When it comes to requesting public records from the City of North Miami, I’ve learned that if at first you don’t succeed, bug the crap out of them. If they don’t want you to find out something, do not be deterred. Just keep asking. Be persistent. Eventually you’ll get what you want.
And sometimes, you might just get lucky.
For instance, several months ago, sources in the North Miami Police Department told me that Assistant Chief Larry Juriga filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after accidentally hearing former City Manager Aleem Ghany call him a “racist.”
In order to make this complaint go away, I was told that Aleem paid Assistant Chief Juriga an approximate amount of $24,990.00, which is just shy of the $25,000.00 limit the City Manager is authorized to spend without requiring approval from Mayor and Council.
This lead was too good not to follow.
So on October 8, 2015 I made the following request:
“I would like a copy of the settlement agreement made between the City of North Miami and Assistant Chief Lawrence Juriga with respect to the EEOC complaint made by Assistant Chief Juriga against City Manager Aleem Ghany.”
I was advised by Assistant Clerk Rafael Pedron that “pursuant to F.S. 119.0713, all complaints and other records in the custody of any unit of local government which relate to a complaint of discrimination relating to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, marital status, etc. are exempt.”
At least the City didn’t deny that such a complaint existed. Just that I wasn’t getting my hands on a copy.
Nevertheless, I wrote back to Rafael and quoted F.S. 119.0713 in its entirety, highlighting the part which states that such documents are only exempt until the file is closed.
In addition, I also asked for a copy of any check that may have been issued to Assistant Chief Juriga “in the approximate amount of $24,000.00.”
Mr. Pedron wrote back, again denying my request but advising me to direct any questions to the City Attorney.
Per his advice, I sent an email on October 28, 2015 to Interim City Attorney Roland Galdos explaining my predicament. Mr. Galdos wrote back, still insisting that “the matter is pending closure by the federal agency holding jurisdiction over this matter.”
I still have not received those records, but here’s the crazy part. When the Police Department filled an entirely different public records request that I recently made, I inadvertently received the answer to my earlier questions.
On December 22, 2015, I requested a list of the salaries earned by all members of the North Miami Police Department’s Command Staff in 2015. I received that request today a couple of hours after sending a reminder email to the Clerk’s office.
When I reviewed the salary that Assistant Chief Laurence Juriga earned last year I almost fell off my chair!
As THE highest paid member of the Executive Command Staff (even more than the Chief himself!), in 2015 Assistant Chief Juriga earned a “Total Salary & Benefits” of $167,026.84.
Curiously, I noted that Mr. Juriga received a “Retro” payment of $24,990.00:
No wonder the City of North Miami couldn’t produce a check payable to Mr. Juriga as I had requested. He was never given a separate check in settlement of his EEOC complaint against the City Manager. It was simply included in his annual salary as a lump sum “retro” payment.
Because this payment of $24,990.00 was just below his discretionary spending limit of $25,000.00, Aleem Ghany was able to circumvent approval of the Mayor and Council.
The Mayor and Council mostly likely had no idea that Aleem clandestinely hid this Hush-Money Payment in Juriga’s 2015 annual salary and labeled it as “retro” pay.
Besides, it’s not Aleem’s money, so what the hell?
As for the rest of the Command Staff, check out some of these pay scale disparities:
For starters, Police Chief Leonard Burgess gifted himself with a “Supplement Pay” of $6,280.88, bringing his 2015 “Total Salary & Benefits” to $143,648.49.
Major Annmarie Cardona, hired in 1989, was the highest paid Major, earning “Total Salary & Benefits” of $128,662.36.
Major Robert Bage, hired in 1999, received a “Supplement Pay” of $5,168.48, bringing his 2015 “Total Salary & Benefits” to $128,342.96.
Chief Lenny’s original choice for Assistant Chief, Franzia Brea, hired in 2011, earned “Total Salary & Benefits” in the amount of $121, 975.86. (It should be noted that Major Brea is also in charge of the incompetently run NMPD communications center. We already see how well that’s going.)
Major Trevor Shinn, hired in 1989, earned “Total Salary & Benefits” of $121,523.70.
Major Neal Cuevas, hired in 1975, earned “Total Salary & Benefits” of $115,064.79.
How is it that Major Neal Cuevas, who has been continuously employed with the North Miami Police Department for FORTY ONE YEARS, makes far less than any of the other four Majors?
Even more astounding, Major Cuevas earned NEARLY SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS LESS than Major Brea, who has only been with the North Miami Police Department for four years!
Despite the fact that all the Majors have the SAME RANK AND PAY CLASSIFICATION, Cuevas earned $13,597.57 LESS than the highest paid Major. In fact, he even earned less than three of the lower ranked six Commanders.
That is REALLY messed up!
Equally unfair is the fact that Assistant Chief Gary Eugene (a/k/a Chief Lenny’s Red Headed Step Child), who is in the SAME EMPLOYEE CLASSIFICATION as Lenny’s other Assistant Chief, earned a “Total Salary & Benefits” of only $96,286.30!
This means that Assistant Gary Eugene earned $70,740.54 – OR ALMOST 43% – LESS – than Assistant Chief Larry Juriga!
If that’s not insulting enough, Assistant Chief Gary Eugene earned less than any other member of the North Miami Police Department’s Executive Command Staff.
Adding insult to injury, Gary Eugene earned less than ALL of the department’s six Commanders – A FULL TWO RANKS BELOW HIM!
Talk about DISRESPECT!
Seriously, what is going on at the NMPD?
Oh, and in case anyone is interested about the salaries of the Commanders, here they are:
- Commander Walter Sidd, hired 1989, earned $122,456.58.
- Commander Scott Croye, hired in 1993, earned $115,585.92.
- Commander Timothy Belcher, hired in 1992, earned $115,263.07.
- Commander Patricia Fishel, hired in 1995, earned $114,383.26.
- Commander Donald Blanchard, hired in 2002, earned $111,302.18.
- Commander Angel Rivera, hired in 2000, earned $108,486.32.
Police Chief Leonard Burgess places absolutely no value on experience, training, length of service, or job performance. Raises – and even promotions (yeah, wait for it!) – are purely arbitrary and at his whim.
Employees who have high ethical and professional standards, such Assistant Chief Eugene and Major Cuevas, get screwed over.
While Chief Lenny’s loyal sycophants (a/k/a “The Illuminati”) get all the spoils.
Besides, it’s not Lenny’s money, so what the hell?
North Miami residents deserve better.
“Spreading the Wealth”