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Hollywood city manager resigns — gets generous severance package

For the services of City Manager Douglas Hewett, the residents of Hollywood paid $2,400 for each day he was on the job.

Hewett resigned Friday, after the mayor and city commissioners said they couldn’t trust him and questioned his judgment following a DUI arrest. He had been on the job just 14 weeks.

He leaves with a $66,000 payout, 12 months of health insurance and a promise by the city to not say anything bad about him.

In exchange, Hewett promised he won’t sue the city.

“This is terrible for the city’s image,” said Commissioner Patricia Asseff. “The whole thing is just sad.”

The resignation was announced at a special meeting Friday called by Mayor Peter Bober after details surrounding Hewett’s DUI arrest on Easter Sunday became public.

Hewett did not appear at the meeting, but was watching via live stream in his office, the mayor said.

Hewitt later released an e-mail saying that he appreciated the opportunity to work in Hollywood.

“During my short tenure as city manager, working together we advanced our community in numerous ways,” he wrote. “I hope the work we’ve done to expand the number of citizens who participate in the decision making process continues, as well as the progress that’s been made to rebuild trust and unity between the city and its employees.”

Until last week, City Commissioners said they were very happy with their new city manager’s job performance.

But that all changed due the events of April 8.

According to a Miami-Dade police report, Hewett, 41, was pulled over after leaving Swinging Richards, a gay strip club in North Miami Beach about 3 a.m.

“I immediately noticed the defendant had red bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech and the strong smell of an alcoholic beverage emanating from his breath,” the police officer wrote in the report.

Hewett 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 pleaded not guilty to charges of driving under the influence, failure to obey a traffic sign and failure to use a designated lane.

The mayor and commissioners say he immediately told them of the DUI, and at the time they were willing to stand behind him.

“I was never worried about the DUI,’’ said Commissioner Dick Blattner. “That happens. Shame on you. Pay your fine. Do your intervention or whatever the courts order. That’s a matter for the judicial system.’’

Even City Attorney Jeff Sheffel advised the commissioners to not get involved, explaining anything they said could have an impact on Hewett’s criminal case.

But in late May, news of Hewett’s arrest became public, and reporters revealed details Hewett had not told the commissioners.

“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.”

During a special meeting Friday, Bober said his decision to ask for Hewett’s resignation was not based on the DUI itself, but how he handled it afterward.

“If you want to claim you are being forthcoming and being straight,” said Bober. “I think you have to come forward with all the details.”

Bober was also concerned about Hewett’s personal Twitter account that has since been removed. A Google search for his account — NC_Pimpernel — includes Hewett’s description of himself as an “uncivil civil servant.”

“My confidence is shaken in the city manager,’’ Bober said.

At Friday’s meeting, the details of Hewett’s severance package were revealed.

If he had been fired, he would have been eligible for 20 weeks pay.

Because he resigned, the commission agreed to also pay for his health care for up to a year and the “no disparagement’’ clause.

Hewett started on the job Feb. 27. He’d been hired to replace Cameron Benson, who had been forced to resign less than a year go. When Benson left, he was given a $300,000 severance package.

Hewett was hired after a nationwide search, which cost the city $23,000.

His contract called for him to receive $172,000 annually, plus a $125 a month cell phone allotment and $500 a month for his car. The city gave Hewett $18,000 for moving expenses. Total cost to the city, including his salary paid so far, his severance package, and $7,000 for future health care comes to a little more than $163,000 for the 68 days of work.

“I think we have to recognize what’s happening to this man’s career,’’ said Commissioner Beam Furr. “He is going to need money to get on with his life.’’

The deal was signed despite the city’s ongoing economic woes. In the last year, a $30 million-plus budget gap forced the city to cut the pensions of police, firefighter and city employees. Employees have been forced to take unpaid holidays and had their salaries slashed. The city has also taken heat for raising taxes, a citywide Wi-Fi project that never worked properly, a non-functioning clock on the water tower that looms over Interstate 95, and a sewer line break that sent millions of gallons of raw waste into the city’s streets.

When asked if Hollywood could endure another public embarrassment, Furr said: “We will go forward. It’s a strong city. We’ll get past this.’’

At Friday’s meeting, the commission discussed working out a deal with Affion Public, the company it had paid $23,000 to conduct the nationwide search that resulted in Hewett’s hiring. For their money, the city received Google and Lexis Nexis searches on the final six candidates for the post. “Nothing negative’’ turned up on either, according to city records.

Scott Reilly, the chief executive officer of Affion, declined to comment about his company’s search.

Also worked out at Friday’s meeting: Assistant City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark agreed to step in and fill the city manager’s position, just as she did after Benson resigned less than a year ago. Several commissioners hope Swanson-Rivenbark will take the position permanently. Swanson-Rivenbark declined to comment.

Hewett is on administrative leave as of Friday and his last day with the city will be June 8.

In his goodbye statement, Hewett wrote that he had hoped things would have worked out differently.

“While my time as city manager did not turn out as I would have hoped or planned, I would like to wish the city, my co-workers, and the many residents who welcomed me continued success.”