged

Let's add another tall tale to the long list of lies Hialeah's alcaldito Carlos Hernandez wants to feed his constituents: The firefighters threatened with mass firings want to raise taxes and won't make a deal.

What a crock from the man they call "the Rock." But get used to it. He is truth challenged. The firefighters fight this emergency with the truth and have been handing out flyers telling residents and business leaders about the mayor's dangerous plan of political retaliation. Alcaldito only has lies to give the hundreds of citizens who have called to demand that he keep the firefighter staff as is.

The mayor's office is actually telling these hundreds of callers to call the fire union instead. "Call Mario Pico," one woman told me when I called, "and ask him why the union does not want to come to an agreement with the city." Other callers are told to call the fire union president, and the mayor's staff provides the phone number, because the firefighters want to raise taxes to preserve their benefits. 

Let's be clear: The firefighters, like Ladra, know that there does not have to be any tax increase because the council is squandering funds elsewhere. Like with no-bid contracts (about $1 million in the last meeting alone), some of which go to companies or people who make campaign contributions. Like the created positions for cronies and lackies, some of which just got "salary adjustments" -- including one mayor's aide that went from $1,776 a month to $2,884 a month. Would the mayor need to raise taxes for these things? The firefighters, like Ladra, know that there do not have to be any new taxes in order to maintain staffing levels where they are, which are already insufficient to cover a city of 220,000 residents that swells to a population of 500,000 during the weekday. This "tax increase" argument is a scare tactic used to bully and smear the firefighters even more.

But su alcaldito has to say that. He has no defense, no excuse for his threat to cut 40 percent of the firefighter paramedic personnel. It is threat and it is extortion because both he and the council president, Isis "Guttermouth Girl" Garcia-Martinez have publicly said that if the union were to make concessions -- not negotiate, but just take the concessions the city wants to force on them -- there would not be anybody fired. Really? Is that even legal? Let's rewind to July 20, when it was the city that declared impasse on the union not even two hours into negotiations. And they had planned it. The impasse document was prepared beforehand and brought into the meeting -- which shows a total lack of good faith. The city went into those negotiations clearly intending to declare impasse (and they will lose again when this is legally brought to the state board that oversees public employee relations).

This is just political payback because the union backed his opponent, former mayor Raul Martinez, in this November election and his mentor/master Julio Robaina's  opponent, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Otherwise why would Hernandez distribute an old newspaper article about past hostilities between the firefighters and Martinez at his press conference about the budget? What does that have to do with the 2011-2012 allocation of funds?

By the way, Mayor Gimenez, why are you so silent on this? Won't this affect county services, too? Aren't you representing Hialeah citizens also, Mr. "Mayor for All"? Wasn't this a group that backed you and helped you get elected?

For that matter, where are the other elected leaders that represent and speak for this community? I contacted Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban Bovo, State Sen. Rene Garcia (R, District 40) and State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez (R, District 102) -- all of them former Hialeah council members who are quite easy to find in the City of Progress during election season -- before the first budget hearing last week and asked if they were going to go. I have yet to hear back from any of them. I guess election season for them is too far off.

So let's call their offices, too, to see what they think.
  • Gimenez can be reached at 305-375-5071 or
  • Garcia can be reached at 305-824-5058 or at 305-364-3100 and his district office is at 3814 W. 12th Ave, just above the campaign office for su alcaldito and the incumbents minus one
  • Gonzalez can be reached in Tallahassee at 850-488-1683 or his district office in Hialeah Gardens, 10001 NW 87th Ave., 305-364-3066.
Ladra wonders if they will redirect calls to the firefighters or the Hialeah mayor's office, where the blame really lies.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sasha, Alex: Unlikely cafecito pals

Sasha Tirador hunting for
clients at a recent meeting.
Who would have thought that the two warring sides in the Hialeah elections could sit down to a cafecito at Chico's on West 12th Avenue over race relations? Not Ladra.

