Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Let's open the Random Pixels mailbag

This morning I received an email from Miami Dade County mayor Carlos Alvarez's director of communications, Vicki Mallette.

Mallette, who once worked in various positions at WPLG Channel 10 - including a stint as producer for Channel 10's senior political reporter Michael Putney - has had her hands full these past few weeks defending her current boss, Carlos Alvarez.

Apparently part of her job requires her to monitor what's being said about the mayor in print and electronic media and what's posted on blogs.

She started off her email by telling me that she was always available in case I had any questions about the county budget. And then she wrote this: "I would particularly like to address any instances where you think the Mayor has lied. While people may certainly disagree with the policies and proposals of the administration, words like liar, crook, etc. are unfair."

I was aghast!

Had I actually referred to the mayor as a liar? The same mayor who won election on a promise to reform county government?

Well, yes I had. Once.

Last year I followed up on an August 30, 2009 Miami Herald story headlined: "Downsized Dade execs still make big bucks." Herald reporter Matt Haggman wrote:
"Under fire for delivering double-digit raises to his closest advisors during a budget crisis, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez has defended himself by saying the perks were part of a broader staff reorganization that eliminated jobs and saved money.

"But many of the executives whose jobs disappeared are still working for the county, in some cases at higher salaries -- raising questions about how much the cutbacks have saved taxpayers."
I posted on link to the story on my blog the same day it appeared in the paper. The title of my post was "Carlos Alvarez is a big, fat liar."

Alvarez is fighting for his political survival because of a recall drive headed up by auto magnate Norman Braman.

Alvarez's current term ends in a couple of years. After he's gone he'll collect a big, fat pension and probably take a job as the head of a top echelon security firm.

But until then, he'll be dogged by the press. And more than a few bloggers.

So now might be a good time to check up on those reforms the mayor has instituted and see who might be playing fast and loose with the truth.

But first let's get some insight into the mayor's thinking from CBS4 reporter Jim DeFede. DeFede knows Alvarez as well as anyone outside county hall.

A long-time supporter of Alvarez, he wrote a column last year that laid bare Alvarez's political psyche:
Five years as mayor and Alvarez still thinks like a cop. When his back is against the wall he will stiffen, not bend. Never has that been clearer than in the firestorm surrounding the raises he gave his staff.

Let me say at the outset the raises were stupid. Incredibly, horrendously, mind-blowingly stupid. In fact they set new standards for stupidity.
The raises, however, have come to epitomize the public's feeling that government is out of touch with the world around them. The raises give credence to a larger belief that government is inefficient and bloated.

And Alvarez's insistence to stand by those raises has come to represent the arrogance of government. It is why in the latest CBS4 News/Miami Herald poll he has lost the trust of the people.
He is politically tone deaf. It is one thing not to be obsessed about public opinion it is another to ignore it completely.
DeFede ended his column with this: "Since [Alvarez] became mayor there hasn't been a single story or scandal about politically connected friends of the mayor winning sweetheart deals from the county. The timing of that sentence was unfortunate.

Three months after DeFede wrote those words, on Dec. 9, 2009, the Miami Herald's Matt Haggman reported that Alvarez allowed "his chief of staff Denis Morales to moonlight as a police trainer in Panama."

In the same story Haggman revealed that: "Alvarez handed Morales a double-digit raise in March, just weeks after the speech foreshadowing deep budget cuts and layoffs of hundreds of county workers. Morales' annual salary went from $185,484 to $206,783, making him higher paid than White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. The raise was backdated to Sept. 21, 2008, resulting in a March 8 bi-weekly paycheck of $17,281."

Morales was demoted in Jan. 2010 and sent back to the Miami Dade Police Department.

This year the mayor had to deal with adverse publicity surrounding his lease of a luxury car paid for by taxpayers in the midst of the budget crisis. "We have reduced the budget of the county executive office by upwards of $2 million. Anyone mention that? I mean, two million, and we focus on the mayor's BMW," Alvarez told CBS4.

Last August, Alvarez remained silent when it was revealed "that a county audit found high-ranking members of the Miami-Dade Police Department, one of whom is close pals with county Mayor Carlos Alvarez, abused trust funds meant to fight environmental crime."

And there's the ongoing controversy over the fact that "each of the 13 county commissioners will get $814,000 [office budgets] to spend as they please, despite having demonstrated that they do not need it."

And let's not forget the outrage over the Marlins Stadium.

Alvarez, the tone deaf mayor, won't defend himself. That's Vicki Mallette's job.

I left a message at her office and she called me late this afternoon. We spoke for about thirty minutes.

I told her that I had only called her boss a liar once and explained why I felt it necessary to use that word.

Mallette politely and patiently explained how decisions are made at county hall.

Towards the end of our conversation, I read these lines from a December 2009 Miami Herald op-ed piece to her:
Miami-Dade County has had ... ethics training for years -- with mixed results.

Looks like the mayor and his chief of staff need a refresher course after Denis Morales spent a week in Panama working as a police consultant while still receiving his generous county paycheck. There's a word for that: Double-dipping.

The mayor, who values loyalty above all else, at first defended his right-hand man, Morales , who earns $206,783 a year -- more than White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, not to mention the vast majority of wage-earners here.

The mayor eventually told Morales to take personal vacation time, not county time, for that Panama trip, and not to do it again. That's the right thing to do, but why was Morales allowed to do it in the first place since he was so "indispensable" to the functioning of the mayor's office in a time of financial crisis?

Who's running the show up there on the 29th floor of County Hall?
Who wrote those lines?

They were penned by Mallette's former Channel 10 colleague, Michael Putney.

1 comment:

  1. No one has questioned why it was legal to have Morales working in a clearly civilian job as chief of staff as a police officer, earning special risk retirement benefits as a law enforcement officer in the state retirement system at 3% per year instead of the non-special risk rate of 1.6% like all the other county employees. This just isn't right and perhaps the state retirement board should look into it for possible violations.


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