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.