Former Marco Manager Hernstadt takes job as Fort Myers Beach town manager

Lisa Conley
lisa.conley@naplesnews.com; 239-213-5308
Former Marco Island City Manager Roger Hernstadt

Former Marco Island City Manager Roger Hernstadt has accepted a job as town manager of Fort Myers Beach.

The Town Council there voted 5-0 to select Hernstadt from a slate of four candidates Monday. Contract negotiations are underway.

Hernstadt resigned as Marco Island city manager effective immediately during the Feb. 6 meeting of the City Council. He said he thought it no longer was in the best interests of Marco Island for him to be the city manager. He had been the city manager since Jan. 31, 2014.

Marco Island city manager resigns effective immediately

Hernstadt and the three other town manager candidates appeared before the Fort Myers Beach Town Council on Monday for interviews.

“I’ve had a ground-up career, which means that I have a working knowledge of every city department and can work with you all and the employees and the public … to move this community forward in a way that everyone can get behind and be supportive,” he told the Fort Myers Beach Council, “and the way I’ll do that is by being communicative with you and the public.”

Fort Myers Beach has been without a long-term town manager since June 3, when the council voted 3-2 to fire with cause Don Stilwell. The council fired Stilwell after learning $3.2 million on invoices on the town’s water project went unpaid for six months.

Fort Myers Beach fires Town Manager Donald Stilwell

During the interview with Hernstadt, Councilor Anita Cereceda asked him whether there was a moment in his career where he wished he had a “do-over card.”

Hernstadt said that in one of his previous positions, he blindly followed the advice of the city attorney when he should have “taken a step back.”

“Sometimes an attorney will give you advice, and in the heat of the moment you have a tendency to say, ‘OK, let’s just do what the attorney says’ without stepping back and thinking about it,” Hernstadt said. “I was involved in one of those situations. It was in the middle of a public meeting, the attorney gave me a piece of advice and I followed. I probably should have stepped back … and brought (the item) before the City Council before we proceeded.”

Hernstadt did not offer any additional details, but the situation he described mirrors the controversial Veterans Community Park hotel project that many Marco Island residents have cited as the reason behind the City Council's decision to have him leave immediately, despite his offer to stay through July 7.

Marco Island residents say new council majority fired good city manager

On Aug. 3, Florida developer Small Brothers LLC announced its plan to build a 165-room hotel at 580 Elkcam Circle and 870 Park Ave. — two parcels near Veterans Community Park. To move forward with the project, the company needed a transfer of commercial intensity credits from the park, which required the city be a co-applicant, since it’s city property.

At the Sept. 2 planning board meeting, Hernstadt signed the developer’s application without the council's approval, designating the city a co-applicant, and received immediate blowback from Marco residents and council members.

Before signing the document, he asked the city attorney whether it was permissible and advisable for him to do so; the city attorney said yes.

Marco Island hotel proposal causes controversy

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council deliberated after the interviews, and some councilors expressed concern that Hernstadt had too much experience, that he might not be able to look at issues from a fresh perspective.

Before moving to Marco Island, Hernstadt was the city manager in Marathon.

He began his career in 1980 as the code compliance manager for the Public Works Department of Miami-Dade County. He then was chief of causeways and special taxing districts, chief of public services and administration and assistant director of public works.

He later joined the Miami-Dade County manager’s office as the capital improvement coordinator and the director of the office of capital improvements. He also was assistant city manager and chief of staff for Miami.