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.

"Raul is doing very well," says Lauren Gail, director of public affairs. "Yeah, he might be the child of a political leader, but he is developing and he is growing. He has come up with some very good ideas on how to promote the airport." Gail says she doesn't know how Martinez was selected; she was merely notified by the personnel office last July that he had been hired. She met Martinez for the first time when he arrived for work.

A person doesn't have to be related to a local politician to land a job with the county's aviation department; sometimes just knowing a commissioner helps. Four months ago Gorky Charpentier was given a $29,000-a-year position in the airport's protocol office, which escorts foreign dignitaries, politicians, and celebrities around the airport and helps them get through customs without having to stand in line.

Prior to Charpentier's hiring, Miami International Airport already had six protocol officers as well as a protocol chief, who drew a collective salary of $270,000 a year. The department's budget, approved months earlier, did not call for any new hires. According to airport sources, there was no indication of a need for a seventh protocol official. Until last summer's election in Ecuador, that is. For four years, Charpentier had been Ecuador's consul general in Miami, but when Abdala "El Loco" Bucaram became the country's new president in July, Charpentier lost his fancy title.

What's an unemployed diplomat to do?
"Some of the county commissioners I know -- Bruce Kaplan, Alex Penelas, Pedro Reboredo -- told me to apply here at the airport," says Charpentier. "They said they would help me get a job. They told me I could have a job here."

Any county commissioners who involve themselves in personnel decisions would be in violation of the county charter; if caught, they could be removed from office. No Dade county commissioner has ever been prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office under this provision of the charter, which has been in effect for 40 years.

Protocol chief Monique Denes refuses to discuss why a position was created for Charpentier or if any pressure was applied by commissioners or their staffs. She did acknowledge, however, that protocol officers are usually required to speak English and two foreign languages. Charpentier speaks only English and Spanish.

Reboredo did not return a phone call last week seeking his comment. Speaking on behalf of Penelas, Brian May says the mayor did not apply any pressure to assist Charpentier. "Alex does remember this person," May says, "but as Alex tells everyone who asks him for a job, he told him that he had to go through the county's normal hiring practice." Kaplan also denies having intervened in the matter. "I didn't help him," he says. "I certainly encouraged him to apply. And what a treasure it is having a career diplomat on the airport's staff."

With an annual operating budget of $405 million, the Dade County Aviation Department (DCAD) employs 1600 workers to operate Miami International Airport (MIA), as well as the county's smaller landing fields in Opa-locka, Kendall, and Homestead. DCAD retains a staff of painters, carpenters, electricians, and janitors to physically maintain these facilities. A raft of accountants ensures that rents and fees are collected from the airlines and other businesses that call MIA home. The county also hires architects and engineers to plan future growth, and marketing specialists to drum up business from airlines that don't currently fly into Miami. More than 250 Metro-Dade police and firefighters are on the airport's payroll, as are tour guides, mechanics, attorneys, and secretaries. And there are scores of managers and administrators to oversee the entire enterprise.

Three-quarters of the posts at the airport are so-called classified positions, in which matters of hiring, promotions, transfers, and raises are strictly controlled by civil service rules and regulations, or by the various collective bargaining agreements between the county and the unions representing those particular employees.

Occupations that are not covered by a union or by civil service rules fall into a gray area in which the county manager, and now Dade's new mayor, have a great deal of latitude. Within the aviation department, these nonclassified (or "exempt") positions dominate departments such as marketing, public affairs, and finance. Department directors, division chiefs, and supervisors at the airport are nonclassified, as are certain clerical jobs and all part-time employees. So if Penelas or Vidal wants to create a job for folks like Kevin Miles, Frank Souto, Raul Martinez, Jr., and Gorky Charpentier, there is nothing to stop him.

And nowhere is it easier -- or more tempting -- to abuse that power than at the airport. In most other county departments, such as parks and recreation or corrections, if county executives wanted to invent a new position they would have to juggle that department's existing budget to find the money. But the aviation department's budget is amazingly flexible and can grow almost at will, since the county passes along all the costs of running the airport to the people who use it. To defray these costs, fees are collected from all of the businesses that operate at the airport: Restaurants, newsstands, barber shops, and dozens of other businesses all pay for the right to be there.

