Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hialeah mayor's political homicide

The man acting as mayor in Hialeah must have forgotten that voters did not put him there. If he had remembered that he is but a temporary placemark puppet placed in power by his mentor/master Julio Robaina -- who Ladra feels somehow still pulls the strings at City Hall -- he may not have dared to think he can take 70 firefighter paramedics away from the people.

But that's exactly what Alcaldito Carlos Hernandez has proposed to do, again making the firefighters his number one target in his desperate campaign to keep his $200,000-a-year job and everything he and Robaina and the council did in the last six years under wraps.

Hernandez unveiled his plan for the 2011-2012 city budget Wednesday at a hastily called press conference by focusing on the fire department, one day after the union announces its endorsement of his opponent, former mayor Raul Martinez. He whines to reporters yet again that the fire union will not negotiate -- when it is the city that declared a premeditated impasse in July (less than two hours into negotiations) and that time and time again has been legally found to violate fair labor standards. He again used threats (read: extortion) to bring the union back to the table -- after being the one who threw them out of the room. "We will negotiate, or there will be cuts," he said to a Channel 41 reporter.

Deep cuts, actually. He proposes reducing the 282 budgeted positions for firefighter paramedics (of which 271 are filled) by 35 this December and 35 more next year. As if Hialeah -- which this week was rated among the top ten cities for worst drivers -- has a surplus of first responders. In fact, the sixth largest city in the state and the second largest in Miami-Dade, has one of the busiest fire rescue departments per capita in the region. Let's do some math: We have about 230,000 people (according to the Census) who rely on about 80 firefighter paramedics on any given 24-hour shift, which equals one first responder for every 2,875 people or so. Hernandez wants to raise that ratio further to one paramedic for every 3,700 residents. His plan calls for the dismissal of one of every four firefighter paramedics. Current service levels cannot be maintained with a 25 percent reduction in personnel. As it is, Hialeah has to call in help from other cities when it has more than one critical mass incident at a time. These cuts mean that stations could close, response times will grow longer, insurance rates will increase -- and more people will die that may have been saved. Period.

Now, most people say Hernandez was nicknamed "The Rock" when he was a city cop for his brains, not his self-agrandized brawn, and Ladra has seen first-hand his inability to see the forrest for the trees. But he can't be that stupid that he thinks this is the best idea for balancing the budget while his rubber-stamping council approves dozens of his recommended change orders to increase (never decrease) the cost of no-bid or fixed-bid contracts at each meeting and he gives a reported $15,000 raise to a unqualified crony employee who had taken a leave of absence to help Robaina with his mayoral campaign (more on that later). Can he? Or, rather, can Robaina? Because almost everything Hernandez does has the former mayor's stench on it (more on that later). But even if he is as stupid as he is making himself out to look, this targeting of the firefighters is a campaign stunt by a man who is desperate to hang on to his $190,000 job. He had the nerve to call fire union President Mario Pico, the most patient, kindest gentlemanly bear of a man I know, "a politician" when Hernandez is the one who has turned their contract negotiations into his number one platform issue and excuse for his financial failures. Why else would he distribute a news article and photograph of a famous 2003 billboard fire union members paid for to trash Martinez? What does that billboard critical of cuts that forced ladder trucks to roll with three firefighters instead of the national standard four (which increases their own safety as well as the public's), have to do with the budget?

Nothing. But the petty, pathetic move has everything to do with Hernandez's motives. He said something about how the firefighters had endorsed Martinez even though they were once enemies and suggested the former mayor would raise taxes to keep firefighter benefits. "He is implying, I suppose, that we'll sell our souls to the devil," Pico told me later. But anyone who has watched them knows that their support of Martinez has not come easy and was thought out and weighed thoroughly. In fact, if anything, that billboard story (which is a really good one and Martinez still winces about it) shows that the firefighters group is not vengeful or so narrow-minded that old wounds would stand in the way of healing and growth. Hernandez might learn from that. But no, he can't. Because he fears it. That is why he has targeted the firefighters in a race where he is absolutely no match for either of his opponents. Problem is, he ain't a match for the bomberos, either. And Santa Barbara knows he has tried.

