A Friend in Need
Nobody knows better than Homestead Mayor Roscoe Warren how badly Steve Shiver has bungled his first two months as county manager. During a March 8 county commission meeting, Shiver sought to undermine the Homestead City Council by informing commissioners they should disregard a city resolution regarding Homestead Air Force Base. The council resolution urged the county to accept the 717 acres of federal land on the base and develop it as something other than a commercial airport. Shiver told commissioners to ignore that resolution, arguing the city council didn't know what it was doing because county Commissioner Katy Sorenson hadn't properly briefed council members on all options for the base.
When Shiver's chicanery first surfaced, Warren was so upset he criticized the manager in a column I wrote ("Strike Three," March 22). Last week Warren recalled a conversation he had with Shiver following publication of that column. Shiver phoned Warren hoping he'd retract his statements. "You made it seem like I was a liar," Shiver whined, according to Warren.
"Well, Steve," Warren said he replied, "somebody has to tell the truth."
In another conversation between Warren and the manager, Warren said he told Shiver, who preceded him as mayor, that he no longer had the right to speak on Homestead's behalf, and he certainly had no right to speak for the mayor. "I don't like anybody speaking on my behalf," Warren reiterated. "When he used my name, I didn't like that at all, and I told him so. He knows that now."
In recent days, however, Warren's anger has subsided as he has witnessed one media outlet after another attack Shiver for being untrustworthy and manipulative. Shiver's credibility is in such disarray that an effort to reform county procurement procedures failed because the measure would have placed greater power in the hands of the manager. The plan's rejection was a clear vote of no confidence in Shiver.
Then on Monday, April 16, Warren read a story in the Miami Herald regarding the mysterious disappearance of New Times papers from the lobby of county hall and a suspicious malfunction during the rebroadcast of a televised county commission meeting. The glitch excised that portion of the meeting in which commissioners criticized Shiver. The article raised questions about whether Shiver may have had a hand in those two events. Warren said he was aghast at the story's implications: "Do they think my friend Steve Shiver would really stoop to that level?"
A day or two before the Herald article, Warren related that he'd received a phone call from Bill Losner, a Homestead banker and one of the town's most influential men. "He shared with me that Steve was in trouble," Warren recounted, "and he wanted to know what we could do about it to help Steve. He said he had just had a conversation with Steve and that Steve was really stressed out and worried."
Despite their differences, Warren and Shiver have been lifelong friends. Warren, who is 48 years old, said he has known Shiver's family since he was a child. And so as the controversy surrounding the manager escalated, Warren made a decision to come to his friend's defense.
On April 18 the mayor penned a letter addressed to all the county commissioners. "Over the past few weeks I have observed the unwarranted and often malicious attacks on the character and integrity of a man I respect as both a true professional and friend," he wrote.
He went on to describe one of the conversations he'd had with Shiver regarding Homestead Air Force Base shortly after the city council passed its resolution urging the county to accept the base for economic development. "It was during this conversation that I was asked: If I understood more clearly that a dual-tract option existed that would allow us to pursue the economic development conveyance and at the same time attempt to preserve our right to a commercial airport through litigation, would I have reconsidered my vote? My answer was yes."
That passage in the letter, the mayor clarified, is meaningless because there is no such thing as a "dual tract." It's a myth. As long as the county pursues its lawsuit against the federal government, Warren noted, there will be no economic development at the base. "The litigation is going to hold up any development at the base for years to come," he said. "My people do not want an airport. I have heard that loud and clear."
Warren continues to urge the county to drop the pretense of a dual tract and accept the land. "The city council is solidly against an airport," he added. "We support a mixed-use development for the base, and there is no way in hell I will go against that."
Although Warren won't say it directly, that passage in his letter was the figurative lifeline tossed to a drowning man. It gave Shiver something to cling to, an opportunity to claim he hadn't actually lied to the county commission. But in truth it scarcely offered the manager any vindication.
Shiver told commissioners the Homestead City Council was never presented with information on the alternatives for the base. That was a lie. Katy Sorenson did provide that information. Warren's letter also doesn't relieve Shiver of accusations that he was behaving more like a political hack than a professional administrator. Nor does it address subsequent revelations that Shiver has filled his staff with friends and cronies who have no experience in government administration.
