Alvarez pledges to tighten up the county's ship
By Dan Dolan
Do your job or find another one.
That's Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez' no-nonsense message to the county's 30,000 employees as he undergoes a transition from ceremonial head of state to all-powerful CEO of a $6.9 billion-a-year organization bigger than most of the world's national governments.
And don't think it's hot air and political posturing, government insiders said this week. County executives who know him well say Mr. Alvarez is crusading for cleaner, more efficient government and will settle for nothing less
"It's all about performance," Mr. Alvarez said Monday. "You have to perform. Actions always speak louder than words. If you don't perform, I have no tolerance. You'll need to get another job."
Mr. Alvarez also made it clear that there's no reign of terror lurking over the horizon. He doesn't intend to chop jobs and department heads with the aplomb of a 1990s corporate raider. He has known for 20 years or more most of the 66 department managers who now work for him. He insisted that "everyone starts with a clean slate and no preconceived notions."
In the first weeks since assuming all the administrative authority and day-to-day responsibilities once held by the appointed county manager, Mr. Alvarez has directed department heads to submit detailed operational reports. He's also held a series of executive briefings outlining his management philosophy.
"I expect my managers to lead by example," said Mr. Alvarez, who spent 28 years as a county employee, rising through the ranks from patrolman to director of Miami-Dade's 5,000-member police force. "You can't ask people to do what you're not willing to do — work long hours, nights and weekends."
He said he expects managers to pay attention to detail. While he said he doesn't micromanage, he conceded he likes to be on top of things and expects his staff to do the same.
"When I call, they've got to have the answer," Mr. Alvarez said. "I delegate, but I want feedback. I don't delegate and forget. When I call, you better have the answer."
His goal is efficiency, not power or obedience, he said. Government insiders say Mr. Alvarez is direct but gentle in his treatment of subordinates. They said he invites constructive criticism from his staff and views that differ from his own analysis. Before making a decision, Mr. Alvarez said, he likes to read executive summaries and have oral briefings.
He'll dive into details, including financial statements, as the situation requires, he said.
"If need be, I'll get briefed in the minutia, but I don't think it's my role to get into the small details," said Mr. Alvarez, who holds a degree in business administration from Florida International University. "I have to know what's going on, but I'll depend on my directors to make many decisions. I'm an expert in public safety, not aviation or the seaport. I'm not going to tell my managers how to handle things when it will hinder their operations."
Mr. Alvarez, appointed police director in 1997, said he learned one golden rule of management as a rookie cop — "never assume anything.
"You've got to handle each situation as it comes and make sure you're aware of all the information surrounding a decision," he said. "Then, make your decision."
Even though county insiders characterize him as a decisive leader and professional manager, the mayor said he isn't immune from self-doubt and the quiet fear of failure.
"You have those kind of thoughts when you're alone," he said.
Mr. Alvarez said he mulled his decisions after winning the mayor's job two years ago. He said he questioned his vision again just a few weeks before the Jan. 23 charter-change election that gave him the broad executive powers he currently holds.
"Toward the end of that campaign, I was thinking, "Am I really doing the right thing? Am I off-base? Am I proposing something that's really to the detriment of the county?'" Mr. Alvarez said. "I talked to a couple of friends of mine who've know me since high school. They don't care that I'm the mayor. In fact, they don't understand why I'm doing it. We talked about the issue. They had no agenda but felt I was right. That reassured me."
He said he chased away the doubts and butterflies the same way he always does — by working hard and focusing on tasks that remain undone.
"As people who work for the public, we have to do the best possible job every day of the week," Mr. Alvarez said. "We have to make sure we're as efficient as we can be and that we don't repeat mistakes. There will always be issues. But the bottom line is delivery of service. It's all about accountability, performance and delivering excellence."
County employees should consider themselves warned, government insiders say.