By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Miami City Manager Cesar Odio's firing of Frank Casta*eda and Ivey Kearson two weeks ago prompted a broad-based protest. Not only are city staffers stunned by the ouster of the two veteran employees, but a wide spectrum of activist groups has also voiced opposition to the dismissals. Angel Gonzalez, vice-chairman of the Allapattah Chamber of Commerce, believes the former director of the Community Development Department was a hard-working and effective bureaucrat. "Frank has been a fair man who has responded to every segment of this city's population," Gonzalez laments. "It seems like a bad decision to fire him." This past Thursday, the People with Aids Coalition marched on city hall demanding Casta*eda be returned to his post.
Casta*eda's and Kearson's heads rolled in a purge of the city's Neighborhood Jobs Program, a division of the Community Development Department. Kearson, the 49-year-old head of the program who until that time had an impeccable job-performance record, was fired from his $70,000-per-year post after his own union caught him running personal errands on city time. Two other workers were terminated for allegedly faking time sheets or falsifying academic credentials. As supervisor of the department, the 44-year-old Casta*eda was booted because the infractions occurred under his watch.
Lost in the hullabaloo over the dismissals was the quiet celebration of one man. Charles Dawkins, nephew of City Commissioner Miller Dawkins and a career bureaucrat who has bounced from one city job to another, has outlasted his enemies. Back in 1991, Kearson and Casta*eda asked for Charles Dawkins's dismissal after Dawkins tampered with city records. He survived that scare, as he had survived a potential dismissal a few years earlier. Now he has survived Kearson and Castaneda.
The first time Dawkins was nearly fired, he was working for Miami Capital Development, the city's distributor of small-business loans. In 1987 his supervisor accused him of submitting inflated and inaccurate mileage reimbursement forms. The supervisor recommended termination but was overruled by the department head, and Dawkins was merely placed on probation.
Four years later, Dawkins had moved on to a new post -- economic analyst at the Neighborhood Jobs Program. His bosses, Kearson and Casta*eda, accused him of forging signatures on city documents and requested that he be fired. "He admitted to falsifying documents. He didn't accept calling it forgery, but he admitted signing the documents," Castaneda complained in a 1991 Miami Herald article about the incident.
There was no proof that Dawkins personally profited from the misdeeds, and again he kept his job. For weeks afterward, he sat at his desk with no assignments, collecting more than twenty dollars per hour in pay -- more than $6000 in all -- until Castaneda had Dawkins transferred to Beckham Hall, a county-run homeless shelter staffed in part by city workers. ("We can't trust him to do anything," Castaneda was quoted as saying at the time.)
Kearson, who ran the jobs program for seventeen years, contends the transfer was what eventually brought him down, as it did Casta*eda, a nineteen-year employee. "Ever since we took on Charles Dawkins, Odio and Miller Dawkins have been out to get us," he mutters. "It took them this long." Kearson has retained an attorney and has applied for a Civil Service Board review.
The official reason for Kearson's firing, according to Charlie Cox, president of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1907, can be traced back to Kearson's belligerent management style, not a city hall conspiracy. Kearson has a history of complaining about his staffers, Cox says, and the union could only take so many complaints before they turned the investigation on Kearson himself. "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones," the union head expounds.
Most recently Kearson became disillusioned with employee Charles Hobson. The job-training supervisor was unable to meet regular deadlines, Kearson noted, and he began to doubt the validity of Hobson's academic credentials. "It was a hunch," Kearson explains. "I had a hunch that he wasn't who he said he was."
The hunch proved correct. Kearson received letters from London University and the College of the Virgin Islands explaining that Hobson did not have the degrees he had claimed on his city application. Kearson complained about Hobson to the city, which determined the allegations to be true. (Hobson could not be reached for comment for this story.)
But before Hobson was fired, the union investigated Kearson. Complaints on file at the union dating from 1991 indicate that Kearson was allegedly not working the regular 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. hours mandated by department policy. And this past summer, the complaints were substantiated by the union's own investigation. On two days in July, private investigators hired by the union noted that Kearson didn't leave his house before 10:00 a.m. On one day in September, the investigation was halted when Kearson hadn't left his house by 1:00 p.m. On all three of those days, Kearson wrote on his official time sheets that he had worked from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Kearson does not dispute the investigative reports. He claims, though, that as a salaried employee he worked extraordinary hours, and always more than the 40 hours per week for which he was paid. In reference to the tardiness, he asserts that he sometimes worked at his house. His employee evaluations, on file at the Department of Personnel Management, are exemplary.