I-Team: Examining Robaina’s Record in Hialeah

HIALEAH (CBS4) – At every campaign appearance, Julio Robaina touts his record as Hialeah mayor, reminding voters he did not raise property or business taxes in the city.

“As the mayor of the second largest city in Miami-Dade County I had to face these challenges,” he has said on numerous occasions.

At its core the Robaina campaign is based on a simple premise: He will do for Miami Dade County what he did for Hialeah.

“I would hope not, he’s destroyed the city,” said Barbara Hernandez, president of union representing a majority of Hialeah’s 1,600 employees. “I believe he acted out of malice toward the residents and its employees.”

So what exactly is his record in Hialeah? For the past week, the CBS4 I Team has been analyzing Robaina’s tenure as mayor. And what we found is that Robaina’s campaign rhetoric doesn’t always match his record.

Take for instance his claim during a recent radio debate that he could solve the county’s $400 million budget deficit without affecting the salaries of employees making less than $80,000 a year. “You don’t take it from the backs of those people making 30, 40, 50 60, 70, $80,000 a year,” he said. “You look at the top heavy bureaucratic salaries that have existed.”

But in Hialeah, Robaina did exactly the opposite, according to Hernandez, president of AFSCME Local 161.

“Let me explain what he did in beautiful Hialeah to the employees,” Hernandez said. “He gave my employees, which are general employees, non management, making under $80,000, a 30 to 17 percent pay cut while his management team took a three percent pay cut.”

The same pay cuts hit the city’s firefighters and police officers.

Robaina’s campaign argues the management employees only took a three percent cut because they had not received annual pay raises the city’s general employees had been receiving.

But a review of records shows while those managers did not receive raises in the last couple of years, they had received larger than average raises in the years prior to that.

The bottom line, according to Hernandez, is that for all of Robaina’s talk about needing to protect the lowest paid employees – since they can least afford pay cuts – that is exactly who bore the brunt of the pain in the city.

“It’s devastating what he has done to city services,” agreed Mario Pico, president of the local firefighters union.

The union has thrown its support behind Robaina’s opponent, Carlos Gimenez. Pico does not hide his disdain for Robaina, who fired 16 firefighters last December in what was supposed to be a cost cutting move.

“This was all a political play for him,” says Pico, who believes Robaina has been cutting services and imposing draconian cuts on the unions to bolster his credentials heading into the county mayor’s race.

“He was hoping that this would all get swept under the rug and he could demonstrate to the world what a hard nose fiscal conservative he was and he ended up being a fiscal fool,” said Pico.

In April, an arbitrator ordered the city to rehire the firefighters and provide them their back pay. The decision could cost the city more than a million dollars. The arbitrator found the firings unjustified and he criticized Robaina, saying the city’s actions made little sense and may have cost the city money – not saved it any money.

Last week when Robaina announced the endorsement of Luther Campbell, he said they both shared a “passion for the investment of the youth of this community and making sure that not only do we have parks but we have the appropriate sports programs in those parks.”

The reality in Hialeah appears far different. Parks, pools and libraries have had their hours drastically cut. Jose Azze has been with the city’s parks department for 29 years.

“They eliminated field trips, arts and crafts, ceramics, they eliminated our youth baseball league,” Azze said. “But more important they closed parks and when you close a park kids don’t have anywhere to go.”

Even more troubling by closing parks in the morning, the city no longer qualifies for the state’s free meal program – which provides a free lunch at the parks for children in need.

Azze estimates more than 500 kids are affected.

Robaina’s supporters argue he has always supported the park’s program and in the past helped launch a variety of programs for at-risk kids as well as developing programs for kids with autism. They also maintain it is wrong to assume he will cut the county’s park programs to solve the budget deficit since he believes he can find the money by making county government more efficient.

Robaina clearly sees his greatest accomplishment was not raising taxes. He believes he left the city on sound financial footing when he stepped down as mayor three weeks ago.

“We are going to bring that fiscal responsibility model to Dade County,” he said.

But in an interview with CBS4, the new mayor of Hialeah, Carlos Hernandez, refused to say how the city was faring financially.

“At this moment we are paying our bills,” Hernandez said, a tone of caution in his voice.

Hernandez said it will take him “a couple of weeks” to get a clear picture on the city’s finances and whether the city will end the year with a deficit.

Skeptics note Hernandez – a longtime political supporter of Robaina – is saying he won’t reveal the true financial state of the city until after the election, so as not to embarrass Robaina. Hernandez couldn’t say how much money the city has in its bank accounts – he just knows they do have some money in the bank

“At this moment we do,” he said.

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