The Autocrat

Some say Miami Beach's Jose Garca-Pedrosa is a strong city manager. Others tend to employ more colorful language.

"I'm in Philadelphia now. Does that tell you anything?" Meginley laughs. "If one recognizes that he is an administrator who seeks centralized control of all matters of the city, and if one works in that direction, one will find he is very cooperative."

Garcia-Pedrosa is active in the American Bar Association, specifically with the accreditation of law schools. One of the standards for accreditation is the ability of a school to attract and retain top faculty. "The wording has always stuck with me," the city manager says. "I think the only way to manage the city -- or really any enterprise -- successfully is 'to attract and retain top talent.'"

He likes to say he hires people who are better than he is. Those he doesn't like he expeditiously removes. Former city clerk Richard Brown lost his job last fall despite public pressure to retain him. Peter Liu, executive assistant to the city manager and a thirteen-year Beach veteran, was asked to resign in December without notice.

Garcia-Pedrosa hired away the City of Miami's computer expert to serve as the new city clerk. And Sergio Rodriguez, who worked as former Miami city manager Cesar Odio's chief of staff, is Garcia-Pedrosa's new deputy. "He has improved the staff dramatically," Mayor Gelber declares.

But some disgruntled city employees argue that, like Cesar Odio in Miami, Garcia-Pedrosa has begun hiring some people for their connections rather than for their merits. Odalys Mon was the chief of staff of former Miami mayor Xavier Suarez, a close friend and former law partner of Garcia-Pedrosa. When Suarez left Miami government in 1988, Mon bounced from one City of Miami department to another. Soon after starting at Miami Beach, Garcia-Pedrosa hired her to work on "special projects" for the Department of Public Works. She earns $52,000.

When there was an opening for a director of planning for the Miami Beach Historic District, the city's human resources department received 66 resumes from across the United States. Most of the applicants held advanced degrees in architecture or urban development. One even had a master's degree from Harvard and experience as the director of historic districts in Boston and in Pasadena. He was not interviewed. Nor was anyone else except Janet Gavarrete, who was given the job. Gavarrete was unemployed at the time, had worked exclusively in public relations for the past five years, and holds only a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture. She once was also Cesar Odio's chief of staff.

Garcia-Pedrosa says Gavarrete was hired on the recommendation of Sergio Rodriguez, whom he calls "one of the top urban planners in the country." The manager denies that he hires for reasons other than merit. Dragging a forefinger down a list of his top appointments, he notes that he didn't know many of them before he took office. Of Odalys Mon's hiring he says, "If you can't get recommendations from the former mayor of Miami, who can you get them from?"

Apparently he feels differently about recommendations regarding other matters. Miami Beach commissioners have appointed volunteer citizens' advisory committees to help their city manager manage. Garcia-Pedrosa habitually ignores these groups. In March, for instance, he overruled a selection committee's recommendation that the city award its garbage contract to industry giant Waste Management and instead advised the commissioners to renew the contract with the current hauler BFI, despite BFI's having bid nearly $85,000 more for the contract than Waste Management. He said he wanted to avoid a decline in service. The commission renewed BFI's contract.

Jane Goodman, the head of the Miami Beach Art in Public Places Committee, a panel of art professionals formed to select artworks for display on city property, quit in disgust after alleging that Garcia-Pedrosa consistently refused to meet with her. More than once the manager spent committee money on art that the committee did not approve. "Art in Public Places is an advisory group," he told New Times last month ("Everybody's a Critic," April 3). "They don't make decisions."

The citizens' groups, he allows, can be troublesome.
"A characteristic of the city that makes it very difficult to manage," he explains, "is that we have a very, very well-informed and opinionated group of citizens who are very active and who demand -- as they should -- participation in their local government. I sit at commission meetings sometimes marveling at these citizens who come up and discuss setbacks and stuff like that. One guy got up one day and talked about a deal being 'a Faustian deal.' My God! If he said that word anyplace else, people run to the dictionary. We have that kind of civic participation, which means that in order to manage successfully one has to take all those factors into account. The notion of trying to create consensus, calling meetings together, getting people together and so forth, is very much congruent with that.

"But once in a while," he adds, "you have to take a position that sends a clear message."

Garcia-Pedrosa is referring to How Can I Be Down?, the nation's largest hip-hop music convention. Last October the locally organized event returned to South Beach for the fourth straight year. Thousands of people descended on Collins Avenue, inundating the strip with bass music, concert flyers, and garbage. Assessing the aftermath (which included a report of a shooting), Garcia-Pedrosa decried the destruction inflicted upon his town, saying it resembled "a bad -- not a good -- Third World city." Although the comment opened him up to charges of racism -- the crowds were primarily young blacks -- and despite protests from business owners who enjoyed hefty profits during the weekend-long convention, Garcia-Pedrosa declared unequivocally that there would never be a similar undertaking in Miami Beach as long as he remains city manager.

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