Bad Apple

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On August 17, 2005, after Crew prodded them, school board members opted not to renew Cousins's contract. Then the board decided, eight to one, to end an agreement that made the Inspector General's Office independent.

The position has remained vacant. Four months ago the school board offered the job to Bob Emmons, a former assistant inspector general with the U.S. Postal Service. On April 16, Emmons declined, citing a lack of "independence." He did not respond to a request for comment.

The result is that — for almost two years — there has been virtually no independent oversight of the board's six-billion-dollar budget. Says school board member Ana Rivas Logan: "The biggest impediment to bringing back the office has been this school board and the superintendent."

If Crew's neutering of the Inspector General's Office shows a penchant for paranoia, his treatment of a handful of former employees hints at something worse — a dismissive attitude toward women and a desperate need to control access to his bosses on the school board.

One of those who has complained about the superintendent's behavior is Madelyn Schere. The soft-spoken 63-year-old University of Miami law graduate had been a district employee for more than 25 years when Crew arrived in 2004. She started out as an English and journalism teacher at Miami Jackson Senior High in 1966, left to pursue a law degree, and in 1980 accepted a position as an assistant school board attorney. In 2005 she was earning an annual $165,365, which spoke to her many accomplishments. On at least five occasions, she had been credited with saving the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars and successfully defending the school board in court, according to job evaluations in her personnel file.

But in April 2005 Schere and seven female attorneys signed two letters to Crew and the school board. They complained the superintendent had ordered district employees to refrain from speaking about pending cases. In one instance that year, they even had to subpoena district employees, who failed to show up for depositions. "It impeded our progress in our ability to defend the board," Schere says. "It was just his way of keeping control of what was reported, what was said to the board."

Eight months later board attorney Julie Ann Rico declined to renew the contracts of Schere and five other attorneys who signed the letter. "Basically Julie Ann said she wanted to bring in new people," explains Schere, who like the other women, didn't receive a severance package. "I believe Rudy Crew orchestrated our removal behind the scenes."

Of the eight lawyers who signed the letter, only Ana Segura and Melinda "Mindy" McNichols were retained by Rico, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story. "They kept Ana and Mindy to make it look like they weren't retaliating against us," Schere says. "It was a complete shock. You can see why no one at the district is going to speak out against Crew after what happened to us."

Schere sued Crew, Rico, and the school board, alleging age discrimination. "I was replaced by two people," Schere says. "One is much younger than I am, and the other one has much less experience."

Indeed the lawyers were not the only women who claim to have experienced the superintendent's wrath. Mercedes Toural served as the district's second-in-command during the first four months of Crew's administration. She was appointed to the post by Crew's predecessor, Merrett Stierheim. Toural, who earned $193,000 a year, had risen through the ranks, starting as an elementary school reading teacher. She developed the district's nationally recognized bilingual program.

Crew, she contends, immediately disliked her. After arriving in summer 2004, he transferred some of Toural's authority to other deputies. Then eight hours into a school board meeting in September that year, she stepped out for a drink of water just as board member Betsy Kaplan asked a question. Afterward, she claims, the superintendent summoned Toural; her executive assistant, Willa Young; and deputy superintendent Ofelia San Pedro to his office. Crew was upset. He said he had wanted Toural to answer the question and, she claims, "screamed and shouted at the top of his lungs. He said, 'Fuck you. And I mean all three of you. I will put your asses out on the street if that ever happens again.'"

Beginning October 3, 2004, Toural took an unpaid leave of absence following a scathing performance review from Crew. "You have been offered numerous opportunities to provide vision, leadership, and management," the superintendent wrote in his September 27 memo to Toural. "The evidence from your lack of execution demonstrates that you are neither successfully managing the day-to-day tasks nor the long-term planning required of [the position]."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.