A Public Servant Goes Public

She ran her department like a pro, but she possessed one thing Alex Penelas and Steve Shiver couldn't tolerate: Integrity

Curtin and Cuervo-Schreiber had a get-acquainted breakfast on April 2 at Greenstreet Café in Coconut Grove. A few days earlier Shiver had abruptly and unexpectedly fired the county's well-regarded communications director, Mayco Villafaña. Adding to the insult of Villafaña's unceremonious termination was the fact that his computer had been immediately seized, a fact reported here and in other media (see "Under New Management," April 5).

When Curtin and Cuervo-Schreiber sat down, the new assistant county manager promptly announced to Curtin that Villafaña had secretly arranged to have his own computer seized in order to deliberately embarrass Shiver and portray him as heartless and cruel. Curtin could not believe what she was hearing. She knew Villafaña would never arrange such a stunt, and indeed in press interviews a few days later, Shiver's chief of staff, Tom David, admitted he ordered the seizure of Villafaña's computer.

Sitting at Greenstreet that morning, however, Curtin thought either Cuervo-Schreiber was incredibly naive to believe such a tale or was calculating enough to try to manipulate her with lies about co-workers. Curtin didn't like the way their meeting began. "We were off to a very bad start," she says.

As time went on, Curtin began to comprehend Shiver's plans for her department. The manager told her he intended to split it into two parts. He wanted to transfer code enforcement -- which comprises about 70 percent of Team Metro's work -- to the Miami-Dade Police Department. All her inspectors would be transferred to a new unit within the police department. She would be left with a much smaller Team Metro to manage.

Curtin believes Shiver had two motivations for attempting the move. First he hoped code enforcement would get lost within an agency as large as the police department. Writing citations for abandoned vehicles and overgrown lots would rank low among the priorities of a major metropolitan police department that is preoccupied with drug gangs, homicides, and terrorist threats.

The second reason Shiver sought to move her inspectors to the police department, Curtin believes, had to do with his friend the Homestead police officer. During their initial meeting in February, Shiver told Curtin he wanted to hire Capt. Scott Kennedy to be her deputy director. Later, however, it was discovered that Kennedy didn't have a college degree and therefore was prevented by county rules from being hired into a senior position.

By moving enforcement to the police department, though, Shiver could arrange to have Kennedy transferred from the Homestead Police Department to the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD). Curtin reports she learned this during conversations with MDPD director Carlos Alvarez, whom she had called in late March and early April after learning about Shiver's plans to move most of her department to his. According to Curtin, Alvarez was opposed to the idea. Curtin recalls Alvarez saying, "This is not our business. Our business is law enforcement." (Alvarez could not be reached for comment last week, but in an interview this past spring, he acknowledged Shiver's efforts to place Captain Kennedy in the MDPD.)

Curtin says Alvarez also complained that Shiver was trying to pressure him into hiring Kennedy at the rank of major. Alvarez reportedly told Shiver that such a move was impossible because he had a long list of more-qualified candidates within his department who were waiting to be promoted. (Contacted in Homestead, Kennedy initially agreed to be interviewed but after learning the subject refused to answer questions.)

Curtin's account is corroborated by a knowledgeable law-enforcement source who says Alvarez threatened to resign if he were forced to hire Kennedy as a major. Shiver then tried to have Kennedy "loaned" to the MDPD on temporary assignment. Ultimately that plan failed as well.

Undaunted, Shiver continued his push to move Team Metro's inspectors to the police department, arguing it would give the inspectors greater authority and allow them to work closely with police in troubled parts of the county. "We didn't need that," Curtin maintains. "We already had an incredible working relationship with the police department. Any one of my officers could call MDPD and have backup whenever they needed it. They would do joint sweeps together."

During her discussions with Shiver, Curtin was under the impression his idea was simply a proposal and that no final decision had been made. Certainly, Curtin believed, the county commission would have to agree to such a major change in the structure of county government. Shiver told Curtin to keep the proposal confidential. She shouldn't even tell members of her staff.

In late April Curtin, still on medical leave, received a call at home from one of her employees telling her Shiver had just announced his plans to move all Team Metro inspectors to the police department. The announcement came during a meeting with community activists in South Miami-Dade.

"I went berserk," Curtin recalls. "I went nuts. First of all, it had never been told to me that this was official. I had never briefed my staff. And he was telling the community already. Not only that, this was a budget issue. The commission has to approve this. He doesn't have the power to arbitrarily do this."

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