Coral Gables City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark is not totally in the clear, yet.
Swanson has dodged a series of professional bullets as her administration has waged an unpopular war with the police chief, lied to commissioners, got caught spying on at least one citizen activist and more. But if Swanson thought she was going to be able to move on, she was kidding herself. The can is open. The worms are multiplying.
Now, Commissioner Vince Lago wants to talk about the way Swanson tried to manipulate the investigation on her handpicked lacky, Frank Fernandez, who was subsequently hired as assistant city manager and public safety director. Lago sent the mayor and other commissioners a memo Friday, urging discussion on an email from Swanson to an outside investigative agency that Ladra exposed on Political Cortadito last month.
Read related: Coral Gables needs outside agency to investigate ‘anonymous’ complaint
In the 2015 email that causes Lago concern, Swanson-Rivernbark basically says her mantra. “Look away, look away. Nothing to see here.” But she says it in instructions to an independent investigator paid by the city to do background investigations on people who are being hired for an assistant manager position.  Ladra would think this independent background investigation would become particularly important and necessary if the person being considered was the city manager’s lacky back in Hollywood, where she was accused of misspending $1 million and where an investigation by the Inspector General of Broward found she intentionally and repeatedly lied to and manipulated that city commission and to have violated several city rules.
Lago’s full memo sent at 4 p.m. Friday and copied to Swanson and City Attorney Miriam Ramos lays out what happened:
“I have recently been made aware of some information that heavily concerns me. In May 2015, City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark initiated the hiring process to employ the Assistant City Manager/Director of Public Safety, Frank Fernandez. Standard protocol requires all individuals seeking employment with the City of Coral Gables to undergo a background investigation.
In an email dated May 2, 2015 (enclosed) the City Manager requested the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s background investigator contracted by the City to: “neither seek nor include any information for Broward PBA or Jeff Marano individually as it will hold no credibility nor value in my decision making”. The Assistant Director of Training and Professional Services for the International Association of Chiefs of Police responded to our then Human Resource Director, Elsa Jaramillo with the following statement: “We will not comply with Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark’s request in any way. For the background investigation to have merit, we will not restrict the investigation in any way or limit access to sources”.
As government officials it is our duty and obligation to be transparent and accountable. Interfering in hiring protocols such as background investigations can jeopardize our city’s image and in a worst case scenario, allow an individual with an unpleasant background to work in our community. We are thankful and fortunate this is not the case in this instance.
Regardless of the character of the person or entity the City Manager was requesting to exclude as part of the investigation, the process was interfered with nonetheless. We must never tolerate this kind of behavior especially when our City is known to uphold the highest standards when hiring police officers and personnel. According to the International City/County Manager Association’s (ICMA) Code of Ethics, City Managers demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order to merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public. To interfere in hiring processes breaches the public trust and makes citizens doubt our City’s governing practices which city officials should always remain cautious about.
If you would like to discuss this incident in more detail, I invite you to do so at the upcoming Commission meeting on June 12, 2018.
Let’s go over part of that, shall we?
“Interfering in hiring protocols such as background investigations can jeopardize our city’s image and in a worst case scenario, allow an individual with an unpleasant background to work in our community. We are thankful and fortunate this is not the case in this instance,” Lago wrote.
But how does he know that. How can we really trust the final report? Did it come from the city manager’s office?
Ladra reached out to Jeff Marano, who was credible enough to be elected as president of the Broward PBA by the men and women of that police force, and asked him if he was ever called by the IACP investigator regarding Frank Fernandez. Guess what: He wasn’t.
“They were never going to call me. That investigator is Frank’s buddy,” Marano said this weekend.
Frank Fernandez
What would he have wanted commissioners to know? “He’s looking for the chief’s job. He got run out of the city of Miami and run out of the city of Hollywood, where everybody called him ‘Mama’s Boy,’” Marano said, and we don’t have to guess too hard who “mama” is.
“He’s anti-cop. He’s hated in Miami. He is not well liked in Hollywood. He wants to wear Ed Hudak‘s uniform. He will not stop until he gets rid of Ed Hudak. He is not a good guy,” Marano said, adding that Fernandez was suspected in a bunch of anonymous complaints when he was deputy city manager in Hollywood, including the one that got the Broward city’s chief fired.
Hmmmmm. What a coincidence.
Again, from Lago’s memo: “To interfere in hiring processes breaches the public trust and makes citizens doubt our City’s governing practices.”
My point exactly.
Read related: Coral Gables manager’s petty reprimand on chief backfires on her
And what do you mean by “we must never tolerate this kind of behavior,” Vince? That Swanson-Rivenbark should be fired? Because Ladra really can’t see any other way through this. That public trust you talk about is already broken. This latest breach is not the first crack. And Ladra is just not sure how Swanson-Rivenbark is ever going to be able to regain that.
Or even if she’ll try.
She hasn’t been remorseful. She has never apologized. She only rescinded the vicious and vendetta reprimand against the chief “for the good of the city” not because she knew she was wrong. She didn’t even reach out to the women police officers whose pool party was turned into a political hatchet job against their will and who have been vilified and bullied online. She dragged her feet and only allowed the investigation of those anonymous insults recently and reluctantly.
And how can we ever trust any investigation that she signs off on again? She tried to mess with the investigation into Fernandez. She stretched the needless and retaliatory investigation into Hudak so she could smear him in an unwarranted reprimand that she later had to take back. And she forced the police chief to accept a head of Internal Affairs that was handpicked by the lackey she handpicked and didn’t want investigated.
¿Que que? ¿Que arroz con mango es este?
What more do we need Swanson-Rivenbark to do before commissioners can agree that the trust here is irrevocably broken? Gone forever? Dead?
Does she need to go ahead and without commission approval, suspended a study they instructed her to do of development on the U.S. 1 corridor, incurring a $50,000 penalty for interrupting it? Oh, wait. She already did that.
Read related: Coral Gables cover-up on police ‘spy’ protects city managers
Does she need to suspend a suspected spy with pay so that the spy can get her full pension and keep her secrets? Oh, wait. She did that, too.
Does she need to waste city resources, time and credibility on her personal vendetta against the police chief, causing morale problems and concerns among residents? Check that off the list also.
Seems to me that June 12 can’t come soon enough and that every commissioner (except you Pat Keon… we know Cathy owns you for whatever reason) should put this discussion item on the agenda. Nobody elected you to let the city manager do whatever she wants. When you have a city manager that is asking for another cheek in an investigation — something she seemingly got — you don’t know what else she’s done or is capable of doing.
Swanson’s days seem inevitably numbered. It’s just a matter of how long she can draw it out.
Ladra asked Marano if he would grace us with his presence June 12. He said he’d put it on his calendar. Maybe he can finally tell commissioners what it was that Swanson-Rivenbark wanted so desperately to keep from them.

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