MIAMI HERALD

County crisis chief loses his job
Shiver refers to 'breakdown'
BY KARL ROSS
kross@herald.com

Two days after what witnesses described as a ''caustic'' exchange with his superiors, Miami-Dade County's top emergency manager, Chuck Lanza, was ousted Thursday as director of the county's emergency operations center.

''I've accepted his resignation as the director of emergency management,'' County Manager Steve Shiver said. ``I respect Chuck, but this time of crisis is not the time to have this kind of a breakdown.''

A press release announcing Lanza's replacement, Assistant Fire-Rescue Chief Carlos Castillo, stated Lanza ''resigned from county service.'' Shiver later said he was prepared to keep Lanza on the county payroll in some other capacity.

Lanza, who has coordinated the county's disaster-response efforts for the past seven years, offered his resignation during a dispute with other county officials Tuesday on preparations for the Orange Alert declared before the war with Iraq began.

Sources who attended Tuesday's closed-door session say Lanza began to laugh out loud when Shiver offered his assurance to those present that the county was fully equipped to deal with a major terrorist attack.

County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who convened the meeting to discuss Lanza's security concerns, described it as a ''bad moment'' for Lanza.

During the meeting, Lanza removed his glasses and said he would have to resign his post to share his unvarnished opinion about shortcomings in the county's terrorism-response plan.

Lanza was particularly concerned about the county's lack of a written plan for coordination with its cities. Several city officials recently said they shared his concern.

On Thursday, Shiver's chief of staff, Tom David, summoned Lanza to his office for a 2 p.m. meeting. He handed Lanza a memo saying Shiver accepted his resignation and told the veteran manager he had been terminated.

Shiver, who signed the memo, was not present at the meeting.

A source familiar with events said Lanza balked at the implication that he offered to resign as a county employee altogether and left the memo on David's desk. Lanza declined to comment after exiting the meeting.

When asked about the meeting, David, who often handles high-level county personnel moves, said: ``I have no idea what you're talking about.''

Shiver later said it was ''unclear'' to him whether Lanza tendered his outright resignation Tuesday.

In the presence of a reporter, he questioned the recollections of two of his public safety advisors, Assistant County Manager Samuel Williams and police Cmdr. Frank Vecin.

Both were present during Tuesday's blow-up, and both said they recalled Lanza stated he was offering his resignation only as emergency management director.

Shiver said late Thursday that Lanza asked to remain with the county and would discuss finding a new position within the county's Fire-Rescue Department with Chief Charles Phillips.

Miami's top emergency official, Assistant Fire Chief Joe Fernández, lamented Lanza's departure.

''It's a loss for the entire community,'' Fernández said. ``His knowledge and his skills will be missed.''

He credited Lanza with navigating a complex federal bureaucracy to bring the county grant money for a bioterrorism response team.

Fernández said Lanza was one of those rare public officials who could transcend his own agency and bring together officials from a multitude of disciplines.

''And that's something we're going to need more than ever if there's a major terrorist incident,'' he said.

Earlier this year, Lanza was recognized by his peers as the top emergency manager in the state. Widely admired by his colleagues, he has been the county's top disaster relief official since August 1995.

Steve Glass, executive director of the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association, recently praised Lanza as the ``epitome of the kind of people we want running emergency operation offices in all of our counties.''

But in the past year, Lanza had been passed over for two promotions, including fire-rescue chief, and saw his plans to build a Homeland Security Division within his department come unglued after a turf war with county police officials.

Law enforcement sources said they didn't believe a fire-rescue official like Lanza could be trusted to handle classified criminal intelligence.

Sources said Lanza had clashed with police brass on at least two occasions, first over how to respond to the post-Sept. 11 anthrax scare and more recently over the failure of police to brief his office about the arrest of three suspected terrorists along Alligator Alley.

Lanza's second in command at the Office of Emergency Management was a finalist to lead the county's homeland security office. But it was announced Tuesday that the job had been awarded to Joseph Piñón, a former police officer.