That's Rich

Wanna know how county commissioners earn their keep? Don't bother checking financial disclosure forms.

Public records show them to be a curious bunch. Two have no full-time jobs. One makes a six-figure salary working for a publicly backed social service agency. Two work as consultants, but it is unclear what they do. At least one's finances don't seem to add up. And two more have tripled their net worth since taking office.

When it comes to Miami-Dade County commissioners, full and public financial disclosure reveals a tangled web. All thirteen of them, like virtually every candidate for office in Florida, must annually fill out a form that lists net worth, value of household goods, and sources of income. The most recent filings, due July 1, 2000, offer a view of multiple burgeoning bank accounts; indeed all but all but two commissioners -- Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Miriam Alonso -- have become wealthier while in office. (Commissioner Gwen Margolis has yet to file.)

In theory county commissioners receive an annual salary of $6000 from the public; voters have rejected proposed raises at least five times in the past 43 years. Anyone who has watched a commission meeting drag on through the early hours of the morning knows the job is both time-consuming and stressful. So there are a few perks: an annual expense budget of $12,000, a car allowance of $7200, a $1500 401A retirement account, and a package of executive benefits such as health insurance worth up to $10,000. The maximum a commissioner can receive is $36,700 per year.

Interestingly District 10 Commissioner Javier Souto says he earned a total of $38,347.50 during the past year, more than any other commissioner. How can that be? Let's consider the numbers. He claimed the maximum in salary, car allowance, and executive benefits. He also noted $13,000 in income from his Miami-Dade County expense allowance. “You know commissioners get a thousand a month,” says Souto. “The $13,000 maybe should have been $12,000,” he then clarified. After some digging New Timeslearned the county advanced him $1000 in anticipation of Y2K problems. He didn't know it.

That leaves $647.50 for Souto to explain. After being questioned over a four-day period, the best explanation Souto and his wife could offer is that the money was for the parking provided for all commissioners at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center.

The 60-year-old Souto retired from his job as a medical sales rep at Glaxo Wellcome in 1991. Currently he is unemployed except for his commission post. So how does he get along on such paltry pay? He lives off the salary of his wife, Berta, who works as director of administration at the University of Miami's microbiology department. His form states he has three certificates of deposit worth $243,427, mostly purchased with money that came from Glaxo when he left.

Since 1993, when he took office, Souto has managed to increase his net worth by $137,669, to $492,023, according to the form. That figure jumped $84,119 between May 1998 and December 1999. He first attributed the rise to appreciation of his CDs. But his forms reveal those certificates netted him a little less than $8,476. Next he surmised that the increase was because of the growing value of his home and other property. Nope. According to his disclosure, there was no change in that number during the past two years. “I am not an accountant,” Souto insists. “My wife did it for me. What we have here is the truth. Whatever I have is here. If there is a mistake it should be here, too. I don't know how we arrived at this figure.”

“It's a mistake,” confirmed Berta Souto. She said that on May 31, 1998, her husband's net worth actually was $435,904 and not $407,904 as the commissioner had sworn to on his financial disclosure form. (Lying on a form is punishable by a number of penalties ranging from public censure to removal from office and a fine of up to $10,000.) Therefore his net worth has swelled by a mere $56,119.

Although District 5 Commissioner Bruno Barreiro filed a more accurate report, it still raises questions. He boasts a net worth of $168,999, but the 34-year-old has no employment besides his county commission responsibilities. “I haven't been able to secure another job,” he explains. “I do some investments. I buy and sell stocks.” It's questionable, though, how busy that keeps him, since his total declared stock ownership is only $1651. Barreiro, who was elected as a state representative in 1992, hasn't had a job other than politician since 1994, when he quit working for his parents' HMO. During 1998, the last year he served in the legislature, he received just $25,398. Barreiro claims he has dipped into his savings to survive. “It is a substantial setback,” he complains. Still his net worth increased between 1998 and 1999 by $30,599.66. He attributes the gain to property appreciation on his Ocean Drive apartment.

