Archive for Miami Herald

Miami City Manager airs dirty laundry in fight with police union

 

In response to allegations of heavy-handed punishment and allusions to racism, Miami’s top administrator on Friday issued a memo detailing the sex, race and transgressions of every full-time employee fired under his watch — a dirty laundry list that includes men and women accused of fraud, drug trafficking and brawling on the job.

Daniel Alfonso‘s package to city commissioners included more than 600 pages of backup documents, and came in response to insinuations this month by Miami’s police union that he has disproportionately punished African American employees. Union president Javier Ortiz also told commissioners that Alfonso has lost every firing challenged by the Fraternal Order of Police, a statement Alfonso sought to clarify and contextualize.

“As I have stated in the past, these decisions are not taken lightly and you will find that at the very least, the documentation provided supports strong disciplinary action,” Alfonso wrote to commissioners Friday. “Among the causes presented are workplace violence, fraud and child pornography to name a few. More than a third of the dismissals for cause are from employees who have been sworn to protect and serve our taxpayers.”

Most the list of 105 full-time employees that Alfonso says he has fired since he officially became city manager in 2014 included little or no explanation for their terminations due to their status as probationary or executive employees. But for more than two dozen, Alfonso explicitly laid out his reasons.

Among the firings and their ultimate outcome, as explained by Alfonso:

Firefighter Alexander Rousseau, who was fired for viewing and disseminating child pornography on a computer while at a fire station. Rousseau was convicted and is serving time in federal prison.

Police Officer Giraldo Linares, fired for allegedly falsifying tax documents and perjuring himself in federal bankruptcy court. Linares challenged his firing, won his job back, and then agreed to retire after the city moved to fire him over a different incident.

Officer Christopher Vital, fired after a Miami Beach police officer caught him driving 100 miles per hour on the MacArthur Causeway and driving under the influence with narcotics in his car and a suspended license. Vital agreed not to contest his firing in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges.

Officers Luis Valdes and Alfredo Matias, members of the department’s Crime Supression Unit who allegedly lied about the details of a drug-buy at the Rainbow projects in Overtown in order to tie a gun to a suspect and protect a confidential informant. An arbitrator reinstated Matias to his job, but upheld Valdes’ firing.

Officer Jose Maldonado-Dick, arrested for attempted cocaine trafficking and sentenced to 42 months in prison.

Park Ranger Christopher Smith, who allegedly kicked a table into a co-worker’s chest and punched a wall. Smith was reinstated to his job by an arbitrator and given a 30-day suspension.

Officer Johnny Brutus, accused of falsifying work sheets and leaving his patrol area without permission. Brutus settled with the city and was reinstated on a conditional one-year probationary period.

Officer Jean Marie Jean-Phillipe, caught sleeping in his patrol car while on duty. Alfonso said Jean-Phillipe contested his firing before Miami’s civil service board.

Waste Hauler Bruce Lewis, involved in a non-injury hit-and-run with his dump truck, which he tried to cover up.

Code Officer Brenda Meregildo, fired for brawling with another code officer. Her firing was overturned on appeal.

Public Works employee Pedro Torres, fired after arrests for five drug and gun-related felonies.

Dispatchers Erica Cook and Sheana Cooley-McNichols, fired for their handling of an inaudible 911 call by a man who was later found shot dead in an alley. They appealed their terminations and were reinstated.

Police Sergeant Adam Gurlacz, fired after Alfonso says he was caught speeding on I-595, lost his take-home car privileges, continued to take his car anyway and then lied about it during a civil service hearing. Gurlacz appealed his firing and was reinstated.

Firefighter Mijail Orozco, because “after the early ending of a training course, while on duty, Mr. Orozco consumed alcohol and socialized for an extended period of time at Booby Trap Gentleman’s Club, then drove a car, got into an accident and knowingly fled the scene of the accident.” Orozco reached a settlement with the city to win his job back on the grounds that he accept his time off as a suspension and remain on a “last-chance” provision for two years.

