Marco City Council accepts severance pact with former City Manager Roger Hernstadt

Lisa Conley; 239-213-5308

The Marco Island City Council agreed on an $89,000 severance package for former City Manager Roger Hernstadt at its meeting Monday night.

Hernstadt, in his resignation letter, had requested 20 weeks' pay, as well as benefits through December, for a severance package totaling $132,430. He also asked to retain his city-issued iPad for consultation purposes.

Former Marco Island City Manager Roger Hernstadt

City Attorney Alan Gabriel negotiated with Hernstadt and drafted an initial separation agreement. That agreement, which Gabriel presented to the council at its Feb. 21 meeting, included a $115,946 severance package and a non-disparagement clause at Hernstadt’s request.

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But at the Feb. 21 meeting, Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni pointed out several issues with the separation agreement. Those issues included its inconsistency with both Hernstadt’s letter of resignation and his contract, and the inclusion of a clause that would have retained Hernstadt as a consultant through Dec. 31.

The council ultimately rejected the initial separation agreement 5-2, with councilors Bob Brown and Joe Batte dissenting. The council agreed that Grifoni, who is a businessman and a lawyer, would help Gabriel draft a new agreement.

In addition to a reduction in pay, the new separation agreement did not permit Hernstadt to retain his city-issued iPad, nor did it include a non-disparagement clause.

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Councilor Victor Rios said he was glad the non-disparagement clause was removed. Rios said he thought the public deserved to know why some members of the council thought Hernstadt needed to go immediately, despite his offer to work through July 7.

Rios said Hernstadt's handling of a dispute with The Esplanade Shoppes, Residences and Marina was one of several incidents that raised red flags and left negative feelings among a few councilors.

In early 2016, the city became embroiled in a dispute with The Esplanade after city crews encroached on its property while constructing the Smokehouse Bay Bridge, renamed the Herb Savage Bridge.

John Arceri, an Esplanade resident and lawyer who also is a former councilman, was adviser to both The Esplanade Marina and residential boards. He said in a March 2016 interview that Hernstadt was arrogant during talks between representatives of The Esplanade and the city.

“Hernstadt dismissed all of The Esplanade complaints and concerns,” Arceri said. “He made absolutely no attempt to develop a relationship with The Esplanade residents or unit owners and acted with the highest levels of resident disrespect and arrogance I have ever seen.”

Settling the dispute ended up costing taxpayers more than $30,000.

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During Rios' remarks, councilor Brown got so upset that he walked out of the meeting, and councilor Batte interrupted Rios and said his behavior was uncalled for.

"This is terribly inflammatory and totally out of line," he said. "This is absolutely unheard of and unprofessional."

The council ultimately accepted the new agreement 5-2, with Brown and Batte dissenting.