Digital Intrigue

Did Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver deceive commissioners in an effort to steer a lucrative software contract to a friend? The friend says no. Shiver isn't talking.

This past July County Manager Steve Shiver rejected the nearly unanimous recommendation of a special review committee and decided that an $8.8 million computer software contract should go to a company whose lobbyist is a long-time supporter of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas. The lobbyist, Rodney Barreto, also contributed to Shiver's political campaigns when he was mayor of Homestead and reportedly helped him secure the post of county manager.

Shiver's support for Oracle, the software giant represented by Barreto, also is coming under fire because of the method by which the manager sought commission approval for his selection. In a move that has angered several county commissioners, Shiver allegedly tried to hide the multimillion-dollar contract in a section of the July 24 commission agenda rarely scrutinized, since it typically contains a long list of bureaucratic housekeeping items voted on en masse without discussion.

The matter -- listed on the agenda as 6(N)3d Section 3, Item 3.6 -- included a memorandum from Shiver to the commission describing the item as a "contract modification." In effect the manager was asking commissioners for approval to modify Oracle's existing county contract by simply tacking on this new agreement.

Working behind the scenes: Rodney Barreto watches as Randy Witt briefs commissioners on the Oracle contract
Working behind the scenes: Rodney Barreto watches as Randy Witt briefs commissioners on the Oracle contract

Details

Read related New Times Steve Shiver stories

The summary of the item, found on page two of the manager's memo, contained no mention of the amount of money involved. For that commissioners had to turn to page 26. And nowhere did the memo describe the true long-term value of the contract, which could be worth as much as $30 million.

New Times has learned that the manager and his staff were warned repeatedly by the county attorney's office that the contract could not be included in the commission agenda as a simple contract modification. It had to be presented to the commission as a bid waiver. The distinction is important. Contract modifications only require approval by a simple majority of the thirteen-member commission. Bid waivers are new contracts developed without competitive bidding. Because of past abuses and the potential for controversy, bid waivers frequently prompt questions from commissioners and require two-thirds approval for passage.

According to Randy Witt, the county's chief information officer, it was Shiver who personally overruled the recommendation of the review committee and selected Oracle. And it was Shiver who made the decision to place the item on the agenda as a contract modification, not a bid waiver. "The county attorney recommended that we do it as a separate contract and a bid waiver," explains Witt. "And we were marching along that line and then we took it up to the manager, and it was his decision to turn it into a contract modification." Witt, however, refuses to ascribe any sinister motive to the manager's action. Shiver himself did not return phone calls seeking comment.

New Times also has learned that the county attorney's office wasn't even aware the item was on the agenda until the morning of the July 24 commission meeting, the last before commissioners took their August recess and which traditionally includes one of the longest and most difficult agendas of the year. Assistant County Attorney Hugo Benitez was said to be furious when he discovered that his legal instructions had been ignored and the item wasn't presented as a bid waiver. "I know he was very upset," acknowledges Witt. "He thought somebody was trying to run a fast one on him." (Benitez declined comment.)

The attorney's anger only grew when he read the memo from the manager to the commission explaining why Shiver was recommending Oracle. Shiver noted that a committee had been formed "to research and recommend Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) packages." The very next line of the memo stated, "The ERP selected was Oracle's Financial Software Suite."

Benitez knew that wasn't true. The review committee by a 9-1 vote had actually selected Oracle's rival, PeopleSoft. At best the manager's memo was misleading; at worst it was a deliberate attempt to deceive the commission. "The memo misrepresented the nature of what the manager was asking the commission to approve," says one senior county official. "And the question became: Are you trying to pull the wool over the commission's eyes to get the result you want?"

According to several knowledgeable sources, after Benitez read the manager's memo the morning of the commission meeting, he made a series of irate phone calls to county officials demanding an explanation. An emergency meeting was convened in Randy Witt's office on the eighteenth floor of county hall. The 11:00 a.m. meeting included Benitez, Witt, Shiver's executive assistant Tom David, Assistant County Manager George Burgess, and representatives from Witt's staff and the county's procurement department. Those who attended the meeting say Benitez continued his tirade and made it clear the item could not be presented to the commission in its current form.

A decision was made during that hastily called meeting to withdraw the item from the agenda and resubmit it later in the day as a bid waiver. As for the misleading nature of the manager's memo, Witt says he agreed to make an oral presentation to the commission and disclose the fact that the review committee had favored a different company.

It was nearly 9:00 p.m. when the new agenda item finally came up for discussion during the July 24 meeting. But by then the late addition of a bid waiver caused several commissioners to become suspicious. After 30 minutes of contentious debate, during which new questions were raised regarding possible violations of the state Sunshine Law, the item was deferred to the September 11 county commission meeting.

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