Party’s Over: Controversy and change at Miami-Dade County’s TV station

WSVN — Imagine making a six-figure government salary and making even more on the side, while still on the clock. An investigation reveals it happened at Miami-Dade County’s TV station.  Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is back on this case.         

Silly holiday videos produced by Miami-Dade television and paid for by taxpayers were an embarrassment to the county when made public. But today there’s a much more serious situation involving the TV station. As 7News first reported in November, Carol Higgins, the station’s former executive producer, was being investigated for working private jobs while on the county clock.  

Michael Hernandez, Mayor’s Office: "It’s very disappointing because you have to have a certain level of trust in your county employees. We’re not happy with the result of the investigation."   

Higgins, who was the highest paid staffer at more than $100,000 a year, submitted her resignation just five days after being told she was being investigated. Now that investigation is done, and a memo reveals if Higgins had not quit, she would have been fired for a "…clear disregard for County policy…"  

Inson Kim: "Completely not acceptable."

Inson Kim is the new department director brought in to help clean up the county station. She says employees are allowed to work outside jobs, but not on taxpayer time or using county resources. The investigation found Higgins had a folder on her county computer with dozens of files for freelance jobs – dating back to 2011.

Inson Kim: "We can conclusively say, obviously, there were documents on her county equipment that pertain to outside work. That’s definitive because we found them."

It is not known exactly how much this cost the county. Higgins had submitted forms indicating she did outside work from home and was paid thousands of dollars by a cruise line and hospital. For Higgins, there’s more than the loss of her county job. More than $9,000 in vacation and sick pay is being withheld as the Ethics Commission reviews the case.   

We could not reach Higgins for comment– but county officials say Higgins claimed she only did freelance work during her break or lunch time. Meanwhile the shake up could go deeper. A supervisor has been demoted and the county says more changes could be coming.  

Michael Hernandez: "I think that specific team needed to have, not just a revamp and a reorganization, but a wake-up call. And frankly it served as a wake-up call for them. It also serves as a wake-up call for anyone in county government that isn’t doing what they should be doing."

It appears, at least for now, the party’s over at MDTV. Carmel Cafiero, 7News.   

IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE:

Miami-Dade: 305-627-CLUE
Broward: 954-921-CLUE
E-mail: clue@wsvn.com
You can also send a tweet to @carmelonthecase