This Miami Herald story should come as no surprise to those following this website and/or what is happening at Coral Gables City Hall:
The story was reprinted by the Sun-Sentinel which has been covering the sweetheart deal she negotiated with the developers of the Margaritaville Hotel resort while she was Hollywood's City Manager.
Readers are encouraged to fast forward to the 6:38:30 mark in this video (Agenda item H-4) recorded at last Tuesday's City Commission meeting:
That is when Commissioner Vince Lago starts taking the City Manager to task for a series of missteps, potential ethical breaches, and misuse of taxpayer dollars. Lago's comments came at the end of a very long meeting and I am glad to see that he forcefully-- but respectfully --- questioned her use of a city-paid consultant to burnish her own personal image...among other things. Commissioner Lago understands servant leadership and the importance of keeping the public trust.
Commissioner Lago's discussion felt eerily familiar....almost like déjà vu.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary describes déjà vu as follows:
1a : the illusion of remembering scenes and events when experienced for the first time
b : a feeling that one has seen or heard something before
Despite a blond, swept-back mane all his own, Fonda looks startlingly like his father, Henry…He even moves like his father, only dispelling the eerie feeling of déjà vu when he opens his mouth.
2: something overly or unpleasantly familiar
The team's poor start to the season was déjà vu for its long-suffering fans.
Video transcripts are very powerful….much more so than written transcripts, verbal assurances, foggy recollections or hearsay.
As I watched and heard the discussion on Commissioner’s Lago’s item H-4 last Tuesday, I was reminded of this video transcript of a Special Commission Meeting of the City Of Hollywood dated January 26, 2016. The déjà vu really begins at the 29 minute mark:
I have never heard of an organization so indignant that it seeks to retroactively fire someone who has already left. That is new to me.
It appears that the City Manager’s behavior, noted by Commissioner Lago, has been seen before. It is not new.
The City of Hollywood voted 5-2 to file a complaint against Ms. Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) because of her failure to uphold that organization’s own ethical requirements. The dissenters voted against the motion only because they preferred to wait until the final Inspector’s General Report (as opposed to the preliminary document).
Otherwise the vote censuring Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark might have been unanimous.
(Editor's Note: At the June 12th commission meeting Ms. Cruz was granted a "time certain" opportunity to address the City Manager's continued missteps, false statements, and cover-ups; actions that can no longer be categorized as simple mistakes. In Ms. Cruz's view, the City Manager is engaged in a habitual pattern of deceit, distraction and delaying tactics designed to obfuscate the reality of what is going at City Hall....and the Mayor and Commissioners are falling for it, time and time again.
Following her speech, Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli turned the table and proceeded to accuse Ms. Cruz herself of unethical behavior. He lambasted her for making too many public records requests. It was evident to most that Ms. Cruz's comments were directed to the City's senior administrator and not the Commission. Yet Mayor Valdes-Fauli felt attacked and proceeded to vilify Ms. Cruz. It was shocking and yet more evidence of the Mayor's penchant to denigrate speakers that he disagrees with. He usually does this AFTER the speaker steps away from the podium, acting like a petulant child casting one last insult after the speaker's time has expired. It is cowardly and despicable behavior on his part.)
Good Morning! Thank you for this opportunity.
I am here today to talk to you about ethics. This is a very popular topic nowadays. Growing up we were exposed to this idea. We were taught by our parents and our teachers how important it is to be ethical. We were taught that we need to do the right thing, that we have to choose right over wrong! Most professions have a code of ethics and there are serious consequences for ignoring it.
Here we are in Coral Gables where we worry about our image. Last year we were so concerned about upholding our image that we forgot to do the right thing. We chose not to provide sandbags, water or ice to our residents because it didn’t fit our image! We made the wrong decision instead of the right one!
Yes, our current administration has been extremely concerned about protecting our image. This administration, lead, as we are usually reminded, by a professional city manager, has chosen to worry about our image instead of having an ethical government. This administration has, time and time again, given partial truths and yes, lies to our elected officials to keep them in the dark about what they are doing.
Let’s make it clear, they talk about ethics and transparency, but it is all TALK!
The commission is elected by the people to represent us, to have checks and balances. Elected officials take oaths of office to abide by the laws and to do what is best for our city. Top officials also take oaths of office to do so.
And then, actions speak louder than words, all is forgotten when needed the most. Our commission sits here and listens to an administration that has lost the notion of ethics. How else can you explain having your top administrator tell the elected officials wrong information to get what they want? Case in point: Finance Department clerk used $78,000 for her own benefit. The Commission, at a public meeting like this, was told that it happened during a previous administration, NOT during their tenure, and that the person was NOT background checked. Well, I have been able to document that both statement were flat out lies, OOPS, I said the ugly word again. First of all, it did happen during this administration and both our City manager and the Director of Public Safety were already here for most of the time!
