By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
Stated Acting City Manager Stierheim: "I would concur."
Cesar Odio has repeatedly argued that any abuses of the discretionary fund are not his fault. He declined to talk to New Times about the fund but he told the Miami Herald that he authorized every check in response to a request from a city commissioner.
The argument is specious. While it is true that many of the check requests were forwarded to the city manager's office by commissioners, Odio cannot refute his sole responsibility for many other -- if not most of -- the requests. Furthermore, the argument downplays the complete and total authority Odio had to decide which requests from the commission to honor.
Vice Mayor Willy Gort, one of only two active commissioners to serve a full term in 1995, received about one request for city money every day that year, according to his commission aide Rosy Roig. Gort sorted through the requests, and if one looked like it came from a legitimate source, he would send it up to the city manager with a memo attached asking Odio "to see if there was any way to assist this worthwhile organization."
Commissioner J.L. Plummer, the other commissioner to serve for all of 1995, handled his check requests in much the same way. "J.L. was always real careful about how he worded the requests so that he wasn't demanding the money," explains Anne Sterling, Plummer's marketing coordinator. "He wasn't saying, 'Spend money you don't have.' He was saying, 'If there is any way possible, consider spending the money.' We'd forward all the requests up to Odio, and then he'd decide which requests to honor and which to reject."
Dulce Borges, Odio's former chief of staff and still an employee in the manager's office, says there were no set rules guiding which requests Odio would accept and which he would reject. "He would just review them when they would come up," she recalls. "It would just happen, with no formality. I'm sure he reviewed the backup they sent and took that into consideration, but overall, I can't tell you how he chose one request over another."
That might explain the arbitrariness of Odio's decisions. In Gort's 1995 file is a memo from Odio rejecting a donation request from One Arm Bandits, a team of handicapped softball players. That same year, Odio approved a donation of $1500 to the American Legion Post 31 baseball team even though Post 31 is located in South Miami. Odio rejected a request to place an advertisement in a fundraising booklet published by St. Luke's Missionary Church, stating that "the City does not make donations to any church related organization." Yet a year earlier, he donated $460 to the Amigos de Corpus Christi Church for help with "outreach." It probably didn't hurt that Odio's sister, Annie Laurie Mallo, is the Amigos treasurer.
Altogether, Odio received 22 request memos from Gort in 1995; he funded only 8. Odio declined to assist the Miami Italian Film Festival, but he did buy a table at the Centro Mater Annual Gala Ball "Nostalgia." He refused to donate $500 to a pregnancy prevention program at Miami Senior High, but he did spend $500 on 50 tickets for an "event" organized by Spanish-language radio personality Carlos D'Mant. "Odio made the final call on every request," reiterates Sterling.