The Dumping Ground

When family members or cronies need a job, Dade county politicians drop them off at the airport

It's not always easy being Miriam Alonso's son-in-law. Just ask Kevin Miles: While Alonso was a Miami city commissioner, Miles was appointed director of the city's International Trade Board. But after Alonso failed in her bid to become the city's mayor in November 1993, Miles found himself out on the street. As he was without a political patron on the city commission, his position was suddenly eliminated by then-city manager Cesar Odio.

At the time of his ouster in March 1994, Miles complained to the Miami Herald that he was fired because of his familial ties to Alonso. He said the entire affair marked a turning point for him. "It's good to be out of the political environment," Miles told the newspaper. "I just feel safer and healthier. I pity the people that have to make their living that way."

Pity, however, doesn't pay the bills.
Last October Alonso was elected to the Dade County Commission; by December her son-in-law was back on a government payroll, drawing $60,000 a year as a marketing specialist for the county's aviation department.

That job opening was never advertised, no other applications were solicited, and no one else was interviewed for the high-paying post, according to county records and interviews with airport personnel officials. So little advance thought went into creating the new position that it was not included in the county's 1996-97 budget, which was approved last May. The position was created specifically for Miles by County Manager Armando Vidal, who personally signed the forms waiving the county's normal hiring practices, which typically require that the position be advertised and would allow qualified applicants to be considered.

Vidal also signed off on the salary, which makes the 41-year-old Miles the highest paid of the six marketing specialists at Miami International Airport and gives him virtually the same salary as his supervisor, Chris Mangos.

Neither Miles nor his mother-in-law would return phone calls seeking comment for this story. Vidal was unavailable last week to comment. The director of marketing at the airport, Naomi Nixon, says she was on maternity leave when Miles was hired, so she doesn't know the circumstances of how he got his job. Neither does the county's aviation director, Gary Dellapa, nor his deputy director, Amaury Zuriarrain.

Miles joins a growing list of county commissioners' family members, former staffers, and political cronies who have landed jobs with the county's aviation department, which operates Miami International Airport. "Everyone at the airport is afraid to say no to these politicians," claims an airport official, who, like many others interviewed for this story, asked that his name not be printed for fear of being fired. "It's a very sad situation," he added.

Last month, County Commissioner Javier Souto's son Frank was given a part-time job paying $26,000 a year, in the airport's safety and security division. Commissioner Souto says he had nothing to do with his son's getting the job and that Frank merely responded to an ad in the paper. But according to Wallace Madry, the manager of administrative services at the airport, the job Frank Souto received was never publicly advertised and no one else was interviewed or considered for the newly created position.

After his first week on the job, Frank Souto's selection was being hailed by his superiors. "He's a bright kid," offers his supervisor, Ted Davis. "I wish I had six more just like him."

Davis can empathize with Souto about any embarrassment he might feel because of co-workers gossiping about how he got his job. Davis first started working for Dade County in 1989, when his brother-in-law, Larry Hawkins, was on the county commission. Asked if Hawkins helped him secure employment and subsequent promotions within the county, Davis responded, "Not that I know of."

Two years ago, when Alex Penelas's 60-year-old father-in-law Fermin Arrarte needed a job, county officials scrambled to find him a slot in the airport's finance department as an accounting clerk. Penelas, who is now mayor, was a county commissioner at the time. While the job had been advertised, an airport official speaking on condition of anonymity says they felt pressured to hire Arrarte because of his connection to Penelas.

Penelas's chief of staff, Brian May, denies that Penelas played any role in Arrarte's getting the job. "Fermin applied for a position at the airport, he was interviewed, and he was hired through the normal process," May says.

Since joining the aviation department, Arrarte, whose job entails entering figures into a computer, has been considered a "satisfactory" worker, according to his employee evaluations. Arrarte's current salary is $20,162 a year. "Fermin's work output is satisfactory," his 1995 evaluation states. "He completes his assignments on time. His work area is neat and organized." Arrarte's 1996 evaluation contained the exact same wording.

Arrarte would not comment for this article. When New Times approached him in his office and asked if he believed his relationship to Penelas played a role in his being hired, he merely shrugged his shoulders.

County commissioners aren't the only politicians who send their relatives off to work at the airport every morning. A position in public affairs was created for Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez's son Raul Jr. The division deals with the media, among other responsibilities. Martinez, age 22, is currently studying public relations at Florida International University and earns $22,860 a year as an "information specialist" at his part-time airport job.

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