Nepotism charges arise at parks department

“The injustice here is horrible,” said Yamilet Moreno, a part-time employee at the Jose Marti Park community center since 2008. “This is a mafia.”
“The injustice here is horrible,” said Yamilet Moreno, a part-time employee at the Jose Marti Park community center since 2008. “This is a mafia.”
Melissa Sanchez/ El Nuevo Herald

Shortly after arriving from Cuba and obtaining a work permit, the half-brother of a high-ranking Miami official applied for a job in the city.

Juan Carlos Cabrera’s application, dated Feb. 13, didn’t specify what job he sought. But the director of the city of Miami’s Parks & Recreation Department considered him a good candidate for a temporary, 40-hour-a-week position as a parks inspector.

A week later, Cabrera’s half-brother — assistant city manager Luis Cabrera — along with the city manager and budget director authorized the parks department to fill the position. The 46-year-old was hired on March 25 after passing a routine background and qualifications check by the Human Resources Department.

Two months later, his wife, Dayami Dávila, was hired as a part-time summer employee at the Jose Marti Park gym, also in the parks department.

Some city employees who have worked for years for little pay and few hours say the hirings stink of nepotism.

“The injustice here is horrible,” said Yamilet Moreno, a part-time employee at the Jose Marti Park community center since 2008. “This is a mafia.”

Moreno, 40, criticized the hiring of Luis Cabrera’s relatives last week during a public hearing on the city’s budget. Blogger Al Crespo then filed his own complaint about the issue before Miami-Dade County’s Ethics Commission.

Luis Cabrera contends that he had nothing to do with the hiring and said he didn’t even know his half-brother’s wife had gotten a job in the parks department, which is under his supervision.

Parks Director Juan Pascual recalled that Luis Cabrera had inquired about vacancies a few weeks before his half-brother applied for a job. But he stressed that Luis Cabrera never mentioned that his relative had applied, or asked Pascual to hire him.

Interim City Manager Daniel Alfonso said he is looking into whether the proper hiring processes were followed.

And Commissioner Frank Carollo said he has asked the city’s independent auditor to investigate the hirings.

“It doesn’t look good,” Mayor Tomas Regalado said. “The city always tries to have a fair hiring process. If there are any irregularities, they should be investigated.”

In his application, Juan Carlos Cabrera did not answer a routine question about whether any relatives worked in the city. When his wife later filled out her own application, she answered, “No” to the question, although her husband was by that time working for the city.

“Maybe I did that by mistake,” Dávila said. “I’m not the boss. I just applied for a position and got it.”

Dávila, 44, said she and her husband arrived in Miami from Cuba late last year and that they don’t have a close relationship with Luis Cabrera.

“I don’t know where he works or in what office,” she said. “I met him once when we arrived. That’s it.”

Moreno met with Pascual and Regalado in recent weeks to complain about colleagues in the parks department who were promoted instead of her. Moreno earns $8.86 an hour and works 20 hours a week.

She, too, has relatives who work in the department, including her husband, a sister and two of her husband’s nephews.

Dávila was hired at a higher rank than Moreno into a summer position that pays $10.63 an hour. She said she works about 25 hours a week.

Pascual said Dávila was qualified for that job because of her experience in physical education in Havana. He has told Moreno she needs to apply for a better job if she wants to be considered for a promotion.

Still, Pascual acknowledged that the department needs to improve how it announces job openings internally.

“It’s a challenge that we have,” he said. “We’ve received complaints from employees who say they didn’t know that we had opened a position.”

Only permanent regular full-time jobs and summer jobs are posted. So Juan Carlos Cabrera’s temporary job wasn’t announced. Pascual picked his application out of a pile his department gets on a regular basis throughout the year.

“Because of his prior experience [in Cuba], he was identified as a good option for that job,” he said. “He got training [to do inspections]. He already had the office experience and had worked on personnel before.”

Juan Carlos Cabrera earns $12.75 an hour. While there is no end date set for his temporary position, it differs from a full-time position because he does not receive benefits.

Another parks employee who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions said he’d love to earn Cabrera’s wages.

“I also want to move up,” said the employee, who earns $8.73 an hour and works 40 hours a week, “But I can’t complain publicly because I depend on this garbage to survive.”

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