Monday, May 5, 2008
7 News Investigations: The Breakfast Club
Tonight a Seven News investigation sparks a city investigation. When we looked into "The Breakfast Club", we found a trio of city workers taking early morning breaks. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero with this special assignment report
WSVN -- Meet "The Breakfast Club," all three are employed by the City of Pembroke Pines. That's the chief plumbing inspector on the left. A part time maintenance worker in the middle, and the chief mechanical inspector on the right. They had just finished breakfast on a Wednesday morning. It is something Seven News has established they did on a regular basis.
Our investigation started with an e-mail from a Pembroke Pines taxpayer, it opened with 'Check out the City of Pembroke Pines workers eating on taxpayer's time.' So we did.
For two weeks we watched every morning. We found the workers meeting for breakfast at a Pembroke Pines restaurant nine out of ten mornings. Between February 25th and March 7th, they met each and every morning except Friday the seventh. The part timer was here eight out of ten mornings. Rain or shine, the men arrived around 8:30 and left around 9:30.
Carmel Cafiero: "The city says the chief inspectors who start work at 7 am are entitled to a 15 minute break in the morning. Then get a half hour for lunch and another 15 minute break in the afternoon. On the days we watched, they would have used all of their down time before 10 am."
Carmel Cafiero: "Good morning gentlemen Carmel Cafiero from Channel 7, I'd like to talk with you about your breakfast breaks. Can you stop for a second sir?"
Rene Pena: "No."
Carmel Cafiero: "Sir, aren't you a city employee. Aren't you supposed to be working? This is your car?"
Rene Pena: "No."
Carmel Cafiero: "That's not your car?"
Rene Pena: "No."
Carmel Cafiero: "Whose car it ?"
Rene Pena: "I don't know."
Yet, we had seen the man who we later learned is Rene Pena, drive the same city vehicle day after day. Pena eventually admitted to the morning meals which he said lasted only 15 minutes.
Rene Pena: "At 8:30 in the morning we have breakfast until quarter to nine."
Carmel Cafiero: "You have breakfast from 8:15 to 9:15."
Rene Pena: "No, no, you say it, I don't say it. You saying those times."
Pena also told me he started work at seven in the morning, but the city says his hours are from noon to three. So his breakfast breaks are not an issue, but his use of the city vehicle, which he eventually drove off in is an issue according to his boss Paul Edelstein.
Paul Edelstein: "He shouldn't be using a city vehicle on his own time."
On this morning, I caught up with the trio at another restaurant after another hour long breakfast.
Jaques Brosseau: "They're doing a post office, so we're doing some inspection."
Carmel Cafiero: "You're doing inspections at the post office, you weren't having breakfast?"
Jaques Brosseau: "Well, we had a cup of coffee at the same time."
The inspectors claimed they were working.
David Mitchell: "We had a cup of coffee and we had an inspection."
But the business owner said there was no inspection and their boss said the city had no record of one either.
Carmel Cafiero: "Was there an inspection called for at that location?"
Sandy Laguna: "No, not from my knowledge. From my research I don't see that there was any inspection from that site."
David Mitchell: "Mam, we're allowed to take a break."
And then there's the issue of those breakfast breaks.
Carmel Cafiero: "Do you regularly meet for breakfast for an hour every morning?"
David Mitchell: "No."
Carmel Cafiero: "How is it then we watched you for two weeks and for nine out of 1o working days, all three of you met for breakfast?"
David Mitchell: "Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't."
Carmel Cafiero: "Nine out of 10 days?"
David Mitchell: "Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't."
Carmel Cafiero: "Do you think that's appropriate?"
David Mitchell: "Ma'am, we had an inspection here, you asked me about this today."
Mitchell kept insisting he combined a break and an inspection.
Carmel Cafiero: "What about nine out of ten days having breakfast?"
David Mitchell: "I don't know nothing about that."
Carmel Cafiero: "I'm telling you we documented it. We have pictures of all three of you."
Mitchell earns $93,000 a year. Brosseau $82,000 and Pena $34,000. Their jobs are to interpret the building code, and supervise other inspectors.
Sandy Laguna: "If they are not putting in the time like they should be, then that would be a problem."
As a result of all this, part timer Rene Pena has been suspended without pay for eight days. The City of Pembroke Pines has suspended inspector Mitchell for four days and inspector Brosseau for three days, both without pay. Those bargain breakfasts came with a very big price tag.
The city workers punch a time clock every day, but it only records start and finish times. Break times are not recorded.