By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
As the new county manager, Steve Shiver already has two strikes against him. Strike one: The 34-year-old former mayor of Homestead has neither the qualifications nor the experience to manage a four-billion-dollar enterprise as diverse and complicated as Miami-Dade County. Only his arrogance deludes him into believing he's worthy of this position.
Strike two: He is widely regarded as a puppet of Mayor Alex Penelas. Other candidates were offered the job before Shiver, but they all turned it down because they understood that Penelas was looking for a lackey, not an independent and competent administrator.
Given these liabilities, Shiver must be very careful in how he conducts himself, especially before the county commission. Which is why it was so troubling to watch him earlier this month, during one of his first commission meetings as manager, severely damage what little credibility he has by demonstrating that his word cannot be trusted.
It was a stunning moment. On March 8 commissioners were debating whether they should accept the federal government's proposal to transfer to the county 717 acres of land within Homestead Air Force Base. The only stipulation was that the land could not be used as a commercial airport, a decision the feds reached after more than seven years of deliberation.
The county commission had two choices. Commissioner Katy Sorenson offered one of them: a resolution accepting the federal government's offer. Commissioner Natacha Seijas promoted the other: a "dual track" strategy of accepting the land while simultaneously suing the federal government in hopes of forcing it to allow the county to develop an airport at the base. Commissioners were told that such litigation could take years and that no one had ever succeeded with a lawsuit like the one they were contemplating.
"It's a simple question," Sorenson told her colleagues. "Do we want [the land] or do we not? If we sue, we have a very thin legal case because the federal government isn't obligated to give us anything. It's their land. They don't owe us an airport."
In Miami-Dade County, however, nothing is ever simple. Shiver, a long-time advocate for building an airport in Homestead, opened the discussion with a rambling and rather inane history lesson on the battle over the airport. He then noted that several days earlier the Homestead City Council endorsed Sorenson's resolution and urged the county to adopt it, accept the land, and move forward in developing it into something other than an airport.
Shiver knew Sorenson was planning to mention the Homestead City Council action, so he wanted to bring it up first. And as soon as he did, he dismissed it as inconsequential. Then he said something amazing. He suggested that commissioners should ignore it as well. Shiver announced that he had spoken to both the new mayor of Homestead, Roscoe Warren, and the vice mayor, Nick Sincore, and that the two men regretted their votes. "They informed me that if they would have known there were alternative methods -- with this dual track -- they would not have voted in the affirmative," he declared. Turning toward Terry Murphy, Seijas's chief of staff, Shiver continued: "And I think Mr. Murphy had an opportunity to speak to Vice Mayor Sincore as well."
Shiver was telling commissioners that the city council's action wasn't significant because Homestead officials didn't know that Seijas was proposing to accept the land while also filing a lawsuit. The council's ignorance, Shiver said, "would explain the change in [the Homestead City Council's previous] position." If council members had known of Seijas's proposal, Shiver reasoned, they wouldn't have supported Sorenson.
Sitting across the dais from Shiver, Sorenson appeared dumbfounded. "Excuse me, if I could just interrupt for a second," she said. "I was at the Homestead City Council meeting asking them to support my resolution. And I informed them at that meeting that there was an alternative resolution, and I distributed it at that meeting prior to their vote."
Shiver just shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sorry, I don't know why the discrepancy is there," he replied. "But I did speak to them a couple of hours ago, and that is what they indicated to me and I think as well to Mr. Murphy from Commissioner Seijas's office."
Last week I contacted Mayor Warren in Homestead and asked him if Shiver's comments were accurate. "No," he responded. "We were well aware of Natacha Seijas's position. Commissioner Sorenson was very gracious in presenting both sides to us during the meeting. We were aware of the differences."
Did Warren, as Shiver claimed, want to change his vote? "No," he said.
Was he in favor of pursuing Shiver's strategy of litigation? Once again he answered no. "The federal government made a decision, and the county needs to move forward," he said. "It's not going to do my community any good to continue to delay development out there."
Warren said his conversation with Shiver was very brief. Mainly Shiver told him he should call Seijas, and gave Warren the commissioner's phone number. "He just alerted me that Commissioner Seijas wanted to talk to me," Warren recalled, adding that he wasn't able to reach her.