Miami-Dade County

Arrests of 'The Firm' jeopardize Miami official

When police last month arrested nearly a dozen members of ''The Firm'' -- a group of 11 Miami city employees accused of doing private construction work on taxpayer time -- a high-level city administrator charged with supervising those employees was left fighting for her job.

And judging from comments made Tuesday during a Miami City Commission meeting, Chief of Operations Mary Conway is now fighting day to day.

During the meeting, City Commission Chairman Angel Gonzalez asked City Manager Pete Hernandez, ``Is she still an employee of the city of Miami?''

''Yes, today, she is,'' Hernandez replied. He later told a reporter that Conway was ``on leave.''

Conway declined to be interviewed for this story.

But in a timeline she wrote about The Firm case, which was obtained by The Miami Herald, Conway wrote that Hernandez asked for her resignation on the day of the arrests.

Hernandez said in an interview Tuesday only that he has had issues with Conway's management and he wants to make ''some reassignments'' among the city's top-level bureaucracy.

Before becoming chief of operations last year, Conway headed Miami's Capital Improvement Department. All but one of the city employees charged with taking part in The Firm worked in Capital Improvement.

TIPPED OFF

Conway's timeline says she was tipped off to the possible existence of The Firm in 2005. Conway has said that she immediately informed her supervisors.

Miami police initially decided that the allegations at the department amounted to an administrative, not criminal, matter.

City leaders responded by hiring a private investigator to look into the department's employees.

Those investigators found nearly a dozen city workers doing construction design and planning for outside companies on city time. The employees used city computers and equipment for their unauthorized outside work -- even visiting the sites in their city vehicles.

Each of them now potentially faces 23 to 95 years in prison and loss of their city pensions.

Conway wrote that after Hernandez asked for her resignation she reacted with ''shock'' and refused. She also accused Mayor Manny Diaz of trying to use the arrests as an excuse to push her out.

Diaz, Conway wrote, ``clearly did not like or respect me.''

Diaz's office declined to address that statement. ''The mayor comments on performance and not perception,'' Diaz chief of staff Suzanna Valdez said.

DEFENDING HER RECORD

After city commissioners repeatedly questioned her whereabouts Tuesday, Conway finally appeared before them in the afternoon to defend her track record. She stressed that the city had successfully rooted out The Firm on its own -- before stories of it broke in the media.

''It's unfortunate that that happened, but I also think that it's notable that it wasn't . . . something that The Miami Herald discovered,'' she said.

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