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Rodney Barreto doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. "We were a million dollars cheaper than PeopleSoft," he says, exaggerating the figure by at least $200,000. "The manager made the right decision for the taxpayers of the county. Everything is price-driven in this town."
Barreto's lobbying firm includes two high-profile and influential partners: Brian May, former chief of staff for Alex Penelas, and Courtney Cunningham, a member of the Florida Elections Commission. Unlike other powerful lobbyists, though, Barreto works hard to remain out of sight. For example it is rare for him to speak publicly during county commission meetings. He prefers to have his discussions behind closed doors.
His career as a political operative began two decades ago, when he was working for Monty Trainer, the one-time political powerhouse who went to federal prison in 1989 on tax-evasion charges. Barreto made a small fortune in the Nineties on a half-dozen parking lots he operated near the Miami Arena, several of which were being run illegally and without the proper permits.
Capitalizing on his close friendship with Miami-Dade Mayor Steve Clark, Barreto expanded into lobbying and built that career with the help of fellow lobbyist Chris Korge and developer Sergio Pino. Miami Mayor Joe Carollo used to mockingly refer to Barreto, Korge, and Pino as "the three amigos." Barreto's fortunes skyrocketed, however, after he aligned himself with Alex Penelas. He became one of Penelas's biggest fundraisers and helped to bankroll his campaigns for county commission and then county mayor. Today Barreto represents a long list of clients at county hall, including AT&T Broadband, solid-waste behemoth BFI, AMEC Construction Management, and the county's airport advisor, Dade Aviation Consultants.
In recent years Barreto has expanded his influence. He helped raise money for Steve Shiver when Shiver ran for re-election as mayor of Homestead in 1999. Earlier this year the Miami Herald reported that many county hall insiders believed Barreto was partly responsible for Penelas appointing Shiver as county manager. Both Penelas and Barreto denied it, but the speculation was fueled when Shiver and Barreto were spotted together in a luxury suite during the Orange Bowl football game just a few days before Penelas announced Shiver as his choice. And New Times has learned that Barreto was part of a small team assembled by Penelas to privately lobby certain county commissioners on Shiver's behalf.
Barreto refuses to discuss his friendship with Shiver. "My relationship with Steve Shiver had nothing to do with him making the right decision," he says in reference to the software contract.
How many times has he spoken to Shiver about the Oracle contract? "I have no comment on that," he replies.
How many times has he spoken to Shiver's executive assistant Tom David? "I have no comment on that," he repeats.
And how many times has he spoken to Mayor Penelas? "I have no comment on that," he recites.
Owing to lax county procedures, there is no way to discover the answers to such questions, at least not with any certainty. Visitors to the 29th floor -- where the mayor, the manager, and their staffs all have offices -- are supposed to sign in and state who they are visiting and for what reason. In the six months since Shiver became county manager, Barreto has signed in a total of four times, according to records provided by the county. None of the visits was listed as being on behalf of Oracle.
The notion that Barreto has been on the 29th floor only four times in the past six months evokes laughter from several people who work there. "It seems to me I've seen him more than that," one county employee deadpans. It is not uncommon, according to these sources, for Barreto to be on the 29th floor several times in a week.
There also is no way of knowing how many times Barreto may have spoken to Shiver or the mayor by telephone, or met with them somewhere other than county hall.
Barreto will not disclose how much money he is being paid by Oracle or if any part of his fee is dependent upon the company winning the software contract. Indeed Barreto refuses to describe in any manner what actions he has taken on behalf of Oracle. But according to senior county officials involved in the contract process, Barreto's lobbying efforts for Oracle have been intense.
The accounting-software contract isn't the first instance in which Shiver may have favored a company represented by Barreto. Earlier this year Barreto represented AMEC Construction Management (formerly Morse Diesel) in its bid to oversee construction of Miami International Airport's south terminal. In an interview with an engineering trade magazine this past March, Shiver was quoted as saying he had decided to recommend AMEC for the contract even though the company's $50 million price tag was the highest offered. Shiver's statement caught many people by surprise, since the selection process had not formally been completed and there were concerns that AMEC had misrepresented itself as a local company.
Shiver subsequently denied making the statement and denied even speaking to the reporter. Both the reporter and the publication stood by their story. The airport's new aviation director, Angela Gittens, eventually assumed responsibility for the selection process and recommended to the commission that a different firm (which was asking just $24 million) be awarded the contract.