Coral Gables Police Chief Dennis Weiner announced his resignation Wednesday, a day before city commissioners are scheduled to meet to discuss a perceived crime problem in the city.
Weiner gave his resignation to the acting city manager and the city attorney in a meeting Wednesday. He had been chief since March 2011, coming from the Juno Beach Police Department, where he had been chief. He makes $162,679.60 annually, plus educational incentives that bring his salary to $164,939.58, according to the city.
“I hereby irrevocably resign from my employment as chief of police for the city of Coral Gables effective at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014,’’ Weiner said in his resignation letter.
He will be paid about $50,000 in severance, plus receive an annual leave payout of approximately $16,500, city attorney Craig Leen said.
Weiner has been under fire from some city commissioners and residents, who have questioned crime statistics provided by the department. Over the past few months, there have been a number of high-profile burglaries, including an afternoon home invasion on Navarre Avenue last month and a break-in last week at the home of a Channel 23 anchorwoman and her husband.
“I have received no evidence that there was any fudging of statistics,’’ Leen said. “But the issue is that as long as any crime is occurring, the city will do everything in its power to try to reduce it. That’s going to be discussed by the city commission and city officials at the commission meeting on Thursday.”
Weiner is the second top city administrator to resign this year. In April, city manager Pat Salerno resigned after five years on the job.
Mayor Jim Cason said he believes the chief’s “biggest issue was communication.”
“We have a communications problem,” Cason said Wednesday. “Residents are feeling that they don’t know what’s going on.”
At Thursday’s 11 a.m. commission meeting, commissioners are scheduled to discuss updated crime statistics from the department and details on what police are doing about the burglaries. Over the past three days, at least five homes have been broken into, including the home of the mother of the former Coral Gables mayor, Don Slesnick.
Weiner, in a text message, said it is not likely he would be at Thursday’s meeting. “The discussion needs to focus on the way forward for the city,’’ he wrote in a text message.
Weiner had been criticized for not moving to the city for nearly a year after taking the job. He commuted from his home in Juno Beach in northern Palm Beach County, charging the city for his nearly three-hour, daily commute. He also applied to the chief’s job in the Miami Beach Police Department in April. He didn’t get the position.
Commissioner Vince Lago said he “was hoping that he [Weiner] would come to Thursday’s meeting where we would discuss in details the policing strategies that the department was going to implement in an effort to combat the burglaries that have occurred in the last few months.”
“The discussion will take place and we will be presenting a plan of action due to the police chief’s resignation,” Lago said. That plan includes appointing a new city police chief, he added.
Leen said the city commission, at the very least, would have to appoint an acting or interim chief.
“Someone would have to exercise that authority,” he said.
Two people are already being considered for the interim position, said commissioner Frank Quesada: Maj. Ed Hudak a longtime veteran of the Coral Gables police department, and Maj. Scott Masington, 50, a 23-year veteran of the department. Masington also applied for the top job at the Miami Beach police department; he didn’t get it.
“I have been asked if I would be interested in the [Coral Gables] position; I have responded favorably to that opportunity,’’ Masington said Wednesday evening.
North Gables resident Peter Kouchalakos said he is disappointed by Weiner’s resignation. Kouchalakos drafted an open letter to city commissioners for Thursday’s meeting, saying the problem was “systemic.”
The petition — signed by more than 100 residents — calls on the commission to expand the department’s undercover team, use real-time camera systems and step up patrols.
“I think it’s a shame,” Kouchalakos said. “The bottom line is that it’s not the chief’s fault. He’s the convenient guy to point the finger at. Now what we have is a void in the office of the city manager, and now the police department. I don’t believe he is the one responsible for this situation. I would have preferred to see him stick it out. One person is not going to change anything.”
Freddy Balsera, a Coral Gables resident whose home was recently burglarized, says the chief’s resignation is only the first step. Balsera, who runs a Coral Gables public relations and lobbying firm, paid about $2,000 for robo-calls directed to Coral Gables residents earlier this week, asking them to come out to Thursday’s meeting.
He said the “chief’s resignation is a very positive first step in restoring confidence in the minds and hearts of Gables residents. But it doesn’t stop there.
“We now need an interim chief that understands this community and is respected by the citizens,” said Balsera, who is married to Channel 23 anchor Gloria Ordaz. “Together, we can work with the chief and the new leadership to bring back safety and security.”
Cason said a new city manager will be selected Tuesday, adding that the “search for a new police chief is the first order of business.”
“If people have been attacking his leadership, and if new leadership will bring greater a confidence to citizens, then it’s probably time to move forward,” Cason said.
According to stats provided by the police department, 202 burglaries and attempted burglaries occurred from Jan. 1 2014 to Aug. 31, 2014—the first eight months of the year. In all of 2013, there were 391, stats showed.
Although Weiner will no longer be leading the department, Lago admits that a decrease in crime will take time to see.
“There isn’t a superhero that you can name that can stop crime within an instant,” he said. “We need the new police chief and the 180 police officers on the same page to get this done.”
If you go
City commission meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday; the burglary and crime statistics discussion is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Coral Gables City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way, Coral Gables.