Jailhouse Rumble

If racial strife and political bickering were crimes, the entire staff of Dade County's corrections department would be locked up

"Based on all of the things that have happened," OMCO's president Walter Clark says, "it would not be in the best interest of the department for Felton to return." Clark likes the current arrangement, with Manning in charge and Ann Vendrell as his newly promoted second-in-command. "She's marching to the tune of Mr. Manning," he says cheerfully.

Ask Clark if he would have supported Vendrell had she been named interim director instead of Manning and he laughs out loud. "The manager wasn't going to do that," he says. And if he had, what kind of trouble might he have caused? "Let's put it this way," Clark grins, "it would have been very interesting, very interesting indeed."

"What's ironic about this entire thing," says HACO's Edgar Nieves, "is that OMCO is the one that lobbied tremendously to bring Felton in. And now they don't want him here? Come on. You brought him here, now you've got to live with him."

Equally ironic is the fact that HACO has turned on the person it once backed for director -- Ann Vendrell. Since working for Manning, Vendrell has become his biggest booster. In sharp contrast to her earlier criticism of his handling of the house-arrest program, she now has nothing but glowing things to say about Manning. "It is my sincere hope that as the department's transition period concludes he will be able to continue as director," she wrote in a January 29, 1996, letter to the county manager.

That letter, coupled with a recent Miami Times article in which she was quoted as saying she believed that a black should be in charge of the department, has infuriated HACO. "I was outraged and disgusted at this statement," HACO's executive director Margarita de Pazos wrote to County Manager Vidal.

HACO has also begun a campaign to undermine Manning. In a subsequent letter to Vidal, de Pazos noted that of Manning's first nine promotions within his senior staff, seven blacks were promoted, one Anglo, and only one Hispanic. De Pazos went on to decry the fact that out of 58 general promotions announced late this past month, only seven Hispanics moved up the ranks. "That's outrageous!!!" de Pazos wrote, her exclamation points driving home the extent of HACO's anger. "If this is any indication of Mr. Manning's agenda, it is hereby rebuked by this association and our affiliated organizations as well.

"If your advisers are telling you that things are fine at the Metro-Dade Corrections Department, nothing can be further from the truth," de Pazos continued. "Racial tensions are once again rising among staff members, and biased, slanted appointments on behalf of this interim director do not help matters at all."

De Pazos then pleaded with Vidal -- Cuban to Cuban: "Many of us fled a communist regime in Cuba to experience the American dream, but in corrections it has been the American nightmare. Enough is enough!!!

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