New County Manager Shiver is to take over Feb. 15
By Nik Robinson
Miami-Dade's new county manager will start work Feb. 14 after a divided county commission voted 8-5 Tuesday to confirm Homestead Mayor Steve Shiver despite concerns about public interpretation of his political background and administrative inexperience.
Mr. Shiver's starting date allows outgoing manager Merrett Stierheim one more commission meeting on the job.
"To be in haste to say goodbye to the experience that can be brought to the table is not good for us," said Commissioner Natacha Seijas.
Mr. Stierheim has played a critical role on several key issues facing the commission and still pending, including a referendum on a $1.5 billion general obligation bond for infrastructure, a possible aviation authority, hiring a Miami International Airport director and the future of the closed Homestead Air Force Base.
The outgoing manager will remain on the county payroll through a March 15 retirement date. Mr. Stierheim may also continue to work on projects beyond that, according to Mayor Alex Penelas.
Some commissioners said they were troubled by Mr. Shiver's recent job as an elected official who had to solicit donations and favors to campaign. Although no one said they expected Mr. Shiver to favor former donors, some said they feared the public perception.
"No amount of saying otherwise erases that doubt that the public has," said Commissioner Jimmy Morales, a supporter of campaign finance reform.
Mr. Shiver said he is working to divest his business interests.
"If there is any issue I feel uncomfortable with, I will ask the ethics commission to make a ruling," he said.
Commissioners are expected to set Mr. Shiver's salary on Feb. 13, retroactive from his date of confirmation. Mr. Penelas recommended a $165,000 salary.
Last week, just after Mayor Penelas announced Shiver's nomination for county manager rumors, accusations and serious questions arose from community leaders.
When commissioners were faced Tuesday with Mr. Shiver's confirmation, they set upon the mayor and his nominee like a firing squad. By the end of the interrogation, commissioners said they were impressed with the way the nominee ultimately confirmed 8-5 conducted himself.
"There are rumors," said Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who ultimately voted against his confirmation. "I want to get them on the record so we can dispel them and get your answers."
"Did the mayor ask you for an unsigned letter of resignation?" one commissioner asked, touching upon the idea that Mr. Penelas plans to move toward a strong mayor form of government that would render the manager's position obsolete.
"No," Mr. Shiver responded. "I am not going to jeopardize the professional stature I have developed in my life."
Commissioner Dennis Moss addressed the nominee about a concern some county observers have expressed that he would be obedient solely to the mayor's wishes.
"I am not looking for a county manager who is going to be a puppet and do the bidding of the county's mayor," Mr. Moss said.
Mr. Shiver responded quickly and directly: "If I had even an inclination I was going to be a puppet, I would not be standing before you now. There are no conditions placed on my position as county manager by Mayor Penelas.
"When I am viewed as a puppet, I guess my strings get a little tight," he said.
Still, the tough questions kept coming.
Commissioners addressed rumors that, if confirmed, Mr. Shiver would cut directors' jobs.
"It would be extremely short-sighted, extremely unwise and absolutely ridiculous to think I would come into a position and cut all my help that is going to make me successful," he said.
"I have not said I would cut salaries. I am not going to come in and gut a system that a man like Merrett Stierheim has put in place to put professionalism back in government."
Several commissioners expressed reservations about Mr. Shiver taking on an administrative role that includes overseeing 28,000 employees and serving 2.2 million residents.
"I feel we don't need a trainee on the job right now," Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler. "I am confused. How we can go from someone with strong professional experience to someone with none or little?"
Homestead employs about 400, Mr. Shiver said, but he plays a minimal administrative role. His private-sector experience involves three firms a construction company, a security operation and a real estate agency which together employ about 55.
Mr. Shiver was also born and raised in Homestead. His father was a Florida City commissioner, first elected in 1960.
Mr. Penelas was asked why he chose someone with such limited administrative experience.
"I thought bringing someone from the outside who would take a new, bolder, fresher look at the way we run the government would be healthy for this government," he said.
Several commissioners questioned Mr. Penelas' decision of bringing forth one candidate without conducting a national search.
"There are many challenges in this community," Ms. Sorenson said. "We deserve the best this nation has to offer. You have held up well under my questioning but I still have some concerns."
Mr. Penelas said he resented the onslaught of questions.
"I am sick and tired of answering all of these rumors and innuendoes," he said.
In the end, Mr. Shiver was confirmed 8-5, with Commissioners Barbara M. Carey-Shuler, Morales, Natacha Seijas, Ms. Sorenson and Mr. Moss opposing.