Marco Island City Manager Roger Hernstadt resigned Monday, Feb. 6, 2017. Wochit
Residents will be allowed to speak at next city council meeting
Throughout their campaigns, four Marco Island city councilors who ran as a slate advocated a more transparent government.
But during the last City Council meeting, they tried to prohibit public discussion about departing City Manager Roger Hernstadt.
The four councilors — Charlette Roman, Howard Reed, Vice Chairman Jared Grifoni and Chairman Larry Honig — each promised during their campaigns to bring sunshine and openness to the council.
Roman’s campaign advertised a “fresh start” and a “professional and effective government that operates in the sunshine,” and Reed said in a September interview that a vote for him was a vote for transparency.
“If voters are happy with the direction of the current City Council, they might not chose to vote for me,” he said, “but if they would like to see a change to greater transparency, greater respect for and involvement of citizens … then they should vote for me.”
Similarly, after winning the election, Grifoni wrote on his campaign website that he would “work tirelessly, transparently, and responsibly for our community over the next four years.”
Honig also emphasized the importance of a council that steps out of the shadows.
“I think we need to elect city councilors who operate collectively and totally in the sunshine,” he said in an August interview.
Yet Honig forbade anyone, including members of the public, from saying anything about Hernstadt after the city manager submitted a letter of resignation at the Feb. 6 council meeting.
Hernstadt had asked that no members of the council, city staff or the city’s boards and committees make any disparaging statements regarding his tenure.
“We will not allow any discussion of the advantages or disadvantages of the city manager’s leadership of the city,” Honig said before opening the floor to public comment. “It will not be allowed.”
Honig’s gag order angered some residents, who immediately questioned its legality.
“I’m rather distressed that at a public meeting the chair took the position not allowing free public comment,” Jerry Swiacki, former chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, said at the meeting. “I’d like an interpretation by the city attorney."
City Attorney Alan Gabriel responded at the meeting, saying Honig was acting properly since departure negotiations between Hernstadt and the city were ongoing, and Honig later explained the public would be given a chance to speak at the next council meeting.
“The topic at the Feb. 6 meeting was whether or not to accept the manager’s resignation," he said later in an interview. "I wanted to limit discussion to that topic so that there would be no positive commentary and no negative commentary on the manager, because I see no good coming from (that).
“However, at the upcoming (Tuesday) meeting, I cannot and will not limit discussion.”
During that meeting, the council will review the negotiated terms and conditions of Hernstadt's departure, and Grifoni hopes to follow through on his campaign promise of transparency by removing the nondisparagement clause.
“I do have an issue with the nondisparagement clause, not because I want to go out there and start attacking anybody but simply because the public deserves to hear why the council decided to move forward to accept the resignation,” he said. “Right now we can’t talk in detail about why accepting the resignation made sense, and the public deserves to hear that.”
Reed said that although he also supports transparency, he's asking councilors and residents to think carefully about the possible implications of their commentary.
“I do hope that all citizens and all City Council members will respect the former city manager’s wishes, knowing that every comment that’s being made and every letter to the editor may have an impact on his future career opportunities,” he said, “and it is this impact that we are seeking to protect on his behalf.”
Roman said she does not know the full details of the city attorney’s counsel to Honig regarding public commentary, so she’s not going to comment.
However, she said Hernstadt’s resignation was “just as much of a disappointing surprise to me as it was to the rest of the community.”