No background check? Well, that was another, what do we call it, lie! The background check had disappeared from the files. How convenient, I say, so they could blame the previous administration and, most importantly, so they could get the commission to approve their request to change the background check process.
Now that we are talking about background checks, may I suggest that all of us need to pay close attention to an item on the agenda about how our professional city manager tried to interfere with how a background check for the Director of Public Safety was conducted!
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no such thing as an apology for unethical behavior! You are either an ethical person or you are not! If time and time again you demonstrate you are not, how can you be trusted?
How many times is this administration going to be allowed to act like this?
Today in the agenda there is a discussion about the Police Department. You will probably hear the administration say that everything is going well, that problems are getting ironed out; well, that is another flat out LIE. Here I said it again! Nothing has changed! It is time for all of you to accept that nothing will change as long as unethical people are involved!
How can anyone trust that this administration, that did the same thing in Hollywood, will change here? History repeats itself…. This administration will do whatever it takes to achieve what they want, what they have wanted from the get go, to push Chief Hudak out. It worked in Hollywood, why not here?
What is it going to take for our commissioners to get from under the smoke and mirrors and open their eyes? My late father used to say “No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver” which translates something like “ there is no blinder person than one that refuses to see.”
A leopard doesn’t change his spots! Our present administration has demonstrated time and time again that they don’t learn from their mistakes. Do you know why? Because they are not mistakes, they only become mistakes when they get caught doing it!
How much longer are you, our elected officials, going to allow our City of Coral Gables to be run by an unethical administration?
The time is now, please do you job and put our city back on track!
After an enormous number of emails and phone calls, the April 24th Coral Gables Commission meeting saw an over-capacity crowd of Coral Gables residents tell our elected officials that we did not approve of the continual interference in our police department. We made it very clear that Police Chief Ed Hudak had our support and that we expect the City to let him manage the department with full authority, as other chiefs have done before him. He does not deserve constant micromanaging from a City Manager and Assistant City Manager that have been trying to oust him for years.
After our comments on April 24th, we were told that this subject would be fully addressed at the next Commission Meeting. More than a month and a half have elapsed since that promise. There have been two Commission Meetings and there has been no change, let alone an open discussion of this important subject.
City administrators have been very good at their usual smoke and mirrors presentations to the Commission and their delaying tactics. They want this topic to be swept under the rug and not discussed again in public to keep us, the busy taxpayers, without a say in the matter. Meantime, Frank Fernandez, the Assistant City Manager responsible for public safety continues to call the shots. He is still the head of the agency and hiring and firing is still not the sole purview of Chief Hudak. Given the conflict in leadership, police employees often circumvent or ignore the chain of command (the administration wants us to believe that this is a perception and not a reality), promotions are not the Chief’s exclusive right and other normal leadership responsibilities require approval from City Hall.
When any of this is brought up, people like myself are ridiculed and accused of spreading propaganda. It is City Hall that needs to be reminded that we are living in a democracy and not in a totalitarian state like Castro’s Cuba. Coral Gables residents have every right to express themselves fully, to challenge the administration and Commission, and to demand action from their elected leaders. Instead we are given hollow promises.
The proper administration of our Police Department is too important to be left in limbo. We cannot allow this to continue any longer. Chief Ed Hudak needs our support now more than ever! Our elected officials need to know that this is not a summer rain shower that will pass quickly. If our leaders fail to act, a hurricane will hit them with full force come election time.
Please email or call our elected officials and let them know that Coral Gables residents demand immediate action. Their delaying tactics have gone on long enough. They need to know that we are not backing off. This is OUR city.
I encourage you to join us at the next Coral Gables Commission Meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning June 12th. Our voices--- loudly and clearly--- need to be heard again.
If you can't attend the Commission meeting on Tuesday morning June 12th at least take a minute to contact your elected officials and express your thoughts on this important subject. Click on the link below.
Things at the City Beautiful (Coral Gables) continue to get ugly, especially for City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark. After her failed attempt to sanction CGPD Chief Ed Hudak, several Sun-Sentinel articles critical of her time in Hollywood, and a spate of criticism from city residents and others, at least one Commissioner is taking a critical view of how she conducts business. I am told Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark is receiving political and PR advice from an outside consultant....who of course is being paid by the City (i.e. taxpayers). To make matters worse, there is still no end to the almost year-long investigation seeking the anonymous letter writer who besmirched Chief Hudak and 14 police women. Finally, Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez continues to have oversight authority over Chief Hudak, a situation that remains untenable and needs to be addressed. I applaud Commissioner Lago for calling out the City Manager. I hope this leads to a public and substantive discussion of how the City is being run. The status quo cannot continue.
IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT CORAL GABLES CITY RESIDENTS ATTEND THE NEXT COMMISSION MEETING ON TUESDAY MORNING JUNE 12th TO DEMAND ACTION.
Download Commissioner Lagos' letter critical of City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark.