The airlines themselves pay the county several types of fees. First, they pay rent based on the amount of space they take up in the terminal. The airlines also pay landing fees, which are currently $1.34 per 1000 pounds of a plane's gross weight. Every time a DC-10 (which weighs about 250,000 pounds) lands at MIA, the airline has to pay the county more than $300.

Twice a year the county calculates how much money is coming into the airport. If it isn't enough to cover anticipated expenses, landing fees are increased. (Conversely, if the county is generating more money than needed, it's supposed to decrease landing fees.) Every time the county raises landing fees by a penny, an additional $300,000 a year from the airlines is added to the coffers. Ultimately, these fees are passed on to the consumer as part of ticket prices.

County administrators are frustrated that money generated at the airport can be used only for aviation-related expenses. Commissioners can't take funds left over from a year's worth of landing fees and spend it on police in Liberty City or a day-care center in West Kendall. But given a bit of managerial leeway, department insiders allege, county administrators have been able to create jobs for politically connected individuals, whether those jobs are actually needed or not. "They are making all of these worthless jobs, and the airlines end up paying for it," says a senior aviation official, who asked not to be identified. Eventually, he warns, the airlines, which pay more than $40 million a year in landing fees, are going to realize they are being duped. MIA is already considered one of the more expensive airports for airlines to use; if costs continue to increase, he adds, the major airlines could threaten to reduce the number of flights into Miami. If that occurs, he predicts, the airport will be forced to reduce its budget. "When we need to cut, we're not going to be cutting these political ne'er-do-wells," he says, "we're going to be cutting services."

Another very real and more immediate concern is the possibility of an American Airlines strike -- nearly half the flights through MIA are that one carrier's. County officials say that if there is a strike that lasts more than 60 days, they will have to begin laying off employees. "Who do you think will get sent home?" the aviation official questions. "We'll end up laying off people who work hard but don't have any political friends to protect them."

In addition to relatives and friends, commissioners also send members of their personal staffs to the aviation department, often securing for them higher paying jobs as either a reward or, as is more often the case, as a way of getting the individual off their own payrolls. "It's getting out of hand," adds another aviation department manager. "There are a lot of people who work at the airport who are extremely disillusioned by what has been occurring in recent years. The airport really has become a dumping ground."

Manuel Ramos started working for the county on May 2, 1994, as an aide to Commissioner Pedro Reboredo. His starting salary, according to county records, was set at $18,000 a year. Six weeks later Reboredo gave Ramos a $12,000 raise, taking him to an annual salary of $30,000. Three months later Reboredo increased Ramos's salary to $36,000 and a month after that gave him another $6000 raise, bringing the total to $42,000.

Less than a year after joining Reboredo's staff, Ramos, who was then 48, became gravely ill and required open heart surgery. But rather than maintain Ramos on his own payroll, Reboredo, who at the time was chairman of the county commission committee that oversaw the airport, transferred Ramos to the aviation department, where he assumed the title of special projects administrator and was given yet another raise, which brought his salary to nearly $49,000. Special projects administrator is a generic title, which allows the aviation department to assign whatever duties they want to the employee.

The same day Ramos was transferred to the airport, Vidal took the unusual step of placing him on administrative leave for six weeks, which meant that while Ramos was in the hospital he would continue to be paid but wouldn't have to use any of his annual sick leave or vacation time. While such a move may seem compassionate, it sent another message to Ramos's fellow airport employees. "That told us he was being treated differently," one employee says. If it was someone who didn't have a connection to a commissioner and therefore the county manager, the employee continues, he would not have been given such an advantage. "If I wanted to guarantee that I was going to be protected if I was ever seriously ill, I'd have to pay for disability insurance," the person notes. Ramos, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is back to work at the airport, assigned to the maintenance department. His current salary is $53,600.

Matias Farias was hired as Commissioner Bruce Kaplan's chief of staff in January 1994, with a starting salary of $48,000 and an additional $6500 a year in car allowance. Two years later Farias, who was 58, suffered a heart attack. At the time, Kaplan says, he decided that he could no longer keep Farias on his staff because the stress of the job was too great for Farias to handle.

So Farias was transferred to the airport and given a $14,000 a year raise and a new title: Southcom logistics coordinator. Southcom refers to the Southern Command, which is the United States's military headquarters for operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently Southcom is located in Panama but will be relocated to Dade County. Farias, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, is now responsible for acting as a liaison between the county and the military during the move, which will take place this summer.

