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.

South Floridians who are even vaguely familiar with the brief life and eventful times of the City of Sweetwater probably weren't surprised to see this image played across their television screens last month: Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators leading Sweetwater City Councilman Ronald Mitro, unshaven, sporting a Flintstones T-shirt, and handcuffed, with a wry smile curling across his face, out of his photo-processing and video-rental shop on West Flagler Street. Mitro and his wife, Patricia Guy-Mitro, were arrested after allegedly agreeing to sell Florida identification cards to two undercover FDLE agents without asking for proper information, a felony charge. The two agents had posed as actresses planning to make pornographic videos. ("They asked me if I wanted to join in," recalls Mitro, who has been freed on his own recognizance. "I said, 'Absolutely not.' But I said, 'I'll watch!'")

Mitro, the city council's vice president at the time of his arrest, has been publicly defiant and claims the allegations are part of a political vendetta. (He and his wife have pleaded not guilty to the charges; a trial is set for June 20.) And if the 50-year-old councilman weren't talking about Sweetwater, his remarks might be disregarded as the embittered mutterings of yet another Dade politician caught in flagrante delicto. But scandalous politics is to Sweetwater what heroin is to a junkie; at times it seems that every official act undertaken within the borders of this little city, wedged in between SW 107th Avenue and Florida's Turnpike, just north of FIU's University Park campus, is plagued by the bugaboo of small-town political factionalism, which constantly threatens to paralyze government.

Mitro's attorney, Ben Kuehne, argues that the circumstances of his client's arrest were extraordinary and that they raise questions about the authorities' objectives. "It's real easy to find some technical violation of a statute and go after a decent guy," says Kuehne. "In most contexts the regulators would simply advise a shop owner, 'This is what we need. Make sure you keep your records.' At this point I can't say whether the arrest was politically motivated, but I think there was more to it than simply this arrest."

Mitro's allies on the Sweetwater City Council have sounded a similar alarm. When Gov. Lawton Chiles suspended her colleague ten days after his arrest, council president Gloria Bango implied that the governor himself was somehow in cahoots with their enemies. "It's all political," Bango declared. "When you're in that type of position, you have advisers, and I think somebody's been advising his advisers, if you get my drift." Bango stopped short of speculating about who the advisers' advisers might be.

Law enforcement officials contend that the arrest was not politically motivated in the least and that it was a "spinoff" from a broader, multiagency criminal investigation into the city. Indeed, Sweetwater, a town with a predominantly Latin population of about 14,000 squeezed into eight-tenths of a square mile (making it the most densely populated city in Dade), has been awash in an alphabet soup of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in recent months. Investigators are zealously probing the city's administration, council, and police department. But outside scrutiny is nothing new for Sweetwater. Since its incorporation in 1941, the city has developed an ignominious reputation for official misconduct, ranging from political brawls -- the kind with fists -- to extortion.

And if the recent rashes that have spread across the exposed regions of the body politic are any indication of what lies below, the municipality's internal constitution is as ill as ever. In addition to the Mitro arrest, the following convolutions have troubled the city in the past year:

In August 1993 Mayor Matilde Aguirre fired Sweetwater Police Chief Charles Toledo for violating the state's nepotism laws by permitting his brother Ray to serve as assistant chief. Both men had been Sweetwater police officers for eighteen years. (State statutes prohibit a public official from employing or advancing a relative, or advocating the appointment or advancement of a relative.) In a memorandum explaining the firing, the mayor asserted that the city's police force, which now numbers eighteen sworn officers, had "lost total confidence and trust in the police administration as a direct result of the continued and existing favoritism that exists [sic]." At the same time, she suspended Ray Toledo, pending an investigation of charges that he was abusive to officers and misused city funds. An internal affairs investigation is ongoing.

Two months ago the seven-member city council filed a civil suit against Mayor Aguirre, alleging that she withheld public records from public scrutiny, a violation of Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

Also in April a majority of the city council voted to hire an outside attorney to "ensure that Aguirre complies with state laws and stops bypassing the council when making certain administrative decisions," as Mitro announced at the time.