But that is what happened Saturday afternoon when former councilman and candidate Alex Morales -- who is running on an anti-incumbent slate and platform -- met with absentee ballot queen Sasha Tirador, who worked for former mayor Julio Robaina's failed county mayoral bid and is now on the staff for four of the five incumbents (proving again that councilwoman Vivian Casals-Muñoz has been made an outsider). Both said they had been longtime friends and brushed off the meeting as if it was nothing unusual -- even though each said the other had called it.

But Ladra is pacing and growling, anyway.

Julio Martinez, Raul Martinez and Alex Morales at a
recent city council meeting.
Morales is in an open seat and Tirador said she is helping his last minute challenger, former Housing Authority board member Lourdes Lozano, who everyone knows was planted in the race by the mayor. The professor said she told him at the time that she was not helping Lozano, but he is also running on a slate with former mayor Raul Martinez, former mayor Julio Martinez, former councilwoman Cindy Miel and former police officer and Hialeah Housing Authority official Danny Bolaños. Tirador is representing the incumbents in three of those races: Alcaldito Carlos Hernandez, Council President Isis "Guttermouth Girl" Garcia-Martinez and Councilman Jose Caragol.  She says she is also working for Pablito "Huh" Hernandez and "helping" Lozano, who is not an official client, run against Morales, her "old friend," and force him into a runoff. She says she is not representing gun dealer and permit-smirker Tony Vega in the challenge against Casals-Muñoz, where Bolaños is running. "I will not represent Tony Vega. At least, I don't think so." But Ladra doesn't believe that she is going to work on everybody in the incumbent slate except Vega? We think Tirador is out to get Vivian (more on that later) and that Vega and Hernandez are becoming allies before our very eyes and, so, I can't help but think that Tirador will be collecting iffy absentee ballots for Vega, too.

One of the reasons I believe she is working, or advocating, for Vega is because one of the anonymous facebook profiles that have been attacking Bolaños and Martinez -- and, most recently, me -- sent me a personal message late last night with inside details about the cafecito meeting. "The conversation was really intimate of a classified nature... cozy and honest," wrote "Ernesto Mirabal," which is not the real user of the facebook page that used to be known as Hialeah First. It is the name of the man that Martinez had a physical altercation with on the Palmetto Expressway some years ago, an episode we will come back to later since it will become part of the smear campaign. The anonymous author (read: Vega or one of his campaigners) wrote that Morales had tried to distance himself from Bolaños, who had the weakest showing of the Back to the Future campaign slate in the firefighters' poll. "Even the signs are distanced and never on the same pole. He thinks the only ones that can win are Frank Lago and him out of his whole slate. Even Raul is not where he wants to be. Food for thought. Ask him."

Always a skeptic, Ladra did ask. Even though Lago is not on the slate -- not yet, anyway. Both he and "Daring" Daisy Castellanos were at the grand opening of the Martinez/Morales/Bolaños campaign office Sunday afternoon and Martinez mentioned both candidates' names in his platform speech.

Morales, who would never say that Martinez is not in the lead (c'mon, he is a very smart guy) and has consistently told me to watch as every incumbent is unseated in November, said he said no such thing. But he really didn't have to. He's not stupid, after all. He is the professor for something. And while he may have been dismayed early on by the numbers in that poll, Morales has been supporting Bolaños for months and says his momentum has increased tremendously. They've walked together and put up signs together. Many of their signs are posted side by side on fences and in yards. "I have put Danny's signs up and he's put up my signs. I have put my signs together with his. We have made the decision to support each other." Besides, he knew that Tirador called him with some ruse about housing authority campaign rules so she could try to get some intel on the strength of the bonds between the slate mates. "She was there to obtain information on our slate and how committed we are. And I told her we were very committed," Morales said. Tirador confirmed that. "Alex Morales made it very clear that he was supporting Danny," she said.

But Tirador also told Ladra they met so the professor could get her professional assessment. "I have known Alex Morales since I was 14 and I'm 37. He was asking me for advice," she said. I had to ask: Advice about what? "That's a private matter between Alex and I. I've never had any issues with Alex Morales. Why shouldn't I talk with him? We were jut picking each others brains." It was so cordial, in fact, they walked over to Morales' parents' bakery in the same shopping strip and he gave her a tres leches.

