Coral Gables quickly pushed aside its newly appointed city manager and reopened the hiring process Tuesday after questions were raised about the manager’s background and how he was able to slip through a search firm’s checks.
Jim Beard, who was appointed to the position last week with the unanimous support of Coral Gables commissioners, said Tuesday that he withdrew his name the day before — but it had nothing to do with information that had begun to trickle out about his personal and financial troubles.
Gables commissioners decided to hire Beard, 50, on Sept. 16 after the city’s search firm, Colin Baenziger & Associates, presented his name, along with four more candidates. He was chosen from five finalists to replace Pat Salerno, who resigned in April after five years on the job.
The search firm received $33,000 for its efforts, but it apparently did only preliminary background checks.
Baenziger stood by his firm on Tuesday, saying they took all the right steps.
“I would characterize it as a large battery of background checks. We did criminal and civil records checks, not just criminal, at the county, state and federal level in both Florida and Georgia and found nothing significant,” he said. “No convictions. We rely on convictions, not dropped allegations.”
City commissioners on Tuesday hired Bud Park, a retired search firm executive who is well known in Coral Gables, to conduct the new search. He initially approached city leaders in April offering to conduct the first city manager search at no cost. However, he was turned down and the city hired Baenziger & Associates instead, according to Commissioner Vince Lago.
This time, Park will be paid for his service. His fee will be set at a later date.
“The firm we had now just took applications,” said Commissioner Patricia Keon. “They didn’t go out and recruit. There’s a huge difference there. We need someone to go out and recruit.”
However Baenziger said “we did a lot more than that.”
“We actually did quite a bit of recruiting for this job,” Baenziger said. “We called city and county managers all over the country. We networked with the military, the Coral Gables and Greater Miami Chambers of Commerce. We made inquiries of people we knew in the private sector that we knew and thought were well qualified.”
Beard has been Atlanta’s chief financial officer for four years. He previously served as the treasurer of Palm Beach County from 2006 to 2010, and before that worked in the private financial services sector.
He has a master’s in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a bachelor’s in business administration from Florida International University.
Federal court records show that a Jimmie Anthony Beard filed for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy in U.S. Southern District Bankruptcy Court in Miami in August 2004.
Other records also show that he had 14 tax liens associated with a company he was once involved with, three suspended driver’s licenses, in addition to other issues.
Beard said Tuesday the city knew about his background. He said he withdrew his own name because he and the city had been unable to agree on a compensation package.
City Attorney Craig Leen said he discussed both the background issues and compensation with Beard on Monday. Leen said Beard wanted a contract through 2017, which is longer than allowed under the city charter.
Lago said Tuesday that Beard “had issues the city wasn't aware of until last minute.”
Commissioner Frank Quesada said he didn’t want to go through another long search.
“I don’t want to wait another three or four months to place a new city manager,” he said. “I want to move forward quickly.”
Park thinks the search will take a minimum of one month to narrow down another batch of candidates.
“I’m very sorry it turned out this way,” Park said. “I knew it would be a hard one. The method needs to be very different now. If you want to do it right, you have to move now.”