Sweetwater has changed city attorneys four times in the past year. "They were taking bets when I was hired as to how long I'd last," recalls Tucker Gibbs, who resigned as city attorney in February after about six weeks in the post. Gibbs says the ostensibly part-time job, which pays a salary of $45,600 per year, turned into a full-time occupation. Richard Weiss, whose firm Weiss, Serota & Helfman ended two years of Sweetwater representation in June 1993, says his company left for much the same reasons. "When there is political discord, that generates the need for a lot of legal advice," explains Weiss diplomatically. "Toward the end, the amount of work substantially increased."

The business of the city is often dictated -- "plagued" would be a better word -- by conflict between two competing governmental factions: one led by 50-year-old council president Bango and, until his arrest, Mitro; the other headed by the 42-year-old Aguirre, who, in the city's strong-mayor form of government, is Sweetwater's elected chief executive and functions much like city managers do in other cities. (As council president, Bango presides at council meetings; the mayor doesn't vote on issues but maintains veto power.) Until Mitro's suspension the Bango-Mitro alliance held a one-vote advantage on the city council. On three occasions since the suspension the six sitting council members have failed to agree on a replacement. Under the terms of the city's charter, Mitro's successor must be chosen from among the unsuccessful candidates who ran in the previous election.

True to form, each side blames the other for the current state of municipal turmoil. "As chief administrator, you take constant abuse of council members who want to ruin your reputation," claims Aguirre, who was elected mayor in 1991 with 77 percent of the vote. "I spend all my time at it. In my naivete I didn't anticipate the bad side of it, the envious individuals who always want to take shots at you." Replies Bango, who joined the council in 1993 after years as a civic activist: "The problem is that we have one very strong-headed mayor; that's enough to throw the whole place into turmoil. Besides that, we don't have much trouble."

Amid the chaos, observers might do well to keep history in mind: The city was founded by a troupe of Russian circus midgets, a bit of trivia that doesn't seem so odd when illuminated by the spotlights of the present-day Sweetwater big top.

Call it self-preservation. Alfredo Perez, a young private investigator toting a portable phone and looking sharp in a double-breasted navy-blue suit, has taken over the speaker's podium in the chambers of the Sweetwater City Council. He is here to address the politicians about the matter of annexation: Sweetwater recently began eyeing adjacent sections of unincorporated Dade. Perez, representing the residents of a neighborhood to the west of the city, has reason to believe his area is under consideration -- and he wishes council members would look elsewhere. "How can we annex to a town that has so many problems?" he inquires.

The atmosphere in the wood-paneled chambers, where about 75 citizens have gathered to fill roughly half the seats, is already tense, despite the fact that the evening's agenda so far has been relatively uncontroversial. Commencing at 8:00 p.m., the monthly meetings regularly stretch past midnight and have been known to drag on till 3:00 a.m. or later, simple city issues made elastic by petty rivalries and combative egos that go on display like cheap suits. Coffee, needless to say, is free-flowing among those who sit on the dais.

The usual discomfort felt at the front end of a long council meeting, though, has been exacerbated this May night by the glaringly vacant seat of Ronald Mitro, who is occupying a prison cell at the Metro-Dade Pretrial Detention Center. Earlier in the evening two cameramen hauled their video equipment into the chambers to record the first remarks of the council meeting in time for the nightly news. But until Perez took the podium, no one had publicly mentioned the Mitro affair.

And at least one council member isn't prepared to take the rhetorical jabs quietly.

Councilman Jose Diaz, a roly-poly insurance salesman and a Mitro foe, gallantly rushes to the defense of the city's wounded honor. "We've had our problems," he admits levelly. "Nobody up here is going to lie to you and tell you different. The incident you are talking about occurred today. The details of that incident are still being worked on. But there's no city that you can [say] something like this will not happen to. Nobody's perfect, not Coral Gables, not nobody. We have very decent people in this city, very fine people," the councilman pleads. "Because of one incident that may have occurred, it doesn't mean the whole city's like this."

Diaz proceeds to boast about the city's police-response time ("two minutes or less"), its municipal tax rates (among the lowest in Dade), and the residential trash pickups. "You have a chance to do whatever you want for your side," Diaz concludes. "But please, take the facts into consideration."

Much of this is lost on Perez, who stopped following Diaz's train of thought when the councilman attributed the town's sullied reputation to only one incident. "You say a lot of cities aren't perfect," the young P.I. perseveres. "But there are a lot of cities that are perfect in our area that you never hear about: Virginia Gardens, West Miami, a lot of cities that never come up in the news. I believe they're doing something right."