"I met with Alex Morales because there is no reason I shouldn't meet with Alex Morales and it's not like the first time we are on opposite sides that we meet anyway," Tirador told me. "Just because you're on opposite sides doesn't mean you can't meet and pick each others' brains." Well, wait. Was he asking you for advice or were you picking each other's brains?

And, yeah, just because you are on opposite sides does kind of mean that you can't meet to pick each others' brains. Or you can't meet and expect everyone to think it was on the up and up. Most people I know would think it was odd. Like Martinez, who does not trust Tirador since she was accused of tampering with absentee ballots during his failed congressional run against Lincoln Diaz-Balart in 2008. (She was investigated, but the case was closed because while there was evidence that tampering occurred, they could not prove it was her doing).  Martinez was apparently not happy about the meeting.  "I told Alex, 'Why in the world would you want to meet with that individual? Sometimes, he thinks he's too smart. I love him, but I want to kill him sometimes," said Martinez, who will only admit to supporting Morales, Bolanos and the other Martinez "because I want Caragol out of there." Miel has to try harder if she wants his active support, he said. (More on that later).

But all this proves, Martinez said, is that the incumbent side that Tirador works for is trying to cause a rift or break within the Back to the Future cast. And, Ladra said, it proves that Martinez is not always completely in control of his crew.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hialeah's padded, bogus budget

The proposed 2011-2012 Hialeah budget is an almost two inches thick and divided into sections that lay out the plan to operate the city's departments and services with $263.4 million.

But it is so full of holes that it shouldn't weigh as much as it does.

Only about $115.6 million is in the general fund, the rest of that is in capital projects funds ($4.8 million all for Milander Park, which is one improvement plan that has to be audited and/or investigated come Nov. 17), special revenue funds -- grants like Children's Trust and affordable housing, transit monies and fire rescue transportation -- and enterprise funds, like solid waste and the cash cow Water and Sewer, with a $103.4 million budget that the city keeps dipping into to cover expenses, we suspect (more on that later). So let's concentrate for now on the general fund, which is where mayoral stand-in Carlos Hernandez plans to extract close to $7 million from the fire department by firing 105 firefighters and paramedics.

Let's pretend this is not political backlash and retribution for the endorsement of his challenger, former Mayor Raul Martinez, which came one day before the alcaldito announced his plans to cut the fire rescue personnel by 40 percent and distributed a an article of past hostilities between the fire union and the Dark Prince (a bitter pill to swallow for many firefighters who remember the former mayor's hardline with them in his administration). Let's pretend it is not blatant retaliation for the union's consistent legal victories that have found the city time and time again to practice unfair labor laws and which have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in fines, legal costs and overtime. Let's pretend it is not a pathetic example of blackmail as the council and administration extort the firefighters by saying the terminations could be stopped if they just swallow whatever concessions the mayor demands, rather than sit at a table and, in good faith, find ways to compromise on items that can lead to savings for the taxpayers, as the firefighters have offered. (We really cannot believe this is even legal for them to do this). Let's pretend it is not a campaign ploy in a desperate attempt to keep his $190,000 job and VIP pension -- because the council members get pension, too, and preferential treatment (more on that later).

Let's pretend, also, that any one of those council members actually read the budget and all its glorious chapters and line-by-line itemizations. I say pretend because it is plainly clear that the Seguro Que Yes crew either did not read the budget or did not understand it. And I can understand that. Ladra is not a financial genius by any means, and this budget is not an easy thing to get through (so I cannot imagine either council member Pablito "Huh" Hernandez or Katherine "I sleep here and there" Cue getting the fine details). But there are definitely some questions that council members should have asked if they had been paying any attention to where the budget director, Alex Vega, is hiding the money. Instead, they stare blankly as others ask the questions they should be asking. Like why the budget does not reflect the $10 million that the city has twice been ordered to pay the general employees for a grievance the general employee union won and that the city is still appealing, at more legal costs to taxpayers. It doesn't reflect that almost certain debt. Like why there are more than 32 additional positions (read: ghost workers to pad the budget) budgeted in the water and sewer department? Like why the revenues reflected for monies owed to the city from the county for overpayment on water and sewer fees are zero when there should be revenues there. After Martinez asked about it at the budget hearing , department director Armando Vidal said that he did not know why that line item had a zero. Because it shouldn't be. It was a classic moment that perfectly illustrated how bogus and ridiculously falsified this budget is.