Gary Dellapa admits that it would not normally be the role of the aviation department to act as the conduit between the county and the military on a project such as this. "Basically, we created that title for him," says Dellapa. "That came out of discussion between my staff and the county manager's staff over finding a viable role for the colonel when he came over to the airport last year." After Southcom completes its move, Dellapa says, they will have to find or create another position for Farias to fill.

In July 1993, Sherrie Harris went to work for Commissioner James Burke as an aide, earning a salary of $26,000 a year, which over the next couple of years grew through raises to $32,000. But in May 1996, Harris fell ill and was placed on unpaid medical leave for nearly a year. Last month she felt she was ready to return to work. "Commissioner Burke told me I was welcome to come back to his office," Harris says. "But I wanted a job out of the political arena, so they found a position they thought would fit me out at the airport."

The 41-year-old Harris was given the new assignment of airport information guide; among other duties, she provides tours of the facility to the general public. Harris took a pay cut, to $29,400. But even at that salary, she was making far more than any of her fellow tour guides, whose starting salary is only slightly more than $17,000.

When Harris showed up for her first day of work at the airport, she remembers, her new boss, Lauren Gail, warned her that her co-workers would be upset if they discovered how much she made. "She told me there would probably be resentment against me," Harris says. "And she made it perfectly clear that I was going to have to work hard to prove myself." Harris states it was never her intention to cause a problem by relocating to the airport. "I had no idea what the salaries were for the other guides," she says. By the end of her first day, Harris realized she was not physically ready to return to work. She is back on medical leave.

Manny Ramos, Matias Farias, and Sherrie Harris all found their way to the aviation department through a process dubbed "the pipeline." Each month the pipeline committee receives a list of nonclassified county employees who are about to be laid off, primarily for budgetary reasons. As exempt employees, they have no guarantee of a job elsewhere in the county -- even if they have worked there for twenty years. Nevertheless, the pipeline committee, whose members are appointed by the county manager, tries to match those people with existing job openings in other departments.

Created more than twenty years ago, the pipeline was initially designed for humanitarian reasons, to assist long-time county employees who, through no fault of their own, were about to lose their jobs owing to cutbacks. In recent years, however, critics charge that the pipeline has been politicized by Vidal and by county commissioners, who use it as a way to funnel certain individuals to the airport.

Maria Casellas, the county's personnel director, says that employees moved through the pipeline process are supposed to fill already-existing positions. She also notes that if the new job pays less than the current salary, they are supposed to take a pay cut.

But new positions were created especially for some commission aides, and at salaries higher than the jobs normally pay. Commission aides, though, are not the only employees who receive special treatment. Former members of the county manager's staff also enjoy certain benefits. When Joaquin Avino was county manager, Hortensia "Julie" Pallais was one of his receptionists. After Avino left, Armando Vidal decided he couldn't use her any more, so he moved her out to the airport in the public affairs section, where she holds the title administrative secretary one.

An administrative secretary is the county's highest rank among clerical employees; accordingly, there is a long list of required job skills. The standard description on file with the personnel office states that an administrative secretary must have "accuracy and speed" in using both a typewriter and a computer and must be able to take dictation "at a high rate of speed." Because the requirements are so demanding, the position offers the highest salary among clerical employees.

Pallais admits she can neither type nor take dictation.
Primarily she answers the telephone and clips aviation-related articles from the newspaper, according to her supervisor, Lauren Gail. "It keeps her busy enough," Gail says. She does virtually the same job, according to Gail, as another public affairs employee, Barbara Elie. But Elie is only classified as an airport clerk two, and her annual salary is less than $16,000 a year, while Pallais earns more than $37,000. "There is nothing fishy about my being here," says Pallais. "I've been with the county twenty years."

Gloria Bolinger is another alumna of the county manager's office. Last April, under the guise of streamlining his office staff and payroll, Vidal decided to transfer her to the airport. She maintains the same title, the ubiquitous special projects administrator, she held when she worked for the manager, and was given a slight raise. She now earns $74,000.

