By Noelle H. Lowery
More than two- thirds of the Marco Island city employees have answered City Manager Roger Hernstadt’s call to step up their group charitable contributions.
To date, thanks to a new program instituted by Hernstadt, 149 city employees have donated almost $35,000 to some 25 local charities, with the vast majority of the money going to support the city’s Relay for Life Team — a group of city employees who voluntarily run a series of charitable fundraisers in a friendly team competition against other Marco entities, employers and civic groups that ends each year in April.
According to Hernstadt, when he took over as city manager in February, he was disappointed to find that city employees as a group had made a little more than $2,000 in charitable contributions through payroll deductions and in donations to Relay for Life in 2013.
“As a group of more than 200 employees, that was pretty dismal,” he said. “If you are going to work for a public entity, what comes with that is the responsibility to give back to the community that employs you above and beyond your day to day work and individual donations. That is part of being part of the team and community.”
So, Hernstadt devised a program that allows city employees to turn one day of paid-time off — eight hours — into cash for charities. The program is based on the city’s personal leave policy. In general, most city employees receive 21 days off annually, and they are allowed to accrue time off from year to year.
As such, employees who have banked more than 120 hours can sell back hours to the city for cash twice a year. The amount they receive is dependent on their hourly rate, and police and fire department employees are governed by the parameters of their collective bargaining agreements.
Hernstadt presented the program to city employees in a recent staff meeting, and they rose to the challenge with more than 136 employees participating. Hernstadt stated that many large and small governments including Miami Dade County (30,000 employees), the City of Miami (3,500 employees) and the City of Marathon (40 employees) all have an organized city wide charitable donation programs.
Still, not everyone has been happy with the new program. At the November 10th City Council meeting, Councilor Amadeo Petricca expressed his concern about the program after having spoken to a couple of city employees about it.
“Donation to a charity is a personal decision; it is no one’s business other than the person who is making the donation,” Petricca told his fellow councilors. “I felt the employees would feel intimidates or coerced. This has never been done in the city before. The will of one person should not rule over the will of everyone else. I feel coercion is being used. It is not within city manager’s purview.”
He concluded by asking the other council member for suggestions as to how to put a stop to the program, and at least one councilor, Victor Rios, agreed. “Let the employees decide how to use their money,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a policy of the city.”
Still, Hernstadt and the remaining councilors reminded Petricca that the city charter prohibits City Council members from getting involved in employee issues. As a city manager-strong form of government, all employee matters on Marco Island are to be handled by Hernstadt.
“I don’t even know why we are getting involved in this,” noted Councilor Ken Honecker. “It a very common thing in the government…Let the city manager manage the employees as he sees fit.” He added that during his time working for the federal government he was asked to participate in the United Way Campaign through automatic payroll deductions.
Councilor Bob Brown extended that to the private sector: “In the private world, many of the companies in the industry in which I served asked the employees to be involved with various charities.”
Councilor Joe Batte put an end to the discussion by saying, “The charter is clear here. I support the city manager’s decisions.”
Hernstadt also expressed his intention to continue to reinforce to the employees that they are part of a team. “If we are going to be involved in our community, we really need to be part of it,” he said. “We just don’t want our name listed on a pamphlet or a flyer.”