But it's not all about Martinez, either. Hernandez (read: Robaina puppet) has been building his case against the firefighters, who dared to back Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in the bitter race against their homeboy Julito. (Here they are riding in a caravan for Gimenez on West 49th Street before the runoff). It probably started even before some out-of-the-blue press release two months ago where he first whined about the firefighters not wanting to meet with him. In two decades covering government, Ladra has never seen a mayor or city manager tell the media that they can't get the union to sit with them. It was an obvious set up for the impasse days later, on the same day the mayor submitted a letter (didn't say write because someone else wrote it) to the editor of the Miami Herald that attacked the union president and was so full of lies and misinformation and propaganda that it probably should have had a political ad disclaimer.

He also blamed them for a nearly $8 million shortfall in this year's budget (a deficit he later claimed he never claimed and, yes, it gets that ridiculous) because, he said, the $5 million in negotiated concessions never materialized. Only that was never calculated into the 2010-2011 budget -- but nobody ever calls him on his bluffs. On Wednesday, he told the press that he firefighters had cost the city $10 million when, in fact, I am sure it is the city administration that has cost taxpayers $10 million with its illegal firing of 17 firefighters last year and its two upheld rulings of using unfair labor practices -- which the city legally exhausted all its ridiculous appeals of (read: kaching for attorneys). In fact, on Thursday, one day after the mayor's hullaballoo about the bomberos and their soooo-budget-related billboard, the city sat down with the fire union again over arbitration about how to pay the 17 firefighters that the city was forced to bring back and ordered to repay for the five months they were illegally laid off. Hernandez apparently doesn't want to do that and is looking for ways to pay them with additional vacation time and perks. But you can't pay mounting bills or loans taken out to pay mounting bills with perks. This is another example of the city wasting more money. The ruling will go with the firefighters. Because they are right again and the city is still acting illegally. And I bet Hernandez will add that to the $10 million tab he wants to unload on someone else. And Ladra wants to see a line by line accounting of these costs.

Oh, that's right. Hernandez won't show me. He won't show me anything. But he won't show this to anyone. Because then he can spew inflammatory lies and not back them up. Don't let him get away with this bluff, people. Not this one. Because this time, he is playing with life and death: If Hernandez makes good on his threat and fires one of every four firefighters, people in Hialeah will die. Punto y aparte. This moron mayor's move might be political suicide (read: one can hope). But it's definitely political homicide.

After all, Hernandez is gambling lives so he can keep the view from the mayor's office and his $16,000 monthly paycheck.

(To tell el Alcaldito that it is not nice to play with people's lives, email or call him at 305-883-5800. And fill council chambers in City Hall at the public hearings at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, and Monday, Sept. 26.)



  2. Better get to the table folks. Elaine you shouldn't be upset that Hernandez keeps pushing the right buttons. You may think he's a meat head, but he's playing the game awfully well. Stop the scare tactics and bullshit. No one is going to die. Grow up and face the fact that the firefighters need to negotiate. The police officers took their hits, so did AFSCME, it's time for the firefighter's union to step up. Switching to hybrids will not save the city the money it needs nor will screaming at a political headquarters get you anywhere. As a matter of fact, go form a show, it only helps Carlos. The public is against unions. Anyone who disagree with that line has no idea what is happening. When the firefighters make noise it only gives Carlos free publicity. For the record, I don't want or desire anyone to lose their job and I really don't think Hernandez wants that either. It's an unfortunate scenario but some negotiation can turn things around.

  3. Responder, let's be serious. You don't think there will be problems with a cutting of staffing by 40%? You can not possibly keep the same number of units in service with 40% less people.

  4. Some of the positions are vacant and ultimately I don't think ANYONE needs to be laid off. I think we need to cut from the top down in the fire department and negotiate so that the city gets savings and people keep their jobs and move on. Next year, tax revenue should increase from this year and hopefully the worse can be behind Hialeah. Everyone just needs to sit down and get past their egos and get it done. Hernandez's proposal may sound extreme but he has your attention and hopefully cooler heads can come to an appropriate and equitable settlement.

  5. You are right that he has their attention. He has my attention, too. But he has had the fire union's attention since the day he was appointed into office and they thought they could start anew. All they want is to see the books for themselves that show why $4 million in cuts are necessary as they create crony positions and approve cost overruns on dozens or perhaps hundreds of contracts.

    And if you look at the proposed 2011-2012 budget, Responder, there are some things that seem to indicate this is simple retribution and strong-arming. There are an additional 30-some positions (that I might argue are unnecessary and indicate possible "budget padding") budgeted in water and sewer (more on that later). There may be overfunding of the pension in the police department and double budgeting of some salaries in their respective departments and then out of other accounts.

