Hernstadt In Charge
Roger Hernstadt of Marco Island became the 11th Town Manager in the 21-year history of Fort Myers Beach at a special meeting on Tuesday morning, April 25, when Town Council unanimously approved the contract negotiated by he and Mayor Dennis Boback, with one amendment. After the quick revision, Hernstadt signed his contract and returned in time to join Council for its scheduled work session at 9 a.m.
Town Council began the meeting with questions concerning the agreement, with Vice Mayor Tracey Gore zeroing in on two financial aspects; Hernstadt after 90 days is to receive a salary increase from $140,000 to $150,000 annually, and he is to earn an additional $400-per-month in living expenses, as he and his family are relocating to Fort Myers Beach.
In addition to these, she had a concern over the buy-out compensation in the four-year contract, asking, “If we terminate him within a year, what does that entitle him to receive?” Boback said Hernstadt would obtain 20 weeks maximum pay if this occurred in the first year, with that going down four weeks annually through the final year. Gore asked, “Did we write this or was it given to us?” Town Attorney Jack Peterson said the Town received a draft from Hernstadt, “and we reworked it.” Gore replied, “That is what I thought.”
At this point, Hernstadt, still in the audience section, took to the guest microphone. “This is an At-Will contract,” he said, “meaning Council can terminate me at any time, and this is very important as this is a partnership that we are going into on Day 1.”
Gore explained, “I have to look out for my taxpayers.” She next spoke about the $140,000 salary that increases to $150,000 after 90 days, stating again, “I don’t like that Roger gave us this contract; I thought the Mayor would do this.” Council member Anita Cereceda said the Town’s top pay range was $150,000 and that is the figure requested by Hernstadt in the interview period.
“I have to be careful with taxpayer dollars,” continued Gore. “I am not picking apart the contract, but must do my best for island taxpayers, as I am one! This $400-per-month living allowance is a slap in the face to our residents who struggle to make it work on far less than $150,000. I don’t think that is fair to our residents and the one thing I am asking to take out.”
A Genuine Partnership
Cereceda said that $400-a-month equates to an additional $4,800 a year. “What if we start him at $145,000; is that amenable to you, Tracey?” Gore responded with “I would be OK with that.” Hernstadt then suggested they leave the initial three months at $140,000, and then increase it to $155,000 in 90 days. Shamp said, “I am comfortable with that. If this partnership works, Roger is worth every bit of it, and if he doesn’t, then the people will be very unhappy with us.” Gore said “I am glad you understand why this matters to me,” with Cereceda saying that “it is important that this begins in a genuine partnership and we are on the same page.”
After brief discussion, Council determined that once he signs his contact, Hernstadt will be the Town Manager, with Interim Town Manager James Steele shifting to an advisory role. Hernstadt said that “I worked with Jim for four-and-a-half hours yesterday and we have a very collaborative relationship. He has good ideas and I have good ideas and we put our ideas together.” Steele agreed: “Roger asks some great questions and has some great ideas, and I think you will love this guy!”
Council will evaluate the new Town Manager often in the first year, and annually before each budget cycle thereafter, with Hernstadt adding, “The way I look at it, you evaluate me every two weeks, at every council meeting. Beside those sessions, I will have individual meetings with you weekly. You don’t get to my stage of my career without realizing that.” Shamp said, “We want you to be a stellar town manager and make it easy for you to be a stellar town manager.” Cereceda made a motion to accept the amended negotiated contract that Town Council then unanimously approved.
Immediately after this, on the advice of the Town Attorney, they unanimously gave Interim Town Manager his formal notice; his last day will be May 25, 2017. Cereceda called Steele “extraordinary! The best-ever Interim Town Manager, and I appreciate you more than I can express.” Shamp said, “You helped us through a lot of ups-and-downs, and you stepped up for the community we know you love very much.” Boback added, “I tell him how much I appreciate him every day,” with Steele calling his impending retirement “bittersweet.”