Still, there are more questions that the council should have asked. Especially before they voted to pass a bogus budget that calls for the firing of 105 of 271 firefighter paramedics based on economic hardship that, if you look elsewhere in the budget, doesn't seem to really exist.

Let's start with some positions that we want to know more about before we cut one single first responder from our fire rescue personnel. The "budget in stages" calls for the first 14 to be unemployed as of Oct. 1. They already got their letters from human resources about Sept 30 being their last day. But I found 14 or so other jobs that maybe should be eliminated instead. Maybe these positions are crucial. Maybe they are the botellas that they seem to be. This was admittedly found in a very quick and shallow look at the budget by Ladra, a dog who really doesn't know what she is looking for. And we don't have names attached to the budget, which is a shame since we would really like to know who these people are and what they do. But we will ask.

The director of the department of education and community service, for example, makes $91,000 and a "recreational supervisor" in the same department and a "recreational special programs supervisor" make about $68,000 each. Who are these people and what do they do? And are the two supervising jobs so different that we need two? And then a third, really, if you count "education special programs director" budgeted at $48,800 (there are already two education center directors getting paid a total of $52,000 between them; couldn't they handle "special programs"? Especially when the budget already has a $37,400-a-year "communications and special events supervisor"? And, then, wait, why is there also a "recreation programs supervisor" making $60,000 at the parks and recreation department. Is that different than the "recreational special programs supervisor" in education and community service? Some of these positions seem repetitive. Soon, we are going to need a coordinator to coordinate all these people and their jobs.

There is also a "literacy program director" (I kid you not) with $54,000 a year salary and a "sponsorship coordinator" with a salary of $37,600. The number of "community development representatives" grew from one to four for a combined $91,100. That's three new positions. There is also a "mayor's liaison" with a $38,000 salary -- a new reward, er, I mean position, probably, for either Jonathan Martinez or Arnie Alonso, who each spent much time campaigning for former mayor Julio Robaina's failed county mayoral bid and will likely waste much of their taxpayer-paid time doing the same thing for their new boss -- where 25 percent of the salary comes out four different departments: the code enforcement, occupational license, building and planning and zoning departments. Neither one would tell me when I asked what their new reward jobs were. There's another position, one not budgeted last year, that is paid from two different accounts: a "purchasing/property director" with an $80,000 salary -- 25 percent of which comes out of the office of management and budget and 75 percent of which comes out of "affordable housing fund." Another new position is the building official, a title to which the senior building plan processor was promoted, with a salary of $96,000. This person's former salary in the last position, where he or she was performing these duties, is not listed in the budget because it is eliminated. So, basically, this person was promoted, it seems. Wonder if it was a big raise.

These are great positions to be able to have in a city government, but maybe not at the price of 40 percent of the first responders who safeguard the residents lives for an average of $70,000. I have asked for a finer salary breakdown in the department, as some supporters of this dangerous and absurd proposal to cut two out of every five allegedly overpaid firefighters have suggested, and I expect to get those public records faster than I get most documents that I requested (have waited more than a week to see personnel records for Martinez and Alonso, and I bet that won't come as quickly). But the proposed budget does reflect that the fire chief, who has been awfully silent about this plan to cut 40 percent of his staff, makes $131,000 and the assistant chief make $114,000. Three battalion chiefs make $364,720 between them, so that's about $121,500 each and four division chiefs making about $105,00 each. But none of these top management employees are going to get fired, I bet. Not that they should. These are enviable salaries, sure, but these people are in those positions because they have worked for decades and climbed up the civil ladder and they make policy and operational decisions that affect hundreds of workers and hundreds of thousands of residents. And if we are going to size them up, it would be smart to compare them to, say, the police chief's salary and fire chief salaries across the county and/or state for cities of similar size and population.

