Why Can't We All Just Get Paid $85,000 a Year?

The Unity Council of Miami -- what a wonderful concept! Especially for Darryl Reaves, who collected most of the taxpayers' money that funded it.

The quarterly seminars fell victim to a similar fate. The first, which took place in February 1996, featured 106 organizations, a keynote speech by Monsignor Bryan Walsh, past executive director of the Archdiocese of Miami's Catholic Community Services, and a reception where participants nibbled petite quiche Lorraine. Maybe it was the quiche: The second forum, in May, drew representatives from fewer than half as many groups. At the same time, TUCOM board meetings grew erratic. "We wouldn't meet for two or three months," Gort admits. "I don't like to hold meetings when there is nothing to say."

Earl J. Carroll, Metro's first black commissioner, was a charter member of the TUCOM board. "I never attended but one meeting," he recalls. "I'm off that -- I wasn't interested." Other board members followed Carroll out the door. Banker Carlos Arboleya refused to sign a financial disclosure form and quit. Realtor Alica Baro missed a couple of meetings after her husband died.

Reaves, too, scaled back his participation. Last fall he ran for county commission. In an August 20 letter to Gort, in which he thanked the city commissioner for his "continued support and indulgence," Reaves explained that "campaigning for public office is a time-consuming activity"; he cashed in a total of two weeks' worth of vacation and sick time, then took a month of unpaid leave. He neglected to inform any of the member organizations of his absence. The TUCOM board did not meet while he was gone.

Reaves returned to work on September 16, having been soundly beaten in the District 3 Metro Commission race. But with no money to pay him, and with the city's budget deficit commanding headlines, Gort terminated Reaves's position, along with that of his assistant, on October 13. The TUCOM office shut down, and its files were shipped to Gort's commission office at Dinner Key, where they remain.

City of Miami records show that TUCOM -- a group that was not to have cost taxpayers a cent -- spent 130,000 public dollars during the fiscal year that ended September 30, 1996. The bulk of that money ($100,604) went toward salaries. Itemized listings reveal that another $7640 covered "travel and per diems." Only $37 went to postage. (Those bound copies of the ten-minute forum speeches? If they were ever made, they never went out.)

Gort admits the financial figures on TUCOM look lousy, but he emphasizes that the mindset was different when he and his colleagues granted all that money. "You have to remember that back then we didn't know we had the budget problems that we have today," he says. "If we had any real failure, it was in fundraising."

While he acknowledges the fundraising fiasco, Reaves denies it was his fault: As executive director, he claims, it wasn't his job to collect money.

Gort flatly disagrees. "Well," stammers the commissioner, "I mean, that's absolutely not true."

Despite the discord, he still wants unity. Gort recalls the third TUCOM forum, held in November, after Reaves's departure. Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas addressed students from ten local high schools, and Gort says there was an "unbelievable energy" in the mix of the privileged and disadvantaged attendees. He's talking to Penelas about the possibility of the county and the city coming together for unity. "TUCOM is my problem now," Gort says emphatically. "I am working toward a solution."

Last Friday the TUCOM board of directors attempted to hold its first meeting in five months. A quorum could not be reached, however, and the meeting was canceled. They'll try again this Friday.

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