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 called Shiver and "blasted" him for announcing his plan. She declared she was going to have to come down to county hall and meet with her staff and try to clarify what was happening. The next day Shiver, Cuervo-Schreiber, and Curtin met with Team Metro's senior staff. But rather than allay their concerns, Cuervo-Schreiber attacked members of the Team Metro staff, accusing them of contacting county commissioners and telling them about Shiver's plans for the department. "She had become threatening with the staff about leaking information to commissioners," Curtin relates.

After the meeting concluded, Cuervo-Schreiber singled out one Team Metro official and accused him of leaking information to Commissioner Javier Souto's chief of staff. "For him to be chastised that way was an embarrassment," Curtin fumes. Curtin cut off Cuervo-Schreiber's assault. "This is not Homestead," she snapped before walking away. "I was so pissed off!" she remembers. Curtin wanted Cuervo-Schreiber to know that the type of small-town bullying she was accustomed to in Homestead was not the way the professional staff in Miami-Dade County operates. "With my department everything is aboveboard and done the right way," Curtin says. "That was my message to her." (Cuervo-Schreiber did not respond to requests for an interview.)

Curtin finally realized she would never be able to trust Shiver and Cuervo-Schreiber. "I couldn't work with them," she laments. The next day she went for a walk with her dog in the Grove and ran into Tony Rodriguez, who works in Mayor Penelas's office. "Isn't it great what is happening to Team Metro?" Rodriguez inquired, according to Curtin.

Deborah Curtin decided she couldn't fight cancer and Steve Shiver simultaneously, so she left county government
Steve Satterwhite
Deborah Curtin decided she couldn't fight cancer and Steve Shiver simultaneously, so she left county government

Their encounter settled any lingering doubts Curtin may have had about staying. "I've known you for a long time, Debbie," Rodriguez allegedly began, "and I'm concerned about you. There have been some questions about the passport money. How much passport money did you make last year?"

As an inducement to attract people to its ten offices, Team Metro also processes applications for U.S. passports, a welcome alternative to the long lines at the federal passport office downtown. County staffers collect a $15 processing fee. Curtin told Rodriguez her office collected about $400,000 last year.

"There have been some questions raised in the mayor's office about where all that money has been going," Rodriguez said ominously, according to Curtin.

Every year, Curtin notes, her books are audited and there never has been a problem or even a concern related to the way her department collects or handles passport money. So Curtin viewed Rodriguez's question as a warning: "I walked away and I thought, There's my sign. I thought, If I go back to work, there are plans to take me down. It was so clear to me right then. He gave me a message. It was a veiled warning."

Two days later she resigned.

In an interview last week, Rodriguez denied trying to intimidate Curtin. He recalled talking to her that day in the Grove, but said he never mentioned the department's collection of passport fees. "It was a very short conversation," Rodriguez said. "I always liked Debbie. She's a sweetheart and everyone liked her very much. I heard she decided to retire because of her illness."

Curtin says her decision wasn't quite so straightforward. "Officially I resigned for medical reasons," she explains. "While that is true in the strictest sense, my decision was based on the historical truth that a battle is better waged on one front at a time. I just couldn't fight my battle with metastatic breast cancer and Steve Shiver & Company simultaneously. So I made the very difficult decision to leave Miami-Dade County and Team Metro."

On the day she resigned, she ran into John Renfrow, director of the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM), the agency responsible for enforcing the county's environmental laws. In the same way Shiver directed his immediate attention on Team Metro, he zeroed in like a smart bomb on DERM.

Renfrow and Curtin also shared another bond: Renfrow's wife had recently died of cancer. Curtin told Renfrow that Shiver was making things difficult for her department. She told him she believed she had "ruffled too many feathers" in the mayor's office and that her time was up. Curtin claims Renfrow complained he was facing the same problems at DERM. "He said, “They're making it so that I can't do my job,'" she recalls. "He said, “They don't want us to do our job.'" (Renfrow acknowledges he spoke to Curtin the day she resigned. "I know I bumped into her, but I don't remember the conversation," he says. And Curtin's recollection that he complained about being unable to do his job? "I can't confirm and I can't deny it either," he hedges.)

No sooner had Curtin resigned than her worst fears for Team Metro began coming true. Shiver transferred a small contingent of inspectors to the police department. Rather than do it in one massive move, which might have raised eyebrows among commissioners, Shiver apparently planned on transferring them in stages. But when Commissioner Dennis Moss discovered this, he ordered Shiver to stop and seek commission approval for any more transfers. As it stands now, a weird hybrid exists in which code enforcement is now split between the police and Team Metro.

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