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
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Fishing through a drawer, she hooked Conte's folder. "This says he works at Manuel Artime," she said. "It doesn't say who his supervisor is. But I've met him before [the supervisor]; he was a real nice young man -- er, old man. But all I know about Conte is that he comes up here every two weeks to pick up his check. He was here this morning."
Wright clacked Conte's name into her Unisys computer. The digital record did not indicate the name of his supervisor. From among a ream of papers, she produced several of Conte's time sheets: a series of sevens on each page, arranged five in a row, to equal 35-hour work weeks. Wright wasn't able to make out the signature at the bottom of the sheets, but her assistant said helpfully that it belongs to Jose Miro Torra.
Wright doesn't know it, but Torra is president of Brigade 2506. When I asked Angela Bellamy, the director of Human Resources, she told me that it is not common, but not unheard of, for a city worker to be supervised by someone who does not work for the city.
The "grief" Elbert Waters received for his clumsy approach to the friends-of-friends problem stifled other efforts to identify cronies on the payroll. To date, no other director or assistant city manager has produced a list of political appointees; most privately deride Waters for his naivete.
Progress has been made, however. Between December 1 and February 1, City Manager Ed Marquez approved the termination of 26 unclassified employment contracts, all owing to "budgetary restrictions." Among those let go was Carlos Lopez-Borges, an assistant to former commissioner Victor De Yurre who had been transferred to Solid Waste after De Yurre failed to win re-election in 1995. A few months ago, fax machines across the city churned out a photo of the 73-year-old Lopez-Borges at work, his feet up on his desk, sound asleep. He had been making $36,000 a year.
The cleaning process is a challenge, though, as Marquez will be the first to admit. Less than a week after he dropped nine unclassified employees in early December, six of those staffers addressed the city commission with complaints about how their dismissal was handled. In a follow-up letter to the city manager, Jean Dorce, one of the fired workers, pointed out that while Stierheim called for the firing of "nonproductive" employees, all of the dismissed boast solid performance evaluations.
And although Marquez's given reason for the terminations was "budgetary restrictions," the salaries of all six came via a grant that had already been awarded. "It is therefore our contention that the city's budgetary problems should not affect our employment, at least through the end of the current fiscal year," Dorce argued. (As New Times goes to press, Angela Bellamy is drafting a response to the letter.)
Dorce's grievance illustrates the murkiness of Marquez's dilemma: It is almost impossible for him to sift through the pool of city employees, separating the rumors of incompetence from the facts.
So he has left that task to his assistants.
"I am telling [my directors] that the responsibility is theirs," he says. "I can't micromanage them. I shouldn't micromanage them. If there are such unproductive political employees, get rid of them. If they are civil servants, then start the paper trail. The directors will no longer be able to say to me, 'We can't do it because of a political appointee in our department.' The responsibility is theirs. Let's go forward from here."
I have a friend who fought at the Bay of Pigs and who is an active member of the Brigade. I went to see him to ask if he knows Ramon Conte. "Of course I know Ramon Conte!" he enthused. "He's a hell of a nice guy. He works at the Brigade, writing a history. And I'll tell you something: It's a hell of a good book. A hell of a good book."
I recalled that the Exito article mentioned that Conte is assisting in the production of a Bay of Pigs documentary for Turner Entertainment and that he has unearthed photos from the invasion that no one has ever seen before. "He has a whole lot of stories and information that no one really knows about yet," my friend confirmed. "It is a good book!"
According to my friend, Conte is paid a small salary out of the Brigade's membership dues. Is it possible, I asked, that Conte is paid by the city to work for the Brigade? "No. No way. It isn't possible!" he stammered. "We pay Conte, the veterans."
And so it was that I made my way to 1821 SW Ninth St., home of Brigade 2506.
Although the Brigade 2506 clubhouse functions as a meeting place and a living memorial to the soldiers who fought in the 1961 effort to liberate Cuba from Castro, it doesn't look much different from any other well-maintained Little Havana bungalow. Orange tile roof, iron gates, imposing wooden doors. The only real giveaway that this is a clubhouse is the adjacent lot, paved for parking and protected by a chainlink fence topped with barbed wire.