Pallais and Bolinger are examples of the problems that put aviation officials in the quandary they say they are in. Top administrators such as Dellapa and his deputy director Amaury Zuriarrain argue the county has to be flexible and can't throw long-standing employees out of work just because their former boss may no longer want them. "The truth is, it's easier for the airport to create positions for these people," explains Zuriarrain, who has been with the aviation department 23 years. "We have the ability to do that." Those types of positions are created, he posits, out of a sense of loyalty for the person and not from some shady political motivation. "It has always been understood that the county is one big family," he says.

(Speaking of family, Zuriarrain's nephew Evelio works at the airport. Zuriarrain admits that nine years ago he went to then-aviation director Dick Judy to get his nephew a job. "I went to see the aviation director and asked if he could work here part-time," says Zuriarrain, who was then working in the marketing department. "Since then I have never inquired about my nephew or in any way influenced what he does at the airport." Currently, Evelio works at the airport as a terminal operations specialist earning $28,000 a year.)

The airport has also become a sanctuary for county employees who were facing criticism in their previous jobs. "The airport has provided a place for people at the county to get a second chance with their careers," says Dellapa. In the early Nineties, Lonnie Lawrence was the director of Dade's corrections department, responsible for managing the county's network of jails. But under allegations that his department was being poorly managed, and with the corrections officers and the unions threatening a revolt, Lawrence was removed three years ago and placed in charge of airport security. The fact that Lawrence had no experience in the security operation of a major airport must have been irrelevant. His current salary is $110,000.

Ted Davis, the brother-in-law of former commissioner Larry Hawkins, had previously been the head of the county's risk management department. Following press reports questioning the operation of his department, he was moved back to the airport as a safety and security chief under Lawrence. Davis blames his removal as head of risk management on his boss, Victor Monzon-Aguirre, the former head of the General Services Administration. "He never wanted me in that job; he never thought I was qualified for it," Davis says, not realizing that he is adding credence to those who believe he received his promotion to risk management because of influence exerted by Hawkins. When confronted on this point, Davis tersely replies: "I have no idea what machinations went on behind the scenes when I was promoted." Back at the airport, Davis now earns $72,000.

Even Dellapa used to work downtown at county hall before being transferred to the airport. A former assistant county manager, Dellapa was demoted by former county manager Joaquin Avino in 1993. Dellapa now has an annual salary of $154,000, as well as another $18,000 paid in so-called executive benefits, which can be used for car insurance, additional life insurance, even homeowners insurance.

Greg Owens is another county employee who has recently found refuge at the airport. From 1991 to late 1995, Owens was the director of the county's Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED), which oversaw a large set-aside program for minority and women contractors. The department also provided loans, bond guarantees, and grants for minority- and women-owned businesses. But Owens was a controversial figure. During his tenure at DBED he once barred a black-owned company from receiving set-aside contracts because it appeared the company was being secretly controlled by another firm owned by Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation. A county review committee eventually overturned his decision, but Owens's allegations caused a great deal of embarrassment for Mas Canosa.

Vidal, who sought Mas Canosa's support when he applied to become county manager, subsequently decided to do away with Owens's department and transferred its responsibilities to other agencies. Vidal denied his decision had anything to do with Owens's earlier attack on Mas Canosa. But even if Vidal wanted to get rid of Owens, he couldn't -- Owens had an important ally on the commission, Chairman Arthur Teele. So what to do with Owens?

The answer was obvious -- send him to work at the airport. Owens became the director of North Terminal Development, a position that, Dellapa acknowledges, was created especially for him. Owens says he is responsible for coordinating the construction of the proposed billion-dollar terminal for American Airlines.

Owens's appointment left some aviation employees mystified. "What are his qualifications for that job?" asked one DCAD official. "Is he an architect? Is he an engineer? Does he have experience as an airport planner? No. His only qualification is that they needed to move him somewhere, so they put him out here. And what the hell has he been doing for the last year and a half? Nothing."

Dellapa says it is not important for Owens to have an engineering background. His real mission at the airport will be to act as a liaison between the contractors that American Airlines will hire to build the terminal and the county. Owens will make sure, for instance, that all of the agreements American made to use minority contractors for at least 30 percent of the project are met. Critics, however, point out that construction of the new terminal hasn't even begun, and the expansion plan is currently tied up in court. Owens admits things are a bit slow right now for him. "We're just in a wait-and-see mode," he says. "We're in a holding pattern."

And how much does it cost to have Greg Owens circling the airport? Owens's annual salary is $99,000, plus a $2000 car allowance under his executive benefits package. He also brought a member of his DBED staff with him to the airport, Andrew Bennett, who has an annual salary of $68,200 as Owens's assistant.

