Miramar terminates whistleblower who exposed city manager's hiring of brother

Paul Bennett says several highly paid double-dipping city officials rehired after collecting retirement

MIRAMAR, Fla. – Longtime Miramar employee Paul Bennett came forward to Local 10 News about the practice of double-dipping in his city last year, blowing the whistle on the city manager re-hiring his own retired brother at an inflated pay rate.

That city manager, Robert Payton, would resign and several highly paid double-dipping city officials who were rehired after collecting retirement positions left the city under pressure.

"Talk about protecting Miramar tax dollars," Bennett told Local 10 News. "I have done that."

But even as his whistle-blowing was making an impact on the city, Bennett was shuffled to the utility department and is now being terminated from the city.

"They violated my whistleblower protection and my civil rights," he said.

Utilities Director Hong Guo signed Bennett's termination letter, saying he was losing his job not for anything he had done but because of a citywide reorganization. She refused to answer questions about Bennett. When asked if she should be accountable for her decisions at the city, Guo said "no" before jumping into her car and driving away.

City spokeswoman Natasha Hampton said Bennett's termination had nothing to do with his whistleblowing.

"Mr. Bennett is not being fired. Mr. Bennett's position is being eliminated," she said. "This is not an individual issue. This is not an attack. This is a total citywide reorganization."

Hampton said nine other employees also lost their jobs, but Bennett points out that the city is hiring numerous people to fill new positions, including positions in human resources where he spent the bulk of his 12 years at the city. Hampton said Bennett's "skill set" doesn't match those positions.

Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman, whom Bennett came to last year with his city findings, asked Hampton what message Bennett's termination sends to other city workers "who might want to tell the truth about the city."

"It sends a message that the city is looking at ways of cost-streaming and making sure that the positions that are needed here to make sure that services that are rendered to our resident that they are here," Hampton said.

"It might send a message of 'keep your mouth shut,'" Norman said.

"I think it sends a message to employees that if you're doing your job and you're making sure that things are getting done then you can rest assured that you don't have to worry about you being fired," Hampton said.

The city's policy -- and state law -- protects whistleblowers and encourages employees to report governmental "misbehavior … without fear of retaliation." Now Bennett, whose last day is Tuesday, is meeting with attorneys and said he intends to bring a whistleblowers lawsuit against the city.

"When you're gone, who is going to watch the city?" Norman asked.

"Nobody, Bob," Bennett answered. "Everybody is scared. They don't want to lose their jobs and if they speak up they are going to lose their jobs."

Follow Bob Norman on Twitter @NormanOn10

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