BEST BUREAUCRAT 2002 | Merrett Stierheim | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
In a town where far too many public servants graduated from the school of corruption and incompetence, Merrett Stierheim stands out as a beacon in the darkness. Since 1959, when he began his career as an assistant manager with the City of Miami, Stierheim has kept an able hand on the tiller of our biggest and most complex governments, often called up on deck just as the ship was about to hit the rocks. By dint of his reputation as a fixer of big problems, he has become an almost mythic figure in his own lifetime. In 1967 he left for Florida's west coast but returned in 1976 to become Dade County's manager during a most difficult period (the Mariel boatlift, riots, cocaine cowboys) until his retirement in 1986. In the early Nineties Stierheim became Miami's chief cheerleader as president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Then in 1996, as the City of Miami faced a financial meltdown amid political scandal, Stierheim was coaxed out of his second retirement to become the pro bono city manager. In no time he discovered a $68 million shortfall in the city's general fund and led the beginning of a long recovery effort. In 1998 he was again tapped to become county manager as Miami-Dade reeled from scandals and corruption at the airport and the Port of Miami. He retired in early 2001 when it became clear Mayor Alex Penelas wanted a less independent and forceful manager. Stierheim kept himself busy through the spring and summer by becoming interim manager of newly incorporated Miami Lakes and leading another emergency recovery team through Homestead's shaky finances. In October 2001 Stierheim took on what is arguably his most challenging and important job yet -- superintendent of Miami-Dade County's mammoth public-school system. The school district is a magnified version of the bureaucracies Stierheim had wrestled with earlier: unwieldy, riddled with corruption, and filled with a demoralized workforce. But with the future of 370,000 children in his hands, the stakes are much higher. Stierheim has already begun to heal an ailing bureaucratic culture. Only time will tell whether he can successfully complete the job.
In Miami-Dade County, Steve Spratt was always a little shocking. Low-key, competent, respected -- what could be more shocking in a county employee? Spratt was not only thoroughly informed but able to relay that information without lying, obfuscating, or double-talking. He was a budget expert who wasn't afraid to call a scheme a scam. Surely it was too much to ask someone like Spratt to stick around forever. But he did last a remarkable 25 years at county hall before departing in December 2001 to become the Pinellas County administrator (their version of county manager). Now 47 years old, Spratt began his government career in 1976 as a lowly complaint-taker in the Dade County manager's office, eventually moving to budget director and finally to assistant county manager. Known for his directness and impartiality, Spratt did what he had to do, even if it meant recommending the suspension in 1999 of parks director Bill Cutie, who was later indicted in the famous "missing trees" caper, in which the county paid $1.6 million for 4200 palm trees that were never accounted for.

When Doug Yoder went to work for the county in February 1971 he was fresh out of Cornell University and full of youthful idealism. At the age of 24 he sincerely believed in the notion of public service. And guess what? Thirty-one years later he still does. Yoder has been with DERM since July 1977. In that time he has seen county managers and agency chiefs come and go, but he's still there, worrying about air pollution, water quality, and dump-site contamination while fielding citizen queries and complaints and serving on several national boards, including the Urban Consortium Environmental Task Force. Yoder is beginning to think about retirement in the next few years, but that does not mean he's slacking off. He returns phone calls, brown-bags his lunch, pays attention at boring budgetary meetings and hearings on airborne particulates, and recognizes that he is a servant of the taxpayers. Good man.
While many locals complain about the snarled traffic and incessant bridge openings, single women should know otherwise. Not all of the close to 150,000 people who descend on Miami are men, and not all are rich. But lots are. And they're here to let loose, have some fun, and spend some money. Stroll the marinas and convention center and oooh and ahhh at the gleaming vessels and the exorbitantly priced stuff that fills them. Your giddy, grinning neighbor is sure to fill you in on what he thinks about objets d'ark. And just about anything else -- silence is not socially acceptable here. Now you tell him where to go for a drink afterward. Or he'll tell you: "Hey, we found this great place on the water where you can watch more boats," and you'll pretend that Monty's is indeed a hidden gem. All you have to do now is move with the flow. Easy.

