It was another epic meeting for Marco Island’s City Council on Monday, Jan. 5, and the agenda — and City Council chambers — were packed. This time, council adjourned at 9:41 PM.
Still of all the items up for discussion, none seemed to tweak councilors more than the discussion about giving a raise to City Manager Roger Hernstadt. Maybe it was because of the late hour (the discussion started around 9 PM) or maybe it was because two councilors expressed views on Hernstadt’s performance that were truly divergent from the remaining councilors overall consensus of a job very well done, but council narrowly approved the raise by a vote of 4-3.
Councilor Larry Honig began the discussion by saying he wanted to send a signal to Hernstadt “in return for a very good year. A salary increase is in order for the city manager.”
Councilor Ken Honecker echoed Honig: “We had a lack of professional management for many years, and (Roger) has done a phenomenal job in my mind. It has been a fabulous year…He exceeded my expectations.”
Honig went on to say that he analyzed the salaries of city managers in comparable cities throughout Florida, and suggested City Council approve a raise from Hernstadt’s current base salary of $155,000 plus benefits to $167,500 plus benefits, effective Jan. 31. Even at the higher pay grade, Hernstadt’s salary still would be at the lower end of the spectrum, Honig pointed out.
He also requested that the stipulations of Hernstadt’s 401A retirement plan be changed to make him a vested employee after one year of employment instead of six.
Along with Honig and Honecker, Council Chairman Larry Sacher and Council Vice Chairman Bob Brown sang Hernstadt’s praises. “I don’t believe we have ever had a city manager that has done what Mr. Hernstadt has done,” said Sacher. “He came into a very bad situation…He made dramatic changes all to the better. The feedback I get from employees is very positive…He is the CEO and COO of a very significant business enterprise, and should be compensated accordingly. I will certainly vote for it.”
Even longtime Marco Island resident Bill McMullan was in favor of giving Hernstadt a raise. “For someone who has been here since the beginning and seen the type of management we have been through and the growth, I am here to tell you that we have never had a city manager who has had the competence, professionalism and has been as engaged as (Roger Hernstadt),” McMullan stated. “He is not just a good employee; he is an outstanding employee, and should be recognized accordingly. I strongly recommend a salary increase. You couldn’t have found a better player.”
Councilor Joe Batte also believed Hernstadt’s performance was nothing short of stellar, but he stopped short of being in favor of a raise because no formal performance evaluation had been given to Hernstadt.
“I agree with rundown of the performance up until the point of the financial part of it,” Batte explained. “I find it difficult to give a raise without an evaluation. I am uncomfortable in doing this without an evaluation. I want to hear how my colleagues feel about the city manager.”
Later Batte added: “The taxpayers are paying this, and they have every right to know and not in the glowing generalities that we’ve discussed tonight how we feel about the city manager. My evaluation of his performance is very high, but I can’t request a raise without letting (the taxpayers) know how we feel about it.”
Councilors Amadeo Petricca and Victor Rios also voted against the pay raise. While Petricca conceded that Hernstadt has done a good job, he also said, “There have been problems, and he and I don’t agree on everything. I don’t agree with his management style. I don’t like that everything has to go through him…I don’t want to be denied information…I think that we did a hell of job bringing him on board, but in certain instances, we don’t see eye to eye, and I don’t think we ever will…I can’t go along with giving him an increase at this time.”
Rios was vehemently against the pay raise, criticizing what he felt are weaknesses in Hernstadt’s management style. Rios said Hernstadt should delegate more and controls too much city business from his office. He also cited instances of what he believes to be employee intimidation and micromanagement by Hernstadt, specifically discussing the city’s new employee charitable contribution program.
“Every item I request has to go throughout the city manager,” Rios complained. “He is spending a lot of time filtering information I request…He is also micromanaging the staff, and that is not a sign of good manager in my book…I vote against any raise. I am flabbergasted and disappointed.”
When asked about these criticisms after the meeting, Hernstadt said, “Five of the seven current councilors and one former councilor have worked in a collaborative manner with me, and meet with me on a regular basis. My relationship with those who don’t meet with me regularly is not as strong. I will put additional emphasis on communication with these councilors in the coming year. We still won’t always agree, but I want to create an atmosphere of mutual respect.”
In other business, the City Council:
- Approved the first reading of the proposed rental ordinance, which would govern all rental activity for single-family homes Marco Island — annual or short-term. Chief among the regulations in the ordinance are a one-time $150 registration fee, a $75 fire inspection fee and an annual $100 renewal fee, various fines and noise ordinance compliance.
- Heard from Public Works Director Tim Pinter about potential change orders and timeline changes for the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project. To date, city staff has approved two cost increases in the amount of $101,000, which will come out of the project’s contingency budget. Pinter also told councilors that Quality Enterprises USA Inc. has requested an additional 33 days to complete the project because of delays that have come up throughout the project and unforeseen conditions. Pinter added that his staff recommends no more than 14.5 days be added as an extension.
- Heard from a local residents’ group who were seeking approval of a resolution to repeal the Common Core education standards for the state of Florida. The group was led by Keith Flaugh, head of the Southwest Florida Citizens’ Alliance. Councilors listened to a host of parents, teachers and local businesspeople, including newly elected school board member Erika Donalds, who all support the repeal of Common Core and who asked council to support the resolution. Council agreed to discuss the resolution at its Jan. 20 meeting.