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A couple of Sundays ago, in a spacious second-floor apartment on Collins Avenue, while most people were sipping their coffee and wondering how best to enjoy the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, a group of men were hard at work, plotting the future of Miami Beach. Specifically, three of the men were interviewing a guest, soliciting his opinions regarding the city's ongoing effort to select a city manager in the wake of Rob Parkins's departure for Palm Springs, California. What does it take to be a city manager, the men wondered. What kind of background should an ideal candidate possess? And finally, how would you deal with some of the problems that plague the Beach?
Indeed the city is in serious financial straits, the visitor answered. If Miami Beach were a private business, the man continued sagely, it would probably be reorganizing under bankruptcy laws.
One of the men who attended that clandestine gathering was a newly elected Miami Beach commissioner, David Pearlson. The visitor, the man at whom the pointed questions were directed, was none other than Homestead City Manager Alex Muxo, best known in Miami Beach for harpooning $12 million from that city's share of county hotel bed-tax proceeds in order to build a baseball complex in his own town.
And strangely, the secrecy surrounding the get-together is reminiscent of the back-room politics that from the start has tarnished the search for a manager. A total of 271 candidates applied for the job this past spring, but the principal name that emerged from that search turned out to belong to a local architect, Jorge Dorta-Duque, who possessed no municipal experience and whose primary qualification seemed to be his political ties to then-Mayor Alex Daoud and Commissioner Abe Resnick. The commission finally rejected all the finalists and resolved instead to hire a national firm to undertake another search. Then, in a principled effort to keep politics out of the process, they chose to postpone any decision until after the November elections. Last Wednesday the commission unanimously agreed to hire Norman Roberts & Associates Inc. of Los Angeles to conduct the national search.
Before winning office in the November 12 run-off, Pearlson had stated that the process for choosing a permanent chief administrator should be completely free of local politics. The best way to carry that out, he asserted, was to hire a national executive-search firm. Four days after his secret meeting, Pearlson still seemed to hold that conviction: "We have kept the process very wholesome and unpolitical at this point," he said during a telephone interview. Moreover, he appeared baffled at the mention of Alex Muxo. "Who is he?" Pearlson wondered aloud. "The city manager of Homestead? I don't know anything about him. I haven't seen his resume." A bit later, already acting like a seasoned politico, the still-wet-behind-the-ears commissioner called back to say he wanted to clarify his previous remarks. "I have met with one person," Pearlson said, referring to Muxo. "I don't want it to be public because it is a political process," he continued, contradicting his earlier statement. "I don't want people to pressure me, saying I want you to support this candidate."
Back when he was just a candidate for the commission, the idea of politicking for a city manager didn't sit too well with Neisen Kasdin. Like Pearlson, he expressed his commitment to keep the selection process above reproach by having a national search firm conduct it. But after he won a seat, Kasdin seems to have found the private approach a bit more palatable. He, too, met with Alex Muxo -- a late-November power breakfast at the noisy but popular JJ's American Diner in South Miami -- to discuss the opening for a city manager. And like Pearlson, it took some prompting for Kasdin to admit that he'd discussed management with the honcho of Homestead. "I was curious to meet him," the commissioner acknowledged finally. "What he did was a very good job for his city. It's sort of like being a client and represented by a lawyer, and the other side beats you. The next time, you want to hire the opponent's lawyer. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the people of Miami Beach are aware of Alex Muxo and follow his career. If he is interested in pursuing the Beach job, I think he is someone we should look at."
Muxo's name came to the attention of the politicos thanks to two South Beach businessmen, Michael Milberg and Craig Robins, who figured it was their civic duty to help their town find a good city manager. Robins, a member of the Miami Beach Planning Board and president of Dacra Development Corp., got in touch with the 36-year-old Homestead administrator, who agreed to the introductions. Robins and Milberg then arranged the meetings with the commissioners and attended both of them.
Milberg, general manager of the Royal Palm Hotel on Collins Avenue, sees no impropriety in his actions, nor in those of the commissioners. He puts it this way: "As a person involved in the city, I saw the mockery of the selection process the last time. My motivation was to let two commissioners whom I'm friendly with meet someone I hold in high regard as a professional manager, to gain advice in terms of process and selection, the qualities to look for in a city manager. It was correct. It was aggressive. It was letting my elected officials know what is out there and getting a different perspective."
Robins, who hosted the meeting with Pearlson at his own home, also contends his actions were proper. "I have a desire," he says, "to see that our city is the best place it can be and the quality of the people who get involved in the city is the best."
Other Miami Beach officials also appear to be thinking about Muxo-as-manager. Although they never strapped on the feedbag together, Commissioner Martin Shapiro, who was returned to office for a second term, says he did telephone Muxo in Homestead. "A friend of mine happened to mention to me that Muxo might be interested in applying for the job," Shapiro says, refusing to divulge the identity of the helpful matchmaker. "I called him to find out whether that was true or not. He indicated to me that he might be interested in it."
Muxo's own recollection of the introductions is slightly different from the version offered by the other participants. "A couple of people called me, trying to recruit me," says Muxo. But none of the men explicitly asked him if he wanted the job. Rather they asked whether he would be interested in being considered or applying for it. "I said I didn't know," Muxo recalls. But seeing as how everyone seemed so interested, Muxo says he just might submit his resume when the time is right.
Given the positive feedback that resulted from the unselfish work of Michael Milberg and Craig Robins, it might not be a bad idea if all private citizens got involved in the selection process. If you know of someone who would make a fine city manager, or -- what the heck -- if you think you could do the job, give a ring to a commissioner or two and set up a breakfast meeting. The telephone numbers for the mayor and commissioners:
Mayor Seymour Gelber: 673-7030
Commisisoner Sy Eisenberg: 673-7102
Commissioner Susan Gottlieb: 673-7105
Commissioner Neisen Kasdin: 673-7106
Commissioner David Pearlson: 673-7103
Commissioner Abe Resnick: 673-7104
Commissioner Martin Shapiro: 673-7107