MIAMI (CBS4) – An “education committee” of Miami Dade Transit workers that spent all their time campaigning on behalf of Mayor Carlos Alvarez in the recent recall election cost taxpayers more than $128,000, according to a report prepared by the county Inspector General’s Office.
The committee, which was created two months prior to the recall election, was supposed to assist county leaders in their efforts to negotiate a new contract with the Transport Workers Union. But as CBS4 I Team investigator Jim DeFede first exposed, the twelve workers spent their time campaigning for Alvarez.
The IG said everything surrounding the committee’s creation appeared suspect. “There was no effort to assess the merits of the Committee’s function, the prospective costs of its operation or who should bear the cost of the detachment,” Inspector General Chris Mazzella wrote in his report.
The IG also said the fact that the committee was disbanded shortly after the election “raises questions as to whether the Committee was ever intended to perform any legitimate governmental function.”
The Miami Dade Transit Department admitted they made a mistake in allowing the committee members to do political work on county time. Transit Director Harpal Kapoor says the employees’ time should have been billed to the union – and not to the county.
Kapoor, in an April 13 letter to the Inspector General, noted “the union will be billed for all hours, which is a total of $106,300.” (The remaining $21,886 was the overtime cost associated with hiring replacement bus drivers to fill in for the bus drivers on the committee. Kapoor said he did not believe it was fair to charge the union for those costs.)
The county’s desire to bill the union has created widespread tumult within Local 291. Sources tell CBS4 News that union president Talib Nashid has been suspended by the union’s board of director and the union’s political director, Gary Johnson, was removed as well.
Late Thursday night, Johnson contacted CBS4 News and vehemently denied he had been relieved of his duties as political director.
The union’s vice president, Arthur Brown, refused to comment on the changes within the union or the county’s demand that the union repay the county $106,300.
When CBS4 News initially contacted Nashid he said the union had no intention of paying the county back because the workers time was already approved. Nashid refused to return subsequent phone calls seeking comment on his reported suspension.