Gloria Bango leans toward the young man, a scowl drooped upon her face. "Tell your people that they can be at ease," she snaps. "Because we never thought of them." Having thus dismissed Perez's fears, she rises, huffs out of the council chambers, and doesn't return for several minutes.

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.

"All she's trying to do is go around and make noise and try to make us look bad," Bango says, once the proceedings have formally ended. Clutching a Styrofoam cup half full of coffee and breathing heavily, the council president complains that Aguirre stacked the gallery with supporters. "She's salivating over Mitro; she and her allies are like vultures. This is a mockery. I'm pissed."

At this Bango unleashes a rollicking laugh. A huge smile spreads across her sweat-glistened face. "And this meeting has been very soft," she confides. "This was very mild-mannered."

Mention of the City of Sweetwater unfailingly brings a smile --hough whether it's due to amusement or discomfort is not always clear -- to the face of the most dour law enforcement official, at least among those who have had the opportunity to visit the municipality on business matters. Several agencies, in particular the Metro-Dade Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have expended so many hours in Sweetwater that they might be wise to consider opening their own outposts in the burg.

But no agency knows the route into Sweetwater like the public-corruption unit of the Dade State Attorney's Office. "It's not unusual for us to get more than one call a week from one faction or the other over there," sighs Assistant State Attorney Joe Centorino. "It's a constant barrage. Ms. Bango is a regular caller. Mr. Mitro was a regular caller until recently. Ms. Aguirre. There are other municipalities that generate more than their fair share of complaints, but the political nature of the complaints in Sweetwater is a standout factor."

Most of the allegations, says Centorino, are sorted out with one phone call. But plenty make it to the investigative stage. "I can't think of a time in the last few years when there wasn't something open," the prosecutor says. Indeed, according to State Attorney's Office records, the agency has opened and closed at least ten investigations involving Sweetwater -- and that's just since 1990. Among them are the following:

A complaint filed in 1992 by a failed council candidate, William Anello, alleging that political corruption tainted the appointment of a successor to a deceased council member. The case was closed with no finding of criminal violation.

In September 1992 Mayor Aguirre alleged that Mitro violated the state Sunshine Law by visiting four council members at their homes, where city business was privately discussed. After the mayor failed to respond to four requests for substantiating information, the probe was closed.

Also in September 1992 Mitro accused Aguirre of stealing food that had been donated to the City of Sweetwater to assist in the Hurricane Andrew relief effort. Aguirre denied the allegation and the State Attorney's Office closed the investigation for lack of any supporting evidence.

In October 1992 Reynaldo Bango, husband of Gloria Bango, accused the mayor of having her personal vehicle repaired at the city motor pool at taxpayers' expense. Investigators learned from the city's director of maintenance that on various occasions Aguirre had asked him to repair cars belonging to her and her boyfriend. "The practice of allowing the city's mayors to use the city garage for personal car repairs is apparently a longstanding one in Sweetwater," reads the investigative report. The mayor claimed to have followed tradition "with an innocent intent," the report continues, and while the practice "may be a highly questionable one on a public policy level...[the excuse] provides a solid defense to any criminal charge of theft."

Also in October 1992 Reynaldo Bango alleged that then-police chief Charles Toledo had claimed 60 hours of overtime while he was actually on paid administrative leave to attend law school in New York. The State Attorney's Office closed the case without finding any criminal violation.

In February of this year Mitro accused Aguirre of breaking the Sunshine Law by refusing to provide him with a copy of a list of schoolchildren who received bicycles donated by the Latin Builders Association. The investigator determined that the mayor had incorrectly withheld the records because she had misunderstood an earlier State Attorney's Office opinion regarding the same matter. The official concluded that Aguirre had not intentionally violated the law.

State Attorney's Office officials continue to prowl Sweetwater today. According to sources from city government and law enforcement agencies, investigators are probing allegations of criminal behavior at the police department, which has also drawn the scrutiny of several other agencies in the past year, including the FBI, FDLE, and the Metro-Dade Police Department. In addition, police chiefs from the cities of Homestead and North Miami Beach, at the request of current Sweetwater Police Chief Ralph Hernandez, are conducting an internal affairs investigation of the department.

