The sudden cancellation of Wednesday’s special meeting at Coral Gables City Hall might signal the end to the public uproar created over a controversial plan to restructure the city’s police department. And it could be the beginning of Interim Chief’s Ed Hudak’s appointment as the department’s top cop.
The meeting’s main topic was to be a never-seen-before hierarchy “realignment” for the department proposed by City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark. To say that the proposal did not sit well with a lot of residents is an understatement.
In essence, there would have been no police chief, two division chiefs and a city administrator to whom both would report. First, residents were befuddled, then they got angry. Chief Ed Hudak, a well-respected and community-engaged 27-year veteran who has filled the position for a year, would have been sidelined in the restructuring. Why didn’t he get the top job outright? Good question. After all, there had been a crime decrease under his watch.
Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark said she decided to split the job by naming two division chiefs — Chief Hudak and Maj. Raul Pedroso. Chief Hudak would oversee operations and Maj. Pedroso would honcho criminal investigations. They are a strange duo — there’s no love lost between them — making it hard to see how this configuration was going to make things runs smoothly.
Then, over them Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark planned to install Frank Fernandez, newly appointed assistant city manager and director of public safety. The two recently worked together in the city of Hollywood.
Some residents wondered: Was Mr. Fernandez supposed to be the real chief? Another good question. The squeaky wheels began to squawk.
Opposing camps formed among residents; petitions and letters circulated, largely supporting the interim Chief Hudak. Some officers backed the city manager, saying that morale is at an all-time low and that some sort of restructuring is desperately needed.
Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark told the Editorial Board that her overhaul was meant to fix a department she describes as “dysfunctional.”
“There are too many factions, too many cliques and this is all counterproductive,” she told the Board. Fixing the department is one of the things she was hired to do — and plans to do. It’s hard to disagree with that challenge.
But this change just seemed too radical, and after the city attorney issued a decision Tuesday that the city code allowed for only one chief, Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark backpedaled. Now, if Interim Chief Hudak resolves undisclosed issues that concern her, he will get the permanent job, the city attorney reported.
Things clearly were moving in that direction earlier on Tuesday when, after being interviewed by the Miami Herald about Wednesday’s public meeting, Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark called back at 5:30 p.m. with an update: “Tomorrow’s meeting has been canceled,” she said.
Is this a victory for Chief Hudak’s camp and a defeat for the city manager? Yes. But here’s what’s most important: No matter how well-regarded one police department leader might be as opposed to another, a department riven by factionalism and bad blood is not in the best interest of the residents of Coral Gables.
Fixing that is the most critical challenge at hand, and both Interim Chief Hudak and Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark must ensure residents that they are prepared to meet it.