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THE CHANGING TIDE

Benigna Marko Walks Away with a Windfall

Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess recently had a golden opportunity to show his intolerance for high-ranking subordinates who abuse their power through nepotism. In August the county's ethics commission recommended Burgess take administrative action against Benigna Marko, an assistant director for the Planning and Zoning Department, after finding she "did everything within her power to orchestrate the hiring of her paramour, Abel Lera, for the manager position" ("Dade Disclosure," August 23). She also wrote Lera's evaluations, which qualified him for three pay raises totaling $30,000.

But Burgess allowed Marko to resign without so much as a reprimand. She walked away with a $234,959 payout in accrued sick and holiday leave time.

Lera, Marko, and Burgess all declined to return Riptide's call for comment.

According to county records, in 2003 she also helped her niece, Elizabeth Garcia, get a job as a zoning clerk and a promotion to a zoning plan processor even though her niece had no experience. (Garcia abruptly resigned from her $31,000-a-year job earlier this month.)

Department employees accuse Burgess of giving Marko a free pass because she is a friend. "Benigna and her husband would have dinner with the manager and his wife on a regular basis," says one worker. "She always referred to him as 'Georgie.'" Francisco Alvarado

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