Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Not Our Finest Hour

 

 

More Straight Talk 

Steve “Stef” Stefanides
stef@coastalbreezenews.com

For those that have followed the political landscape on Marco Island during the last six months, the events leading up to the resignation of City Manager Roger Hernstadt should not have come as a surprise.

Hernstadt was not the favorite of the slate of four who swept to victory on November 8th, and it was no secret that his job was in jeopardy, regardless of the headway he had made during his three years holding that position.

Both he and his wife Jessica were a breath of fresh air, as they engaged with the community and became embedded within many of the activities in and around the island during their tenure here. They could be seen out in the community supporting the many charities and organizations which are part of the fabric of our island and are well thought of.

Hernstadt immediately initiated an open-door policy for those with a problem and was always available for the general public; all you had to do is call and make an appointment and he would listen to your thoughts, complaints and suggestions.

He inherited an organization in disarray and attempted to bring order and start to rebuild a management team that would best serve the citizens of the community. His style may have irked a few that were used to getting their own way, as he believed in a level playing field for all.

As a city we showed how shortsighted we were when we experimented with a disastrous rewrite of the requirements for parking for commercial properties. This allowed restaurants to expand seating without regard to the necessity for adequate parking. Both the last council and Hernstadt were tasked with fixing a problem not of their creation, but suffered the wrath of those being impacted.

He inherited a police department that was hemorrhaging personnel due to a malaise within the organization. He took the necessary steps to begin to stop the flight of talent and placed an experienced and well respected professional at the helm from within the ranks. There is still work to be done, but the department is headed in the right direction.

Marco Island will soon be one of very few municipalities within the State of Florida which will be debt free of pension liabilities under the guidance of Hernstadt and his team. Marco residents can be proud of that accomplishment and might only look to other cities to compare their situations regarding unfunded liabilities.

He also inherited a crushing debt service being carried by the Marco Island Utility Department, (water and sewer) and has worked diligently to pay down some of that debt and renegotiated other debt to save millions of dollars for the ratepayer in the long run.

We know now that we purchased a utility that was overpriced for the condition of the infrastructure that went along with it, and the ratepayers have suffered the consequences of staggering water/sewer bills.

Because of the now well known “bucket plan” instituted by Hernstadt, we can now move forward without looking to assume debt for the recurring capital needs of the community in a planned and professional manner. That may all change now, as new philosophies may be instituted by council.

That plan has also allowed us to pay cash for the new Mackle Park Community Center, which is presently under construction and will be a major asset to the community for young and old alike.

I wish he had had more time to make the necessary operational modifications within the Growth Management and the Building Services Departments. Both are still in need of better and more timely responsiveness. This should be an immediate focus by whomever this council chooses as a new manager. Those employees work hard within those departments, but the time is upon us to make those long overdue improvements and adjustments to the processes being utilized.

The City Manager and the City Attorney are the only two employees reporting directly to the City Council. I would have preferred that the four new councilors had worked for a year to see if they could have accommodated each other in a professional way. That common-sense solution by Councilors Batte and Brown unfortunately failed though.

Over the three years I’ve known Roger Hernstadt I’ve come to respect and admire his professionalism and I’m proud to call him a friend, even though we may agree to disagree on some issues. He has been a friend to this community, its organizations, businesses and its residents. We owe he and his wife Jessica our thanks and admiration for a job well done and wish them both well in life; you’ll be missed my friends.

Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com

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