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.

Might that have been exploited by the commission?
[Laughs] You said it! I am not here to criticize people. These are legitimate questions.

There have long been charges that the Odio administration championed loyalty at the expense of creative thinking and candor. Indeed, the State Attorney's Office criticized Odio's top deputy, Surana, for maintaining "an atmosphere of implied retaliation." What did you notice, or what were you told, about the city administration's working atmosphere?

There is no question as far as Mr. Surana is concerned that he kept everything close to the vest. I don't think anybody crossed him within the department. There is no question as to who the boss was. I did not find a single department director who felt like they were getting straight information or getting answers on their budgets or whatever money there was for this project or that project.

What about at the top?
It's a judgment call. I have stayed away from commenting about Cesar. He is claiming he was not aware of the [mismanagement of the] finance department being as serious as it was. I know the department heads cautioned him about the power Surana had. I haven't found anybody who supported that move. They would make it clear they were having difficulties dealing with Surana for the reasons I stated.

With the reduction of services you and the staff have proposed, and with increases in taxes -- property taxes, user fees, and such -- what purpose will there be for the city? Wouldn't you just be eliminating the need for a city?

No. I think this is the core, this is the heart of the metropolis. It was the beginning. It is 100 years old. It has trouble. It has problems. So does that mean you come along and kill it or abolish it and what it represents?

Some say so.
I don't think so. I think that would be a tragedy. I started right here, sat right in that chair there 37 years ago. I have never been a consolidationist for consolidation's sake. In almost ten years as county manager I did not favor abolishing -- even though I knew some cities could be abolished without a ripple. I never promoted it, never spoke for it, or encouraged it.

I have a love for the city. I am a student of government and the city, going back to when cities were formed for protection of the vital necessities and so forth, so I am not supporting or advocating the abolition of the city. Let's clean this problem up, let's get the city back on the road to fiscal solvency and responsibility, and then, down the road, if that issue is to be addressed, look at it then.

Given the financial crisis the commission is now facing, will the city's public properties be wantonly commercialized in order to generate revenue?

That's a tough question. I am not aware of any particular proposal right now. Obviously any decision like that can only be made at a public hearing at which all kinds of citizens can be heard. "Wantonly" would suggest abuse, and there are restrictions. For example, the charter required a referendum for Parrot Jungle to move to Watson Island. So there are some built-in safeguards.

How long until the city is fiscally sound?
It isn't going to happen overnight. While we may be able to balance the budget this year, next year will be a major test. It involves city commission resolve, commitment, and the willingness and the ability to bite the bullet. It might even be sacrificial, which is very difficult for elected officials because clearly the demagogues will be out there trying to capitalize on the issue. It's tragic but that's the way of life.

Nobody wants to vote for increasing solid-waste fees or nobody wants to vote for this or that or the other thing because it may be unpopular and the Hispanic radio stations will have a field day demagoguing that issue. I hope I live long enough to see that element of life in Miami either become more responsible or disappear. It is very abusive of rational judgment and management.

Going back to your question, there is a lot that can be done in the short term. Also, concerning the unions, I am going to find out very quickly whether they're serious about putting concessions on the table. I am fearful that they may [give] as little as they can. I think we need to make some significant concessions. If I don't see them forthcoming, then I am going to recommend that the commissioners reopen the bargaining process. That, too, will involve a tremendous amount of resolve on the part of the commission. Clearly there will be great pressure and efforts to influence them, and whoever the manager is. Will he have enough backbone and chutzpah to stick with it? So it'll take two or three years to really get it set right.

I might add parenthetically that I think Mayor Carollo deserves a pat on the back or some recognition because it was his idea [that Stierheim step in as acting manager], it wasn't mine. I shudder to think what would have happened if the commission had gone ahead and passed this budget and if this review had not taken place and the city left it alone as it has in the past, and then next February or March they wouldn't have been able to write payroll checks because they would have hit the wall. And the wall is still out there unless we get a handle on this.

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