Marco Island's city manager unexpectedly resigned Monday night

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Marco Island City Manager Roger Hernstadt resigned effective immediately during the Feb. 6 City Council meeting. He's been the city manager since Jan. 31, 2014.

Hernstadt, who was not present at the meeting, submitted a letter of resignation to city attorney Alan Gabriel, who read the letter to the council. He wrote that he felt it was no longer in the best interests of the city for him to be the city manager.

"Although I had hoped with my heart that we could move forward for the community, I'm now of the belief that a new beginning might be best for the city," he wrote.

Councilors Joe Batte and Bob Brown moved to reject Hernstadt's resignation, citing the good that he’s done for the city and hinting that his sudden resignation might be the result of recent political issues, namely a developer’s controversial application to build a hotel near Veterans Community Park; Hernstadt signed the application, without the council's approval, designating the city a co-applicant.

Ultimately, the council accepted Hernstadt’s resignation 5-2, with Batte and Brown dissenting. One resident said accepting Hernstadt's resignation was a "serious mistake (that would) destroy the city.”

The council then discussed the matter of a replacement city manager. In his letter, Hernstadt said he would be willing to remain as city manager until his contract expires on July 7, 2017, but — in a phone call with City Council Chairman Larry Honig during a 15-minute recess — he urged the City Council to move forward, and expressed his desire to “focus on [his] personal transition … immediately.”

Hernstadt will be paid for the remainder of his contract.

The council met Wednesday to discuss appointing a new city manager. Five of the seven councilors — Batte and Brown were absent due to prior commitments — attended the special workshop and shared ideas on how to conduct a search for the next city manager.

Councilor Howard Reed said he’s had extensive experience conducting candidate searches in the private sector, and he urged the council to take its time when seeking Hernstadt’s replacement.

“I hope we are not in a hurry,” Reed said. “I hope we take the approach that we need to find the best person for this position, and it takes as long as it takes. If we rush this, if we settle, we’ll regret it for a long, long time. If we get it right, the city will benefit for a long, long time.”

Councilor Charlette Roman disagreed, suggesting the city hire a candidate search firm as soon as possible and impose a 90- or 120-day deadline for a list of potential candidates.

“It’s been shown in our history … that it doesn’t matter how much time we take or how many searches we do,” she said, noting that the average tenure for Marco Island's city manager is one year and three months, compared to a five-year average for similar cities. “Our track record is very, very poor, and I’d like to see this council turn it around.”

Vice Chair Jared Grifoni agreed.

“I don’t know if that’s a reflection on prior councils (or) managers,” he said, referring to Roman’s statistics on manager tenure, “but what I do know is as we move forward, we need to hire the most competent person for the job … who will respect the powers and the authorization for that position.”

Chairman Larry Honig said the former council, of which he was a member, did not spend enough money during its last search for a city manager. The city spent $18,500 on an initial search firm, and when that firm did not provide satisfactory results, it spent an additional $6,752.24 on a second search firm.

What it did not spend money on, however, was flying candidates down to Marco Island so the councilors could meet them face-to-face, and that was a mistake, Honig said. Other councilors agreed.

The council will continue its discussion at its meeting, which is 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21 in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive. Finance Director Guillermo Polanco will serve as acting city manager until the council hires a new city manager, and will receive a $3,000 per month stipend.

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