The September 11 terrorist attacks bought Steve Shiver time to save his job as county manager
Steve Satterwhite

The $400 Million Santa

Last week Mayor Alex Penelas gave his favorite county manager a hearty pat on the back. "This is a good, tangible example of what I've been saying for a long time -- that the manager's doing a good job," Penelas told the Herald. "I don't think Steve is getting the credit he deserves."

The manager Penelas is talking about is Steve Shiver, and the tangible example is an expedited bid program that enabled the county to award $400 million worth of contracts in a 30-day period. The expedited program was the brainchild of Penelas, who hopes the millions in spending will jumpstart the local economy .

When Penelas first proposed a "fast-track" approach to awarding contracts, many observers were afraid it would create a system whereby the mayor's friends and political supporters would be handed most of the deals. The county's inspector general, however, last week declared the expedited process a success. "It actually turned out pretty darned good," noted Christopher Mazzella. "I'm pleased with what happened."

Only in Miami-Dade County do we compliment and praise people for not being corrupt. The fact that Shiver didn't mishandle or try to steer contracts to a select group of lobbyists during this particular 30-day period is apparently cause for celebration. And in Penelas's mind it offers vindication for his ridiculous selection of Shiver as county manager.

Let's be clear about something. This 30-day process was the most scrutinized in recent memory. Every selection-committee meeting was tape-recorded and monitored by representatives of the County Attorney's Office and the Inspector General's Office. The press was watching. The county commission was watching. The State Attorney's Office was watching.

Here's the problem with all that scrutiny. It wasn't necessary.

Penelas and Shiver were doling out $400 million worth of work, which meant there was enough money being spread around to keep everybody happy. The trough was so enormous that all the pigs could get their snouts into it.

Shiver and Penelas only play games with the selection process when there is a small amount of work and lots of companies vying to do it. For instance, if there is only one lucrative contract and five companies want it, then it's Shiver's job to make sure the deal is steered to the firm with the best political connections and the most influential lobbyists.

But in the case of the 30-day program, the county literally had hundreds and hundreds of contracts to award. Everyone, whether they were politically connected or not, was walking away happy.

The happiest person, though, is undoubtedly Shiver. The $400 million spending is intended to help offset the area's economic problems, which were worsened by the terrorist attacks of September 11. Prior to September 11, Shiver was on the verge of being fired. Commissioners Joe Martinez and Gwen Margolis, both initially supporters of Shiver, started publicly expressing their dismay with the manager. A growing number of commissioners were angry over Shiver's efforts last summer to hoodwink them into giving a nine-million-dollar computer software contract to Oracle, a company represented by Rodney Baretto, a lobbyist and major fundraiser for both Penelas and Shiver. (Shiver is still trying to find a way to slip that contract past commissioners.)

The terrorist attacks diverted the commission's attention away from Shiver. But he still has problems and it won't be long before commissioners start scrutinizing the manager with new vigor. One area that should concern commissioners is the fact that the manager's executive assistant, Tom David, is under investigation for destroying a public record.

As I noted several weeks ago, David destroyed an e-mail that, if made public, might have proved embarrassing to him. I had requested a copy of that e-mail through the state's public-records law, only to be told that it no longer existed. Destruction of public records is a crime in the State of Florida. New Times has learned that both the State Attorney's Office and the public-corruption unit of the Miami-Dade Police Department have now opened their own investigation of David's actions.

Shiver may be politically cunning and deceitful, but he isn't bright. And he proves it on a regular basis. Shiver loves sending out long e-mail pep talks to the county's 28,000 employees. His desire is to boost employee morale, which is laudable. The problem with his missives, however, is that they appear to be written by someone who dropped out of school in sixth grade. His grammar is awful. His spelling is atrocious. And his limited vocabulary is the obvious product of a weak mind.

Rather than inspiring the county's work force, Shiver's notes draw ridicule. County employees regularly send me copies, with all the manager's mistakes circled and highlighted.

In an August 31 e-mail, he told employees they should not "loose site of the things" that make the county great. He noted the hotel occupancy rate is the "fifth most highest" in the country. And that folks from around the world view Miami as "a place to visit and recreate." (As in, Jethro, let's recreate down by the cement pond.)

"Every time I receive one of these e-mails, I'm embarrassed," one county employee told me. "I keep asking myself, “How can someone this dumb become county manager?'"

The most disturbing aspect of Shiver's country-bumpkin e-mails aren't the misspellings and run-on sentences but the fact that he doesn't ask anyone to proofread his memos before he sends them out. It shows an inability to recognize his own weaknesses and is indicative of a brand of arrogance that is extremely dangerous.

Shiver has survived within county hall because Merrett Stierheim left behind a talented team of assistant county managers who perform the actual day-to-day work of the government. They acted as a safety net for Shiver. Slowly, however, these people are beginning to leave. Unwilling to work in the environment of sleaze that Shiver has established on the 29th floor, they are looking for new jobs in other cities.

Perhaps they didn't get his e-mail about Miami being a great place to recreate. Then again, maybe they did.


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