Although spokesmen from these agencies won't publicly discuss ongoing investigations, their line of inquiry makes it apparent that they are scrutinizing the laundry list of allegations Mayor Aguirre detailed in her August 1993 memorandum explaining Assistant Chief Ray Toledo's suspension. "After careful consideration and due review of all facts available at this time," Aguirre wrote, "I have decided that there exist reasonable grounds to belief [sic] that you have violated, subverted, and disregarded various laws, rules, and the regulations, and that your conduct has been unprofessional and constituting of conduct unbecoming [sic]." In the memo, Aguirre accuses Toledo of the following:

Committing an act of battery upon a police officer by tossing the officer's paycheck on the ground and kicking his buttocks as he bent over to pick it up.

Verbally abusing or assaulting subordinates, including telling an officer "to commit suicide."

Using departmental resources to conduct a personal investigation. (Suspecting that a Sweetwater police official had told Toledo's wife that Toledo was having an extramarital affair, the assistant chief allegedly compelled several police officers to submit to polygraph examinations in violation of their civil rights. The officers were allegedly threatened with termination should they refuse to undergo the examinations.)

Compelling police officers to participate in political campaigns against their will, potentially a violation of federal law.

Attempting to misuse proceeds seized by the police department as a result of drug-related arrests. (Aguirre did not mention specific misappropriations.)

Demonstrating favoritism in handing out promotions and assignments.
Leaving the City of Sweetwater on personal business while supposedly on duty, and utilizing police personnel and equipment to run personal errands.

Leaving a reserve police officer in a supervisory position instead of an on-duty, full-time acting lieutenant.

Law enforcement and Sweetwater Police Department sources also believe investigators may be looking at allegations that Ray Toledo authorized equipment purchases for his own use.

"All this is total nonsense," asserts Terry McWilliams, Toledo's attorney. "Political nonsense. There's no evidence that I've seen to support any of this." McWilliams says he has read a set of statements that were taken from police officers and other witnesses as part of the internal affairs investigation. "I haven't read anything that supports the allegations," McWilliams declares. "They come from disgruntled police officers who are motivated by politicians." McWilliams declined to name those politicians.

Knowledgeable sources also say investigators are examining an array of possible criminal violations among city administrators and council members (including alleged breaches of Florida's Sunshine Law), as well as the mayor's publicly aired allegation that Gloria Bango has been intimidating department heads by threatening them with termination, a charge Bango denies.

Of course both factions manning the political front lines are equally certain that their opponents are the focus of all this attention. "I think the mayor's been nailed and she's cutting a deal," Mitro said a few days before he was arrested.

"Sweetwater has always been convoluted because we've got too many Latins," Bango laughs. "But it's never been this way."

Actually, it has been this way. Sweetwater boasts a rich tradition of official ignominy. Twice, in 1980 and 1981, several Sweetwater police officers were charged with beating up townspeople while on-duty. (The charges were dropped on both occasions.) Manuel Pardo, who was convicted of murdering nine people in 1986, had been fired from the Sweetwater police force only a year before the murders occurred. The city had hired him shortly after he resigned from the Florida Highway Patrol, where an internal investigation revealed that he falsified 100 traffic warning and correction notices.

Four years ago six Sweetwater city officials, including then-mayor Irain Gonzalez and three members of the city council, were suspended by then-governor Bob Martinez in a zoning scandal. Four of the officials were indicted on charges of trying to extort $11,000 from a Sweetwater businessman in exchange for a zoning variance for his shopping plaza. The mayor and two of the council members were sentenced to prison time. Framed photographs of past mayors and council members adorn the walls of the Sweetwater City Hall council chambers; the likenesses of the six suspended city officials, conspicuously, are absent.

Seeking a place to retire, the Russian circus midgets came upon the area now known as Sweetwater, and along with developer Clyde Anderson and about a dozen other pioneers, they voted to incorporate. It was a mixed blessing: On one hand, the city was guaranteed a unique and memorable early history; on the other, midgets were traditionally the butt of circus jokes.

Of course it's not fair to blame Sweetwater's modern-day troubles on a group of vertically challenged performers. But for whatever reason, the city has acquired a unique history bursting with buffoonery -- at least those parts of Sweetwater history that persist in the popular lore. At the vague juncture of fact and legend are plenty of colorful anecdotes about the city, including the one about the entire volunteer fire department resigning because city officials took the fire engine to a blaze without them. Another story has it that one of the city's first policemen quit to become a robber, then abandoned that pursuit to become a city councilman, and then, after being kicked off the council for socking the fire chief, became a burglar again. In 1984 then-mayor Armando Penedo and then-councilman Irain Gonzalez reportedly got into a fistfight in front of city hall; Gonzalez was allegedly angry that the building lights weren't on. And it is a well-known fact that former police chief Charles Toledo has an arrest record for poaching.