(Editor’s Note: I recently wrote about the City’s success at maintaining their stellar credit ratings with Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) and Fitch Ratings. However, just because you are in good financial shape doesn’t mean you are running your business in the most efficient fashion. It simply means that you have enough cash reserves and liquidity to easily meet your debt obligations. In this short article, Maria Cruz, a veteran citizen-activist, highlights several instances where the City has made questionable decisions that are costing taxpayers money….lots of it.)
I wonder why so many Coral Gables taxpayers think that we have a City Manager that is good at managing our finances? Perhaps it is because they do not follow City Hall closely and don’t know what is really going on. Maybe it’s because they are prone to believe what they are told.
I do follow City Hall very closely. I am a regular fixture at every Commission meeting. I take notes, ask questions, and express my opinions. My experience leads me to believe that there are a lot of inefficiencies and questionable activities taking place. Here are just a few recent examples of what I have seen:
1. On October 1, 2015 a new position was posted for a Public Service Administrative Analyst; the minimum educational requirement called for a Bachelor’s Degree and indicated a salary range between $51,708.80 and $70,990.66.
On January 6, 2016 the position was filled with a person that doesn’t even have an Associate’s degree and was offered a salary of $54,323.00. Meantime the individual hired was offered tuition reimbursement and thus far has received tuition reimbursement payments over $4,000.00.
This is wrong on several levels. Why was someone hired that didn’t meet the basic educational requirements? Why was this individual paid $2,600 above the minimum level of the pay scale? Why are taxpayers having to foot the bill so that this person can achieve the minimum educational requirements originally posted with the opening? How does someone with only a high school diploma get such a sweetheart deal? Was favoritism at play here?
2. Until 2015/2016, labor relations and risk management were part of the Human Resources Department. Starting in 2016/2017 they received their own division director. That Director’s 2017-18 salary is $149,482 annually. Was this new supervisor really needed?
3. Emergency Management responsibilities have been under the Fire Department/Police Department as far back as anyone can remember. Now however, two new part-time positions with a combined salary of over $100,000 have been created to deal with this.
Why do we need these two positions when historically the Fire/Police Departments would handle these responsibilities as part of their normal work? Again I ask if any favoritism (or nepotism) is involved. It doesn’t make sense to me.
4. Since the arrival of the new administration, the City’s legal department has reached multiple financial settlements to settle claims brought by City employees. Most of those claims are for “hostile work environment” and were settled for $100,000 each.
5. As of May 7, 2018 there are 60 vacancies throughout different departments. These unfilled vacancies represent $3,455,822 in salaries. Why do we continue to budget for positions that remain unfulfilled? Some of these positions have been open since 2013. Why is the City Manager and her finance team budgeting for phantom jobs that exist on paper only? I say phantom because they have open for an extraordinarily long period of time.
6. The City Commission ordered a US 1 Corridor study that was subsequently canceled by the City Manager. Still, the company that was going to do the study was paid $50,000.
7. Coral Gables Police Chief Chief Hudak was investigated due to an anonymous and highly suspect complaint. The investigation cost the City at least $50,000 in the form of an outside investigator. Meantime, the Internal Affairsinvestigation into the social media post that smeared 14 policewomen has yet to produce its own finding, despite ten months having elapsed. The cost of that Internal Affairs investigation is unknown. Now the City may fund yet another independent investigator to make sure the concerns of the policewomen are adequately addressed.
8. City Resident Ariel Fernandez received a carefully worded letter telling him to stop asking Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez difficult questions about safety in his neighborhood. The legal expense for drafting this letter was over $10,000.
Do I need to say more? The present administration is spending OUR tax money as if it was theirs to throw away. How much longer are we going to sit back and allow this to continue?
I have carefully documented all the incidents mentioned above.
Unfortunately, our elected officials continue to believe that the City Manager and her staff are doing a good job running the City. They choose to believe the smoke and mirrors presentations that are constantly made to them. I do not. I stand ready to provide details to any reader wanting additional information.
The Sun-Sentinel newspaper just wrote a blistering article on the recent sale of the Margaritaville Hotel in Hollywood Beach. Their criticism is mainly directed at former City of Hollywood City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark who now serves as the Coral Gables City Manager.
The article describes how Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark led the City’s effort to bring the project to fruition. What was supposed to be a $10 million loan eventually turned into a $28 MILLION GRANT to the project’s developers.
The resort hotel was sold in April for $190 million and apparently the City isn’t going to make a cent from the sale. Instead, the City will collect rent and parking revenue from a 99 year lease on the property that Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark negotiated with the original developer. It is unclear whether the new owner of the property will abide by the original lease or attempt to re-negotiate it.
All of this has City of Hollywood residents angry and wondering how a $10 million loan turned into a $28 million “handout” to the developers negotiated by Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark.
I wish I could say I am surprised by this report but I am not. When I started this site several weeks ago I was deeply disturbed by the Broward Inspector General’s highly critical report on Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark entitled “Misconduct and Gross Mismanagement by the City of Hollywood in the Procurement of Temporary Employee Services”.
