The Graduate

After ten years as city manager, Cesar Odio is still catching flak about his college education. Give the guy a break. Better yet, give him a diploma.

It's good to manage the City of Miami. The pay, for one thing, is topnotch at $117,000 per year. The benefits are also stellar, including a splendid pension and a brand-new, top-of-the-line Jeep Cherokee with leather interior. Free gas. Free insurance. A generous expense account. There's even the occasional trip abroad.

If you can hold on to your job for as long as the current Miami city manager, Cesar Odio, politicians and lobbyists and city employees will throw a roast in your honor. At an elaborate affair this past November at the Rusty Pelican restaurant (and on city time), 400 well-wishers, from Cadillac dealer Norman Braman to lobbyist Rosario Kennedy to Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez feted Odio for surviving ten years at a city so poorly run that Martinez compared it to Beirut. The revelers ate "Chicken Roman-Off" and "Chocolate Chariot Mousse" while Odio sat on a plush scarlet throne wearing a crown, teething a fat cigar, and absorbing cheers of "Hail Cesar!"

The position has a few drawbacks, of course. For starters, job security is far from guaranteed. The city manager is supervised by the city commissioners and the mayor, who can fire him at any time. Before Odio commenced his reign of stability in December 1985, the city commission ran through five city managers in five years. Then there is the tricky business of actually managing the 34-square-mile city, of preparing the annual $260 million budget, of hiring more than 3000 employees -- and firing them when they don't work out. Just last month, for example, Odio was forced to terminate a job-training supervisor named Fred Hobson after it was discovered that Hobson had claimed to have certain academic credentials he in fact did not possess.

The firing of Hobson (and three other well-liked city workers) sparked a small but noisy protest outside city hall. Odio, as might be expected, was vilified. But that sort of thing comes with the territory. Making unpopular decisions is simply part of the job.

That particular demonstration of pique, however, illustrated something uniquely annoying to Cesar Odio. One of the protesters angrily shouted, "Odio fired Fred Hobson for not having a college degree, and he doesn't even have a college degree himself!" Of all the top administrators currently serving Miami, only Odio is being pestered by questions about his academic history -- and he has been dogged by such questions for years now. Political candidates have tried to turn the subject into a campaign issue. Policy opponents have spread rumors in an effort to undermine his integrity. In fact, the subject has become so vexatious that Odio keeps in his black leather wallet a small laminated copy of his diploma from Florida Memorial College. "They are always saying that I don't have a college degree," he sighs, shaking his head. The manager wishes the sheepskin skeptics would just go away. "These people have nothing better to do," he grumbles. "They should be out flying a kite or something."

And may they be struck down by lightening while they're at it.
That, it seems, is about what it would take to silence the incessant murmurs -- those imploring whispers that virtually beg investigation of the inconsistent dates on Odio's resume, diplomas, and college transcripts; the cries to question the teachers of Odio's courses; the invitations to flip through the course catalogues and yearbooks of both colleges from which Odio claims to have graduated. Only a divinely inspired zapping of his tormentors would silence this level of chatter.

In an effort to put the chatter to rest once and for all, New Times conducted its own investigation. The result: There is some truth to the rumors, and the city manager has good reason to appear defensive in discussing the matter.

Cesar Odio never graduated from Havana's Santo Tomas de Villanueva University, as he has claimed. The 1958 diploma from Villanueva sitting in his personnel file and hanging on his office wall at city hall is actually a cut-and-paste photocopy of someone else's diploma with the real person's name obscured by Liquid Paper correction fluid. Odio's name was added on top of that, in crude calligraphy, by a city worker under Odio's command.

A Catholic priest from Villanueva who wrote a letter asserting that Odio had graduated from the university in fact has no idea who Odio is.

Another person, the primary champion of Odio's Villanueva credentials, has received $130,000 in city consulting contracts since 1988, and is slated to receive another $48,000 contract when the city commission convenes later this month.

Odio's second bachelor's degree, from Florida Memorial College, is a more complex story, and is in some ways more interesting. While the diploma is genuine, and there is no smoking bottle of white-out, it is clear that Odio attended an off-campus extension of the college that, at the time, operated with less institutional control than the University of Miami football program.

He earned A's in classes the college shows no record of having offered. The program in which he was enrolled was so loosely organized and so poorly monitored that independent verification is now nearly impossible. Eventually it was exposed as having recruited such students as the mentally handicapped, even the dead.

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