Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Carlos Alvarez: Still struggling with the truth

Who has the toughest job in South Florida?

Take a minute to ponder the answer.

Give up?

Well, the person with the toughest job in South Florida is any journalist trying to get a straight answer from Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez.

Alvarez doesn't talk to the press all that often. There's a reason why.

A former cop, Alvarez often has trouble getting his facts straight.

Today, it was Michael Putney's turn to try and get a simple answer from the mayor to a relatively simple question: Why are Miami-Dade transit workers, who are being paid by the county, working on behalf of you in your bid to defeat the recall?

(Click here to see Putney make Alvarez squirm like a robbery suspect under interrogation!)

First he says it's against county policy for anyone on county time to engage in political activity. But he never says why 12 bus drivers are violating that policy and denies knowing anything about it.

Putney tries a second and then a third time to ask the same question as Alvarez blankly stares off into space.

This time he gets this: "I don't know, You're gonna have to talk to the [transit] director. I didn't make that decision."

If you're experiencing Déjà vu right about now, you're probably not alone.

We've been through this before with Alvarez.

In 2009, the Miami Herald reported that Alvarez's chief of staff Denis Morales, moonlighted as a consultant in Panama while collecting "more than $200,000 annually in his county job. He and [several fellow] officers worked as consultants for the Panamanian National Police. The work was done through Protection Strategies Inc., an Arlington, Va. firm."

Yep, Alvarez's chief of staff was working a second job while collecting a fat county paycheck. Anyone starting to see a pattern here?

In 2010 the Miami-Dade Inspector General issued a report on Morales' moonlighting.

From a June 24, 2010 Herald story on the report:
Former mayoral chief of staff Denis Morales and several high-ranking Miami-Dade police officers regularly flouted county rules involving outside employment and abused their positions of power while earning more than $400,000 moonlighting as police consultants in Panama, according to a Miami-Dade Inspector General draft report obtained by The Miami Herald.

The report said then-Police Institute Director Bernardo Gonzalez never obtained authorization for outside employment from 2007 to 2009 -- yet made more than $250,000 from the work. In his role as the director of MDPD's training institute, Gonzalez was entrusted with training police recruits.

The high-ranking officials routinely ignored a county policy banning more than 20 hours of outside employment per week, the draft report said.

''The fact that within three years, a small group of County employees made over $400,000 in outside income, should have raised a bright red flag regarding their activities,'' reads the 30-page OIG report.
Morales, Gonzalez and Maj. Ariel Artime obtained at least 10 firstclass ticket upgrades to travel to the Central American country from 2007 to 2009, the report found. In one case, they demanded an upgrade from an American Airlines ticket agent even though a Miami-Dade police directive a month earlier banned such solicitations.

From 2007 through 2009, Morales and MDPD officials took at least 40 trips to Panama in connection with their work as paid consultants. Morales' outside employment request forms in 2007, 2008 and 2009 had been approved by Alvarez . ''The manipulation by Mr. Morales and the MDPD officials of the outside employment request and reporting process should have been detected by routine scrutiny,'' the investigators add.

The mayor's office did not return calls.

The report concluded that ''outside employment by County employees, regardless of rank, is a privilege, not a right, and such employment should only be authorized after due consideration.''
Alvarez had handed Morales a double-digit raise in March 2009, weeks after the mayor's speech foreshadowing deep budget cuts and layoffs. Morales' annual salary went from $185,484 to $206,783, and the raise was backdated to Sept. 21, 2008, resulting in a March 8 paycheck of $17,281.

When details of the pay increase emerged in August, Alvarez justified it by citing Morales' ''added responsibility and authority.''

The day that raise kicked in - March 8 - was also the day Morales returned from seven days of paid leave, for which he received $5,566 in salary from county taxpayers.
And like he did today under Putney's questioning, in 2009 when the Herald revealed Morales' double dipping, the mayor flip-flopped like a freshly-caught mullet.

From the June 2010 Herald story:
The mayor initially defended Morales' consulting work.

After The Herald's report, Alvarez halted Morales' outside work in Panama and directed that he use vacation time for a week he spent in the Central American country in March working the second job. For the trip, Morales took his regular salary from county taxpayers for five days even though he was also being paid by the outside firm. Instead of using vacation time, county officials said, Morales granted himself paid leave.

In January [2010], Alvarez demoted Morales to sergeant, reducing his pay to $77,492, not including pay incentives.
Here's Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman in Dec. 2009 talking about how he learned of Morales' outside employment. Listen at the 1:50 mark (and again at 5"10) as Haggman talks about Alvarez giving two versions of the story on Morales' moonlighting.

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