The report prompted me to reach out to City of Hollywood Commissioner Peter Hernandez to get his reaction to the Inspector General’s findings. To say that Mr. Hernandez has no love lost for Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark would an understatement of epic proportions. He went into detail on the Margaritaville Project saying he was skeptical from Day One because it was Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark who originally presented the deal to the Commission….not the developer as is usually the case. Hernandez told me exactly the same thing he told the Sun-Sentinel “It didn’t smell right then and it doesn’t now.”
PS- Some readers may wonder whether I have a personal beef with Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark or Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez. I do not. I am troubled by them for several legitimate reasons: 1) they have sought to undermine and tarnish the reputation of Police Chief Ed Hudak who I personally know to be a decent and honorable individual, 2) they have dragged their feet in determining the identity of the individual who besmirched the fourteen policewomen photographed with Chief Hudak, 3) I don’t understand why the City of Coral Gables hired two individuals who left the City of Hollywood under a dark cloud (Mr. Fernandez was also mentioned prominently in the Broward Inspector General's report) and 4) I object strongly to other initiatives of the City Manager and the Assistant City Manager including their massive surveillance of our residents and visitors. Finally, it seems that not a day goes by without some citizen or city employee complaining about the current state of the City and its leaders. All these things trouble me.
QUOTE: The officials who negotiated Margaritaville’s $28 million grant came up with an obscure term to describe the handout: Compensated funding.
It’s a phrase you won’t find in the world of finance, Hollywood officials say, because it was dreamed up to describe the unorthodox deal the city crafted with Margaritaville developer Lon Tabatchnick. UNQUOTE
Apparently the Coral Gables City Commission has chosen NOT to discuss the "elephant in the room" that continues to plague the proper functioning of the Coral Gables Police Department, namely that of Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez's ongoing supervisory role in the running of the department. Instead the Mayor has simply chosen to inform us of "Constructive talks between the City Manager's Office and Police Chief". However, I am told there is nothing "constructive" about those talks. The fact remains that we cannot keep having two police chiefs in this City. I urge the City (and I hope you will too) that this public conversation needs to be had SOONER RATHER THAN LATER. This cannot be swept under the rug.
The issue of the constant (and massive) monitoring of Coral Gables residents and visitors through the use of both fixed and mobile Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) continues to trouble me.
I think everyone who lives or works in our City should be asking themselves how comfortable they are with having their normal routine tracked every day AND THEN STORED FOR THREE YEARS in the hopes that one day it may prove useful in solving a crime.
Quite frankly I think this is too much and I made my feelings known in this letter to our elected officials:
Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez feels differently and continues to brag about how wonderful this constant surveillance is in this newly released video:
Mr. Fernandez assures us in the video the city has "the proper policy and oversight" to ensure that the information gathered is not misused. I don't believe him. I suspect our definitions of "proper policy and oversight" differ greatly. For one thing, I don't think that the architect of the system or anyone in the police department should be drafting the policies and then also doing the so-called oversight. You can't have the sheep dogs looking after themselves. You need individuals that are independent of law enforcement, who appreciate civil liberties and who understand the importance of and necessity for unbiased oversight. Otherwise your sheep dogs can turn into wolves....and the sheep won't know what hit them.
Also, the fact that the serious-sounding Crime Intelligence Center is apparently staffed by unshaven, T-shirt wearing "analysts" like Mr. Christopher Cowen (who may be disheveled due to prom night) does nothing to increase my confidence in the system.
After TEN long months it appears that the attorneys representing the fourteen police women wrongly besmirched in the Chief Hudak investigation are getting some traction in their demand that an independent investigator look into the origins of the anonymous letter and social media post that accused them of inappropriate behavior. At the May 8th Commission Meeting, the attorneys felt that progress can finally be made in getting to the bottom of who spread that scurrilous information. Let's hope the Internal Affairs investigation into the matter is released before an entire year lapses. The Internal Affairs (IA) investigation is tainted by the fact that they report to Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez who is no fan of Chief Hudak and who many suspect was quite happy to throw both Hudak and the policewomen under the bus. Fast forward to the 4:43 mark in the link to the video below in order to hear the discussion of this important item.
The City has announced on its website that it has maintained the highest possible credit ratings from Moody's, Standard and Poor's (S&P) and Fitch Ratings, the three major credit rating agencies in the US. This allows the City to borrow money at the lowest possible interest rates and saves taxpayers money on such borrowings. The City is financing the building of a new public safety building and this will help keep those costs down. As a former banker, I can tell you that these credit agencies lost major credibility during the financial meltdown of 2009. It became evident that they had put their lucrative relationships with Wall Street ahead of investor protection and provided stellar ratings for bond issues that quickly turned into junk. Still, credit agencies are the best that we have to monitor the issuers of public debt and the City of Coral Gables remains in their good graces.
