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Hollywood city manager facing choice: Resign or be fired

On Friday morning, the Hollywood City Commission will decide whether to fire — if he doesn’t choose to resign — City Manager Douglas Hewett, who has been on the job just 13 weeks.

While they’re not exactly happy with the fact Hewett, 41, was arrested and charged with DUI on Easter Sunday, they were willing to overlook that.

But, some say, they can’t get over that Hewett had gotten drunk at a gay strip club and had a personal Twitter account in which he described himself as an “uncivil civil servant.’’

But how much did the commissioners know about Hewett when they hired him in the first place?

The city hired Affion Public, a company that provides executive search services, to conduct a nationwide search. Affion was paid $23,000.

For their money, the commissioners got a Google and Lexis Nexis search on Hewett, in which “nothing negative’’ turned up, according to records provided by Hollywood.

Hewett, at the time the assistant city manager in Fayetteville, N.C., was one of six men Affion recommended for the job. He impressed the Hollywood leadership with his energy and fresh ideas about redevelopment and spending and was offered a $172,000 salary, plus perks.

“Clearly we thought it was a thorough process and all of the candidates were vetted,” said Commissioner Heidi O’Sheehan.

Scott Reilly, the chief executive officer of Affion, declined to comment on the search.

Commissioner Dick Blattner said commissioners received “300 pages” of background information on Hewett and the other candidates for the city manager’s job — most of it copies of newspaper articles in which the candidates names were mentioned — but that he did not review the data closely.

Instead, Blattner said he relied on Hewett’s interview before commissioners.

“He captivated the audience,’’ Blattner said.

After the commissioners named him their top pick, no one from the North Carolina cities where Hewett had previously worked called to dish any dirt on him, Blattner noted.

“The guy’s an assistant city manager for 14 years,’’ Blattner said. “You think he had any enemies? ... Well, not one of those people came forward or sent an email or anything. And I can tell you in my experience ... if they had thought we should know that, they would let us know. But nobody came forward and said, ‘You guys made a terrible mistake.’’’

Indeed, when reached Thursday, Hewett’s former boss and mentor, Dale Iman said Hewett’s arrest in April was “totally out of character.’’

“I can’t make excuses for him,” said Iman, who now works as city manager in Winchester, Va. “He was always professional.”

Of the Twitter account, Iman suggested “maybe he was trying to be cute. He certainly wasn’t uncivil.’’

In his cover letter, Hewett wrote: “I’m an energetic, affable and driven professional public servant who has been recognized by my colleagues for my contributions to the field of public administration.’’

The commissioners said they had been happy with his job performance, specifically giving him credit for hiring department head and addressing police staffing levels.

“I like the way he was handling the police, not collective bargaining, but the fact that we’re undermanned,” Blattner said. “He’s addressed the issue of sanitation services, which we will get a presentation on shortly. He has addressed the issues that the commission has pointed out to him as being very important to them.’’

But that changed when details came out about Hewett’s April 8 DUI arrest and the Twitter account.

“Maybe there was a possible trend with respect to his judgment,’’ Mayor Peter Bober said.

Hewett was arrested after leaving Swinging Richards, a gay strip club in North Miami Beach.

He told the officer he had drunk two Coors Light beers. Breath samples showed his blood-alcohol level was .145 and .139, significantly higher than the .08 legal limit.

Hewett has pleaded not guilty to charges of driving under the influence, failure to obey a traffic sign and failure to use a designated lane. He was carrying a North Carolina driver’s license, and driving a car with North Carolina tags, according to the Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts’ online case summary.

Hewett’s defense attorney, George Charnota of Miami, said his client is looking forward to being vindicated in court.

Charnota alluded to additional details that would add “context’’ to Hewett’s arrest, but he declined to divulge the information.

“There’s certainly more to it than what’s in that police report, in a good way,’’ he said. “There will be a lot more context once all the facts come out.’’

Charnota said Hewett has even regained his driving privileges after an administrative hearing before the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, which automatically suspends driving privileges of motorists arrested for DUI.

“There was insufficient evidence to support that suspension,’’ Charnota said.

If Hewett is found guilty of DUI, though, then his driving privilege will be suspended.

But commissioners say the court case has no bearing on their decision.

Commissioner Heidi O’Sheehan said Thursday that his “credibility was compromised.”

“That’s what undermines your ability to lead,” she said.

While Hewett informed the commissioners immediately of the DUI arrest, he left out several details, they said.

“We did not know where his drinking had taken place,’’ said Blattner. “We didn’t know what it was. I saw the name [Swinging Richards] in the police report, but that name meant nothing to me.’’

Blattner said the withholding of details about the arrest made him question Hewett’s fitness as the city’s top administrator.

“It’s one thing on top of another,’’ Blattner said. “Here’s the thing: I was never worried about the DUI. That happens. Shame on you. Pay your fine. Do your intervention or whatever the courts order. That’s a matter for the judicial system. But the other issues piled on top, and they now become issues of judgment, responsibility, maturity and so forth.’’

Hewett had been hired to replace Cameron Benson, who resigned last June while the commissioners debated firing him after learning of a $35 million budget gap. Benson left with an almost $300,000 severance package.

If Hewett is fired Friday, he would, according to his contract, be entitled to 20 weeks severance, or about $66,000. City spokeswoman Raelin Storey said there is nothing that would preclude the City Commission and Hewett from working out a deal if he chooses to resign.

Bober, who called for the special meeting to discuss the city manager’s fate, said the commission could never have predicted Hewett would end up being arrested just three months into the job.

“There is no way we could have known,” he said.

Blattner expects Assistant City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark will be asked to step in and fill the city manager’s position, just as she did after Benson left.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. Friday at City Hall, 2600 Hollywood Blvd.

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