Miami's Five Worst City and County Managers Who Prove Merrett Stierheim Wrong
Over the weekend, Miami Commissioner
Francis Suarez revealed he is entertaining the idea of eliminating
the city manager's position in favor of the strong mayor form of
government. His proposal, which would require voter approval to
change the city charter, makes sense because it gives residents one
top elected official to hold accountable. Let's not forget voters
gave Carlos Alvarez strong mayor powers over Miami-Dade County
government and then recalled him when he failed to deliver.
According to the Miami Herald, ultimate
bureaucrat Merrett Stierheim, who served two stints as county manager
and was briefly interim city manager in 1996, is no fan of strong
mayors: "You may elect a mayor with a bad moral compass, and you're
stuck with him. A manager generally runs for office every day."
With all due respect to Stierheim -- who helped the city emerge from insolvency in the mid-1990s and whose
career was largely untainted by scandal -- there have been several
top administrators who lacked a moral compass and respect for
taxpayers. Here's Banana Republican's list of the worst city and
5. George Burgess, county manager (2003-2011)
Career low: While never indicted for any crimes, Burgess' tenure was marked with one embarrassing scandal after another. He was brought in by former Mayor Alex Penelas to clean up the mess left behind the woefully unqualified Steve Shiver. Yet under Burgess's watch, the federal government took over the county's housing agency following the Miami Herald investigative series "House of Lies." The feds also suspended $182 million in grants to the Miami-Dade Transit Agency after an audit concluded the county had failed to document how the money was being spent, among other problems. Although Burgess was arguably baseball mogul Jeffrey Loria's best pinch hitter, engineering the boondoggle Marlins stadium deal that is now the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.
Annual public salary: $345,515
Pension: None. But the 53-year-old former county executive did receive a half-a-million dollar severance package and health insurance for himself and his family until he is 65.
4. Joe Arriola, city manager (2003 - 2006)
Career low: A self-made millionaire brought in by
then-Mayor Manny Diaz to run the city like a business, the combative
Arriola quickly found out that local government is nothing like the
private sector. He signed off on the ill-advised illegal fire fee
settlement that paid $7 million to just seven people instead of
80,000 taxpayers. The fiasco ended up eroding Diaz's faith in Arriola
and eventually cost prominent Miami attorney Hank Adorno his law
license for six months. As questions over the settlement spread like
wild fire, it was also discovered that Arriola had partnered with
Diaz and then-city Commissioner Johnny Winton to purchase a property
in Coconut Grove for $3.1 million. Arriola put down $400,000.
None of them reported the deal, which was a conflict of interest, but only Diaz and
Winton had to pay fines to the Miami-Dade ethics commission.
Annual public salary: $245,000. Although he only kept ten bucks and donated the rest to the United Way.
3. Donald Warshaw, city manager (1998 - 2000)
Career low: In 2001, he pled guilty to stealing $70,000 from the children's charity he founded and chaired while he was Miami's police chief and city manager, respectively. It was an epic fall for Warshaw, who presented himself as a crusading reformer when then-Mayor Joe Carrollo appointed him in 1998. Carrollo canned him in 2000 over Warshaw's refusal to fire the police chief at the time.
Months later, investigators arrested him for charging $86,563 in personal expenses on credit card accounts belonging to the police pension fund and Do The Right Thing, a city-funded non-profit that teaches poor children the virtues of being honest. Between 1993 and 1999, he used the charity to support a lavish lifestyle for himself and his younger mistress that included tickets to Florida Panthers hockey games, dinners at swanky restaurants like Joe's Stone Crab, and shopping sprees at fancy department store Lord & Taylor's. Warshaw was sentenced to a year in federal prison.
Annual public salary: $138,000
Pension: None. Warsaw forfeited his yearly $128,800 pension as result of his criminal charges.
2. Sergio Pereira, county manager (1986 - 1988)
Career low: In 1987, he was indicted in the national-headline-grabbing "hot suits" criminal probe. Pereira - who succeeded Stierheim after his first go-around as county head honcho - was slapped with three felony theft charges for buying stolen designer suits from a cut-rate clothier. Emeterio Marino-Pijeira sold famous-label duds to public officials, police officers, even a state prosecutor, from a Miami duplex, but Pereira was the only one to get popped.He was suspended, but quickly reinstated when the charges were dropped 40 days after his arrest.
However, in 1988, Miami-Dade's first Cuban American county manager was forced to resign as a result of another scandal. A Miami Herald investigation uncovered a developer had included Pereira as a partner in 1985 land deal when he was an assistant county manager. After the county commission rezoned the property, Pereira and his partners flipped it for a $608,000 profit. He personally made $127,878 without investing a penny. Despite federal authorities opening a criminal inquiry, Pereira was never criminally charged for his sweetheart deal.
Annual public salary: $114,000
1. Cesar Odio, city manager (1985-1996)
Career low: In July 1996, Odio was caught on tape by government snitch and former friend Manohar Surana counting out 30 $100 bills in his city office. Odio complained he was expecting five grand; payola to buy himself a sweet Rolex watch. The money was Odio's first cut from a monthly $12,500 kickback he was splitting with Surana and lobbyist Jorge De Cardenas. Except it was all set-up by the F.B.I in the biggest public corruption probe in Miami history. Odio was charged on multiple counts of embezzlement and a lone charge of obstruction of justice. He pled guilty to the latter crime and served a one-year prison term. Oh, and the corruption under Odio's watchful greedy eye plunged the city into a $68 million deficit.
Annual public salary: $116,900
Pension: $58,166 per year.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.