The full transcript of the April 24th Coral Gables City Commission Meeting where Chief Hudak's reprimand was rescinded can be found by clicking the button below. It makes for very interesting reading and gives you a sense of how our Commissioners have mishandled the whole situation. Note also how eager they were to dismiss public comment and bury the whole discussion....which proved unsuccessful due to public outcry.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE NEXT CITY COMMISSION MEETING ON TUESDAY MORNING MAY 8th WILL INCLUDE A DISCUSSION OF THE INVESTIGATION INTO THE ANONYMOUS SOURCE THAT MALIGNED OUR POLICE WOMEN. THE ITEM IS SET FOR 10:15 AM.
Also, it is our understanding that the issue of the City's organization chart (and the need to have only one Chief of Police) will be discussed at the next Commission Meeting on May 22nd or at a special session to be determined. As we learn more we will post it here. We also encourage you to check the Commission's online calendar.
(Editor's Note: This website is pro-law enforcement. We support Chief Hudak and the men and women of the Coral Gables Police Department. However, we are also supporters of individual liberty, free speech, and privacy. This article, submitted by a contributor under a pen name, discusses a very important subject that should concern all Coral Gables residents. The City Commission continues to make policy decisions that infringe on our freedoms and on our right to be free from unwarranted government intrusion. This is yet another example of overreach by our elected officials.)
This week the City of Coral Gables sent out a blast email enthusing about the fact that out of twenty-seven municipalities in South Florida, our City is number one in the surveillance of its own residents.
Coral Gables, like these other South Florida towns, uses ALPR, an acronym for auto license plate recognition, supposedly to catch criminals. But it catches more than just criminals. It captures the daily movements of anyone who lives, works or travels within our city limits.
The email from the City bragged that it is on pace to make 30 million (that is not a typo) auto tag image captures this year. All this in a town of 50,000 residents. This massive surveillance is recorded by both fixed cameras (such as those mounted at controlled intersections) and by roving police vehicles. If a wanted suspect's auto tag image is captured, the computers that store this meta data review it and issue an alert that a "bad guy" is linked to the tag. The police can then take action.
The problem with such a "dragnet" approach (Coral Gables' own term) is that it gathers information on innocent citizens as well, and the auto tag information can be used to track anyone--- criminal or not. All the data is saved, for an undetermined period of time. As you can imagine, the potential for mischief is huge. For example: a jealous boyfriend with a friend in the police force could have his girlfriend tracked and her movements recorded 24/7. If you think this can’t happen, take a look at this Associated Press article: Police sometimes misuse confidential work databases for personal gain: AP In addition, the City's email defines a "bad guy" pretty broadly. If your license tag is expired you are now considered a "bad guy." Expect to be caught and suitably punished.
Indeed, an innocent Virginia resident was recently targeted and tracked in this clandestine way. The victim brought a lawsuit asserting invasion of privacy by the intrusive ALPR technology used by his municipality's police department. Last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that this ALPR technology violates that state's privacy statute as it does indeed represent the collection of “personal information”---- not just vehicle information as the police department had asserted. More information can be found here: Va. Supreme Court revives challenge to police storage of license plate reader data
Nevertheless, it appears that Coral Gables’ leaders don’t really care about the potential for abuse by ALPR…nor what the courts are saying about them. They want to stay on track to collect their 30 million images.
It is important to note that Florida's residents, on paper, enjoy an even stronger protection of privacy than residents of Virginia. Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution specifically protects our privacy from government intrusion or surveillance.
Civil libertarians across the entire political spectrum should be concerned that the Coral Gables Commission, as well as officials in 26 other South Florida municipalities don't understand or care to acknowledge the threat these tens of millions of auto tag captures per annum pose to our privacy. The ACLU certainly cares. They helped the Virginia resident bring his lawsuit.
Ironically, three of our current five Coral Gables Commissioners are lawyers who were supposedly educated as to the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Are they even remotely concerned about this?
Supreme Court Justice Brandeis wrote: "Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."
Stay tuned. In the meantime, stay out of Coral Gables if you can. Big brother is watching.
The Coral Gables City Commission meeting on Tuesday morning, April 24th was standing room only. Dozens and dozens of supporters of police chief Ed Hudak crowded the Commission's chambers while others spilled out onto the second floor lobby and stairs. The atmosphere was tense as the residents and business leaders who showed up to support Chief Hudak were clearly upset by the City Manager's reprimand of the Chief. In addition to the Gables crowd, a large contingent of current and former police officers and police union leaders from throughout Florida were in attendance. In addition, many of the police women captured in the pool party photograph sat in the front row to show their support for Chief Hudak.
As soon as the discussion of Chief Hudak began, the microphone was passed to City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark who acknowledged the crowd in attendance and immediately announced that the reprimand of Chief Hudak was being rescinded "in the best interests of the city." She offered no apology.
The crowd then broke into loud applause that both the City Attorney and the Mayor tried to quell. They succeeded only after repeated threats to have people expelled from the chambers.