Little Haiti Cultural Center Director Sandy Dorsainvil, a popular employee fired amid an investigation into spending at the community cultural center. Alfonso, who nearly lost his job in April over tension caused by Dorsainvil’s termination, did not detail the reasons for her firing in his memo. She was quickly hired by Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon.

Officer Adrian Rodriguez, fired after he was found to have lied and falsified time records amid a homicide investigation into a death at a Metro PCS store where Rodriguez used to work. Rodriguez is a suspect in the homicide, Alfonso said.

Officer Sabine Raymonvil, fired for improperly using the department’s information system and falsifying an information report after paying a driver she hit with her police car $700 in order to leave the scene.

Parks Supervisor Tejuan Allison, who got into a scuffle at work and let his employees know he had a gun and 16 bullets. Allison has appealed his firing. Ortiz says video of the incident should vindicate Allison.

Waste Hauler Larry Ellis, who fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the back of a taxi cab, killing a woman.

Alfonso’s lengthy memo also comes after three of the city’s five commissioners tried to fire him this month, and amid a push by the police union to hold a vote of “no confidence” in the coming weeks. Late Friday night, Lt. Ortiz, Miami’s union president, issued a retort calling Alfonso “reckless” and criticizing the manager’s memo, sent two days before Christmas.

Ortiz also noted that Alfonso this week fired three probationary police officers over what sources have described as racially sensitive text messages. Ortiz said the texts were inappropriate, but not worthy of termination and “weren’t in any way racial.” He criticized the timing of the firings, just days before Christmas and the end of the officers’ probationary periods.

“As the most powerful administrator in the City of Miami, by airing out the City’s dirty laundry (with poor one sided summaries) just further damages the image of our community,” Ortiz wrote. “What a slap in the face to every police officer and to our elected officials when he ends his letter stating: More than a third of the dismissals for cause are from employees who have been sworn to protect and serve our taxpayers. What he doesn’t mention is that besides only one termination for cause that the FOP has represented, all the other police officers were given their jobs back.”

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Miami budget crunchers warn city spending is getting out of whack

JAVIER ORTIZ

Fully recovered from a financial crisis during the late 2000s, Miami commissioners are finally restoring the pay and benefits they unilaterally stripped from their employees in order to balance their books — and giving budget crunchers heartburn in the process.

Taking into consideration a new police union contract that could be awarded Thursday, Miami’s finance staff estimates that the city is on pace to spend about $100 million more than it brings in over the next five years. Union leaders believe those projections are akin to scare tactics, but city manager Daniel Alfonso says at its current rate of spending the city will have to raise taxes, cut non-employee spending, or dip deeply into the city’s rainy day funds in just a few years.

“Something will have to be done unless we’re absolutely wrong about our revenue projections,” he said in an interview.

The increasing expenses, Alfonso says, are due to the city’s recently approved collective bargaining agreements, which are negotiated by his staff, city commissioners and Mayor Tomás Regalado. A few months ago, the city approved a new fire union contract that afforded some members raises worth close to 30 percent in an attempt to restore imposed cuts. The Fraternal Order of Police contract ratified by the union Tuesday night will cost the city an estimated $40 million through 2018 and increase payroll by 10 percent this year, according to city documents.

City projections were enough to lead Miami’s finance committee to recommend that commissioners reject the police contract when they meet Thursday. Part of the concern is that Miami could be repeating some of its past mistakes, when overly generous union contracts collided with an implosion of the real estate market, nearly bankrupting the city.

“Our No. 1 responsibility on the finance committee is to make sure we don’t go over another fiscal cliff with our eyes closed,” said Eric Zichella, a committee member.

But Miami’s unions say Alfonso’s warnings — made as commissioners push to expand the city’s police force and recruit new officers with the lure of improved compensation — are alarmist and intended to tamp down their pay.

Financially, the city, with a general fund around $640 million, is in its best financial shape in years. Credit agencies continue to improve Miami’s bond ratings. And every year, it seems, the city ends with millions in unspent, surplus dollars — enough to distribute millions among elected officials in recent months to spend on brick-and-mortar projects of their choosing.

