She asserts that disgruntled employees, fearful of publicly expressing their discontent, have called her in recent months. They have requested that she air their complaints of malfeasance. Several morgue personnel contacted by New Times confirm that claim.
The Chicago native came to Miami at age five; she says her parents wanted a better climate to alleviate her chronic bronchitis. Her father, a social studies teacher in Chicago, worked in the personnel department of the U.S. Postal Service. Her mother was a housewife. After graduating from Miami High in 1961, she attended the University of Miami for a year and transferred to the University of Illinois, then dropped out. She was married in 1963, cared for two children including an adopted son, was divorced and remarried, then completed her bachelor's degree at Florida International University in 1984.
Lieberman started her career with Dade County in the manager's office in 1977. She transferred to the medical examiner department in 1986, gained Davis's confidence, and rose through the ranks to become the only female manager. As head of administrative services, she was responsible for formulating the budget and handling personnel issues. According to several employees questioned by New Times, Lieberman earned a solid reputation: Approach her with a problem and chances were she could solve it.
Lieberman says the stress of losing her job has resulted in insomnia. As she sits in the living room of her modest Kendall home, her high-pitched voice, laced with anger, echoes from the white tile and the black entertainment center. She worked beside Mittleman for ten years before he was named chief. Although she believed another doctor, Bruce Hyma, was more qualified for the top spot, she figured the transition would be smooth.
Lieberman contends Mittleman sometimes lied and employed unethical practices. When he wanted a new clerk to type autopsy reports, he asked Lieberman to bypass bureaucratic hiring practices, she says; he even urged her to file false documents. Her refusal drew Mittleman's ire. "I did not allow him to break the rules," Lieberman says. (Mittleman declines to comment on the specifics of Lieberman's claims.)
Soon after Mittleman took over, he hired Robert Lengel, a former Miami-Dade Police Department lieutenant with no medical training, as assistant director. Lieberman says the pair began micromanaging her work, cutting her responsibility, and banning her from talking to certain subordinates.
In 1997 Mittleman eliminated Lieberman's position and shifted most of her job responsibilities to Lengel, who received a salary of $85,020, according to county personnel records. The department's top brass, including deputy director Michael Bell, now consists of three white males. "[Lengel] would constantly tell supervisors to treat their employees like children," Lieberman says.
In a 1998 complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Lieberman accused Mittleman of harassment, gender discrimination, and creating a hostile work environment. She argued there was $200,000 in the budget to fund her position, but Mittleman improperly squeezed her out to reward Lengel. After a preliminary inquiry, the agency failed to substantiate her claims and sided with the county. Lieberman's only other option is to file a lawsuit.
"Mittleman was told I supported Dr. Hyma and had people encouraging him to push me out. Lengel wanted more power and more money and was jealous of a woman being more [powerful] than him," Lieberman asserts. "I don't intend on taking this lying down."
Lengel declined to comment for this story. Mittleman responds that Lieberman is a "nice" person and her dismissal was not personal. "We had to make a managerial decision at that time based on the budget cuts that had to be done in accordance with Mayor [Alex] Penelas's wishes.... Unfortunately she was a casualty of that," the chief says. "That's about all I can say. I don't think it's fair to talk about this in the media."
Mittleman defends Lengel as an efficient manager, but admits his personality may have grated on some staff members. "[The staff] was just not used to a more direct way of doing things," he says. "[Lengel] was just trying to get people to improve."
Numerous renegade staffers are so frustrated with problems at the department that they see only one solution: removal of Mittleman and Lengel. They outline their complaints in a nine-page memo that was delivered to Philip. The ethics tsar declined to accept it because he feared it would become a public record and reflect badly on the department, two morgue staffers say. (Philip acknowledges refusing the document, but offers a different rationale: It was useless.)