    Attention, indeed. Everyone ought to be paying attention.

  6. Maybe someone should look into the actual function of the events and communications division. A department created by Julio to put Ms Cue as a department head and basically be a mayoral propaganda division.

  7. Responder, cut from the top down in the fire dept? Sounds like you know something others may not. Care to elaborate?

  8. This entire pony show with the Fire Union has gone long enough. Since day one, the Fire Union, didn't believe there was as shortfall and demanded a forensic audit of the City's budget and it's accounts. They rode this little pony for a few years...... Receiving their annual merit raises.
    These are ALL bright individuals, who for some reason turned their heads, when budget shortfalls were happening all around them (City of Miami, Miramar, Pine and Miami Dade County, School Board State of Florida & our great Nation) all tide to the lower value of the housing market = less revenue.
    I have great respect for all Fire, Military & Police personnel especially as we commemorate the 10th Anniversary of September 11 and watch all the news stories of the first responders running up the Towers with 100lbs of gear on their backs!

    But it has come time to STOP the drama of this soap opera and come to the table and offer concessions.
    Police did it.
    AFSCME was mandated to do it by The City Council. AFSCME now has (and has had for the last three months) the opportunity to get 10% money back in the pockets of its members (which in my humble opinion is the right thing to do) or at least take it up for a vote, but have not budged on this at all (more on that later).... Love when you write that on your stories Ladra.

    It's about doing the right thing everyone.....

  9. Elaine, it's an ultimatum to get to the bargaining table. I really don't understand how someone who has some capacity, like yourself, can write that the fire union wanted to start over with Hernandez. They have been with Raul since atleast March! Anyone with a pulse knew this to be true. Just a few weeks ago I was writing on your very message boards that the fire union was endorsing Raul and I was being told that no decision had been made. What a joke! Come on folks, let's just be blunt. Once again, the fire union needs to make cuts. The anonymous poster above is absolutely right, the firefighters have ridden this transparency argument for long enough. Bravo to Pico and Johnson for buying two extra years, please take it as a victory and start really negotiating. The City needs savings everywhere, so if the water department can generate savings, then by all means. I don't think that it is anyone's sacred cow.

    When I write the top down, it's exactly that, those generating the highest pay in the department need to see the cuts first. The pay for fighters nationally has gotten out of hand (I know Hialeah is among the cheapest in this county but so is/was every Hialeah employee) but a good chunk of that pay is always congregated at the top. I also mentioned it because Elaine keeps referencing the mayoral salary, which Hernandez just cut. If you criticize Hernandez's pay, don't you think it's fair Elaine for you to lambast Raul for potentially making $400K+ as mayor? Funny how you don't mention that bit.

    Lastly, I didn't mention it before but it's getting old and tired to keep throwing Robaina around as if he created these budget issues. If he did, then Robaina is wizard who has gone around the world and wrecked havoc on economies from Greece, Ireland, Portugal to good ol' Hialeah. This is a macroeconomic problem, all big cities are facing it and Hialeah is one of the few cities to have not raised it's mill rate. Also, a friendly reminder, the Robaina "boogey man" approach might play on this blog but in Hialeah it doesn't (60%+ approval rating and won by 80% two months ago). Elaine, if you want to use what influence you have for good, why don't you facilitate to bring people to the table. If people lose their jobs because Mario Pico and Eric Johnson can't stomach to sit down with Hernandez and put their politics aside to solve a budget problem, then everyone loses (residents, firefighters, administration, etc.). 

  10. Responder, your reading comprehension suffers almost as much as Will's.

    Again, I said the leadership had been with Raul for months and had been lobbying hard. But they did hope that the temporary change in administration would mean that negotiations would start fresh, which seemed to in the beginning. This threat is to bring them to the table? Really? That is fair labor practices? Have you seen the letter that the mayor sent out in paychecks to the general union whining about them? That's unfair labor practices, too. But you think its okay for the council to continue doling out change orders on no-bid contracts for their friends while taking from the hardest working, lowest paid public employees in the county?

    I am not necessarily criticizing Hernandez pay, just juxtaposing his $190,000 salary (for coming in late, taking 90-minute lunches and being on the radio) to the average $70,000 salary of a Hialeah firefighter (most of whom have not received merit pay raises since 2008; those only go to the new hires because of the low starting salary, and its in the contract).

