The Grim Keeper

The sexton's post at the Miami City Cemetery is a burial ground for troublesome municipal employees. But Clyde Cates wasn't about to just roll over and die.

Perhaps appropriately, Cates's "bad publicity" campaign took the form of a haunting of sorts. It began locally, with late-night phone messages left on the answering machines of his superiors. Typically he criticized Odio, saying that Cubans are ruining the city. Graduating to a fax machine ("a much more productive tool"), he began sending cryptic and critical messages to reporters and politicians around the world. His last fax, sent maybe a year ago: "Cesar Odio? Parasitic infestations to follow."

Cates's personnel file contains no record of the phone calls or faxes. "They gave him a lot of latitude as long as he wasn't harming anyone," explains a senior administrator who asked for anonymity. "He was a hard worker, but he tells stories that aren't the truth. He refuses to listen to the truth that help [for the cemetery] is on the way, and he goes out of his way to make it look worse than it is. In truth, the cemetery looked pretty good before the vandalism. All that needed to be done is have the graves fixed up from the hurricane, and that process was already in motion. And Clyde knows it."

On September 10, Cates filed a discrimination complaint with the Metro-Dade Equal Opportunity Board, alleging that the city had passed him over for a promotion -- and its inherent five percent raise of his $43,400 annual salary -- because he is white.

"I am a Caucasian American and work as a Park Manager I for the above-named governmental entity," he wrote in the complaint. "Last year Hispanic and Black American employees working in the same job classification were promoted to acting Park Manager II positions. Around June 1, 1996, I learned they were given a five percent pay increase associated with their promotion. I have greater seniority than those given the acting positions. I have complained of the disparate treatment and have been retaliated against with lower performance appraisals and threats of discharge."

Further down he added, "Terrence E. Griffin, Assistant Director, told me we needed ethnically correct people in the parks."

Cates's case was transferred to the city's Equal Opportunity department, where it is under review. Griffin says he is not allowed to comment while an investigation is in progress. But in Cates's last performance evaluation, in January, Griffin wrote, "Clyde is doing a good job at the City Cemetery and is trying to involve himself in all aspects of the cemetery operations and functions. Clyde should not interpret every job obstacle as a personal attack upon himself or as some type of personal vendetta against him."

The vandals struck two weeks after Cates filed his complaint. One of the first calls he made after discovering the damage was to Paul George; he knew George would call in the press. "He did call me, and I was so upset that I immediately called the Herald," the historian recalls. "Maybe he calls me in part because of that. I am real naive about that. That could have been savvy."

When an Associated Press reporter came calling on October 30 to write a Halloween feature that followed up on the September vandalism, Cates announced that he had found three dead chickens, the head of a slaughtered baby goat, and some human feces. The carcasses were still there the next day when TV trucks were dispatched to the scene after the AP story hit the wires. While the cameras rolled, Cates picked up the goat head with a pitchfork.

Parks Coordinator Robert Frazier arrived at the cemetery that morning to a barrage of TV microphones, and he did not like what he saw. "After close observation of the waste left on headstones it was clear to me that it was the same waste and voodoo that was there from the day before," he wrote to Cates in a "Letter of Warning" dated November 4. "It was approximately 10:30 in the morning when I arrived at the cemetery, so that means that you had at least three hours to clean up any problems that existed. Instead you left it there so the media could see it for your own personal reasons." Frazier concluded that "this type of negligent attitude" would not be tolerated in the future.

"In my opinion, if you want people to pay attention to the cemetery, do the job," Frazier elaborates. "I hate to see someone go in and use the cemetery as a scapegoat to bring up things they really just want to voice."

The undue attention on the vandalism has so annoyed Frazier that he now even questions the extent of the destruction in the first place. "I took Clyde's word that there were 57 damaged graves. I didn't see 57 myself. I saw the damage, but you know what? I can't even say there were 57."

Though he credits Cates for being a good worker, he says the sexton is approaching his problems the wrong way. "When I had problems with management, I solved them through negotiations," the supervisor notes. "I didn't go and try to destroy the cemetery and try to make up things about how the cemetery is being run. There are procedures Clyde should follow that don't include using the cemetery as a stepping stone for his personal agenda. You just don't do that."

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