Flunk City

Cops are giving Miami's promotions exam a failing grade -- in court

The plaintiffs' attorneys noticed a curious thing about the benchmarks: The tests were evaluated from March 21 through March 25, 1995, but in a faxed memo, a City of Miami human resources department staffer sent "final approved benchmarks" to the consultants on April 7 -- two weeks after the tapes had already been graded. "So they give them the answers they supposedly used after they'd already scored the tests?" Marquez marvels. "The city was manipulating the outcome," he concludes.

The officers have other gripes about the grading. Most promotions tests, including Dade County's, call for no fewer than three (and up to five) people to evaluate each video. But after the Miami test, when the benchmarks were released to the officers, they found that in some cases only two people had evaluated a tape. In addition, all the benchmarks were geared to a five-point scale of performance, while the final grades reflected an entirely different system, a seven-point scale.

The attorneys wanted to interview the New Orleans graders about the apparent discrepancies, but when they asked Morris & McDaniel for a list of officers, the consultants responded that after an "exhaustive search" they could not find the names.

David M. Morris, chief operating officer of Morris & McDaniel, could not be reached for comment for this story. (The company is not named in the lawsuit.)

As far as Michael Marquez is concerned, all these problems could easily have been remedied. The consultants had inserted into their contract with the city a dispute-resolution clause: Every officer was to have been allowed to request a re-evaluation of his or her exam. But when Marquez and his colleagues asked for reassessments, city officials turned a deaf ear.

"That's all we wanted them to do -- to reassess our tapes," says Marquez. "If they would have let us do that, then we would not have had a basis for our lawsuit. But they said no."

Rather than allow the tapes to be reassessed, then-City Manager Cesar Odio simply promoted the first 24 names on the final list. (Angela Bellamy, director of the city's Department of Human Resources, did not respond to a list of written questions from New Times regarding the promotion of police officers.)

By the end of last year, Odio had resigned amid a federal corruption probe and the city was reeling in a fiscal crisis. Marquez and his fellow plaintiffs offered to settle their suit. The officers were willing to give up approximately $200,000 of their claim by retracting their demand for back pay and attorneys' fees. They asked only that they be promoted and receive their seniority. City attorneys, who had previously failed to get the lawsuit thrown out of court, sent the plaintiffs' lawyers a letter in January stating that they were considering the settlement, but only a few days later they filed a petition with the Third District Court of Appeal, requesting that the lower court's decision not to dismiss the lawsuit be vacated.

The city lost again. In retaliation, William Amlong, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, wrote to Assistant City Attorney Jose Fernandez threatening to "take the leash off my clients as far as their recruiting other police officers to join the group of plaintiffs" -- a move that could cost the city thousands more dollars.

If history is any indication, the city will eventually settle. The plaintiffs will become sergeants and win their back pay and their seniority. "It has mystified me why the city can't give legally valid tests," says Klausner, the FOP attorney. "There are many qualified people out there who can get these tests done.

"It's been good for us economically," he adds, referring to the barrage of lawsuits, most of which he has handled himself (he is not involved in this one). "But it hasn't been good for business. From a labor-relations standpoint, it would be a lot better to resolve these issues intelligently and amicably. All it does to drag it out is give anxiety -- and cost money.

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