City of Miami finance director Stephen Petty resigned on Tuesday, one week after The Miami Herald reported that he had been hired without meeting the minimum job qualifications of being a CPA or having experience in local government.
City Manager Johnny Martinez said he had not spoken with Petty and did not know why he was leaving. “It probably wasn’t a good fit for him,” Martinez said. “He’s been under a lot of pressure.”
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said “personal reasons” were to blame.
But Commission Chairman Francis Suarez said Petty was forced out after questions surfaced about his hiring. “One of our most critical departments was being run by someone who was fired for not having the right qualifications,” Suarez said. “That’s a huge concern to me.”
Petty, whose annual salary was $135,000, could not reached for comment Tuesday. His assistant said he would no longer be available at his city office.
Last week, The Herald reported that Petty was one of 18 city employees hired since 2010 despite not meeting the minimum qualifications for their job. Many of the employees were department directors or high-level staffers.
Petty lacked the requisite experience and credentials for the No. 2 position in the finance department, city records show. He did, however, have a connection to Miami’s chief financial officer Janice Larned: Petty’s brother, John, is Larned’s long-time business partner.
Larned penned the memo requesting the job qualifications be waived for Petty’s hire. She did not return calls from The Herald Tuesday or last week.
Petty’s departure comes at a precarious time for the city.
As finance director, Petty was a key member of the team trying to float a $45 million bond issue before the end of the year. The city needs the money by January, when it must pay off a short-term bank loan that financed its share of the PortMiami tunnel dig.
City officials have said they must hustle if they want to finish a major bond issue in just three months, and admit that any distractions would be problematic.
Former Assistant City Manager Frank Rollason said the credit rating agencies would take note of the finance director’s exit. “Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, they look at these kind of shenanigans,” Rollason said.
Regalado, however, said Petty’s resignation would not affect the bond issue.
Both Regalado and Martinez said they were confident in Larned’s ability to manage the department until a new finance director is hired.
“She is on top of the department,” Regalado said. “Even before [Petty] came in, she was on top of the department.”
But Suarez raised concerns about Larned’s abilities.
“We’re supposed to rely on a CFO who recommended to the manager that [Petty’s] qualifications be waived?” he asked.
The finance department has had other problems. Last spring, finance officers fell weeks behind in preparing the city’s audited financial statement. Larned threatened to quit in August, but was talked into staying.
Petty’s hire was supposed to help straighten out the department, Regalado had said.
Petty wasn’t the only high-ranking city employee to have qualifications waived for hiring. Waivers were also issued to solid waste director Keith Carswell, procurement director Kenneth Robertson, assistant building director Vanessa Acosta, interim information technology director Cynthia Torres, zoning administrator Barnaby Min and communications director Angel Zayón.
All of the waivers, except Petty’s, were issued in 2010 and 2011.
Last week, city officials said they could not immediately produce any other waivers that had been signed in 2012. Martinez said he believed he had signed as many as five.
But on Tuesday, Terrella Johnson, who oversees the records for the human resources department, said she had done some research and could not find any other waivers issued this year.
Martinez said he was still waiting on an official report detailing how many waivers had been issued.
On Tuesday, the city manager acknowledged that Petty’s inexperience likely contributed to his abrupt departure. He said he would prefer the city’s next finance director be a certified public accountant.
“I’m not saying it’s an absolute, though,” Martinez said.
Commissioner Frank Carollo said he would be pushing for the next finance director to be both a CPA and have government experience, as outlined in the job description.
“We’re in a better place than where we were a year ago, when we had no CFO and no finance director,” Carollo said. “But it’s still not the scenario we want to be in.”