Victor Rios: What's wrong with giving city manager a raise?

Victor Rios
Member, Marco Island City Council

I have been asked by many why I recommended no salary increase for Roger Hernstadt, the city manager. As I stated at the city council meeting of Feb. 1, there were a number of performance related items that I felt did not justify any salary increase. For example:

The Smokehouse (now Savage) Bridge fiasco

Mr. Hernstadt was hired in January 2014. He was hired because he had 30+ years of experience in city management and, as some councilors put it at the time; he was “real professional.” Expectations were high and the largest planned contract for the city was the replacement of the Smokehouse Bridge for $8-plus million, scheduled for completion in July 2015.

Mr. Hernstadt approved the contract for the bridge and managed the project without assuring that there was a valid survey and recorded easements. This, despite the fact that he was warned many times during the construction that no valid survey or easement ever existed. He also had no interface or relationship with the adjacent property owners-residents that would be impacted for several months during the construction.

As a result of Mr. Hernstadt’s failures, the city, without any permission or communications, trespassed and encroached on The Esplanade property, destroying sections of their landscaping, their irrigation systems and building a huge seawall right on top of their existing sea wall and taking away their legal rights of a unobstructed water view and an ability to enter the waterways. In addition, they constructed the bridge side wall on concrete pads right on top of The Esplanade property.

This arrogant behavior by Mr. Hernstadt forced The Esplanade residents to consider legal actions to protect their property rights. Accordingly, the city was prevented from completing the pedestrian access walkways that would enable pedestrians to walk under the new bridge and under Collier Boulevard and to connect with the Boulevard and The Esplanade promenade -- a very desirable feature for the bridge project.

The result will probably be a cost to taxpayers of some $150,000 to get what the city could have gotten for almost nothing had Mr. Hernstadt communicated with the residents and developed respectful relationships instead of displaying absolute arrogance. In addition, the project, originally scheduled for completion in July 2015, wasn’t open for traffic until November.

Mr. Hernstadt has repeatedly blamed others for these problems. He has written to The Esplanade, blaming previous administrations for failure to verify proper design. He has blamed city councils of 12 years ago for their failure to assure that legal easements existed. I would have expected a manager with 30-plus years of experience to follow President Truman’s motto: “The buck stops here.” The person at the top has responsibility and, in private industry, this performance would not be rewarded with a raise, but probably would result with termination.

The Veterans’ Park fiasco

Mr. Hernstadt embarrassed the city and damaged our credibility with our state legislators when he used our veterans as a “hook” (his words) to try to get several million dollars in state funds for building a large building on the Veterans’ Park property, including facilities for city staff. He neither consulted with the veterans nor with the community.

He knew that, even if he received the requested state funding, the city would have to find another $5 million to finish the building ... funding that was not budgeted by the city. The whole venture was a “ruse” by the city manager to eventually have a building in Veterans’ Park with massive city government facilities. How can we reward a manager that misled the Florida legislators, insulted our cherished veterans and misled all of the Marco Island taxpayers?

The ‘bucket system’ fiasco

One of the initiatives that Mr. Hernstadt has been credited with is his so-called “bucket system.” That scheme relied on increased property taxes to build up a “bucket” fund to pay down debt.

Although he has followed this up by increasing property taxes to build up this fund, he was pushing to increase existing debt by at least $5 million to build his Veterans’ Park facility, including additional government facilities. To me, this has proved that the “bucket system” plan was a ruse all along to justify increased taxes.

Compensation running amok

The city council last week approved of a 5 percent salary increase for Mr. Hernstadt. That resulted in him receiving some 13.5 percent in salary increases since hired. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that Mr. Hernstadt received some $320,000 in total compensation. At that council meeting, I expressed concern that our residents, relying on Social Security benefits, would receive no increases in 2016.

I was concerned that Mr. Hernstadt had recommended only a 3 percent increase for his entire staff. Police officers are not getting a raise, but a 2 percent lump sum one-time payment that does not get added to their base pay. In addition, these increases would only occur if their job performance were acceptable.

I expressed my concerns about Mr. Hernstadt’s poor performance and recommended that he not receive any salary increases before city council last week. I was overruled (5-2 vote) and council granted him a 5 percent raise. The majority of council was clearly enamored by Mr. Hernstadt’s efforts to attend social gatherings and fully accepted his excuses for failed performance.

Reach Rios at vnrios@marcocitycouncil.com