The Stierheim Report

An old pro is recruited to undertake a very disagreeable mission: Dig into the stinking mess at Miami City Hall. Here's what he found.

Isn't it transparent to any reasonable person that when you criticize management you are criticizing the top manager and therefore --

[Interrupting] Ipso facto?
Yeah. Aren't you criticizing Cesar Odio?
I suppose one could interpret that. I don't know how the doctor describes to the patient that the patient has got cancer. That's a bad example. Let's take something where you have got cirrhosis of the liver. And the cause of it has been excessive alcohol and abuse, and so you say to the patient this is what contributed to the problem. If you are going to fix it, you not only have to fix the cirrhosis but you have to fix the systemic reasons why you got there. Don't ever make this mistake again. Don't have another drink, don't smoke another cigarette, don't hire the next manager who isn't going to give you the kind of expertise that is called for. This city right now needs a strong, very professional, very honest, very open manager. There are a lot of things that need to be corrected.

That does not denigrate people who are within the organization itself. I am impressed with [Deputy Fire Chief] Frank Rollason and Chief Jimenez, but you have the fire department handling capital improvements, risk management, liabilities, and so forth. I mean, the police department is doing fleet management. What is the police department doing fleet management for? That's a general services administration function. Why is parks and recreation under the public works department? There are a whole lot of things that need to be corrected. I'll never have time and it's gonna take a long time. I've already talked about "friends of friends." They are all over the city! [In a memo to all assistant city managers, Stierheim wrote, "In personal discussions and at the budget hearings last weekend, several directors talked or hinted at nonproductive employees being placed within their department for reasons other than merit on the instructions of someone other than the director, i.e., a 'friend of a friend.'"]

Are these "friends of friends" all over the city? You asked for department heads to bring to you --

[Interrupting] The problem is many of them have gotten under civil service protection. And some of them, maybe a majority -- please say this -- can be very hard-working, dedicated people. Just because somebody is referred by an elected official or a lobbyist or the manager doesn't make them incompetent. Please understand that. Because I refer people. People come to me and they look terrific and I talk to them and I say, "Hey this is a good person. Interview this person."

Yet you've identified this as a problem. How large a problem is it?
I don't know. I just know that if a person is there by virtue of association or relationship and doesn't feel he or she has to work like everybody else, I have a problem with that.

Do you believe there was a quid pro quo between the unions and management? That in exchange for the generous labor contracts, the unions agreed to hire friends and relatives of management?

I don't know how to answer that one. That is a very good question. I just don't know the history.

The City of Miami is a corporation and the commissioners sit as the board of directors. To what extent did the board fail to carry out its mission?

I am always reminded of Pascal: "Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed." I have a philosophy that all of us start out with a certain level of rigidity in our backbone. When it comes to issues of competency and so forth and so on, some people seem to bend with the wind, and others -- I guess like the mighty oak or whatever -- are pretty strong and don't bend. Here again it may be the issue of drawing a line in the sand. Say a project would come in, the commission would say: "Do this, find the money." I'm told this was pretty often. The staff, the manager, Surana, whoever was there would go, "Okay." So a whole lot of projects -- on the capital side particularly -- would be approved without a funding source. In the meantime, they were manipulating the money and moving the money out of the capital funds to meet operating requirements. I know of one six-million-dollar transfer out of the storm-water trust funds that was a journal entry into the general fund. So that means six million dollars in storm-drainage projects aren't going to get built, unless somehow you think about how to get the money back again. Well, if the commission just feels that it can function that way, is it their fault?

It's a good question, though. It's kind of a rhetorical question: Where do you get to the point where the manager or the finance director or someone in public works says, "No, sorry, there is no money, can't do it, we have no funds." And when was that line drawn? And was it always a retreating line? And in defense of Cesar, a lot of times he was hanging on to a 3-2 vote [by the commission to retain his services]. It was survival for him. So do you say no and draw the line?

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