Riptide

Shakey's out, Penelian peccadillo, and shafted lumber labor

Florida International University basketball coach Marcos "Shakey" Rodriguez resigned under pressure on Monday, less than two weeks after a story in these pages disclosed the unseemly histories of assistant coaches Jose Ramos and Bernard Wright, as well as Rodriguez himself. To wit, Ramos was booted from two basketball teams after violating NCAA rules, and Wright boasts a criminal record as well as ownership of a liquor store in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Indeed during Rodriguez's five years in the post, only four players graduated. With Rodriguez gone the assistants' days are numbered. "The university took the New Times story very seriously," says one long-time athletic-department employee. "I can't see that any action would have been taken without that story." Tuesday's Herald article announcing the departures was riven with, well, irony. The writer, Pedro Fonteboa, resigned from the FIU athletic department in 1996 after being investigated for sexually harassing several female coworkers. One mistake in Fonteboa's account. Assistant coach Tyrone Hart was not fired. Hart, the only member of Rodriguez's staff qualified to coach college basketball, left the team because of philosophical differences with Rodriguez. He will remain under contract with FIU, at least through August.


Maybe it was no big deal when voters last year, by a 3-1 margin, whacked Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas's plan to substitute a sales tax for tolls on county roads. Politically he survived. And it was really only a Penelian peccadillo when the county elections department fined the political action committee that backed the campaign $1100 for filing late campaign forms. But now, even though the transit idea is dead, the mercury keeps rising. Consider these two things next time you ponder a vote for the mayor or anything he supports: 1) After calls from New Times, the county recently demanded a better explanation from the Transit Not Tolls PAC for $21,000 listed as having been paid to "various individuals." That comes after a report that almost $1 million of the $1,879,962.54 spent on the campaign went to lobbyists and mayoral buddies. So much wasted money. So much mystery. 2) An even longer-term concern, not just about the mayor but about the political system, is made clear by state Rep. Annie Betancourt. Much of the money to pay those lobbyists and other costs -- $449,000 -- came from foundations associated with Florida International University and Miami-Dade Community College. Donors provided that lucre tax-free. This is a bad idea. Such apolitical organizations shouldn't fund political campaigns. Betancourt has introduced a bill in the legislature to outlaw the practice. 'Tis interesting to note, incidentally, that both MDCC and FIU foundations have close ties to the Miami Herald, which editorialized in favor of the campaign. The paper's new counsel, Robert Beatty, is chairman of the MDCC foundation, and former Knight Ridder chairman Alvah Chapman is a member of the FIU group's board.


Working conditions stink at Aljoma Lumberin Medley. Many employees receive minimum wage. At least two Haitian-American workers, each of whom has toiled there for more than fifteen years, are paid seven dollars per hour. And though more than 100 workers voted to form a union back in 1997, owners have resisted. So on March 2, laborers walked off the job for a day. As interesting as the walkout was the press coverage. Primarily Spanish-language stations covered the action. Neither the Herald nor El Nuevo Herald even mentioned it, despite faxed information. And English television stations mostly disregarded it. Why was it ignored? "It is mostly immigrants working there, and I think there is a bias," says Angel Dominguez, secretary of finance for Local 1554 of United Brotherhood of Carpenters. "Besides, I don't think the English-speaking media care much about workers' issues." Calls to lumberyard owners and news decision-makers at Channel 4 (WFOR-TV) and Channel 7 (WSVN-TV) seeking comment were not returned.


New Timeshas some national awards to calls its own this week. Jacob Bernsteinand Steve Satterwhitetook first place in Lincoln University's (Missouri) Unity Awards for their story "The Bitterness of Sugar Hill" (July 22, 1999), about a public housing boondoggle. And editor Jim Mullinplaced first for a column, "Saviors of Virginia Key," (April 1, 1999).

Tips? Call 305-571-7605 or e-mail
Riptide@miaminewtimes.com

 
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