You might have seen the story in the Herald a few weeks ago about $2000 in phone calls from Miami city offices to Cuba. Forget about it. That's pocket change.

The city has been vastly overpaying on all its long-distance bills for years -- to the tune of about $10,000 per month.

Alert city leaders, including manager Donald Warshaw's chief of staff John Lindsay, recently picked up on the problem. Then they negotiated the rate from 27 to 9 cents per minute. Their next job: convincing MCI, the city's long-distance company, to refund $400,000. Seems the city's contract expired in 1996, but no one renegotiated.

Miami accounts payable supervisor Maedell Brown wasn't aware of the problem. She blames another city department, information technology, for the oversight. "There are a lot of new people coming in and going out," she says.

Johnny Winton is a developer and downtown activist who contributed at least $4000 to the Abolish Miami movement two years ago. He wanted no more commissioners or city hall. Then voters decided against abolition. Get this: Now Winton is running for a seat he wanted to do away with, one J.L. Plummer has held since the Ice Age. Winton admits he's changed his mind: "When I found out we had years of neglect and mismanagement, I couldn't have been madder.... Now I think I can be an agent for change."

Sweetwater mayoral elections make The Twilight Zone look normal.
First consider the numbers in the May 11 contest. New Mayor Pepe Diaz won 63 percent of the 1772 ballots cast. He spent $36,000. His three opponents shelled out a combined total of $34,000 more. That's $47 per vote.

How expensive is that? Well, neither presidents nor governors spend nearly that much per voter. If county mayoral candidates had shelled out at that rate during the last election, the bill would have reached $15 million. "Wow!" exclaims election supervisor David Leahy. "That is a lot of money."

Big bucks aren't the only Sweetwater gee-whiz. Diaz believes someone tried to abscond with 12,000 campaign political flyers just before election day. The postal service acknowledges hurrying delivery but denies any scandal. Postmaster Jesus Galvez visited Diaz's home and apologized this past week, but couldn't find the mishap's cause.

A suggestion: Take a closer look at losing council candidate Ruben Abell, a postman.

Outgoing Herald executive editor Doug Clifton jumped.
The veteran Herald-ite, who valiantly announced his departure from 2000 miles away at his new post at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wasn't fired. But publisher Alberto Ibarguen made "filling out his management team" a regular source of discussion, one source says. "Doug saw the writing on the wall."

Clifton, a former army ranger known for angry tirades, has received a proper sobriquet at the Plain Dealer: "the Great Santini."

His likely successor: managing editor Larry Olmstead.
Net for Herald readers: little change.

Memo to Olmstead: Read the accompanying story on sportswriter Pedro Fonteboa, a man who talks so incessantly about his member, women's bodies, and his libido, that maybe he shouldn't represent the Herald in schools. And perhaps his hiring represents an overabundance of testosterone in your sports department.

Honors to New Times in the 1998 Sunshine State awards: Kathy Glasgow's "La Vida Dura" picked up two: a first place in feature reporting for small papers and a second in foreign reporting. Robert Andrew Powell's story about improper recruiting practices in the Miami High basketball program, "Dream Team," grabbed a first in sports nondeadline reporting with another Glasgow story, "Lord of the Ring," finishing second. Art director Dean Sebring also picked up a first in the small-newspaper category for his front-page design of "Iron John."

-- as told to Chuck Strouse

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