DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. - It seems Elizabeth Ricci is on the fast track in Deerfield Beach.
Just a few years ago, the 27-year-old Ricci was a college student and part-time lifeguard at the city's aquatics center. A year later, she was named the city's aquatics manager, and this year she was elevated to the newly created position of superintendent of recreation in the city of about 80,000.
Yet, city records show that Ricci was ranked a mere sixth out of nine candidates after the first round of interviews for the position.
She was named a top-three finalist anyway and, after a second round of interviews, still didn't have the highest score. That top-ranked candidate, who asked that Local 10 News not identify him for privacy concerns, said that he was never even offered the job.
"You have an inner circle that runs the city," activist Patrick Jolivet said.
Jolivet and other activists point to Ricci's family ties.
She is the daughter of Peggy Noland, a former mayor of the city, who has had controversy regarding relatives in the past. She once voted in favor of a pension plan for firefighters while her husband was a fire official and her son, also a firefighter, was charged with stealing her opponent's campaign signs in 2009.
"It was part of the friends and family package, I guess," Jolivet said.
Mayor Bill Ganz acknowledged Noland's past family issues.
"The optics of it have always been troublesome for Peggy Noland," Ganz said.
But Ganz steadfastly denied that Ricci's meteoric rise was in any way inappropriate or a sign of cronyism or nepotism in the city.
"I'm confident that that's not what we do," Ganz said.
While some suspect political chicanery, Ganz said he knew nothing about the hire until after it happened.
Gang said he has confidence in the city manager, Burgess Hanson, who was hired under Norland's reign. Norman asked Hanson how Ricci got the job after initially being ranked sixth out of nine candidates.
"She was selected through an extensive human resources evaluation process," Hanson said.
"Is it cronyism?" Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman asked.
"No, it's not," Hanson said. "Peggy Noland had nothing to do with her daughter being hired."
"But the top-rated person was not offered the job," Norman said. "It doesn't make sense."
"Again, that is your opinion, along with a couple of others," Hanson said.
"It looks like cronyism," Norman said.
"You may say that, but it is not cronyism," Hanson said.
When Norman went to Noland's home to ask her about it, she refused comment through a closed door.
She refused to go on camera, but later told Norman on the phone that she had nothing to do with her daughter's promotion and was simply trying to enjoy her retirement from the city. She refused further comment, citing advice from an attorney.
Noland said that her daughter would also have no comment, and Ricci didn't return a message left at the city from Local 10.
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