Steve Shiver — the former Homestead mayor whom county auditors lambasted for squandering millions of dollars that was supposed to go toward rebuilding the city after Hurricane Andrew — is Opa-locka’s new city manager.
After a five-hour meeting interviewing nine candidates, the commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday afternoon to install Shiver, 49, as manager.
“It was almost a no-brainer,” said Opa-locka Commissioner Terence Pinder, highlighting Shiver’s past experience as a Miami-Dade County manager and Homestead mayor and councilman.
“It wasn’t very hard to see who the front-runner should be,” he added.
But what the Opa-locka commissioners didn’t talk about was how Shiver was nailed in a county audit for misusing county and city funds in a series of bad business deals connected to the city’s political elite. And they didn’t mention how he was part of an investment group that purchased a beloved Wild West theme park in the mountains of North Carolina, which the investors took into bankruptcy.
When he left Homestead to become the county manager significant financial concerns were revealed,” said former Homestead Vice Mayor Steve Losner. “It was under his watch.”
Shiver was initially elected to the Homestead Council in 1993 at 27. Four years later he was elected mayor. He was reelected as mayor in 1999 to another two-year term. In 2001, then County Mayor Alex Penelas appointed Shiver as county manager.
Nearly a decade before that, Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in August 1992, devastating Homestead and south Miami-Dade. To rebuild Homestead, the city and Miami-Dade County created a community redevelopment agency (CRA) to develop new homes and jobs and to banish the blighted areas. The agency generated tax revenues of more than $2 million a year.
Homestead received more than $30 million in county, city and other revenues through Sept. 30, 2008.
A 2010 county audit revealed millions of these taxpayer dollars — to be used to regenerate Homestead — were mismanaged. The county audit tore into the city’s dealings with Shiver, who played an active role in multiple ill-fated ventures. When Shiver left the Homestead council and county manager’s post, he became a developer’s representative and property owner who went before the Homestead ncouncil with land deals.
“While monies were spent on approved projects, reported accomplishments were distorted and misleading,” wrote Cathy Johnson, of the county’s audit department, in the 2010 report.
In 2007, Shiver convinced the Homestead CRA to pay a company affiliated with him $1.9 million for 4.2 acres of depressed real estate known as the “shotgun property.” The name stemmed from the small, rundown “shotgun-style” homes on the property. The audit found the price of the homes was above market value, the houses were demolished and the land was never developed.
The CRA borrowed the money from Homestead to purchase the land and planned to repay the loan with proceeds from another property — a rundown bowling alley, which wasn’t in the district of the redevelopment agency.
Shiver, representing an investment firm, offered the city $500,000 for the bowling alley property, which was appraised at $2.6 million in 2012. After taxpayers complained, Shiver and the firm dropped the bid. As of 2014, the bowling alley was vacant and rat infested — and the agency did not get the money back to repay Homestead for the loan it took out to buy the shotgun property.
“We did things that were exactly what the city wanted to do at the time,” Shiver said Wednesday in an interview with the Miami Herald.
By 2006, Shiver left Homestead and headed to the mountains of western North Carolina and Maggie Valley. He and his investors purchased a nearly 50-year-old amusement park called Ghost Town in the Sky. By 2009, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with more than $13 million in debt amassed under their ownership, including $10.5 million owed to BB&T. During their ownership, the roller coaster and drop tower failed to pass state inspections and were deemed a safety hazard. They also did not shut off the water when closing the park, leading the pipes to freeze, according to an article in SmokyMountainNews.com
In 2012, Alaska Presley, one of the original investors, bought the bank note for $1.5 million. She has been refurbishing the park, with plans to reopen it in 2016, according to the park’s website.
Shiver defended the investment in Ghost Town.
“I was hired by a group of investors,’’ he said. “I did what I was asked to do. Did I run the park into debt? Absolutely not. The park was already in a precarious position. The entire economy went through challenges. We were victims of that as well.”
Shiver will have his own challenges in running Opa-locka.
The city has an estimated $500,000 in debt. Multiple employees have left, including former manager Kelvin Baker and former finance director Susan Gooding-Liburd. Just this week, an Opa-locka police major was arrested and charged with DUI after crashing a city-issued vehicle through a fence and into a popular jogging path in Aventura.
Shiver said he is looking forward to the challenge.
Mayor Myra Taylor, along with commissioners Luis Santiago and Terence Pinder, supported Shiver. He was chosen from among nine applicants.
“He seemed to have more experience with county and local government sides,” Taylor said. “That really impressed us because he knows both sides of the street.”