But behind the veil of oddities is a troubled town that always seems to thwart its own best efforts to garner respect. And each political crisis or embarrassment begs the question: What will save Sweetwater from itself?

Not surprisingly, today's political players have a ready answer.
"The problems are all because of her," spits Ronald Mitro, referring to Mayor Matilde Aguirre. "We've been trying since 1991 to get this woman. She's, like, possessed by the devil. She does stuff and gets away with it."

Opines Gloria Bango: "I think there's hope for this city -- there's hope Matilde will run for state office. We have candles lit, fingers crossed, praying to Mecca -- whatever we have to do." And a suitable successor? "You're talking to her!"

For her part, Aguirre, whose term ends in May of next year, has confidence that the Sweetwater citizens, disgusted with recent events, will vote out her council opponents and, in her words, "place into office people who will bring back the city's good name."

Others believe the problems don't lie in the personalities. They contend that the city itself is a glaring argument against small-town incorporation. While incorporation yields a considerable amount of governmental independence, the trade-off is additional local expenses -- road maintenance, code enforcement, et cetera -- that otherwise would have been the domain of Dade County. With that in mind, some have suggested Sweetwater should disincorporate and rejoin unincorporated Dade. After the 1990 extortion indictments, a Miami Herald editorial invited such a dialogue. "As for a long-term solution, Dade's Metro Commission and legislative delegation -- both with a say on municipal-incorporation issues -- should order a study of whether Sweetwater and several other tiny Dade municipalities in Dade should be dissolved." (In fact, Sweetwater has survived at least two attempts by its citizens to abolish the town.)

Metro Commission Chairman Art Teele says the city is at a point where it must re-evaluate its modus operandi. In keeping its tax rates low, Teele points out, Sweetwater has not been able to generate enough revenue to accomplish its public-works projects and has thus become dependent on Metro-Dade for help in paying costs that its own coffers should be able to cover. "In many ways we've sort of rewarded the [Sweetwater City Council] by giving them every benefit of every doubt," says Teele. "But clearly there needs to be a refocusing of the city residents: whether they want a municipality, and if so, whether they want to pay for their own municipal services rather than scrounging from Dade County."

Teele speculates that the lack of dignity that characterizes small-town politics, including Sweetwater's, is a symptom of economic stress. "I think that condition is symbolic of deeper problems," the commissioner asserts. "When there's sufficient dollars to keep the playgrounds open and the traffic lights operating and the roads in good shape, people are all right. When you're short of money, nothing works right and it's not a happy place."

Sitting in the cluttered living room of his small concrete-block house, 71-year-old Sweetwater resident Charles Pastore recalls a far less complicated time. "I remember when Sweetwater was just a big pasture. Back when I first got here, 107th Avenue was nothing but dirt road," says Pastore, who moved here from New Jersey in 1950 with his new wife. (They have since divorced.) Pastore went on to become the city's first volunteer fire chief and helped to set up the fire department. Over the next 23 years, he served seven terms as mayor (from 1954 to 1966 and again from 1968 to 1970) and was also a councilman (1967-1968 and 1971-1973), a chronology that he has typed onto a small card that he now carries with him in his breast pocket. ("People always ask me and I like to have the dates right here," Pastore says, patting his guayabera.)

These days Pastore doesn't involve himself much with city hall. He says he only knows what's going on in town from reading the newspaper and watching television. "It's a shame that certain things are going on that shouldn't be going on," the former public official offers. "It's a new culture now, a new regime. It's a whole new ballgame."

Well, not really. And Pastore himself knows a thing or two about embarrassing investigative scrutiny, although he was never personally involved in any scandal. In 1957, while Pastore was mayor, the Dade County Grand Jury examined the process of issuing vehicle-inspection stickers, which had been adopted by some cities. "The Grand Jury has investigated the lax methods employed by certain municipalities in the issuance of automobile-inspection stickers, the most flagrant of which is the town of Sweetwater," jurors wrote in their end-of-term report. And sure enough, two Sweetwater city employees were eventually indicted on charges of bribery in connection with the illegal sale of auto-inspection stickers.

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