Once order was restored, Chief Hudak spoke briefly and thanked the City Manager for withdrawing the reprimand. He then expressed his support for the 14 female police officers who have been unfairly dragged through the mud during this whole debacle. Finally, with his voice cracking, he expressed how proud he was to be the Chief of Police of the City of Coral Gables, to lead the City's police officers and to serve its residents. He then stepped away from the podium.
Another raucous cheer went up from the crowd and the Mayor again tried to restore order by striking his gavel repeatedly.
A discussion followed as to whether the Commission should continue with other agenda items or allow commentary from those that wanted to speak on the matter of the reprimand. The crowd was noticeably angry that they might be shunted aside. Around this time, Commissioner Patricia Keon got up and exited the Chamber, only to return towards the end of the meeting holding a can of Diet Coke. She apparently was upset that so many people were still critical of the City Manager's reprimand and that the crowd's desire to be heard had disrupted her desire to leave early that day. She was absent for most of the citizen commentary on Chief Hudak.
Mayor Valdes-Fauli finally agreed to allow commentary and the next hour was spent hearing from numerous men and women representing themselves and various groups. 100% OF THEM VOICED SUPPORT FOR CHIEF HUDAK. More than a few were highly critical of City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark and Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez. One police union official described Frank Fernandez as "a snake who keeps changing his skin every time he goes to a new city."
Several speakers also castigated the City's leaders for failing to properly investigate the police women's complaints of being attacked anonymously and having their reputations tarnished. An attorney representing the women reinforced the same point and Commissioner Vince Lago--- to his credit--- allowed her to talk beyond her allotted time.
It was obvious to most observers in the room that the plight of the police women has not been properly addressed by the City's leaders and that it remains a very serious issue.
Among the people who showed up supporting Chief Hudak were attorney and former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero and his wife Ana Maria, former HBO Latin America CEO Gaston Comas, Mas Group head Juan Carlos Mas, Dr. Robert Perdomo, attorney Rene Lamar, attorney Tom Spencer, former Coral Gables Commissioner Jeannnett Slesnick, lobbyist Jorge Arrizurieta, PBS television anchor Pam Gigante, Citizen-Activist Maria Cruz, and Sue Kawalerski representing the Riviera Neighborhood Association (RNA).
After the last speaker was heard, the Mayor agreed to continue a discussion of the City's organization structure at the next Commission meeting scheduled for TUESDAY MAY 8th. The issue of Chief Hudak reporting to his nemesis Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez will no doubt be the hot topic.
Mayor Valdes-Fauli then called for a 10 minute recess and noted that following the recess the Commission would return to other agenda items. The crowd of Hudak supporters then began to disperse.
Excellent video coverage of the meeting can be found here: http://miami.cbslocal.com/2018/04/24/group-rallies-in-support-of-gables-police-chief-reprimand-rescinded/
Veteran reporter Jim DeFede did an in-depth interview with police union attorney Mark Richard describing the toxic relationship that now exists between the City Manager and her own police force: http://miami.cbslocal.com/2018/04/29/facing-south-florida-city-beautiful-turns-ugly/
Ever since she returned to Coral Gables in 2014---- following a tarnished tenure as City Manager of the City of Hollywood----- Coral Gables City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark has been trying to oust Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak, a respected and admired leader in our community.
Swanson's initial attempt failed in 2015 so instead she made Hudak report to her close ally, Frank Fernandez, who she had brought from Hollywood hoping to replace him. In order to do that she created a new position of Assistant City Manager for Public Safety. Initially, Fernandez had only two employees to supervise: Ed Hudak and the Fire Chief. The position was (and still is) a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. It exists mainly so that Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark and Frank Fernandez can micromanage Chief Hudak and usurp his authority.
Last year, an anonymous source accused Chief Hudak of inappropriate behavior while making an appearance at a summertime pool party organized by 14 female officers from the Department.
The City Commission ordered an independent investigation at a cost of at least $50,000. Six months and numerous sworn depositions later, it was determined that Chief Hudak had not violated any Coral Gables Police Department regulations. Chief Hudak ---and the 14 female officers in attendance--- have consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Hudak's exoneration was not the outcome that Swanson or Fernandez were hoping for. So instead, they crafted a six-page written reprimand placed in his personnel file that accuses Hudak, a highly respected career law enforcement professional (with 28 years of experience) of being "immature" and of "conduct unbecoming" a police officer and criticizes him for not showing any "remorse" for his actions. It is petty and vindictive and yet more evidence of the vendetta that Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark and Frank Fernandez have for Chief Hudak.
Next Tuesday morning, April 24th, the City Commission will meet to discuss the future of Chief Hudak. If you believe in Chief Hudak's honesty and integrity we urge you to arrive early at Coral Gables City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way (at 8:20 AM) to show your support.
