The Ghetto Governor

Dorrin Rolle’s dedication to his district is in question

Rolle's job at JESCA also creates a dilemma for his fellow county commissioners, observes Judy Nadler, former mayor of Santa Clara, California, and a senior fellow at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. "[Rolle] may recuse himself when his nonprofit comes up for a vote," she says. "But his colleagues know he runs the organization, so that may influence the votes on the board."


On December 7, 2005, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools audit committee, while reviewing JESCA's 2004 financial statement, detected some disturbing banking practices at the social service agency. The association's cash bank accounts were overdrawn by $331,299 and, as a result, JESCA had to pay $175,502 in bank fees and late charges. The committee ordered school district auditors to investigate JESCA's books to determine if the nonprofit had improperly spent the money for the Roving Leaders program.

This past April 26, the auditors reported back to their bosses after examining JESCA's finances from January 2004 through February of this year. The district's financial analyzers noted JESCA had reduced the amount of bank charges to $15,000 in 2005. But in a memo to the audit committee members, chief auditor Allen Vann stated JESCA's financial management "needs substantial improvement."

Auditors discovered JESCA had deposited Roving Leaders money into two general bank accounts that were in the red. "The district's funds may have been used to pay [bank] fees as well as late charges," Vann concluded. He also said the agency used the money to cover payroll shortfalls and overhead costs of other JESCA programs.

Among other findings, Vann and his team determined that the district overpaid JESCA $114,090 and that the nonprofit did not properly monitor student attendance.

Later that day, even though the Governor had not declared a national holiday, Rolle, JESCA board members, and agency employees filled the school board meeting chamber where the audit committee discussed the latest findings.

Rolle's usually congenial personality was missing in action. He complained that returning the $114,090 was "not fair, not right." The Governor claimed the loss of dollars would have a disastrous impact on Roving Leaders. "It would virtually close the program," Rolle said. "It would shut us down."

Committee chairman Jeffrey Shapiro wasn't buying Rolle's theatrics, and chastised him for blaming the district. "I am concerned that your institution, which is a vital part of our community, is not being run as it should," Shapiro informed Rolle. "You are an articulate and obviously a bright man. I think you need to take a look in the mirror and use that big r word, responsibility, and not pass the buck."

Rolle insisted there is no financial crisis occurring under his watch. In a letter to the Miami Herald, Rolle asserted that all of the agency's contractual obligations are being met. "JESCA is confident that an inspection of its finances will confirm that these bank service charges do not represent malfeasance or misfeasance," Rolle wrote.

Board vice chairman Handfield says there is nothing wrong at JESCA. "When grant money comes in late," he says, "there is not much you can do. But you still have to pay employees, and obligations have to be met." No one, he said, is abusing or taking money out of JESCA's programs. Besides, Handfield says, JESCA has obtained a credit line to fill funding gaps. "It's just an unfortunate event," he pleads. "But that's the past."

Handfield says it would be disingenuous for anyone to accuse Rolle of mismanagement because of the bank charges. "Anyone who says that is ignoring the facts," he comments.

The association's board of directors certainly appears to be satisfied with Rolle's performance. In 2004 he received an eleven percent raise, bumping his salary to $167,528. That doesn't include fringe benefits like his pension. By comparison, JESCA's second-highest-paid employee, executive vice president Sylvia Styles, receives an annual $79,141, about half of the Governor's take-home pay.

At the July 12 regular school board meeting, schools superintendent Rudy Crew requested that his bosses terminate JESCA's contract before it expired at the end of this month. "My concern is the financial irregularities," Crew told the board, which rejected the superintendent's recommendation by a 5-4 vote. Had the school board gone along with Crew, JESCA would have been precluded from obtaining district funds for the next two years. "To frame this issue on fiscal responsibility is unfair," said board member Robert Ingram, whose district overlaps Rolle's commission district.

Following the meeting, Rolle was relieved, but admitted he has a lot of work to do if JESCA wants to continue receiving district funds. "During the next month, the onus is on us to convince the superintendent and some of the board members that we are providing quality education to the kids in the Roving Leaders program," he said.


This past June 20, the regular monthly county commission meeting is halfway to its monotonous conclusion. The Governor is sitting between Chairman Joe Martinez and Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz. Rolle is wearing a white long-sleeve guayabera and black dress slacks. His gold bracelets and pinkie rings, as usual, radiate. He grills Assistant County Manager Cynthia Curry on the availability of county funds for affordable housing. "My concern is what is currently in the account," Rolle says. "I may have some projects placed on hold.... I do want mine to go forward."

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