Florida Bulldog

Hollywood police chief to step down amid reports of infighting with city manager’s office

By Dan Christensen and Karla Bowsher, 

Hollywood Police Chief Chadwick Wagner will retire in January after five years as the city’s top cop.

Wagner, 52, is leaving amid reports of significant friction with his new bosses at City Hall – City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark and her top assistant Frank Fernandez, the new director of public safety.

“They are making his life miserable every day,” said Jeff Marano, senior vice president with the Broward County Police Benevolent Association.

“He’s not getting along with them and they have asked him to leave a little earlier than he’d planned,” said the head of another police department who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey confirmed that Wagner is retiring, but said there is “no truth to the rumors” of conflict.

“There’s no tension that I’m aware of,” said Storey. “Chief Wagner will have completed 30 years of service for full retirement in January.

Wagner did not return phone messages seeking comment.


Swanson-Rivenbark replaced short-lived City Manager Doug Hewett in June. Hewett resigned in June in the wake his drunk-driving arrest on Easter Sunday.

The new city manager soon created a new assistant’s job to oversee the police and fire departments.

Fernandez, who retired in 2010 as deputy chief of the Miami Police Department, was hired in August to be the city’s first assistant city manager for public safety.  His annual salary: $136,000.

Fernandez’s arrival has touched off speculation that he’ll become Hollywood’s next police chief – an idea Swanson-Rivenbark would like to extinguish.

“She made it very clear to me that our assistant city manager was hired to be an assistant city manager and that his expertise would be critical to helping to lead recruitment efforts, but that there is no plan for him to serve as police chief,” said Storey.


News of Wagner’s imminent departure comes as contract negotiations have broken off between the city and PBA union. The old agreement expired Sept. 30.

“The city would love for him to leave early,” said Marano. “The city manager cannot control the chief and she needs to break the union.”

Both sides are waiting to see what happens in next week’s election. If the commission becomes more union friendly, Marano could declare an impasse and seek commissioners’ support to get a contract.

“They don’t want to do anything before the elections. The incumbents here are very nervous,” said Marano.

The PBA considers Fernandez “anti-employee” and wants Wagner around as long as possible “because of all the turmoil,” said Marano. “They don’t like the PBA, and especially me.”

It is also hoped that the chief will “nurture somebody from the inside” to take over when he leaves. Marano declined to say whom the PBA would support as a new boss for the approximately 300-officer department.


Wagner, a graduate of North Miami Beach Senior High School and Barry University, was named interim chief on Nov. 1, 2007 and hired to the permanent post a few months later.

He replaced Chief James Scarberry. who retired amid accusations that he had leaked information about a federal corruption probe into several top police commanders and the mayor.

Prosecutors said the leak led them to prematurely close an undercover investigation in which FBI agents posed as heroin smugglers in a mob family. Five Hollywood officers pleaded guilty in the case.

Wagner gained national attention in 2008 when he held a press conference to declare that the 1981 abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh was solved and that longtime suspect Ottis Toole committed the crime. Toole died in prison in 1996.

Wagner offered no new evidence, however, and suggested city detectives had botched the investigation.

The chief based his decision on a report prepared by a retired Miami Beach detective and Walsh-family confidant who last year co-authored a controversial book about the case.

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