Join us at the next Coral Gables City Commission meeting to continue supporting Chief Hudak and the 14 female police officers unfairly attacked by an anonymous source. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday May 8th. THE ISSUE OF THE INVESTIGATION INTO THE ANONYMOUS ACCUSER OF THE POLICE WOMEN WILL BE DISCUSSED AT 10:15 AM AS PER THE AGENDA.
PO Box 145056, Coral Gables, FL 33114
I’ve known Ed Hudak for well over a decade. My interactions with Ed have confirmed the reputation that long proceeded him--- that of an honest and dedicated police professional with a deep love for the Coral Gables community and his beloved alma mater, the University of Miami. Ed’s a straight talking, no-nonsense cop but one that is fair and treats every member of our community with respect. He’s exactly the leader we need protecting the City Beautiful.
Raul Mas Canosa, lifelong Coral Gables resident
I have known Ed Hudak for 38 years and have found him to be a very capable, trustworthy, and honest Police Officer, Supervisor, Commander, and Chief of Police. As a retired Assistant Chief of Police in Coral Gables and Chief of Police in New Hampshire, I am aware of the issues that impact on his success as a Chief of Police. Ed is more than qualified to bring the kind of Police Service the citizens of Coral Gables need and deserve.
Richard Bannon, retired police chief
I have had the distinct pleasure of knowing Chief Hudak for over ten years.
In my dealings with him, within the professional arena, I can attest without hesitation that he demonstrates leadership qualities one seeks to be associated with and emulate. He leaves you with a sense that you’ve dealt with a person who is praiseworthy, yet when accomplishing goals or objectives, would definitely shower others with praise instead of himself.
On a personal level, first and foremost I’ve known him to be a great family man. As a friend he is loyal, considerate and sincere. He encompasses those exceptional traits that make you privileged to know him, and be called a friend by him.
David Calzadilla, Retired Miami-Dade Police Department
I have lived/worked in the City of Coral Gables for 50 years. I write to support Chief Ed Hudak. I have known Chief Hudak for 25 years. He has been a police officer in the City for more than 25 years, essentially spending his entire law enforcement career in the City. He is always there when you need him. He knows the City and its people like few, if any, chiefs of police before him. He treats everyone with dignity and respect and sees the role of police officers and the department as one of service to the City's residents and the community. He is also universally respected among the officers he supervises. He is a true public servant and beloved by the community he serves.
It would be disappointing---even shameful--- to lose someone who loves the City and has served its residents for so long. Not only that: it is time that Chief Hudak is allowed to exercise his duties as all other chiefs before him have been allowed to do--- without having to report to another supervisor and with full authority to hire, promote and fire.
I hope the Commission will do the right thing for the Chief and the City so that the City can put this issue to rest and focus on the many important issues the City faces.
Roberto L. Perdomo III, DMD
I met Ed Hudak over 25 years ago during an emergency call that involved multiple jurisdictions. He showed professionalism, dedication to law enforcement, and a desire to work with other agencies to make the community safer for all. He has never lost those traits as he moved up through the ranks to chief. He is considered a Cop’s Cop.
In 2007, after the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, he developed a training exercise at the University of Miami-- Operation Sandbox-- that included multiple police and fire jurisdictions. In addition, he had first-responders involved in the Virginia Tech incident come to speak and answer questions. This not only strengthened safety at the University of Miami, but for all of Miami-Dade County as a collaborative experience.
Ed attended the FBI National Academy where he was elected by approximately 200 attendees from law enforcement leaders worldwide to be the President of their Session. He is an active member of the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association (LEEDA) and the Police Officer Assistance Trust (POAT) among other groups.
Chief Hudak is a distinguished leader who is highly respected and has positively represented the Coral Gables Police and community for over 25 years.
Retired Miami-Dade Police Officer
I do not agree with Chief Hudak on everything…but my support of him is total. He is a "cop's cop" who has put the safety of Gables residents ahead of everything else, including his own career. What is being done to him by others for pure political purposes proves what Mark Twain wrote: "A lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its shoes on." We should all, right now, put our shoes on for Chief Hudak and walk into City Hall on Tuesday, April 24th.
Jack Thompson, Coral Gables resident for 37 years
I have known Chief Ed Hudak for approximately ten years, in various capacities of our respective law enforcement careers.
I have had the honor of working with him on numerous events for the City and on major events in Miami-Dade County which have encompassed a myriad of agencies. I can attest, without a doubt, that he is an ethical, honest, trustworthy person and a notable leader. He exemplifies incredible moral character; adheres to a strict code of ethics and possesses leadership qualities that have never vacillated. His leadership skills are undisputable and he operates with integrity! In his professional life, he is well respected and admired by his peers, co-workers and subordinates; and in his personal life, Ed is a dedicated family man.
As Theodore Roosevelt once said “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”
On a personal note, I must say that Ed is one of the finest persons I know. I am blessed to call him a friend.
