They Owe It All to Odio

Miami's infamous ex-city manager hired more than 100 staffers entirely at his own discretion. Guess who's paying them.

Each of these people joined the City of Miami work force in one of two ways, one of them much easier than the other.

The tougher method is via civil service. To be hired in this manner, a worker must first pass a series of tests and interviews to prove his or her merit. Fort Lauderdale, which uses a similar system, posts job openings for a minimum of two weeks in the newspaper of largest circulation (the Sun-Sentinel). Applicants must then pass a drug screening, survive a criminal background probe, and pass a performance test. Only the top five candidates after testing are eligible to fill the position. Any friends-of-friends problem there? "Unless you are in the top five, it don't make a rat's ass difference who you know," Fort Lauderdale personnel director John Panoch replies.

In Miami the rules are somewhat more relaxed. When Charles Dawkins applied for a civil-service position in 1988 as an economic analyst, the job was posted for only ten days. And he didn't have to worry about cracking the top five; only two other people applied. Dawkins won the position despite, according to published reports, having nearly been fired from his previous job at the city's distributor of small-business loans for submitting inflated mileage reimbursement forms. It may be merely a coincidence that his uncle is Miller Dawkins, the former city commissioner.

Charles Dawkins's city supervisor, Frank Castaneda, tried to fire him in 1991 for forging signatures on city records, but union rules impeding the dismissal of civil servants stymied the effort. "We can't trust him to do anything," Castaneda told the Herald at the time, explaining why he had ordered Dawkins to sit at his desk and not perform any assignments. After Castaneda managed to have Dawkins transferred to the Beckham Hall homeless shelter, Dawkins filed abuse-of-power charges against him.

This past September Dawkins was transferred back to Castaneda's department, where he now earns $46,000 per year. On his second day at work, he fell in a storage room, filed a disability claim, and took four months of paid leave. He returned to work two weeks ago with a note from his chiropractor stating that he can perform only sedentary labor, and for no more than four hours a day. By Friday of that week, when he went home at 11:00 a.m., Dawkins had not yet been assigned any work.

The easier way to get one's name on the city payroll is to land an "unclassified" job. By declaring a position unclassified -- as opposed to civil service -- the city manager can hire whomever he wants, period. Angela Bellamy, head of the Department of Human Resources and the city's personnel director, signs off on the paperwork, but she doesn't check references or evaluate the candidates. "The hiring of civil servants is my responsibility," she says flatly. "The hiring of unclassified employees is his."

Cesar Odio enthusiastically exercised this responsibility, hiring scores of unclassified employees during his nearly eleven-year tenure. More than 90 of those hires are still on the work force, being paid in excess of $3.25 million annually. Altogether, 157 people serve Miami in unclassifed posts, out of a 3100-member labor pool. (Fort Lauderdale, by comparison, employs about a dozen unclassified employees, in a pool of 2100.)

Jorge Luis Hernandez is one of the City of Miami's unclassified employees. When he put in for city work in November 1995, the only experience he listed on his job application was general manager of U.S. Photos and Fingerprints, a business (since closed) owned by the wife of John Lasseville, a pollster and political consultant. The 54-year-old Hernandez didn't mention the campaign assistance he had provided to Joe Carollo, who had won a city commission seat earlier that month. Odio made Hernandez an assistant to the city manager, an unclassified position paying $70,000 per year. The hiring was reported in the Miami Herald as an attempt by Odio to curry Carollo's favor.

Much harder than hiring Hernandez was finding something for him to do. Initially assigned to the city's satellite office in Allapattah, Hernandez's voicemail message now proclaims that he provides media relations for the City Manager's Office.

He did not return a phone call from this media outlet.

Ramon Conte, according to his personnel file, was hired as a temporary employee. Temporary positions are a step below unclassified in that they pay no benefits and are supposed to be, well, temporary. According to Angela Bellamy, the hiring process for temporary employees is the same as the procedure for unclassifed staffers: completely up to the city manager.

There isn't much else inside Conte's manila personnel folder. Just an application stating that from 1959 to 1960 he was an aluminum worker in Miami, and from 1961 to 1986 he was a Cuban political prisoner. He arrived back in Miami in October 1986, and started working at the city four months later, as a "community cultural aide."

Odio personally created Conte's assignment.
"This is a new temporary part-time position at the [city-owned] Manuel Artime community center," reads the paperwork, which the city manager signed. "This position will be responsible for improving cultural and civic services and will assist in the preservation and development of archives related to Cuban history."

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