Warren said his motivation in writing the letter was straightforward. "There are going to be times when, as my friend, you are going to piss me off and screw up," he explained, "but I'm not going to say that our friendship is over because of it. I expect you to screw up from time to time. And Steve certainly has screwed up. But that doesn't change the fact that he's my friend. And that's pretty much what I was thinking when I wrote that letter."
I asked Warren if he thought I had either misquoted or misrepresented his views in my previous stories. "No, not at all," he replied. "Your articles and your stories about Steve were very accurate, and I'll stand behind them."
Warren does think I've been too hard on Shiver and believes the public should give the new manager a chance to prove himself. On this point we disagree. The position of county manager is too important to allow someone as unqualified as 34-year-old Steve Shiver the luxury of on-the-job training.
Drug Test Update
Despite promises that he would release the results of his drug test, Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver now refuses to make them public. Shiver, who finally submitted to urinalysis on April 9 after postponing the procedure on three separate occasions, told me just days before he took the test that he would release the results, even though by law he was not required to do so.
Last week, however, when I requested the information, county spokeswoman Rhonda Barnett informed me that the results of his drug screening would not be released and referred all questions regarding that decision to Shiver. The normally chatty county manager refused to return phone calls explaining his reversal.
At this point it is even unclear who has knowledge of those test results. Prospective county employees undergo a physical exam and provide a urine sample at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The hospital sends the sample to a private lab for testing. Results are then forwarded to the county's personnel office, where a trained technician interprets the information. The appropriate supervisor is then notified as to whether the prospective employee passed or failed. If the individual fails the test, he or she is not allowed to begin work. Shiver's position as the top county employee adds a new, and apparently unprecedented, wrinkle to this process. What independent authority might review his test results or be notified of the outcome? County officials are unable to provide an answer.
Since his appointment in January, numerous rumors regarding Shiver's personal life and business dealings in Homestead have circulated among reporters and political insiders. His failure to comply with county rules requiring all new employees to undergo a physical exam and submit to a drug test before beginning work fueled questions about past drug use. Further complicating matters, at least for me, was his response to questions during an interview several weeks ago. I specifically asked him if he had used either marijuana or cocaine since becoming a public official in 1993, the year he was elected to the Homestead City Council. "I'm not going to go into that," he told me. He said he understands that as manager he should be held to a higher standard than other county employees, but he still refused to answer my questions.
On April 5 I reported that Shiver had been scheduled to take a drug test on one previous occasion, but he claimed he was forced to cancel it. The manager offered several explanations, some of them contradictory, for that cancellation. New Times then discovered Shiver actually had been scheduled to take his drug exam on three separate occasions -- February 27, March 15, and March 19 -- and each time the appointment was canceled.
In a memo last week to Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who questioned why Shiver had postponed his physical exam and drug test, the manager blamed his secretary, Hilda Suarez. "I never scheduled or rescheduled the appointments," he wrote.
The memo went on to state, "When I inquired about this, it was amusing to see that one reason Ms. Suarez rescheduled the physical was due in part to a lunch with the author of the New Times article you were influenced by."
Indeed I did dine with Shiver on February 27. He had called and asked if I wanted to meet over lunch. I said sure and let him pick the date. Why that would force him to cancel his appointment is beyond me. I'm also baffled as to why he would find that amusing.
At this point even if Shiver were to release the results of his drug screening, the information might not be definitive because 74 days passed between the time Mayor Alex Penelas announced Shiver's selection as manager and the day he finally provided a urine sample. According to Rhonda Smith, a medical assistant who oversees drug testing for Sunshine Medical Testing, evidence of cocaine ingestion remains in a person's system only three or four days; for marijuana the period typically is thirty days for a casual user and upward of sixty days for a regular user.
Time, however, will not diminish the questions regarding Shiver's past. Every day I receive more information about our new manager. While no one is asking if Shiver experimented with drugs in high school or college, I believe it is fair to ask if he has used marijuana or cocaine since being elected to public office. These are not baseless questions, and Shiver's response -- "I'm not going to get into that" -- just keeps the issue alive. Reneging on his pledge to release his drug test results only encourages doubt and suspicion.
The manager's handling of this issue is another example of his bumbling and inept management style. How long Penelas -- the man who recruited Shiver for the job -- allows this charade to continue will depend on how long it takes for Shiver's mess to spill over and sully the mayor.
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