    The thing that your eyes seem to keep glazing over is that the firefighters are WILLING to make concessions and sacrifices to preserve the quality of life for the residents of Hialeah (not to funnel the money back to the council's friends). Pico has worked in this city for 23 years, under four mayors, and Johnson for 17, I think, and both want the city to prosper. But neither they nor I have any confidence that their sacrifices will make that happen because the city will not provide true and real financial information. How can you expect them to negotiate in the dark? Just go to the table and then give the city what they want without having to show anything for it? That's negotiating?

    In fact, why don't you look at the proposed budget yourself and ask why there seems to be an additional 34 positions budgeted in water and sewer while at the same time 100 firefighters are being theatened with dismissal? Last I checked, the water and sewer department doesn't need three dozen more workers. Why is the pension in the police department funded at 40 percent rather than the 26 or 27 percent required by the actuary? Why is there half a million listed in salaries under risk management when they are already budgeted in line items under their respective departments? Padding to hide money? So you can fire 40 percent of the paramedics for political payback.

    Responder, you have some capacity, too. Stop using it to confuse the issues for political leverage and start asking the right questions of the right people.

  11. By the way, the last time the fire union went to the table, the firefighters offered a pension reform benefit change that would save the city $600,000 a year. They didn't even look at it. The city declared a premeditated impasse on them. City Attorney Bill Groddnick had the document prepared already, which show a lack of good faith. This is the table you want them to go back to? I want them at the table, too. But I want both sides to be honest and fair and open. So far, it's only been one side like that: The firefighters.

  12. Firefighters are our greediest public employees. I salute Hernandez for attempting to rein in those parasites.

  13. down and out city employeeSeptember 9, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    ladra, I'm a general employee (afscme) and that letter he stapled to our paychecks was pathetic. Have you read it? please elaborate if you have an opinion

  14. With the offer to AFSCME Hernandez, is hoping that the employees accept the offer so he can get out of paying back pay to the AFSCME employees once the Judge rules that the contract was imposed illegally. He thinks you're as stupid as he is.

  15. Elaine, do you really believe that someone can be so vindictive and reckless to want to ruin people's lives for political retribution? That's a play from Martinez's old playbook that no one I know would ever use. Just come to the table and make serious proposals.

  16. I love being refered to as an overpaid firefighter. That is basically saying I am underpaid paramedic who treats and transports many sick, ill and injured residents to the hospital. I am an underpaid rescue diver who has the task of diving in contaminated canals to remove lifeless victims from their vehicles. I am an underpaid hazardous material technician whose task it is to enter into toxic enviroments, some of which are ready to light off as soon as they touch the ground, to protect our community from harm.

    As it is the staffing of fire units in Hialeah are below nationally accepted standards, let alone neighboring fire departments. There are many businesses without insurance that hope we will be there to keep a small fire in check so a two day disruption doesn't turn into a permanent closure.

    Love us or hate us. I can tell you that the many people we interact with, who let us into their homes and rely on us for the most basic of needs do. The parent who thrusts his lifeless child into our arms knows that we are his only chance of being able to bring the child back to life. Everyday we climb onto our fire trucks, we have the chance to interact one on one with voters who welcome us into their homes and offer us cafe. Very few businesses or occupations are afforded that opportunity.

    I don't buy the bullshit rhetoric of the vocal minority. People are willing to pay more for better service. If the city doesn't want to adequately fund the fire department and staff us the way we should be then give us to the county.

  17. Tax paying residents are the ones who are paying for our cities departments and there respective functions. Services should not be in jepordy if they are it is because of the lack in management and administrative skills of the present administration. The council and acting mayor need to be removed on Nov 1st. enough damage has been caused by them, I do not hold city employees accounatble I hold the cities governing body in its entirety accountable for the state we find ourselves in. The acting mayor is not capable for the job he currently holds. Lets get Hialeah back on track, Vote Rudy Garcia for Mayor.

  18. Check this out

  19. Why don't you print the salaries including overtime of the overpaid firefighters?

    Oh that's right ... once the people know their outrageous salaries you will look stupid for defending them.

  20. I can get that, it's all public record. We should get all the police salaries, too. And administration. You know, to compare for context.

    But, according to the city's own budget numbers, firefighters earn an average of $70,000 a year. That's a nice salary in this day and age, sure, but hardly "outrageous for what they do" -- or have you already forgotten how 300 of them died for us (the collective general public) 10 years ago. In fact, it seems low to me for a job where you can risk your life any day. And it's highly specialized. All of Hialeah's firefighters are also trained paramedics. How much do you think their average pay after 10 or 15 years with the city should be? And what will we get for that?

