The Manager's Many Friends

One thing about Steve Shiver's future as the county's chief executive: It'll never be lonely at the top

•Dexter Lehtinen, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida who today is the litigious chief counsel for the Miccosukee Tribe.

•Michael Latterner, the businessman who is building Keys Gate in South Miami-Dade, an ambitious housing development on 800 acres of land.

•The Dade County Farm Bureau. This private, nonprofit organization is a perennial Shiver supporter. Despite its name, farmers constitute only a part of its membership. Critics say it is controlled by a handful of wealthy South Miami-Dade landholders. The bureau has constantly fought Redland residents who want to preserve agricultural land, a county zoning issue.

Steve Shiver has received lots of help from South Florida political heavyweights
Steve Satterwhite
Steve Shiver has received lots of help from South Florida political heavyweights

Commercial interests that donated the $500 limit to Shiver during his 1999 campaign and currently are doing business with the county, or have done business within the past year, include B.F.I. Waste Services, Puig & Martinez Architects, Adelphia Cable Communications, Biscayne Builders, and Magnum Environmental Services, which donated $250 to the campaign.

In addition veteran political consultants Herman Echevarria and Bob Levy contributed to Shiver's campaign. Echevarria is another confidant of Penelas who recently was instrumental in negotiating the proposed contract to build a new baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins. Levy, who also works as a lobbyist and represents the City of Homestead in Tallahassee, has known and supported Shiver for years.

Shiver also enjoys close ties to Jorge Lopez, one of Miami-Dade's most successful lobbyists. A former chief of staff to Penelas, Lopez lists 119 clients now doing business with the county, including BellSouth, Florida Power and Light, the Miami Heat, Adelphia Cable, Wackenhut Corrections, Magnum Construction Management, HABDI, Odebrecht Contractors of Florida, ATC Associates, and The Related Group. Lopez was not included on the official list of Shiver's 1999 political contributors, but he believes that could be an oversight. "I was sure I contributed," he says. "I've known the mayor a long time."

If that list of contributors suggests that Shiver may be inviting intense scrutiny as county manager, it wouldn't be the first time he's faced questions about possible conflicts of interest. One of those incidents was the subject of a New Times cover story ("Homestead's Dirt," July 29, 1999).

In June 1999, as Shiver was running for re-election as Homestead's mayor, a campaign fundraiser was held at the $1.8 million Redland home of Tomas Andres Mestre, who owns a hauling company. In the past Mestre's firm, Resource Reclamation Services (RRS), has been involved in questionable and controversial municipal contracts, but it has thrived nonetheless.

At the time of the fundraiser, which was cohosted by Alex Penelas, RRS was a subcontractor to a company called ATC Associates in a proposal to clean up and develop the site of an old Homestead landfill. The plan needed city approval but would be federally funded. Although Shiver would soon cast a vote that could directly benefit RRS, he saw no conflict in allowing Mestre to host the highly successful fundraiser. (It brought in approximately $25,000.)

"Let the red flags fly," Shiver scoffed at the time. "I did not do anything improper."

One of Shiver's colleagues on the Homestead City Council didn't see it that way. Councilman Eddie Berrones told New Times: "I did not attend the party. At that point I knew we were in contract negotiations with ATC. To me it didn't seem ethical."

The city commission, including Shiver, later voted to award ATC the contract over several competitors. Once again city lawyers said Shiver had no conflict because Mestre did not give tangible gifts to the mayor; he only loaned the use of his posh house. (ATC's lobbyist at county hall, incidentally, is Jorge Lopez, the mayor's long-time supporter.)

The Miami-Dade County Commission is expected to narrowly confirm Shiver's appointment at its January 23 meeting. Tellingly, though, the two commissioners who first announced their opposition to Penelas's choice were the ones who knew Shiver best: Katy Sorenson and Dennis Moss, whose commission districts include portions of Homestead. Last week Sorenson and Moss expressed concern that Shiver lacks the experience for the manager's job. Sorenson wondered aloud why a national search had not been undertaken. "I like Steve Shiver," she said. "I think he's done some good things as mayor. And if we did a national search and his credentials stacked up against the competition, I'd support him."

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