Coral Gables

Coral Gables manager resigns after months of lost battles, bad press

City of Coral Gables city manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark listens to Coral Gables police chief Ed Hudak speak during the commission meeting on April 24, 2018.
City of Coral Gables city manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark listens to Coral Gables police chief Ed Hudak speak during the commission meeting on April 24, 2018.

Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, the embattled city manager of Coral Gables, submitted her letter of resignation to the City Commission Monday night.

Most of the eight pages were dedicated to her accomplishments and fond memories of the city with only a few lines indicating why she is leaving the city’s top job, which paid her $209,978 for the fiscal 2017 year.

“While all parties want what is best for the Coral Gables community, I find myself at odds with the majority of the Commission on matters related to Police Department oversight,” Swanson-Rivenbark wrote in the letter.

Swanson-Rivenbark indicated that Friday would be her final day as the City Beautiful’s top administrator.

We are working on a transition agreement with her to ensure a smooth transition,” said City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos.

The City Commission appointed assistant city manager Peter Iglasias as interim manager at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday morning. Next begins the process of hiring consultants to hire a new manager.

Swanson-Rivenbark has been under a mushrooming cloud of attack, particularly over her much-publicized feud with the city’s longtime police chief, Ed Hudak.

It’s unclear what was the final straw. But according to Commissioner Pat Keon, a commissioner met with Swanson-Rivenbark last week and told her the commission had enough votes to remove her from office — something that had previously been thought unlikely despite several low-level controversies in recent months.

“She had the opportunity to resign. She took that opportunity,” said Keon, who supports Swanson-Rivenbark.

Since coming over from the city of Hollywood in 2014, where she was city manager, Swanson-Rivenbark has faced her share of critics. The harshest stem from a years-long dispute with supporters of Hudak that began when Swanson-Rivenbark hired her Hollywood associate, Frank Fernandez, as assistant city manager in Coral Gables and appointed him to oversee various operations within the police department.

Critics say the move undermined Hudak, a 28-year veteran, and split the management of the department between the chief and Fernandez.

“It seems to be a bit of a thorny issue and it has been for a long time,” Keon said.

The feud came to a head last year over a picture of the chief posing in uniform with a dozen off-duty female officers in bikinis at a pool party. At the time, many people agreed the photo was tasteless, or at the very least misguided, and could put the police department in a bad light.

But an independent investigator hired by the city found that no official violations had occurred.

Coral Gables police chief Ed Hudak fought an anonymous accusation that he acted inappropriately during a pool party for female officers to which he was invited in July 2017. But an independent investigator hired by the city eventually found that no official violations had occurred. Screen grab

Swanson-Rivenbark issued a letter of reprimand outlining concerns regarding Hudak’s ability “to honorably and objectively lead the police department.” She threatened to fire the chief. In response, dozens of people showed up at the April 2018 meeting to speak in support of Hudak. Quickly, Swanson-Rivenbark rolled back the threat of firing and rescinded the letter of reprimand.

Since April, the manager has faced near-constant criticism — for a sweetheart deal struck with Hollywood developers when she ran that city, for her support of various contentious policing policies, and for hiring a PR consultant on the city’s dime and using him to smooth over her own bad press.

This is not the first time Swanson-Riverbark has worked with the city of Coral Gables. Prior to her assuming the Hollywood city manager post, she had been the Coral Gables development director. When she was named Gables manager, many heralded her return to the city.

That honeymoon, however, didn’t last long.

“Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark made some big mistakes as city manager,” said Raul Mas Canosa, a community activist and resident. “Gables residents have no patience for palace intrigue, infighting or government overreach. Let’s move on.”