It pays to be Julio Robaina's lackey. Just ask Julio Ponce, the Hialeah mayor's former business partner who recently received a sweetheart deal to run the Hialeah Housing Authority. Despite only having a high school diploma and no experience in public housing, Ponce was approved for a $125,000 annual salary by the authority's board of directors this past May 19. The only thing Ponce knows about the Hialeah Housing Authority is that the agency has access to a treasure trove of absentee ballot voters, which will be key in the Miami-Dade mayoral race to replace Carlos Alvarez.
In addition to his annual salary, Ponce gets a $900 monthly car allowance and $8,000 a year in covered expenses. If he is fired without cause, Ponce will get a 12-month severance package or six months severance if he is fired with cause. If he resigns, he gets a three month severance.
Not bad for a guy who has been accused of using the Hialeah Housing Authority to promote political campaigns. In 1999, when Ponce successfully ran for a city council seat, an opponent accused him of using his position as the authority's board chairman to round up elderly voters who depended on the city for housing.
When he lost re-election in 2003, a private investigator working on behalf of another candidate, interviewed dozens of public housing residents who claimed Ponce's wife had intimidated them into voting for her husband. A subsequent criminal
investigation by a special state prosecutor (the Miami-Dade State
Attorney's Office recused itself) uncovered several irregularities in
how absentee ballots were collected, but did not find enough evidence to
charge anyone with a crime.
Since then, Ponce has primarily focused his political activities running a committee that indirectly supports Robaina initiatives, such as opposing slot machines at parimutual sites unless Hialeah Racetrack was included and eliminating term limits in Hialeah.
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The committee, called Truth For Our Community, has raised $441,923 and spent $416,140 since it was formed in 2008. According to its most recent campaign finance report, the PAC reported a $5,000 contribution from the prominent Miami law firm Greenberg Traurig.
Ponce has been a regular visitor at Robaina's campaign headquarters for the county mayor's race, as well as other housing employees, including property manager Tony Quesada, hot lunch director Iliana Sanabria, and assistant hot lunch director Juliette Almieda. It would be interesting to know how much time Ponce and his subordinates have spent stumping for Robaina when they should be handling the city's public housing affairs.