“The ratification of this contract still leaves the city of Miami Police Department below the pay and benefits of our neighboring agencies such as Miami Beach and Miami-Dade,” President Lt. Javier Ortiz said. “They ‘find’ $20 million every year.”

One factor that should keep the city from falling into another crisis even if real estate values plummet like they did in 2008 is a recession-driven decision to cap employee pensions at $100,000. With that rule, the ballooning pension obligations that threatened to swallow 20 percent of the city’s budget in 2010 shouldn’t recur. The only caveat is that the pension cap is the subject of an open Florida Supreme Court case that has yet to be ruled on 13 months after oral arguments.

“This [contract] does not make us whole, especially when it comes to retirement,” Ortiz said. “This is a safety net while we wait to see what the Florida Supreme Court rules.”

Miami-Dade says it has enough police, delays summer cadet class

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Miami-Dade won’t bring on dozens of police cadets as planned late this summer, saying it has already met hiring targets.

A cadet class scheduled to start in August will be delayed at least until the fall, officials said Thursday, describing a move that would slide the $2.5 million cost of training about 45 rookie officers into the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

County officials said the change reflects an accelerated hiring schedule at the 4,000-person police department, the 10th-largest in the country and the arm of Miami-Dade government with the most employees. With two 36-week cadet classes already under way and shorter training sessions for police coming from other agencies, county administrators said the department is on track to have the 265 new patrol officers it wanted in 2016 without the August class.

“We were so successful in our hiring that we don’t need that class,” said Jennifer Moon, the county’s budget chief.

But John Rivera, head of Miami-Dade’s police union, said the agency needs the planned 45-slot cadet class as quickly as possible.

“We are in a desperate situation with the lack of officers we already have,” said Rivera, president of the Police Benevolent Association. “It’s just going to make it worse.”

Always a lightning rod for controversy, police funding has gotten even more attention this year as Mayor Carlos Gimenez won approval for his $1 million-a-year body-camera program and community leaders demanded action on a rash of child killings by gunfire.

Gimenez’s 2016 budget, the last before he faces a re-election vote in August, touted the addition of 100 officers “on patrol” for an agency forecast to spend about $600 million. The beefed-up patrols would come from shifting personnel from other areas — the budget shows a decrease of 16 payroll slots from Investigative Services — and filling vacant positions. At the start of 2016, the agency reported that vacant positions were down from about 550 in the fall to 345. At the same time, payroll expenses were 11 percent over budget because of unplanned overtime and severance expenses.

Miami-Dade’s police department is facing a wave of retirements, with more employees leaving under a state program than any other agency in the county, according to 2015 data.

About one out of every nine employees at the county police department were enrolled last year in the state’s deferred retirement system (known as DROP), and the cadets were needed mostly to fill pending vacancies as the more experienced officers neared their mandatory exit dates. Employees are free to leave earlier than the five-year DROP window, and departures bring extra expenses as the department cashes out unused sick and vacation time.

Juan Perez, the county’s police director, made headlines in 2014 when he was the department’s No. 2 official and railed against plans to lay off new cadets. The cutbacks were part of Gimenez’s proposed 2015 budget, which included eliminating the payroll slots to convert the trainees into rookie officers. “Fight for them!” Perez told the graduation crowd at the county’s police academy.

Gimenez used one-time savings to patch holes in the final 2015 budget and avoid police cuts. With property values up 9 percent this year, the mayor has trumpeted the current budget as one that’s largely free of the cutbacks and deferred spending of the past.

Along with the additional patrol officers, the 2016 Gimenez budget includes $1 million to purchase about 1,000 police body cameras. Miami-Dade secured a $1 million federal grant to launch the camera program, and the program is forecast to cost roughly $1 million per year.

Perez said the body-camera program remains on budget and that the department needed to scratch the August cadet class in order to compensate for the extra officers already brought onto the payroll.

“We ended up hiring more in the front end of the fiscal year than we anticipated,” he said.