Coral Gables

Coral Gables commission to interview Hollywood city manager on Nov. 7

Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, shown here in 2000, was the director of economic development for Coral Gables for 20 years. She is now the Hollywood city manager and under consideration for the Coral Gables city manager.
Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, shown here in 2000, was the director of economic development for Coral Gables for 20 years. She is now the Hollywood city manager and under consideration for the Coral Gables city manager. MIAMI HERALD FILE

Coral Gables commissioners could hire a new city manager as soon as Friday, depending on the outcome of a public interview.

Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, Hollywood’s current city manager and a former Gables administrator, will appear before the Gables commission Friday, according to the city’s recruiter, Bud Park.

Park, who has officially recommended Swanson-Rivenbark to the city, said she’s the only person he is recommending so far, but it’s possible that he will send the commission additional names.

“I think its important to get ahead of the process,” Park said. “I may recommend others.”

Commissioners could either hire Swanson-Rivenbark on the spot, postpone their decision, ask Park to bring in more candidates or eliminate her from consideration.

“Anything can happen,” Park said.

Park told the Miami Herald Thursday that he has been in talks with more than 100 people during the search for a new city manager. However, he thinks Swanson-Rivenbark is ahead of the game for two specific reasons:

“She’s worked for the Gables for a long time and has city manager experience,” Park said. “Nobody else had both of those things. That’s where she edged everybody else out.”

Swanson-Rivenbark never moved out of Coral Gables when she went to work for Hollywood, which Park said is “a plus.”

Swanson-Rivenbark worked for Coral Gables for 20 years. She left Coral Gables in 2009 to become assistant city manager in Hollywood. In 2012, she was named city manager after two stints as interim manager.

“I think she’s wonderful,” Mayor Jim Cason said. “But we have to see what happens.”

Swanson-Rivenbark emerged from a longer list of potential candidates, including Frank Nero, who resigned as CEO of the Beacon Council last year, and Alice Bravo, the Miami deputy city manager who has been the point person on the cleanup of the city’s parks.

Former Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess, former Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Chip Iglesias and Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Director Bill Johnson were also approached by Park but showed no interest in the job.

Two weeks ago, Park brought Swanson-Rivenbark to meet the mayor and commissioners individually.

Days later, she was getting fingerprinted at City Hall, turned in her resume and signed some paperwork allowing the city to conduct a background check.

She passed it Oct. 30, Park said.

Former city manager Pat Salerno resigned earlier this year after five years on the job.

The city hired Colin Baenziger & Associates, a Daytona Beach Shores firm, to conduct a search, paying it $30,000.

Based on Baenziger’s slate of candidates, the city appointed as manager Jim Beard, Atlanta’s chief financial officer for four years. A day after he was appointed, Beard withdrew after details surfaced in court records about a bankruptcy, a suspended driver’s license and a paternity suit. Baenziger apologized to the city, saying the firm forgot to ask applicants to disclose past lawsuits.

The city then got a refund for about two thirds the amount.

Park was later brought to the commission and agreed to a $25,000 fee for a 60-day search for the top job. He is to submit candidates before the 60 days expire, and if one of them gets the job, he will receive an additional $10,000.

The recommendation Park submitted to the city was not perfect, though.

In an attached memo sent by Park to commissioners on Oct. 30, Park cited a series of articles in September by the Sun Sentinel — with the headline Million Dollar Mistake — which reported on Swanson-Rivenbark spending more than $935,000 on temporary services, primarily in the police department.

The problem is, the total amount paid for these services over two years exceeded the $50,000 limit under the City Manager’s authority without going to the commission.

Park acknowledged that this was a mistake, but was quick to say that the spending was necessary.

“The city had no choice but to have these services performed, either by temporary staff or by new permanent staff,” Park said in his memo. “The controls on expenditures in place when City Manager Swanson-Rivenbark arrived were inadequate. The procedures in place called for using Direct Payment Vouchers (DPVs), which by definition did not require budgetary review before expenditure. No controls were in place to govern the total amounts spent or to monitor the expenditure levels as they occurred.”

These temporary services were used to expedite the hiring of 79 new police officers after 97 officers retired. Using the temporary services firm to accomplish the work saved the city about 20 percent, Park said.

Swanson-Rivenbark did not immediately return calls from the Miami Herald Friday.

In Hollywood, Swanson-Rivenbark receives a $172,000 base salary, has a $500 monthly car allowance and a $125 monthly cellphone allowance. Pat Salerno made $190,000, had a take-home car and a city-issued cell phone.

“I’m just hoping the commissioners will make their decision based on all the information,” Park said. “Not just some of it.”

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A Tale of Two Cities

Hollywood is larger but not as affluent as Coral Gables:

Hollywood

Population: 147,000

Full-time employees: 1,300

Annual budget: $462 million

Average assessed home value: $218,500

Median household income: $45,942

Coral Gables

Population: 50,000

Full-time employees: 801

Annual budget: $160 million

Average assessed home value: $612,288

Median household income: $85,183

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