If the Suits Fit

The mayor of Hialeah Gardens has a taste for vulgarity, revenge -- and for costing the city big bucks in legal fees

The city hall in Hialeah Gardens is inherently ugly. But the tiny building's boxy concrete walls also are sullied by a garish, headache-inducing coat of sickly pink paint, with dark turquoise accents adding a further affront to the senses. Even transporting such horrendous colors into the City of Coral Gables would probably invite a stiff fine. Unattractive as the structure is, what goes on indoors, both on the city administration and police station sides of the pink pillbox, can be far uglier.

And in March 1998, in the mayor's office, the ugliness was reaching its nadir.

Mayor Gilda Cabrera Oliveros emerged from her office and handed a four-page document to her assistant, Robert Godwin, ordering him, he says, to make 100 copies. Godwin knew the temperamental mayor had been stung by a recent anonymous memo that had appeared within city hall. Titled "Corruption? You Decide," it lambasted the mayor for her "steady pattern of conflicts leading to lawsuits." It also criticized other politicians, staffers, and Police Chief Harold Keith Joy, whose political support for Oliveros, the document claims, had helped him get the chief's job, despite his criminal record. As far as Godwin knew, the critique was largely on target. Especially about the lawsuits.

Aww, yeah: Police Chief Joy receives the adulation of Mayor Oliveros (standing) along with councilwomen Lucy Valdes (left) and Fatima Morejon in an outtake from the photo shoot for the city's holiday-greeting-card (following page)
Aww, yeah: Police Chief Joy receives the adulation of Mayor Oliveros (standing) along with councilwomen Lucy Valdes (left) and Fatima Morejon in an outtake from the photo shoot for the city's holiday-greeting-card (following page)

As Godwin made the copies (wearing clear plastic food-service gloves to cover his fingerprints, as the mayor had instructed) he examined the document Oliveros had given him. It was called "Corruption in Hialeah Gardens, Chapter 2," and the torrent of salacious gossip it contained left Godwin stunned: Chief Joy "will sleep with anything when drunk." The mayor's secretary would "rendevoz" [sic] with former Hialeah Mayor Julio Martinez. Carmen Caldwell, a Hialeah councilwoman who then worked for Hialeah Gardens's crime prevention program, had "turned lesbian" with Ofcr. Debbie Collins Kidwell, then the Hialeah Gardens Police Department's emergency management coordinator. Another cop was accused of sleeping with a secretary, who in turn was bedding the city clerk; two other city employees were doing it in a broom closet; several male police officers were said to be having "homosexual sex" with one another.

Godwin himself was smeared, which didn't surprise him; the mayor had often expressed her disgust and contempt for his open homosexuality. In the memorandum, she wrote, "And Roberto Goodwin [sic], a gringo with a Cuban Soul, why does he like Cubans, because his long time affair is [city council member] Miguel Haddad." The mayor had also included a couple of paragraphs about herself, a sly attempt to count herself out as a possible source for the memo, Godwin deduced.

After he made the copies, he gave them to another city hall employee, paralegal Manuel Carrera, to mail out to Hialeah Gardens voters. The letters were sent. Godwin says he felt bad about helping propagate this filth, but he did it out of the curious blend of loyalty and terror Oliveros commands from her employees. "I was afraid of her," he says simply. Although she would not agree to an interview, Oliveros, in response to faxed questions from New Times, denies writing "Corruption 2."

After all, sending out a lascivious memo might be stepping dangerously close to libel, but Godwin says he had already broken several Florida laws under orders from Oliveros: He worked on her 1997 mayoral re-election campaign, using the city hall office and supplies, and collecting contributions from local businesses, all during his regular work days as an hourly employee of the city. He adds he did the same thing for Councilwoman Lucy Valdes in her 1998 campaign against Miriam Alonso for a seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission -- again, he says, at the behest of Oliveros, who served as Valdes's campaign treasurer.

County records reveal further suspicious behavior on Godwin's part that suggest the possibility of voter fraud. According to voter-registration rolls, Godwin, who now resides in Hialeah, twice changed his registration to an address in Hialeah Gardens, just in time for the mayoral and city-council elections of 1997 and 1998. In his first "move," the Hialeah Gardens address was the single-family home of a high-ranking city employee.

Godwin's explanation: He has never lived in Hialeah Gardens, but he changed his registration so he could vote in that city's elections. Why did he participate in such blatant vote fraud? Because Mayor Gilda Cabrera Oliveros ordered him to do so, he asserts.

According to Godwin, after a consultant for the city told him "the mayor doesn't want you here anymore," Godwin left the city offices for the last time in May 1999. Soon thereafter he filed a federal employment-discrimination complaint against the city. He won't be the first, or the last, to make a federal case against Hialeah Gardens. From the time Oliveros became mayor in 1995 to the present, eleven current and former employees have sued the City of Hialeah Gardens. Some, like Godwin, worked in the city administration. Most, however, were police officers or civilian employees of the police department. Their suits concern capricious, arbitrary, and retaliatory demotions or transfers, often based on race or gender discrimination.

Recent police lawsuits also have involved current Police Chief Harold Keith Joy, whom Oliveros appointed to the job in 1995. Two officers who served under him point out that not only is Joy unfit to be chief, he might not even be fit to be a cop. Why? Because of his well-known felony record. In 1992 Joy was charged with drunk driving, battery on a police officer, and resisting arrest after an alleged altercation with a City of Hialeah officer who pulled him over while Joy was off-duty.

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