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Then Villafaña began fielding questions about Hebert's past. Reporters wanted to know if the county was aware Hebert had a criminal record.
In 1990 Hebert was arrested for grand theft and eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. In 1992 a bench warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to abide by the terms of his probation. Also in the early Nineties, he wrote a string of bad checks that led to more than a half-dozen misdemeanor cases being filed against him. And since 1998 Hebert has been driving with a suspended license after failing to pay three speeding tickets. (Given the suspension of his driving privileges, the fact that Hebert's compensation package includes a $5200 car allowance qualifies as ironic. Furthermore no one in the county personnel department seems to have noticed that when Hebert filled out his employment forms, he presented a driver license that had expired January 4, 2001.)
On top of all this, a computer database routinely used by journalists conducting background checks on individuals produced a report that claimed Hebert had been arrested in 1990 for cocaine possession. The information provided by this database is not always accurate, and so last week Villafaña found himself responding to reporters' requests for verification.
As the queries about Hebert continued unabated, Villafaña regularly met with Shiver and Tom David, the manager's executive assistant, to brief them on the reporters' questions. "I recommended that we needed more concrete information as to what the real charges were," he relates, "and that the police needed to be brought in to do a thorough background check."
According to Villafaña, the manager agreed. Carlos Alvarez, director of the Miami-Dade County Police Department, was ordered to conduct a background check. Alvarez was taken aback that such a routine procedure hadn't been completed before Hebert was hired.
Eventually the police department determined that Hebert had never been arrested for cocaine possession. The database was incorrect. But as Shiver and David waited for Alvarez's report, Villafaña continued updating them on the media's interest in this story -- particularly mine.
Two weeks ago I wrote an article about Shiver, documenting how he had lied to the county commission on a sensitive issue relating to the future development of Homestead Air Force Base. That effort to mislead the commission underscored for many people the belief that Shiver is neither qualified for nor capable of being county manager.
Since that article appeared, Shiver has obsessively attempted to counter it. He regularly brings up the subject in conversation and, like a desperate Captain Queeg, promises that Homestead Mayor Roscoe Warren and Vice Mayor Nick Sincore (whom I quoted to prove Shiver lied) are writing letters to New Times repudiating my account.
New Times is still waiting for those letters.
"The story you wrote about the manager was like a neutron bomb in this building," says Villafaña. "Everyone was stunned by it. It was very demoralizing."
When I began asking questions about Hebert, Villafaña reports, the manager wanted to know what could be done, not just regarding me but other members of the press as well. "They kept asking me how we could control and manage the media," he says. "I told them, you don't manage the media. We're dealing with public information."
Villafaña recalls that during one meeting last week, David made it clear he and Shiver were willing to mislead the public regarding Hebert. In trying to explain why Hebert had been hired for a position that didn't even have a job description, David suggested shifting Hebert from the nonexistent role of "public affairs administrator" to the already established position of junior assistant county manager. If the press asked, David and Shiver would say it had always been anticipated that Hebert would fill a junior manager position, and that Hebert was waiting for David to begin work before assuming that title. "That's how we are going to spin it," David declared, according to Villafaña. (David denies Villafaña's version of events and says he never talked about trying to "spin" the facts. "I don't use words like that," asserts David, who last fall ran for the state House of Representatives against Cindy Lerner and lost.)
When I told Shiver I had spoken to several senior officials in county government who were upset with the way Villafaña had been fired, and that they thought it demonstrated a lack of class on his part, the manager grew testy. "Well, I hope you print their names," he spit.
As if more evidence were necessary, it's now abundantly clear that Shiver realizes he will never earn the loyalty and respect of the men and women working within the county, so he will compel their allegiance through fear and intimidation. And for the record, my interest in Hebert was not sparked by Villafaña, nor did Villafaña "leak" any information to me. As one county insider said of Shiver: "There is a certain amount of paranoia setting in here."
It's also clear that Shiver has adopted an alarming set of professional standards. In his universe a dedicated and competent public servant like Mayco Villafaña deserves to be fired, while a man like Chris Hebert, with no credentials and a questionable past, is worthy of the public's trust.