Petty Cash

Miami city manager Cesar Odio loves to hand out taxpayer money to his friends. It's not under the table, but it is under the radar.

To receive money from Dade County taxpayers, charities and other private groups must complete a lengthy application form stating their precise intentions for the money. Then the request, no matter how minor, is brought before the full county commission for a vote. "Whether it is $1000 or $5000, the public wants to make sure there is accountability, that it is aboveboard and being handled in a forthright manner," reports budget director Steve Spratt. "We make sure the request is on the agenda. We ensure that the contracts are there. Even if it is a small dollar value, there is some accountability."

Over in Miami Beach, they do things a bit more like Miami. But only a bit. "Let's see," says Peter Liu, executive assistant to the city manager, as he studies a printout of all the charity galas the city has paid to attend. "We had one to Catholic Charities, that was a dinner honoring Monsignor Bryan Walsh's retirement. Then there was one to the Leukemia Society, and another one to the Community Action Agency. Okay, then, over two fiscal years, the city has paid a total of $2750 to attend charity events, balls, galas, et cetera."

Of course, with a munificent leader like Odio just across the causeway, Miami Beach rarely needs to pick up the tab. In September 1993, when some Cuban refugees arrived in South Florida from Mexico, Miami Beach's Eden Roc hotel gladly comped them rooms for five nights. There is no explanation on the check stub, but the City of Miami generously paid for the refugees' food. Cost: $635.

Odio is no narrow-minded manager. Yes, he's very big on supporting the arts and lending the city's financial assistance to the cause of a free Cuba, but he also finds money in the budget for the fun side of life. In the last three years, he has signed checks for baseball teams, softball teams, soccer teams, and cyclists. Typical was the Miami Amateur Baseball Association's 1995 receipt of $3000 to defray the costs of a tournament at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium.

When it comes to sports, Odio is like most Miamians -- he loves a winner. Unfortunately, with the Heat and the Hurricanes in rebuilding seasons, the manager has had to look outside Miami for teams worthy of city support. In 1994 the American Youth Soccer Club, through Victor De Yurre, persuaded Odio to hand over a $2500 "donation" as the team prepared for a tournament in northern Florida. "We won the state championship and the city helped to pay for the bus to Tallahassee and everything," cheers Daniel Prenat, the team's coach and a club director.

The address on the check Odio sent the team is 10053 SW 72nd St., several mapfolds southwest of the Miami city limits. Prenat explains that the check address is actually his wife's business, Alpha Travel (organizer of several of the city's business trips). There was no fixed address for the team, but the players usually met at his house in Kendall, and played their games at Killian High School (Kendall) and Belen Jesuit Preparatory School (Kendall). "Well, the team is from here, from the Kendall area," Prenat acknowledges. "I am sure one of our parents probably knew somebody there who was able to set up a donation. Specifically how, I don't know."

De Yurre also requested, and Odio approved, two donations to the American Legion Post 31 baseball team. The total gift of $3500 helped the team meet expenses for tournaments held in 1994 and 1995. Odio courageously signed over Miami taxpayers' money even though Post 31 is actually located in South Miami.

Heck, South Miami is close compared to some other teams that received Odio's assistance. In the summer of 1993, for instance, the manager helped a Nicaraguan baseball team pay for nine hotel rooms for nine nights at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in downtown Miami. Final bill for the lodging came to $4590.

That total, by the way, exceeded the city's definition of a "small purchase," and to pay the full bill for the team Odio would have had to bother those ultra-busy city commissioners. But true to form, he devised an ingenious alternative. Records indicate that on August 23, 1993, Odio paid the first $4500 of the bill. On September 16, he paid the final $90.

Such innovative financing required boldness from Odio, a brash willingness to circumvent the Miami City Code, section 18-52.4(b), which states, "Procurement requirements shall not be artificially divided so as to permit use of small-purchase procedures...instead of the methods otherwise applicable."

Altogether, Odio spends approximately $250,000 per year on so-called small purchases from the Special Programs and Accounts budget. Naturally, much of that money is spent quietly on plane tickets for department heads traveling to Washington, D.C., or for other administrative conferences and meetings. But for some reason Victor De Yurre's American Express bills were also paid by Odio instead of being charged to the budget set aside for his commission office. Among his bills for trips to Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, France, and Italy is a check covering one lunch at Caffe Baci, with a single guest, for $258.

A few expenditures are difficult to categorize. Odio's Thanksgiving 1993 donation of one pair of orthopedic shoes, at $73, was a worthwhile expense, certainly, though there is nothing attached to the check to explain who received the shoes or why. And one can assume there must be a good justification for the $400 purchase of two boxes of cigars and a "deluxe humidor" from El Credito Cigars on SW Eighth Street.

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