Whether dodging bullets in the deserts of Iraq or while training–then good guy–Hugo Chavez in the jungles of Venezuela as Army Airborne Lieutenant Colonel Battalion Commander, retired City of Miami Police Department Major Hector Mirabile, had seen quite a bit of the world and its unwieldy ways before becoming city manager of South Miami nearly two years ago. Nonetheless the city appears to be holding its own as yet another, at times, inhospitable place, where the natives often run amuck and need some serious counseling.
A counselor and advisor to five different bosses, Mirabile somehow manages to balance his charge as city leader and executor of the will of the people while maintaining a crisp and unfettered look, like the well starched collars of his classic pastel Ralph Lauren dress shirts.
“When you have five supervisors, the public, then you have the business people and the developers, you then have the hospitals, and everyone wants a piece of the action, the ultimate end state is ‘what is in the best interests of the people,’” said Mirabile who also holds a doctorate in Organizational Development from the College of Business and Technology at Capella University.
Determining what is in the best interests of the city is a delicate dance according to Mirabile. “This position has taught me the brutalities of being a manager with all of the competing interests. To sing Kumbaya together is kind of naïve but for heaven’s sake can we please just get along with one decision and move forward? And I am not just talking about my elected officials, I’m talking about everybody. It is very hard to get all the energies and synergies moving in one direction. When something happens that is positive, I almost want to do a jig around here; we finally got something moving.”
Yet Mirabile appears to have mastered an almost Captain Spockian dispassionate approach as the city’s head honcho which serves him well when dealing with sticky politics, downsizing challenges, and the inevitability of at times becoming unpopular. “I try to stay away from politics but inherent with the job are some politics. My job is to be fair and impartial and provide the true dynamics of reality, at least from my eyes; that is what managers are supposed to be able to do. When the decisions I make are unpopular, I cannot take the backlash personally. I have to be like granite, but I tell you it hurts.”
South Miami is a more traditional commission/manager city charter relationship according to Mirabile whereby the position of mayor is two-fold. The mayor holds an honorary title and as such reads proclamations and does much in the way of ribbon cutting and ceremonial dirt shoveling. He is also commission meeting director and has some administrative powers and one vote on the dais.
“I am the only one allowed to cross over and talk to them about ideas. I cannot be used as a conduit between them but I can talk about my ideas and get input from each one of them to see if it might work and be in the best interests of the city. They are the elected officials, I just work here, said Mirabile.”
Working to improve the bottom line has meant some lay-offs and outsourcing to help reduce his inherited seven point millage or taxable rate and bring it down to the current 4.667 percent (including garbage fees). “If we are not a transforming organization we become an ordinary legacy city and in today’s economy those are not sustainable. The taxpayer cannot pay and I put myself in the position of taxpayer. I don’t believe taxpayers should be saddled with so much overhead.”
Although possible additional taxes almost stalled the Murray Pool proposal, Mirabile is optimistic that it will finally happen for South Miami. “The whole pool team, I have a pool team, is saying ‘finally we got some traction’ and believe me we are as frustrated as everybody else because we like to do. I am an action kind of guy. I’m not a bureaucrat, give me a project and get out of my way. I don’t need people telling me how to build a pool. I don’t even know how to build a pool, that’s why I hired people to design and build a pool. But don’t get in the middle of our way because all you do is obfuscate the situation, slow down the process, and then we lose the money.”
Although getting another extension on the federal and county grant funding of over one million dollars slated for the Murray Pool is still uncertain, one can see the Mason in Mirabile and the lover of esoteric literature in his philosophical take on loss. “There are only two things in life that you are guaranteed, you were born and you are going to die, everything else is just a maybe.”