Despite his friendly, low-key manner, Ralph Delly isn't shy about repeating the raciest tidbits circulating in the New York and Miami Haitian communities. In fact it's probably because Delly is so likable that prominent people (mostly entertainment and media types) tell him things -- you know, things that really matter, such as how the size of one band member's member played a decisive role in his acquisition of a new girlfriend from another musician. But make no mistake, Delly dishes plenty of solid material you couldn't find anywhere else (in English, anyway). A band suffers persecution, for example, because it played years ago at a now-politically incorrect venue in Haiti. A songwriter's original compositions are repeatedly stolen by fellow musicians. A prominent Port-au-Prince radio personality decides to move to Miami to escape Haiti's instability. Only one problem, Delly confesses: He'll be mingling at a soiree and find some of his famous sources, worried their secrets may be revealed, clam up in his presence.
Old guy with a skeptical look and big horn-rims sitting in the last booth on the right at Enriqueta's on NE Second Avenue, rattling his newspaper, masticating his eggs, a magnet for fight and art fans throughout Miami, the Fight Doctor, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco. Remember him? For many years he worked Muhammad Ali's corner, through all the boxing classics -- the Thrilla in Manila, the Rumble in the Jungle, the Brawl for It All -- an era when sports-as-show-biz took off behind Ali and Don King's logorrhea, with the Fight Doctor bringing up the rear. To hear him today, after fifteen years on NBC, negotiating a seamless two-hour narrative with hardly a break for breath -- "Sherman's march to the sea, a jerk in Coconut Grove giving a historical-society reading, he doesn't want to admit what a racist bastard General Sherman was! How his 'total war' program in Georgia anticipated the Nazis, how America's policies have frequently been casuistic..." and demonstrating how "hustlers" such as Ali, King, and himself were using the culture's own hot-air tendencies as guerrilla tactics against the general bullshit -- is true instant replay. What's remarkable is that Pacheco had a stroke last year yet hasn't lost a mile off his fast ball. He's still grinding out books and paintings for mainstream and Little Havana consumption; still accepting speaking engagements; and would still beat the pants off HBO's boxing analyst Larry Merchant if Sumner Redstone at Viacom had enough sense to let him anchor the rival Showtime fight shows.

Behold the big yellow school buses unleashed on a racetrack designed for stock cars, running figure eights, nearly crashing into each other, dumping fluids and parts where they shouldn't. Fun for the whole family! It's an exhibition, not a competition, held every other month at one of Florida's oldest speedways. And for a mere fifteen bucks the energized crowd of thousands, most of whom were once carted off to school by those hulking monsters, can't get enough. Call for dates and times.
This superbly crafted sidearm is light enough for women and seniors, and it doesn't have the tremendous recoil of the old Colt blue-steel Army and Navy .45 models of yesteryear. Inspired by the great popularity of the Austrian Glock, it's a top seller in South Florida gunshops like Eagle Arms (14123 South Dixie Highway; 305-234-8446). At $763, without a box of ammo, it's not exactly cheap, but according to George Soler at Eagle Arms, the Mark 23 is safe to handle and a joy to use on the target range: "It's now the weapon of choice for the Special Forces and is seeing a lot of service in Afghanistan."

Our weather is no secret -- sun, sun, sun -- and our kids are used to it. Which is why they have a wardrobe consisting of shorts and cotton T-shirts rather than corduroy pants and wool sweaters. But Magic City munchkins can still get a cold-weather chill if they head up to North Miami and the only regulation-size ice-skating rink in town. Chances are it'll be a new experience for them, but with role models like Miami Olympian Jennifer Rodriguez, who made the switch from Rollerblades to ice skates, they may already be gung-ho. The arena staff offers lessons (group and individual) for all levels, from beginners to budding figure-skating stars. Hockey lessons too. And hockey leagues. And rental skates. And infrequent but regular free skating. And some of the coldest air conditioning in the subtropics on a hot and muggy summer afternoon. Call for rates and hours of operation.
Hurling a household object at your wife + cavorting with tawdry Latin bombshells = successful re-election.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®