And while they seem like very high salaries at first glance, it's not that much when you realize that the mayor makes $190,000 a year to dole out political favors to his campaign contributors and use the office and bully pulpit to campaign for election -- not re-election since he was never elected to this position. It's not that much when you realize that executive salaries in the city clerk's office are projected to rise by $41, 342. Yes, they have a new office coordinator at $35,300 but lost a records manager who makes $35,900 (transferred to the building department for whatever reason). And the department has a new administrative aide for $26,600 but they lost a clerk/typist and a print shop technician. So two new staffers, three other positions gone is a net loss of one position. There should be an overall decrease, no?

There are so many questions about this budget, in fact, that one has to wonder if Vega, the man who wrote it for the mayor and makes $118,000 a year to play a funny money shell game for their political friends and aspirations, is overpaid.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Threats and expulsion in Hialeah

Most people couldn't believe their eyes and ears as they sat in Hialeah council chambers Thursday night and the misguided miscreant electeds ignored the pleas of residents and employees to reconsider the threatened firing of 105 of 266 firefighter paramedics in order to balance a bogus budget on their backs.

As I described what transpired to my family back home, les parecio fantasia. Of course, because it is yet another episode of "As Hialeah Churns." Unfortunately for the residents and the business leaders and the taxpayers and the employees and public servants, the reality is they cannot turn the TV off. All they can hope for is to change the channel in November. But that's more than 45 days away and plenty of time for Alcaldito Carlos Hernandez to exact his revenge on the firefighters, who endorsed his archenemy, former Mayor Raul Martinez, and his mentor/master Julio Robaina's archenemy, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who beat the former Hialeah mayor for the post in June. Su alcaldito's arrogant and disrespectful demeanor throughout the public hearing -- at which certain members of the public were scolded for speaking -- is something I've never seen in more than 20 years covering government.

I'm still in disbelief, several hours later, and have been slow to write this partial post because the whole pathetic episode has left me rather shaken and raw.

And not because Council President Isis "Gavelgirl" Garcia-Martinez had me ejected from the chambers and then from City Hall, as if it was her building. No. I left reeling because the very idea that 40 percent of the fire rescue force can be penciled out of the city is not only ludicrous because it is so dangerous, it is sick in its obvious political justification. Because the city electeds admit that they don't have to fire one single firefighter, if the union gives in to all its demands. Is this not extortion? Is this not blackmail? While it bothered me that I did not get to ask questions in the public forum about their misspending or to point out lies and discrepancies in their carefully prepared campaign speeches, Ladra wears the expulsion -- like the illegal trespass warning from last weekend's grand opening of the incumbents (minus one) campaign office -- like a badge of honor. Or a vanity dog tag? She can keep trying to get rid of me. I'll just furnish copies of my questions to others so they can ask for me. And, yes, in a public forum. I don't need to take credit for the question. I just need it to be answered directly and correctly, not with lies, half-truths taken out of context or complete wide-eyed silence, which they perfected Thursday.

From candidate and former mayor Julio Martinez: "How much will this raise insurance rates? As a taxpayer I want to know what my choices are. Is it between a $90 a year tax increase and a $300 insurance rate hike?" No answer from the council, which has seen no study or analysis of the impact this drastic cut in the fire rescue staff will have on insurance rates, response times and services. In 20 years covering government, Ladra has never seen a city consider even a 15 percent decrease in public safety personnel without doing a deep analysis of its consequences. And, duh. Someone else asked how many firefighters were required to meet the city's minimum needs. Still, no answer. Because they don't know. And Ladra might suggest that if the people of Hialeah can lose 105 firefighters, 40 percent of its force, without risking lives, then the council has been irresponsible in years past for approving a bloated fire department budget with too many positions. I was going to ask them this, too, before Gavelgirl had me removed from the chambers.

But if she thinks that's going to stop me, la pobre has had her big head stuck up Carlos' pants for too long and is losing oxygen. Ladra has come to love Hialeah -- the city and the people, not the government -- more and more every day and she is not going away, Gavelgirl. No matter how many times you push her. And no matter how many ways. Because now they are trying to discredit me or maybe embarrass me by digging up dirt from my somewhat reckless (read: incredibly divertida) youth. Because while I was illegally removed from a public meeting in a public building Thursday, since I did nothing wrong, I will have to admit to my readers -- since I want to preempt the alcaldito's attack strike -- that Ladra has not always been such a good dog. In fact, I used to hang out with a wild pack. And Gavelgirl and Su Alcaldito have apparently done some kind of investigation on me and found out about my checkered, colorful past. It's easy. I'm an open book. Transparency is a very clear thing, see?

