Only weeks after former South Miami City Manager Ajibola Balogun filed a lawsuit claiming he was wrongfully terminated — fired without cause—in October of last year, another African American city department head is charging that he also was wrongfully terminated.
Cesar Garcia, who served as the city’s parks & recreation director for more than three years, was forced out of his position in March, with statements made by city officials to the news media that his firing was due to Garcia’s lying about his educational qualifications for the job.
“I would have expected that I would have been given more respect and told straightup, look, we’re letting you go because we’re going in a different direction, but don’t be vague about it…don’t lie about it,” said Garcia. “Don’t lie about me and cause me problems in getting another job.”
Garcia explains that he had seen a flyer distributed last June depicting four City of South Miami black department heads who were allegedly being targeted for firing by a city commissioner. Those four men were Manager Ajibola Balogun, Police Chief Bobby Richardson, CRA Director Stephen Davis and himself — Cesar Garcia.
“Slowly, the message in the flyer is coming true,” said Garcia. “Two of us have been terminated and the other two are being harassed on a daily basis. Two commissioners have been investigated for their ethics violations and these are the same two that are coming after the department heads on the flyer.”
According to Garcia, after a parks supervisor allegedly sexually assaulted an employee on January 12th (although no charges were ever filed), the acting city manager called a meeting with the police chief, two of his detectives, Human Resources Manager Jeanette Navarro, and Garcia, and they were told that an “outside entity” would be conducting an investigation. Former Miami police chief Kenneth Harms was that investigator, and Garcia grew concerned when the questions directed to him seemed to have little to do with the case.
“I was questioned about my race, nationality, military background, prior work experience and educational experiences all the way back through my teenage years,” said Garcia. “I felt interrogated and very offended, and let Mr. Harms know it.”
Garcia said that the other members of his staff were not asked those questions, and that in February, Jeanette Navarro, who is Hispanic and Garcia’s sister-inlaw, was asked to leave her job.
“The other thing is that the paperwork they claim I lied on has apparently been lost — they say it’s not in my file,” Garcia said. “I do have proof that when I applied I gave everyone my correct resume and all that stuff which was very clear. And now the city is saying that the reason I was fired is something else, but I was never told what that might be. My employee folder shows that I have no negative notations and only positive employee performance evaluations and notes. No process was followed in terminating my employment and I want to seek justice.”
Garcia says that the city’s claims that he lied on his application have tarnished his reputation and made even his personal life very difficult.
A response has been requested from Acting City Manager Roger Carlton, who made himself available. Due to our deadline schedule we were unable to publish his response here but we hope to do so in our next issue.