Coral Gables

Gables names former employee as new city manager

Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark
Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark City of Hollywood

The wait is over. Coral Gables commissioners on Friday hired Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, the Hollywood city manager, as its top administrator.

The Gables has been without a city manager for more than six months, since former city manager Pat Salerno resigned in April after five years on the job. In September, the city had hired a new manager, who withdrew the next day after court records raised concerns about him.

Before working in Hollywood, Swanson-Rivenbark had worked for Coral Gables for 20 years as the city’s development director.

She left in 2009 to become assistant city manager in Hollywood. In 2012, Hollywood named her city manager after two stints as interim manager. Hollywood is about three times as large as Coral Gables, whose population was about 50,000 in 2013.

Bud Park, a recruiter hired by the city, recommended Swanson-Rivenbark last week after talking with more than 100 candidates.

In a special meeting convened Friday, city commissioners conducted a two-hour public interview with her, grilling her on the city’s pension, infrastructure and choices she made in Hollywood.

At times, though, the atmosphere was light-hearted.

“You stole my question,” Commissioner Vince Lago joked with Commissioner Frank Quesada.

“That just means you’re on the same page,” Swanson-Rivenbark said, chuckling.

After the session, the five commissioners unanimously offered her the position. She will receive a base salary of $205,000 plus a car. The city will pay for its insurance, maintenance, gas and any repairs. The city also will pay her cellphone bill, among other benefits.

“I lead from the front and the others join me. I represent a lot of history, but I also represent a whole lot of future,’’ Swanson-Rivenbark said. “I have the expertise, experience and the training to do this job right.’’

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, Miami’s deputy city manager and the city’s point person on the cleanup of public parks.

Two weeks ago, Park brought Swanson-Rivenbark to meet the mayor and commissioners individually. They met informally outside the city.

Days later, she got fingerprinted at City Hall, turned in her résumé and signed paperwork allowing the city to conduct a background check. She passed it on Oct. 30, Park said.

“I am saddened both for myself and for the City of Hollywood at the loss of an excellent city manager,” said Hollywood City Attorney Jeff Sheffel. “But I certainly understand her reasons for taking the position.”

Before her hiring, the city went through a convoluted process in search of a new city manager.

The city had 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 offered the position to Jim Beard, Atlanta’s chief financial officer for four years. However, a day after the city hired him, 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 firm refunded the city about two-thirds of its fee. The commissioners then hired Park for a $25,000 fee to conduct a 60-day search. Park will receive an additional $10,000 because the city hired his candidate before the 60-day period was over.

Swanson-Rivenbark’s contract in Hollywood requires her to give 45 days’ notice before leaving. She told the Herald she planned on giving notice 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 cellphone.

Park described her as having a “solution-oriented approach” and as someone who gives “tough assignments and accomplishes them with grace, tenacity and good humor.”

He cited her work on the groundbreaking of Margaritaville, a multimillion-dollar resort and conference center on Hollywood Beach, along with the hiring of a new police chief.

Toward the end of the interview Mayor Jim Cason told Swanson-Rivenbark that he has received many calls from people telling him that Swanson-Rivenbark was the “real deal.”

“I’m sorry for their enthusiasm,” she joked. “Yes, but sometimes you have to go away to get the experience you need to come back.”

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