By Noelle H. Lowery
The city of Marco Island’s tumultuous search for a new city manager came to a close during a special City Council Meeting on Monday, Jan. 13. The council voted 5-0 to offer Roger Hernstadt — the current city manager for Marathon, FL — the position and successfully negotiated and approved his $222,250 compensation package.
The decision was a long time coming. Last April, former Marco Island City Manager Jim Riviere put the city on notice that he would retire at the end of September. In May, city councilors voted 6-1 (with Councilor Chuck Keister in dissent) to issue an RFQ for head hunting firms interested in helping the city find Riviere’s replacement.
In June, city councilors hired Colin Baenziger & Associates to recruit the next city manager. This relationship ended badly three months later, when two lists of candidates provided by Baenziger were rejected by the City Council. In fact, city councilors contended that none of the 137 candidates provided by Baenziger met the requirements set forth in a recruiting brochure collectively created by Baenziger and city councilors.
The search received new life in mid-September when Baenziger resigned and Norcross, GA-based Slavin Management Consultants took over. To keep the city moving forward during the search, City Council appointed Marco’s Finance Director Guillermo “Gil” Polanco to the position of interim city manager on Sept. 23.
Slavin’s search results received the same reception as Baenziger’s, and in December after a particularly grueling session between Slavin and city councilors, Slavin resigned too. Slavin screened 72 preliminary candidates and provided a short list of 13 to City Council. In the end, five of the seven city councilors expressed continued disappointment and concern about the process and quality of the candidates.
Even so, there was one consistent candidate through the entire process — Roger Hernstadt. He spent the last four years as the city manager for Marathon, FL, ushering the small Keys community into cityhood and helping it with its water utility. Prior to that, Hernstadt was an assistant city manager for Miami.
Hernstadt rose to the top during the Jan. 13 special meeting. After spending the day in one-on-one interviews with city councilors, Hernstatd and one other candidate, Calvin Peck, the current city manager of Bald Head Island, NC, were publicly interviewed in City Council chambers.
Even this process was bumpy, though. After an hour, the interviews concluded, and the council began the difficult task of choosing which candidate they wanted. Two vote tallies later, the council was split — four in favor of Peck and three in favor of Hernstadt. The votes were a “no-go,” though. According to the city charter, the city manager must be chosen by a super majority vote of at least five votes.
“We have to step up and make a decision here,” said Council Chairman Ken Honecker in frustration.
For some, Hernstadt’s experience working in Florida made him the most viable candidate. For others, Peck’s military service was the trump card. In the end, it was Peck who made the decision for the city council, removing himself from consideration after Honecker called a recess to allow councilors a bit more time to consider their votes.
Then the contract negotiations began. Hernstadt’s current compensation package with the city of Marathon totals $178,520 with a base salary of $145,000. As councilors began to discuss what they would be willing to pay Hernstadt, some bristled at the offerings of $145,000 and $150,000 in base salary.
“We are appointing the CEO of Marco Island,” said Council Vice Chairman Larry Sacher. “I find it outright offensive that we would ask him to pick up his life and move his family here for a lateral move.”
By 8:30 PM, the deal was done with only one councilor — Joe Batte — voting against it, and a start date of Monday, Feb. 3 was set. While Batte supported the hiring of Hernstadt, he was not in favor of the compensation package.
Here are the specifics:
• Hernstadt’s contract with the city of Marathon requires him to provide 60 days notice for vacating his position. If he fails to do so, he will lose his accumulated paid-time-off. He has accrued roughly 700 hours, which the City of Marco Island has agreed to roll into his paid-leave bank.
• He will receive a car allowance of $500 per month, and the city will provide a cell phone for him.
• The city will pay “actual, reasonable moving expenses” for Hernstadt and his family.
• Hernstadt has three months left on the lease of his home in Marathon, and the City of Marco Island will cover this cost for three months at the amount of $2,300 per month. Further, because Hernstadt will be moving to Marco Island during season when rental rates are higher than normal, the city will pay the difference between the actual rent on a home he and his family find on the island and $2,200 for three months.
• Hernstadt’s base pay will be $155,000, and he will receive another $67,250 in employee benefits, retirement and medical insurance.