One might think the alcaldito and Gavelgirl were busy enough campaigning against their own respective challengers and Professor Alex Morales, the former councilman sure to win the open seat in the November race. But they apparently have enough time and money (unless they used the taxpayer-funded police department) to do what campaign consultants call "opposition research" on Ladra, who isn't running for anything or from anybody. Since they have already taken to talking about their "juicy findings" with baited breath to anyone who will listen, Ladra feels she should let the rest of you in on my dirty, little secrets. I already told my parents, who should be sainted for having put up with me through all those dog days and who are the only people whose opinion on this public lynching attempt would have mattered (well, and the cohorts, and Candela), that these pseudo elected leaders were spreading the dirt on me. Mami y Papi support this decision to turn it back on them. In fact, my mom keeps saying she wants to have a little word with el alcaldito. And guess what, you cocky, crooked candidates? Those people whose ears you whisper my mud in, they come to me and laugh at your pathetic attempts to shoot the messenger because they know that you don't like the message. I must be saying and doing something right, just like Al Crespo is doing in the city of Miami. They tell me about every little wicked smile with which the electeds have disclosed these little details and say, "Can you believe these idiots think that kind of thing matters?" Just to prove to you that it doesn't, I'm going to take that wind out of your silly, smug sails.

What el alcaldito and Gavelgirl have been spreading about me is not lies, ladies and gentlemen. At least not all of it. Like I said, Ladra has walked on the wrong side of the tracks in the past, and in the late 1980s, I was arrested a couple of times, mostly because of my big mouth. One arrest, the most salient for the Hialeah chusmita council, was for misdemeanor marijuana possession in March of 1988 in Miami Beach. Not that a lot of you should be surprised. I did say that I had inhaled and that Ladra was a fan of Mother Nature when I wrote about a young county mayoral aide who had been popped buying weed. And I would lose all credibility if I were to deny that I may have smoked it myself, once or twice (wink, wink), including with people from this very political community -- people like, come to think of it, Vanessa Brito, who is working for el alcaldito and Gavelgirl and might have come up with this defamation strategy. It's okay. I'm a big girl and I can take it. If someone wants to discuss the merits of legalization, they'll have to wait until after November. Because I'm busy until then exposing the corruption and graft in Hialeah and do not have time to partake in any recreational activities, let alone debate it.

But there's more, dear readers. Brace yourselves. And I hope this doesn't decepcionarlos as much as today's hearing disappointed me in the democratic process, which is dead in Hialeah -- or, rather, has been murdered by the current elected body and their lackies. There are two other arrests -- one after another in June and July of 1987. The first was for disorderly conduct, battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence. And while I will fully admit to being disorderly -- which I am sure also does not surprise many -- the other two charges are trumped up because the female officer (read: fellow bitch) must have been on the rag when I interrupted her rendezvous at Wendy's with her boyfriend after my car broke down on the highway and, with a bladder infection, walked down the ramp to seek help. So, when she refused to help me, I noted the name and number on the badge and belligerently told her that she would be hearing from me. "That's right! You ain't seen the last of me." See? Told you guys I had a big mouth. She turned back and got in my face screaming at me and when I touched her on the shoulder -- to create a little personal space -- she flipped me around and cuffed me for resisting arrest and battery on a police officer. Everything was later reduced and not prosecuted because everyone knew it had been exaggerated. A month later, I got in trouble again because my pool shark idiot of a boyfriend at the time (part of the wrong pack) was beginning to reveal what a true pig he really was by picking on a war vet in a wheelchair and, just maybe, I had had a little wee too much to drink and I may have broken a pool stick (it was already cracked) over his incredibly dense head when he said something incredibly disgusting and offensive to the older drunk guy. Chris, the pool shark, laughed it off and slapped me on my jean pocket. But a girl who was eyeing him for herself (don't ask me why now because I have no idea what I saw in him) called the cops to get rid of me. I got charged with misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct (I may have yelled some choice words at that girl when the police arrived). I'm lucky to remember that much since it was nearly 25 years ago. I was 21 years old.

