Lonely at the Top

In December 1990, Huber wrote a letter to the Miami Herald commending a column that criticized the Miami Police Department's handling of the Wynwood riots. According to former Miami Police Chief Perry Anderson, the letter annoyed other Dade County police chiefs and law enforcement officials. "Huber's approach was somewhat out of character," says Anderson. "Normally, we [Dade County police chiefs] would all try to get together and work out something. It was the first time that any chief had experienced that kind of response from another chief within Dade County. We all depend on each other."

Huber allegedly encouraged his son to enter a cadet-recruitment program intended to attract more minorities to the department. Huber claimed in a letter he wrote to the State Ethics Commission requesting a judgment that he didn't know about his son's application until a month into the process. But Robbins, who oversaw the application process, says Huber specifically asked that the recruitment officers put his son, Christopher, on the short list for prospective applicants before the eighteen-year-old had even written his name on an application.

Some of Huber's uses of his office's petty-cash reserve have annoyed the city's budget officials, such as purchasing Perrier instead of a cheaper bottled water, and buying $52 worth of decorations last Christmas. Huber admits the Christmas lights were a mistake, but argues that he is allowed to buy Perrier, soft drinks, and coffee as refreshments for guests at a meeting. However Peter Liu, the city's budget director and principal penny pincher, says Perrier pushes the limit and is an endangered species in the chief's office. "I don't know what it tastes like, I've never had it, I don't even know how to spell it. But I'm going to put a stop to it." (Liu adds, though, that he hasn't noticed any serious misuse of the chief's petty cash funds. He has also conducted audits of several of the department's other funds, and found no major infractions.)

Huber uses as his authorized take-home car an expensive Volvo confiscated in a drug bust. This has irked some city officials because the city doesn't yet own the title, and furthermore, it gives the impression that the city bought the car for him. "There's a certain naivete there," says one city administrator.

"He's not dealing drugs, he's not running guns, he's not pulling bank robberies, he's not killing people," says one critic in the upper-echelons of the department. "But all these things add up and set a bad example for the department. How would you like to see officers cutting the corners when they arrest you? The rules don't apply to Huber."

Says Parkins, who left Miami Beach in February to become the city manager of Palm Springs, California: "The major concern that I had is that Phil seemed to have the tendency that the rules applied in an absolute way to everyone except himself. He tended to be inclined to bend rules for himself that he might not permit for others."

According to Talarico, a busy year for city government has permitted Huber an unusual amount of latitude without the necessary checks from above. Moreover, Talarico says, Miami Beach lacks an assistant city manager for public safety in charge of the fire and police departments, a common authority in larger cities' governments. "As a result, the fire and police chiefs have a lot more autonomy and power over their departments," Talarico says. "It's great when you have a Braniard Dorris [Miami Beach Fire Chief] but I think to a certain extent Huber takes advantage of it." But Talarico says she doesn't have enough time to pursue every allegation she hears about Huber amid the hurly-burly of the current city elections, a tough budget year, and other time-consuming matters: "There are so many bigger issues that I spend time on them rather than on the day-to-day operations of the city."

One law enforcement official outside the department says he fears Huber's heavy-handed style of management will continue to splinter the department. "The Beach has got a cadre of some pretty good people," the official says, "and I'd hate to see it go the same way Miami went: factionalized, fragmented, politicized, ineffective."

A preventive measure might lie in Huber's final recruit-training evaluation given to him in 1970 at the Baltimore County Police Department. Even though he finished near the bottom of the cadet class, with a grade point average of 2.5, his instructors had hopes for young Huber. "It is the opinion of the undersigned that the ratee does possess excellent potential in becoming a good police officer, but strongly recommends close supervision, although he is capable of handling a full and varied work load," the progress report said. "Should develop his potential with the proper guidance.

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