Elio Gonzalez / Miami-Dade Police Bomb Squad Commander-Retired
Reprinted with permission of the author:
Dear Mayor and Commissioners:
Fairness is a principle that I consider to be among the most important at all levels of society and life. Accordingly, my observation of the City Manager’s treatment of Police Chief Ed Hudak can only be characterized as blatantly unfair and unjust, and compels me to write this letter in anticipation of tomorrow’s Commission meeting.
Since the basis for this debate is an investigation and report into possible policy violations and misdeeds by the Chief that has led to a reprimand, seeks additional punishment and poses the threat of termination, we should then be fair and measure the two principal figures in this dispute with the same stick. If people’s character, professionalism and ethics are defined by the findings of “reports” then let us also take into account the Broward Inspector General’s investigation and report into the City of Hollywood Administration under the leadership of Cathy Swanson Rivenbark - an exhaustive and powerful document that the City Commission surprisingly glossed over during her hiring process.
In the case of Chief Hudak, you have the City of Coral Gables investing time, energy and money to aggressively investigate possible violations by the Chief based on an ANONYMOUS complaint. The rumor mill around this incident devolved into salacious and scandalous innuendo that humiliated the Chief and the other officers present at that event along with their families. In the end, the investigator’s report determined that there were no formal violations and that the allegations regarding sex toys were untrue. To many in our community, including me, this should have closed this unnecessarily embarrassing chapter for Coral Gables. But it appears that to the City Manger the conclusions of the investigator she hired were not enough and she now seeks to further pursue this matter and apply her own brand of arbitrary justice. The Manager is burrowing deep into the city's policy manual to find the strictest possible interpretation that will cause further professional harm to the Chief. Returning to the issue of fairness, she is applying an unfair standard that certainly didn’t guide her when she was investigated by Broward’s Inspector General.
In that case we have a comprehensive 68 page report with an additional 188 pages of supporting documentation that concludes definitively that Ms. Swanson Rivenbark indeed violated city ordinances, policies and procedures in Hollywood. The City Commission was so appalled by the findings that they voted 5 to 2 in favor of filing a complaint against her with the International City Management Association.
Below are the findings of the investigation that directly implicate the City Manager:
• The City Commission was misled by City Staff. As part of this determination, the Inspector General places Ms. Swanson Rivenbark at the heart of this manipulation. • Misrepresentations were made to the City Commission • Staff attempted to mislead the Commission into improper use of an exemption Additionally, the Inspector General documented that the vendor involved in this scandal never had a valid contract, there was no competitive process to procure the contract, there was a failure to budget funds when spending was anticipated and there was a failure to document transfer of budgeted funds. These three determinations about misleading the Commission and misrepresenting information is part of the City Manager’s professional record and should have raised concerns about her judgement and character when she was first hired. And contrary to the Chief’s investigation which, again, concluded that there were no violations, the investigation involving the Manager determines and documents multiple violations.
A copy of the Broward Inspector General’s report can be viewed by clicking on this linkhttps://www.dropbox.com/s/m00l4tjeylhymun/20160302OIG14027FinalReport.pdf?dl=0
The reality that the public knows full well, but the Commission refuses to admit, is that the investigation into Hudak and the subsequent report was merely a Trojan Horse that the Manager is employing to ultimately remove a Chief that she does not want. The erosion of this relationship began the moment the Manager assumed her job and has progressively worsened in a systematic fashion ever since. And for all of my criticisms of the City Manager there is no doubt that ultimate responsibility lies with the City Commission which has failed to exercise its authority under the City Charter and address this controversy.
As this process ultimately comes to a conclusion there are certain rights that the parties involved in this process have at their disposal:
1. The Manager has the right to terminate the Chief.
2. The Chief has the right to resign.
3. The Commission has the right to remove the Manager.
4. The public has the right to vote out the Mayor and Commissioners if they disagree with their decision.
Based on the good will that Ed Hudak has built in the community during his nearly three decades of service, coupled with the visible improvements in safety and security during his tenure as Chief, I can say with confidence that option 4 will be a very likely result if option 1 occurs. Believe me when I say that there will be strong voter backlash if the Chief is fired. Moreover, fabricating accusations, generating investigations and creating a hostile work environment is unfair to a dignified public servant like the Chief and a disservice to the taxpayers.
Instead of continuing to pursue this witch hunt, perhaps more time should be dedicated to investigating why the Coral Gables debris cleanup after Hurricane Irma was among the worst in Miami Dade or why the Miracle Mile and Giralda projects were so severely mismanaged. All of these, by the way, are part of the Manager’s legacy in Coral Gables.
As a person with no interest in this matter beyond being a simple citizen, I implore you to show leadership and do the right thing. Stand up for Chief Hudak and hold the City Manager accountable for orchestrating this Roman circus, even if that includes her removal. Don’t reward her record of violations and mismanagement that include misleading a City Commission; these are actual facts that speak for themselves.
Freddy Balsera BALSERA COMMUNICATIONS P. 305.441.1272 Miami - Washington, DC – Buenos Aires