I'm going to celebrate my 46th birthday next month. Since then, I've summered in the south of France for two years, backpacked through Europe, edited my college newspaper, landed a job in the best newsroom in the world (from which I was never fired), won two team Pulitzer Prizes and a couple of Society of Professional Journalism "Green Eyeshade" awards, interviewed presidents and human rights activists, got married in Cuba and worked for 14 months to get my husband out of that island prison, had a baby (she's now 11 and I am going to have to have a little chat with her tomorrow because she reads my blog from time to time and I don't want to tell her not to... yes, that's all you did, alcaldito and Gavelgirl. Hope you are real proud of yourselves), got my mother-in-law out of Cuba, got a divorce, lost 150 pounds, started writing the next, great Cuban-American novel, took a buyout and left the newspaper, launched a media consulting business, failed miserably at that business, launched a website (which was more my thing), started this blog (which is most my thing) and moved back in with my wonderful, incredibly patient parents because I am most definitely not being paid by anyone to write this.

I have never committed any kind of fraud, like the alcaldito and Gavelgirl do daily. I have never hurt anyone, like they and the rest of the council did Thursday when they voted on that incredibly false budget that calls for firing 105 firefighters. I may not be proud of every little misstep in my life's travels, but I also have no regrets. I never sealed or expunged any of my records because I always felt that would lead folks to imagine far more serious infractions. "Suuuure it was just marijuana possession," I envisioned people saying if they found an expunged criminal record and thought it had to be something worse -- probably because that's what I would think.

My mistakes are my medals -- not your little found treasure, alcaldito -- and that's why I took them back from you. And I wear them proudly and transparently because they make me who I am today, but also because I am responsible and accountable for my actions.

I wish everybody, including the Hialeah council members, would be also.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hialeah: Campaign $ before safety

Hialeah's alcaldito Carlos Hernandez and his yes council would have people believe that they have to fire almost half the city's firefighter paramedics to balance the budget without raising taxes. But a closer look at the city's checkbook may indicate that what they really want is to take money from the fire department budget so they can keep on doling out millions in no-bid contracts and purchase order increases for their friends and campaign contributors.

On the agenda for tonight's meeting, two days before they consider firing 40 percent of the 270 firefighters that currently serve more than 220,000 residents, there are several items that are worth questioning. They include more than a dozen requests to waive the competitive bidding process -- which guarantees fair, not inflated prices, and an open, level playing field -- for a total of more than $800,000, which includes one for Maguire Group for inspections that have already been done on the water pump that cost the city double because it wasn't done right the first time. Maguire Group, its officers and their other companies contributed at least $4,300 to the failed Julio Robaina county mayoral campaign -- and, Ladra is willing to wager, we'll see some contributions to the current candidates on the dais (which is the long podium they sit at for meetings, for that person who did not recognize the word).

Additionally, there is a "change order" for contracts with two other companies (probably no bid contracts, also) that contributed to the Robaina campaign: Acosta Tractors ($175,000) and Overland Carriers (doesn't say how much the change is, but the contract total is $2.1 million so I bet it's at least a six-figure figure). Acosta Tractors and its related officers and companies donated $2,000 in four bundled maximum $500 contributions. Overland just $1,000 that I could find so far, but its harder than it looks to trace these contributions back and connect them to bundles. And I haven't even started to look at the seven or eight PACs that supported Robaina that might have also benefited from these benevolent city vendors.

This is how the city administration misspends your hard-earned taxes, Hialeah. Watch them as they raise no questions and rubber-stamp every no-bid contract and every change order. Council President Isis "Guttergirl" Garcia-Martinez might even give her nod with her signature enthusiastic "Absolutely!" -- just in case there is any question of how she really feels.

Then Thursday, do not let the council blame the city's hard-working employees for their own financial mismanagement and cut half of the city's firefighters and paramedics so that they can keep on doling out funds to their campaign contributors.

That's pathetic. And it should be criminal.