Coral Gables City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark is once again being blamed for a nearly million-dollar mishap during her time running staff and operations for the city of Hollywood.
Broward’s Office of the Inspector General supported and sustained allegations of misconduct and gross mismanagement by Swanson-Rivenbark and members of her staff in Hollywood during the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, according to a preliminary report.
In September 2014 it was revealed that city officials allowed more than $973,000 in spending on temporary workers without city commission approval and in violation of Hollywood’s procurement code. The manager’s threshold for spending without commission approval is $50,000.
The next month she applied for Coral Gables’ vacant city manager position and by November 2014 she had the job. Hollywood commissioners unsuccessfully called for her to resign before she left and also denied a request to retroactively approve the spending for the workers.
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The OIG’s preliminary report led to a special meeting of the Hollywood commission on Jan. 26, in which they voted to file an ethics complaint with the International City Management Association.
“I feel we need to prove to our residents as well as to the city as a whole that we need to take some action,” Hollywood Commissioner Traci Callari said at the Jan. 26 meeting.
The inspector general gave anyone named in the report until Feb. 3 to give a response to their preliminary report.
When the situation came to light in September 2014, [Hollywood] city officials glossed over the violations and provided the commission with misleading and inaccurate statements.
-Broward Office of the Inspector General report
Swanson-Rivenbark hired attorney Ben Kuehne to represent her as the investigation continues and filed her response this week. In an emailed statement, the city manager said she believes her reply to the inspector general will clarify her side of things.
“Our detailed response to the OIG will fully illuminate the true circumstances of what happened,” Swanson-Rivenbark wrote in her statement. “I’m really proud of all the accomplishments Hollywood made during my tenure including critical public safety improvements, financial reforms, commercial revitalization, community beautification, ethics training and enhanced quality of life.”
Coral Gables officials defended Swanson-Rivenbark and said the OIG’s report shouldn’t have been made public until the named parties were allowed to respond and the report was finalized.
“For the city of Hollywood to take action before she’s been given due process, in my opinion, is wrong,” Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen said.
Gables Commissioner Patricia Keon, who brought up the issue during the November 2014 meeting to hire Swanson-Rivenbark, said she still doesn’t believe the former Hollywood manager did anything wrong.
“When the final document is released if at that time there is some action to be taken, we’ll take that action,” Keon said.
The report finds that Hollywood city officials never tried to find cheaper rates for the workers — who were paid on an ad-hoc basis — and that they spent more than $620,000 on the temps in 2014 despite allotting no money to pay for them in the 2013-14 budget.
Their interviews also found that Hollywood City Attorney Jeff Sheffel was aware of the improper spending at least a month before the commission was notified in September 2014.
“When the situation came to light in September 2014, city officials glossed over the violations and provided the commission with misleading and inaccurate statements,” the report read.
Swanson-Rivenbark told investigators that she didn’t know she exceeded her spending limit until the day before the TransHire temporary staffing issue was discussed at Hollywood’s Sept. 3, 2014, commission meeting.
“She advised that she is unaware why staff knew of expenditures exceeding fifty-thousand dollars for this vendor during each fiscal year but did not make her aware,” the report read.
She placed part of the blame on the Hollywood budget department and on the city’s human resources director, Gail Reinfeld, and assistant HR director Lisa Powell, who both retired in early 2014.
Swanson-Rivenbark told the Gables commission essentially the same thing during the November 2014 meeting in which she was hired.
“The people that set those procedures in motion were no longer there,” Swanson-Rivenbark said at that meeting. “I had never been involved in it before.”