Coral Gables

As her last move as interim city manager, Carmen Olazabal asks to keep her raise

Coral Gables’ pick for city manager, Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, outside its City Hall.
Coral Gables’ pick for city manager, Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark, outside its City Hall. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The newly appointed Coral Gables City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark will start working for the City Beautiful as early as Dec. 16, when she is expected on the dais at the next city commission meeting.

At that time, Carmen Olazabal, who has been serving as the interim manager since April, will return to her former duties as assistant city manager of operations.

At that meeting, the commission will discuss whether Olazabal will keep the 10-percent salary increase she received when she was appointed to the interim role, or whether her salary will go back down to $148,000.

To say goodbye, Olazabal sent out a memo to the Commission on Nov. 14, outlining her accomplishments as interim manager. Included in the five-page memo were: the city’s tree succession plan, the bike master plan, preparation for garage 1 and 4 near Miracle Mile, the trolley building settlement and the Miracle Mile Streetscape project.

In a previous attempt to secure her raise, Olazabal’s office placed a resolution on the consent agenda for the Aug. 26 city commission meeting regarding her compensation package.

The proposed resolution said: “The work performed by Carmen Olazabal has exceeded expectations and the Commission has decided to consider an exceptional merit increase.”

“Ms. Olazabal will continue to receive this 10-percent increase to her former salary, which will be treated as an exceptional merit increase for purposes of the personnel rules, in recognition of her service and the increased experience she received from serving as interim city manager,” the resolution continued.

It was pulled by Commissioner Vince Lago.

“Certain items should not be on the consent agenda, but should rather be discussed,” Lago said. “I firmly believe that any issue that is on the consent agenda that has any monetary value must be vetted in the public eye.”

Olazabal told the Miami Herald on Friday that she is looking forward to being evaluated.

“It’s not my role to evaluate myself, but I certainly know that I’ve worked really hard and that I tried my best,” she said. “I’m happy with what I’ve done, so it’s up to them to decide. I think a lot was accomplished.”

The agreement established prior to Olazabal being appointed included an evaluation at the end of the term, deciding based on performance whether the 10-percent raise was permanent, which Gables human resources director said “is not uncommon.”

“It’s up to the discretion of the city commission because she was an appointed official,” Elsa Jaramillo-Velez said.

During Olazabal’s time on the job, the city hired former Miami-Dade County and Miami City Manager Merrett Stierheim to assist Olazabal on an as-needed basis. He was paid $150 an hour. Records show he was paid close to $50,000 in total.

There is precedent for sending out such memos like this. Stierheim also sent out a memo two weeks ago, outlining his accomplishments as a consultant. And previous City Manager Pat Salerno sent out an email blast to Gables residents when he resigned in April, which highlighted what he did in that role.

“I feel like it’s been a privilege to serve the city,” Olazabal said. “I received a lot of experience, making those tough decisions, with more responsibilities and challenges. It made me more well-rounded.”

Commissioners say they have to weigh letting her keep the raise.

“I have to think and review her tenure as interim city manager and make sure we make decisions based on what’s in the city’s best interest,” Lago said.

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