As Sweetwater Turns

There was nepotism on the police force and a councilman got busted for hawking fake IDs. But a slew of investigators haven't even begun to sort out the perpetual brouhaha that masquerades as city government.

Though the outsider's comments have created a rare, fragile bridge between the warring council factions -- Diaz and Bango actually agree about something -- the delicate union cannot hold for long. The combustion point is reached when city attorney Gus Efthimiou is asked to present an update regarding the council's civil suit against Mayor Aguirre.

"The suit was filed, the mayor has answered, and it's pending," Efthimiou announces curtly.

(According to the complaint, Aguirre failed to produce public records relating to the Claude & Mildred Pepper Senior Center, a city-run activities facility for the elderly. Bango has said publicly that she asked repeatedly for an accounting of money that had been collected by center residents with the assistance of city employees; Aguirre has maintained that she never had anything to do with the records and that the suit is nothing more than political harassment by Bango.)

Aguirre, a short, mousy woman with the porcelain complexion of a doll, shoots upright in her chair and grabs her microphone. She never had the records, she insists; furthermore, when the Dade State Attorney's Office ruled that the records were indeed public, she immediately told the elderly center to hand over the documents to the council. "You are making money, sir, on legal fees from the citizens of the City of Sweetwater on something that is a moot issue!" Aguirre protests, her shrill voice jumping half an octave.

As if to announce her entrance into the fray, Bango slams down her gavel and peers at Aguirre. "My mayor," she says haughtily. "It might be a moot issue to you. There are still many questions about those papers and that's why Mr. Efthimiou has not dropped that case. There's still things that have to be checked, and still conversations that I cannot talk to you about now until they are resolved."

A bewildered-looking Jose Diaz pipes up to request clarification from the city attorney. The lawsuit, Diaz wonders aloud, was meant to compel Aguirre to hand over the records, correct?

"But I never had the records, which is the ironic thing!" the mayor screeches.

"You see?" offers Efthimiou. "She says she never had the records."
"That is correct, sir," the mayor puts in. "The elderly had the records."
Diaz, Bango, Aguirre, and Efthimou all vie for the floor. A low roar arises from the gallery. Bango attacks the dais with her gavel, restoring a semblance of order. Throughout the exchange, the remainder of the council remains silent, looking somewhat bored. Not one has uttered a word since the meeting began; not one is likely to speak before it's over. It is commonly known that two councilmen, Manuel Fernandez and Jesus Mesa, prefer to speak in Spanish.

"I want to get to the bottom of this," Diaz says.
"Can I answer your question?" Efthimiou ventures. "The lawsuit deals with an issue, and the issue is: Produce public records. Now, the mayor is saying there was never a public record involved in this matter--"

"No!" barks Aguirre, cutting off Efthimiou in midsentence. "I did not say that--

Whack! goes Bango's gavel. "Madam Mayor, Madam Mayor, you keep interrupting! Please let him say--"

"He's saying that 'the mayor is saying,'" Aguirre blurts, gripping her microphone with one hand and hatcheting the other through the air for emphasis. "He cannot say, 'The mayor is saying,' where I am not saying that!"

"Madam Mayor, Madam Mayor!" hollers Bango, gavel at work.
"You know we have here city employees," Aguirre sputters, "the two people who work...let them come up and speak for themselves!"

"Madam Mayor, Madam Mayor, I will not have people that you bring in here to tell me what is--"

"--They said that people--"
"--Madam Mayor [Rap! Rap! Rap!], Madam--"
"--they are right here--"
"--Mayor, Madam Mayor, Madam Mayor!"
"--and you want to clarify this issue."

"Madamayor, Madamayor! This issue will be clarified whenever it has to be clarified."

At this point several audience members begin to imitate Bango's "madamayor" mantra.

"In court!" Aguirre screams. "So it costs the taxpayers of this city and Mr. Efthimiou can take some more money home!"

Glaring at the city attorney and appearing to be on the verge of exploding into a thousand mayoral pieces, Aguirre inquires whether Efthimiou is so committed to his position that he would be willing to work on the lawsuit case for free "so the taxpayers in the city don't have to get into this political battle and pay the consequences."

The audience breaks into boisterous applause.
"Mayor," shouts the city attorney, struggling to be heard above the din. "I worked two months for this city for free and this city didn't pay me for that. Are you willing to pay me back for those two months that I worked for free if I work free in this case?"

"Sir, the problem here, like I stated from the day you became the city attorney, is that there's a conflict of interest: You were Ronald Mitro's best man at his wedding," hisses Aguirre.

"Is that a reply? Is that a response to my question?" the attorney cries.
Despite the microphone's amplification, his question is drowned out by the applause of the patently pro-Aguirre crowd. One woman shrieks with joy at the mayor's defiance. Somewhere in the back of the chambers, another woman clucks, "Welcome to Sweetwater. Welcome to Sweetwater." The struggle having fizzled with no resolution, the meeting concludes swiftly.

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