The Fall Guy

Robert Nachlinger is angry. "I've invested sixteen years in this community," he tells me. "I have a reputation that I built up, and Steve Shiver is trying to destroy it. I've worked too damn long to have Steve Shiver decide he is going to pick me as his scapegoat to blame everything on. It is personally hurtful. Whatever blame I deserve, I'll take, no question. But I'm certainly not to blame for everything that went on down there."

"Down there" is Homestead, where Nachlinger was municipal finance director from January 1998 to June 2000. The city is now on the brink of a financial meltdown, facing a $14- to $20-million deficit that may leave it unable to pay its bills or meet its payroll through the end of the year.

Homestead's collapse is extremely embarrassing for Shiver, who was first elected to its city council in 1993 and became mayor in 1997. This January when Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas selected Shiver to become county manager, he cited Shiver's hands-on, day-to-day experience in governing Homestead as the primary reason he was qualified for the job. But when Homestead's financial problems became public in May, Shiver quickly tried to distance himself from the mess. "It didn't happen on my watch," he had the gall to declare. "I was one of seven people who governed that city."

Shiver has tried to pin the city's problems on Nachlinger. "He's been trying to set me up," Nachlinger charges. "It's apparent to me that the current county manager has decided he cannot allow himself to receive any of the blame for Homestead."

The 54-year-old Nachlinger is currently an assistant city manager for finance with the City of Miami. On Friday, July 6, Nachlinger's boss, Miami City Manager Carlos Gimenez, told Nachlinger he needed to address the growing concerns over his role in Homestead. "He said I needed to do something to make sure my side of the story gets out or else he would have to consider asking for my resignation," Nachlinger says. "And I told him he wouldn't have to ask me, because I do care about what happens to the City of Miami. If my being there is going to hurt the city's recovery, I'm going to leave. He won't have to ask me to resign. I'll leave. The financial health of the city is much more important than I am, and I truly believe that."

But before it comes to that, Nachlinger wants a chance to fight back. This past Sunday, as we sit in the living room of his Pinecrest home, Nachlinger hands me a 60-page report he had prepared over the previous 48-hours. It includes graphs, charts, news clippings, memos, and other material designed to argue that his efforts to correct many of the city's problems were met with resistance from Shiver and the city council. "There was a culture in the City of Homestead of living beyond its means," he wrote in the report.

Nachlinger says whenever he discussed his worries with Shiver or the council, he was ignored. "It's not that they weren't informed," he asserts. "They were clearly informed." In retrospect, he admits, he should have gone public with the city's problems: "I should have stood up and said as loud as I could: “No, this isn't right. Don't do this.' I should have done that."

Why didn't he? "Because it was never going to help," he answers. "There was going to be no change." The council exhibited no political will to rein in spending. "I still should have done it," he repeats. "And I'll absolutely take the responsibility for not doing that."

Nachlinger charges that Shiver, as mayor of Homestead, was more interested in financially helping his friends than protecting the city's interests. Soon after arriving in Homestead, Nachlinger says, he grew troubled by the city's banking practices; it maintained more than 30 accounts at various financial institutions. Furthermore the city's banking services were never put out for competitive bidding. Nachlinger says he developed a request for proposals in hopes of having just one bank handle the city's business. After all the proposals had been received, Nachlinger recommended Barnett Bank based on the fact that the city would save between $50,000 and $100,000 per year in fees. (Barnett later merged with NationsBank, which later merged with Bank of America.)

Robert Epling, president of the Community Bank of Homestead, was vehemently opposed to the proposal, which was understandable since his institution held many of the city's accounts. Nachlinger recalls that when he tried respond to Epling's attack during a city council meeting, Shiver refused to let him speak and motioned for him to remain seated.

Why did Shiver do this? Because, Nachlinger ventures, he sits on Community Bank's board of directors and is a long-time friend of Epling. "I think they're joined at the hip," he quips.

During that council meeting Shiver "participated in the discussion and made it very clear he wanted to throw out the entire process," Nachlinger recounts. "Then he declared a conflict and didn't vote." Obviously, Nachlinger adds, if a conflict of interest existed, Shiver never should have participated in the debate.

Steve Shiver certainly wasn't the sole cause of Homestead's problems, Nachlinger allows. Other council members are culpable as well. For example, the city lost more than eight million dollars on a council-approved sweetheart deal with Wayne Huizenga over the Homestead Motorsports Complex. And according to Nachlinger, the council continues to spend too much money on its police department. That isn't surprising, he says, since the current city manager, Curtis Ivy, is the former police chief; the current mayor, Roscoe Warren, has a sister on the police force; and Councilman Nick Sincore's son is also a police officer.

Nachlinger says Shiver is in a panic over Homestead. His sources within the city administration tell him the county manager is calling Ivy three or four times each day. "He knows he has such little credibility right now that it is not going to take much for the county commission to say they've had enough of him," Nachlinger reports. "He is in so far over his head he cannot even see the surface."

Nachlinger sighs. "This isn't my style," he says, referring to his criticism of Shiver. But then he adds, "I should have done this a month ago."