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Ethics watchdog: Fort Lauderdale’s top boss did not live in city as required by charter

Greg Chavarria stunned the Fort Lauderdale commission when he announced plans to resign from his $291,000-a-year job as city manager on June 1 for personal reasons.

More stunning news came on Thursday, two days before Chavarria’s official exit, when the Broward County Inspector General released a report saying Chavarria did not live in Fort Lauderdale for the first 14 months of his tenure as required by the city charter.

Investigators used SunPass records to substantiate an allegation that Chavarria did not live in Fort Lauderdale when he took over as city manager, the report says. According to the report, Chavarria did not live within city limits until September 2023, 14 months after taking the job.

The Inspector General accused Chavarria of engaging in criminal misconduct when he changed his address with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to that of a La Cancha condo unit that was not his legal residence.

“As he falsely swore to the veracity of the address of his legal residence, Mr. Chavarria committed perjury not in an official proceeding and making a false official statement, (which constitute) first-degree and second-degree misdemeanors,” the report states.

Chavarria, 46, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Investigators with the Inspector General’s Office offered Chavarria the chance to speak with them, but he declined to do so on April 11, the report says.

Before the end of a commission meeting on April 2, Chavarria made the announcement that he planned to resign as Fort Lauderdale’s city manager.

That night, Mayor Dean Trantalis had a hard time hiding his shock: “Wow. So 60 days? You’ll remain with us 60 days? OK. I’m at a loss for words right now. We’re going to just adjourn the meeting.”

Trantalis said he had no idea Chavarria was under investigation until receiving the Inspector General’s report on Thursday.

A loyal fan of Chavarria’s, the mayor defended him, saying he thinks the charter needs updating and should no longer require the city manager to live in Fort Lauderdale.

“I don’t see how residency in a city affects a manager’s ability to perform their job ably,” Trantalis said. “I’d like to see that section of our charter taken out.”

The mayor also took aim at the anonymous tipster.

“I’m surprised and disappointed that people would attempt to denigrate the good name and the good work of our city manager,” he said. “This is nothing less than a cheap political ploy by those who felt they’ve been left out of the process. And now we’re left without leadership and without direction.”

Vice Mayor Steve Glassman said he didn’t know Chavarria had been the target of an Inspector General investigation, but he wasn’t at all surprised.

“There have been people out to get our city manager for quite awhile,” Glassman said. “To me, (living in the city) is not really important in this day and age. I’m much more concerned with the work product as opposed to where they sleep.”

Commissioner John Herbst wasn’t surprised either.

“There had been rumors,” Herbst said. “Apparently someone took those rumors to the OIG.”

Had Chavarria not already quit, Herbst said he would have pushed for his termination.

“The commission would have discussed it and decided what action to take on it,” he said. “It’s conceivable that the commission could have taken no action. If it were up to me, we would have had no choice but to remove him.”

It was too early to say Thursday whether the Broward State Attorney’s Office would review the matter. “The case has not yet been received by our office,” said Aaron Savitski, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office. “Prosecutors will review it once we receive the OIG’s findings.”

Here’s more details on what the Inspector General’s investigators found:

According to city employment records, Chavarria was living in North Miami Beach when the commission named him city manager on July 23, 2022.

Chavarria attempted to make it appear as if he lived in Fort Lauderdale when he changed his legal address to a condo at La Cancha on Feb. 25, 2023 – seven months after taking the reins as city manager, the report says.

Chavarria not only violated the city’s charter requirement that the city manager reside within the city limits, but he also violated state law by falsely swearing to legally residing at an address that was not his legal residence, the report alleges.

“Finally, Mr. Chavarria’s routine commute between February 25, 2023, and September 15, 2023, also demonstrated that he did not legally reside at the La Cancha address,” the report says.

“We reviewed SunPass transponder records for the transponder and license plate associated with Mr. Chavarria’s vehicle,” the report says. “The SunPass transaction history showed that, between February 25, 2023, and September 15, 2023, the SunPass transponder routinely traveled north of North Miami Beach and south of Fort Lauderdale using the I-95 Express lanes.”

In total, the transponder either used the I-95 Express lanes to travel north at the beginning of a work day, south at the end of a work day, or both north at the beginning of the day then south at the end of the same work day on 94 days, or approximately 67% of the work days between February 25, 2023 and September 15, 2023, the report states.

“Activity on the transponder associated with Mr. Chavarria’s vehicle had a marked decline after mid-September 2023,” says the report, “which coincided with the date he reported living at Society Las Olas to the City’s Human Resources Director.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at moc.lenitnesnus@nayrbs. Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan

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