Commissioner Dorrin Rolle has a job as president and CEO of the James E. Scott Civic Association (JESCA). The nonprofit had about 220 employees and a budget of $9,619,114 in fiscal year 1999. Its focus includes Liberty City, one of the most blighted pockets of urban poverty in the State of Florida. About fifteen percent of JESCA's money comes from Miami-Dade County. Rolle says he never votes on issues related to the agency.

Rolle took over JESCA in 1996, four years after previous head Archie Hardwick was charged by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office for illicitly spending JESCA money on cars, women, expensive gifts, and a nose job. (He was later convicted and died in prison.) Rolle earns an annual salary of $139,000, which is set by an executive commission of the board of directors. The commissioner describes his position as a 40-hour-per-week job. Somehow he finds time to be a commissioner as well. He says his commission seat requires about 30 to 35 hours per week of his time. “Most of my job is keeping [JESCA] funded,” he says. “It kind of blends in. [The two jobs] haven't been an imposition.”

Rolle has increased his net worth by 28 percent since 1998, to $658,406, including $97,000 in household items such as furniture and clothes. Rolle attributes his net worth spurt to an increase in investments, including mutual funds.

District 13 Commissioner Natacha Millan works as a consultant for the YMCA and earns $49,503. Millan didn't respond to questions about the job. The YMCA also declined to explain what she does for them or how often. “We can't report on our employees,” says Bixie O'Connell, assistant to the president. Hialeah Hospital also pays Millan, a board member, $200 for meetings she attends there, though it is unclear what they are about or how many are held each year. The commissioner declined to respond to questions about the nature of her jobs or how her net worth has more than doubled in four years.

District 3 Commissioner Barbara Carey also has a three-day-per-week consulting job with the Miami-Dade County school system's Office of Multicultural and Alternative Education Programs. It pays $34,422. Carey currently is on vacation and unreachable, according to her staff, so she couldn't define her duties. Alberto Carvalho, a district public information officer offered only this: “She is a K-12 hourly certified teacher. She works for the office.” He would not respond to questions about her employment. Carey's form shows she also receives a $67,031 pension for her 25 years as a schoolteacher and $33,055 for her commission work. Carey claims a net worth of $871,339, up more than 40 percent since she was elected in 1996.

Most of the commissioners' financial forms raise similar questions. The only exceptions were commissioners Jimmy Morales and Katy Sorenson, who in addition to the forms, submitted their tax returns. Interestingly both have more than tripled their net worth since taking office. Sorenson, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment. Morales said the combination of selling his house and mutual funds account for the increase.

Are all the figures accurate? We may never know. While there are penalties for lying on the forms, there is little to prevent county commissioners from submitting incomplete, erroneous, or fraudulent information. No government employee checks the forms unless a citizen complains. (Complaint forms are available on the Internet at http://www.ethics.state.fl.us/Cmplaint.pdf -- Acrobat Reader required.)


NAME --- NET WORTH AT OUTSET --- LATEST --- CURRENT INCOME

Betty Ferguson --- $207,000 (94) --- $220,000 --- $91,616

Dorrin Rolle --- $512,887 (98) --- $658,406 --- $162,000

Barbara Carey --- $605,261 (96) --- $871,339 --- $138,279

Gwen Margolis --- $3,480,351 (98) --- NOT FILED --- $376,592*

Bruno Barreiro --- $138,400 (98) --- $168,999 --- $35,129

Pedro Reboredo --- $313,930 (93) --- $366,943 --- $161,710

Jimmy Morales --- $135,000 (96) --- $409,000 --- $174,668

Katy Sorenson --- $162,703 (94) --- $507,289 --- $26,274

Dennis Moss --- $54,110 (93) --- $83,669 --- $95,723

Javier Souto --- $354,354 (93) --- $492,023 --- $38,347

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla --- $111,000 (93) --- $55,631 --- $87, 695

Miriam Alonso --- $2,766,121 (96) --- $2,735,382 --- $226,265

Natacha Millan --- $124,000 (93) --- $196,928 --- $85,282**

*Margolis's income figure is from 1998. **Millan's income figure is an estimate. It does not include the money from Hialeah Hospital.

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