The third member of Owens's team is Margaret Hawkins (no relation to former county commissioner Larry Hawkins). She was working for County Commissioner Dennis Moss before transferring to aviation as a contract compliance specialist. Once again, as is the case with many commission staff alumni, the normal hiring practices were waived; she was brought in at a salary well above that of her fellow airport contract compliance specialists. Starting salary is normally $29,000 a year. Hawkins makes more than $55,000.

Naomi Nixon, the aviation department's director of marketing and trade development, had a hard time believing her name was on a list of employees that New Times was reviewing to see if they received their job as a result of political or personal connections. "This just seems so unfair," she says.

There are several reasons why Nixon's name came up in interview after interview that New Times conducted with aviation department employees. First, no one else was interviewed for the position she now holds. It was never publicly advertised, and no other applications were solicited. Second, it currently pays $83,000 plus another $7500 in executive benefits. And third, Nixon is a friend of Gary Dellapa's wife Julianna. In 1986 the two women worked together in Washington, D.C. for Sen. Bob Graham.

Dellapa acknowledges that he first met Nixon socially, through his wife. But that had nothing to do with his decision to offer her a job, he says. "Look at her resume," Dellapa implores. Nixon's resume is indeed impressive. A bachelor's degree from Tufts University in international relations. A law degree from George Washington University. A former legislative aide to both Graham and former congressman Jim Bacchus. More recently, she was with the Florida Department of Commerce and was assigned to the Summit of the Americas conference in 1995 as a liaison with the White House.

Dellapa says that Nixon's work at the summit led him to consider hiring her. "I hit it off with her," he says. "I liked the way she thought. I thought she would make a good member of the team and I didn't think there would be anybody better, so I hired her."

Dellapa made a similar decision in the case of Yolanda Sanchez, who has a $44,000-a-year part-time job with the aviation department as director of airport fine arts. The position was created for Sanchez in December 1995; once again, no one else was interviewed or considered for the post. Sanchez is the ex-wife of one of Dellapa's close friends, Dick Slocum. "I hadn't seen her in ten years," Dellapa says. "About a year ago, she called my office and asked for an appointment to speak to me. She told my secretary she was an old friend. I didn't recognize the name Sanchez and didn't realize who she was until I saw her."

Sanchez, who has a master's degree in fine arts from Yale University, had a temporary teaching position at Florida International University and was hoping to make some additional money through part-time work, Dellapa says. "When she met with me it was just to see if there was anything she might be able to do out here," he says.

Dellapa was able to create a position for Sanchez. "We didn't have anyone on our staff who had an arts background," he says. Why is that important? According to Dellapa, a county ordinance requires that one and a half percent of all construction budgets be spent on art. The airport is currently going through a major construction phase and wanted advice on how that money should be spent. Additionally, Dellapa says, he was interested in bringing touring museum exhibits to the airport. "That is something I have always wanted to do," he says, "and Yolanda is helping us with that."

During the past few weeks, as aviation employees learned that New Times was gathering material for this story, nearly a dozen of them supplied the newspaper with lists of co-workers who they believe received their jobs through political connections. Although some of those allegations may be unfounded, motivated perhaps by the desire to embarrass or tarnish a peer, most callers seemed genuinely heartfelt in their anger and resentment at the state of affairs within the department. "I know people are retiring because of what they see," one caller explained.

Part of that frustration is to be expected, Dellapa says. For a long time the airport was run by people whose entire careers revolved around the aviation industry. "Airport people think that only people who have been doing this their entire lives should be allowed to work at the airport," he says. "But running an airport is not unlike running any major organization. Of all the departments in the county right now, we are still economically growing, which also means we are growing the most in terms of creating new positions. That opens up opportunities to relocate county employees out here."

The department's critics, however, say their concerns shouldn't be dismissed so lightly. They charge that every time a new position is created and given to someone politically connected at county hall -- without even the pretense of allowing anyone else to apply and be considered -- a message is sent that advancement is not based on how hard a person works, but rather on whom a person knows downtown. "That is why the morale of people who work at the airport and who care about the airport is really down right now," says an aviation official. "If this is going to continue, we are going to become like the City of Miami, politically corrupt and financially bankrupt.

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