    I am sure that, for some people, the higher salaries for top ranking fire officials who have been there for more than 20 or 25 years are going to seem excessive. But the lower end salary and the average salary does not seem like enough for the job they do, the stress they are put under and the risks they take.

    And most of them have not gotten a raise, despite what the mayor says, since 2008. The "merit steps" go to new hires for the first few years and is in the contract that way so the department can still offer a low starting salary and attract good candidates. If the city wants the paramedic firefighters to give that up, and other benefits, they need to offer something in return (and show transparency so that paramedics are not making sacrifices so that councilmembers can dole out no-bid contracts to their friends and campaign contributors). The fire union has already offered the city a $600,000 savings on pension reform -- as a start, they know there have to be more cuts and savings made -- that the city DECLINED to even listen to the same day administators declared impasse within 2 hours of a meeting. The city and the politicians, not the public servants who have been there through several administrations, are the ones who are acting in bad faith. As legal rulings find time and time again. Negotiations are about give and take. GIVE and take. Not take, take, take.

    I will never look or feel stupid because I defended the men and women who will risk their lives to save mine -- and yours. But your envy greed and ignorance is, indeed, showing already.

  21. Oh, and did you mean the overtime paid to cover the vacancies of 17 illegaly fired firefighters who the city was forced to bring back but has not yet paid, as legally ordered, for the five months they were ILLEGALLY laid off?

  22. First of all Ms. Ladra, how can you dare compare the 300 firefighters that die in 911 to the City of Hialeah Firefighters that we have here that the tallest building in Hialeah Might be 7 floors. Besides that when was the last big fire this city had that they actually risked their lives. In regards to them being paramedics as well as firefighters first the majority of them only have a EMT license which is the equivalent to having a CPR card as a civilian. Second it takes a total of 1 year to get your Paramedic/Firefighter certifications which is not even a degree. THEY DONT EVEN HAVE A DEGREE. We have teachers in this county that probably risk their life more then they do on a daily basis and only make 35,000 or at the most 45, 000 and they have Masters Degrees. These individuals are working with less everyday and our the ones teaching our childrens to be the future leaders. There is many ways to stop misspending money in the fire department and we start by getting rid of the union and those top officials that are making over 100,000 to sit on their ass along with those fire inspectors that do nothing all day and are making alot of money. So please as a son of a new york fire fighter dont ever compare one to the other. Go by our fire departments and look to see what they are doing on a days work.. Our Police department risk their lives 3 times more and dont complain half of what these guys do.

  23. Cops and teachers do not get paid enough, either. I agree. But I hold all firefighters in any city in the same high esteem because each and every one of them would do the same thing the NYC firefighters would do. And even the NYC firefighters recognize all their brethren as the same. There may not be any tall buildings in Hialeah, but I know firefighters who have risked their own lives rushing into flames to take out children -- or a wheelchair-bound resident -- out of a burning home. Firefighters have been the first to arrive at a scene of a multiple shooting, even before the police, and attended to the victims without knowing if the gunman was still loose. One of our Hialeah firefighters was exposed to HIV-infected blood and won't know if he was infected for another six months.

    Even in Hialeah, firefighters do take risks every day. And I do not see the rampant alleged abuses that politicians are pointing to as they try to divert the blame of the financial situation and continue to dole out contracts without going through the competitive bidding process that guarantees democracy. In fact, at tonight's very meeting, there are more than 12 "requests to waive the competitive bid process" for a total of $800,000. Among the companies getting these "no-bid contracts" are campaign contributors to the failed Robaina mayoral campaign (and likely our council, which will rubberstamp these gifts).

    Also on the agenda are two change orders for a contracts already approved (don't know if they were no-bid or not but I am willing to wager the were waived as well). One is for $175,000 additional to Acosta Tractors, which donated at least $2,000 in bundled contributions to Robaina and the other is for $2.1 million for Overland Carriers, whose multiple associates and companies donated at least $4,300 to Robaina's failed mayoral bid. Coincidence? Maybe. But when the council is desperately seeking to cut almost HALF the paramedic firefighters because of economic hardship, THIS raises a red flag. No?

    Stop taking personal jabs at public service workers and start looking at the way your elected officials are moving the shells around.


I have decided to moderate comments for a while as there are some that are simply off-subject and have become personal and offensive in nature, attacking not just me but others through this venue.

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