Miami-Dade County

City of Miami looks into park hiring practices

City of Miami parks employees vented their frustrations to the commission Thursday over what they describe as unjust hiring practices and favoritism.

At the center on their discontent are claims of nepotism that first arose in September at a budget hearing. At the time, parks employee Yamilet Moreno complained about the hiring of Assistant City Manager Luis Cabrera’s half-brother and his sister-in-law.

Juan Carlos Cabrera and his wife, Dayami Davila, came to Miami from Cuba last year. Soon after, Juan Carlos Cabrera was hired as a parks inspector earning $12.75 an hour. Two months later, his wife got a part-time job at Jose Marti Park earning $10.63 an hour.

Some park employees who have been with the city for more than a decade say they earn $8.73 an hour.

Days after the nepotism allegations, Commissioner Frank Carollo and Acting City Manager Daniel Alfonso asked for an internal investigation.

The commission voted Thursday to have its auditor general conduct an investigation into the hiring practices in the parks department. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is also looking into the matter.

Davila resigned from her position last week. Her husband remains on the job.

About a dozen parks employees attended Thursday’s meeting. Their overriding concern, they said: the lack of opportunities to move up in the ranks and earn more money to support their families.

“We deserve better treatment then what we’re getting,” said Oscar Adams, a full-time parks employee.

Adams said supervisors passed him over for better paying jobs and instead hired friends with less experience.

Moreno, who was praised by Commissioner Michelle Spence Jones for having the courage to speak up, said many of the department’s temporary and part-time workers remain silent because they fear retaliation.

“What I’ve been suffering in the City of Miami is injustice, abuse of power and favoritism,” Moreno said.

Juan Pascual, parks and recreation director, said Miami has made strides in trying to give opportunities to part-time and temporary workers, but admitted the city can do a better job in informing these employees about vacancies.

“What we can do a better job on is communicating when the vacancies are there,” he said.

Because of the ongoing investigation, Pascual did not address the specific allegations of nepotism but has previously given assurances that Luis Cabrera did not influence the hiring of his family members.

Auditor General Ted Guba is expected to hand in his investigation report to the commissioners on Nov. 21.

Commissioner Carollo said there are clear “issues with our hiring process.”

“In the meantime, I want to make sure if it is happening that it does not continue to happen,” he said.

In other city business, commissioners unanimously agreed that the metal gates and non-decorative shutters that protect Coconut Grove shops after hours should be replaced by impact glass. Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff backed off an earlier effort to include downtown Miami retailers in the ordinance after shopkeepers expressed concerns about the expense of replacing the shutters with the hurricane-resistant glass.

The commission agreed that eliminating the gates and shutters creates a better experience for shoppers and others who visit the area. The hope is to bring the item back next year after downtown’s store owners see results in the Grove.

Commissioners also agreed to spend an additional $48,000 on a $900,000 plan to rebuild Little Haiti’s Caribbean Marketplace. During work on the structure, workers found flaws in the roof, damaged skylights and straps, and plumbing issues.