Letters to the Editor, Aug. 11
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results
As a former city councilor who chose not to seek reelection, I have purposely not made any comments regarding the current council. That said, and having been involved in a city manager search, I do not envy what this council has to go through, however having listened to public comment last evening and the subsequent discussion about whether to reengage Mercer, I feel compelled to share some history with our community (which I’ve previously shared with the chairman).
When Jim Riviere chose to retire as city manager, council went through a process to choose a search firm and hired Colin Benzinger, who, at that time, was responsible for having placed some 70 percent of the city managers in Florida. Mr. Benzinger, against his own normal procedures, was “pushed” (mostly by me) into providing a preliminary list of his top candidates prior to vetting them. The initial list was 20 or so candidates, one of whom was Roger Hernstadt. Before Mr. Benzinger ever had the chance to vet the candidates then-councilor Honig immediately published a review based on Google (and unfounded rumors) about the candidates.
When Mr. Benzinger subsequently appeared before council, Mr. Honig was so critical and rude to him that he stepped to the podium and (I paraphrase) said, “I’ll make it easy for you and resign from the search.” Subsequently, we hired Slavin & Associates who had finished high in our assessment of search firms; after submitting a list of preliminary candidates and, as with Mr. Benzinger, was the subject of quite a bit of verbal abuse from Mr. Honig and he too resigned. However, before he resigned, while I was also disappointed in the candidates he brought forward but not as vocal in my criticism. Without publicly noting that Mr. Hernstadt was not among his candidates, I asked Mr. Slaving if it would be appropriate to approach a prior candidate of Mr. Benzinger's who I felt was an outstanding candidate, adding that I was going to be on a boat trip where “Mr. X” (as we referred to him) was city manager. Mr. Honig immediately indicated that since he knew where I was going to be indicated that he totally concurred. The main proviso regarding Mr. Hernstadt was that he was reluctant to be considered for fear of repercussions regarding his then-employment, and was willing to be considered if he would be assured he would be a finalist. Mr. Slavin reached out to Mr. Hernstadt who subsequently agreed to come in for an interview, along with one other candidate, while Mr. Slavin also resigned citing the actions of City Council. As we all know, Roger Hernstadt, after a deadlock in voting from council, was offered the position when the other candidate withdrew.
I won't editorialize my opinion as to why Roger Hernstadt resigned; full disclosure, he became a good friend and, in my opinion, the best city manager we've ever had. Further, contrary to statement by some current councilors, his job performance was reviewed by council, and in fact, on his 1st anniversary it was Mr. Honig who made a motion to increase his compensation.
So here we are again: a third search firm who has quit the City of Marco Island, most due to the behavior of City Council and especially chairman Honig. I intended to speak last evening, however public comment was closed and I was unable to wait until the end of the meeting to publicize a suggestion I had made to council via email.
Specifically, I had suggested that Council not re-hire Mercer or any other search firm for the simple reason that the city of Marco Island has now conducted two city manager searches using three different search firms in just three years! I hate to say it, but as many have suggested, it seems as though qualified and quality existing managers are leery of coming to Marco Island. I further suggested that one or more councilors, excluding both chair Honig and vice chair Grifoni, be tasked with reaching out to the last group of semi-finalists to ascertain their willingness to consider coming to Marco Island.
As someone mentioned, spending $5,000 or so to bring in already vetted candidates would be much less expensive than another $15-25,000. It is also an acknowledgment of the fact that both our reputation as a place to work as city manager is simply not very good, and further, that based on the last batch of candidates and the lack of support from a majority of Council makes me wonder how can council repeat what they’ve done, that didn’t work very well, and expect different results?
Larry Sacher, former Marco city councilor
Suppose you were of some means and hired an employment agency to find a highly qualified chauffer for your family.
Suppose further that the agency provided two applicants for your consideration. One of them suddenly withdrew without explanation. The other applicant had to be rejected because he had never driven an automobile but was willing and able to learn plus he admitted really being interested in another job elsewhere.
Would you still retain that employment agency or seek a more suitable one?
Now, why does this scenario remind me of the current comedy now playing as “The Search for a Marco City Manager?”
Russ Colombo, Marco Island
Summer anything but quiet
When many of our friends, family, and visitors begin to head back to their northern homes in late spring, we often expect a quiet summer to follow.
We are now approaching mid-August and summer break is just about over for our island children as they return to school next week. Looking back over the last few months I think it’s safe to say that this summer on City Council has been anything but quiet. Some of the bigger issues on City Council’s plate has been the continued search for a new City Manager, negotiations for a second full time ambulance and the related COPCN issue, the future of Veterans’ Community Park, the recently completed staff climate survey, and Fiscal 2018 budget, just to name a few. Every single one of these issues has had a direct impact on members of our community in some way.
The discussion and data derived from these items have laid the groundwork necessary to adequately address long standing (and oft-ignored) problems of the past. I have been more than happy to work with our city attorney to take on the challenge of drafting and editing an improved contract for our next city manager, including a comprehensive job description and yearly evaluation process. The evaluation process, in addition to a written self-evaluation and individual councilor evaluations, would include a continued commitment to staff input through climate surveys. If it sounds familiar, it should. This was the “360 evaluation” model that I and many others wanted to see applied earlier this year but were unable to due to a poorly drafted agreement and bad precedent with our prior city manager.
Earlier this summer, council passed the “three-pronged” approach to improve our ambulance service on the island (negotiate with the county, complete the COPCN application, and engage our state legislators) that I had championed throughout the last election. We are still in the early stages but I recently sat down with our interim city manager, Fire Chief Murphy, and Collier County representatives on this topic. Separately, I also have discussed this with members of our local state legislative delegation and I am confident that this approach will pay dividends to our citizens by improving the available service on the island.
The future of Veterans’ Community Park has been at the forefront of citizen concerns for quite some time. Earlier this year, council voted to protect our park from a big hotel project that was relying on special treatment from the city on the backs of our citizens, but what about the future? I was happy to support rezoning the land officially as a “park” and to end the density transfer program that was being manipulated from its original intent. Council is expecting ordinances finalizing these changes shortly. Secondly, council just authorized a request for qualifications for the purposes of finally developing a site plan for the park so we can seriously begin moving forward with the island’s vision of that property.
Another item that is on many folks’ minds is the budget process. I pledged during the campaign to support the rollback millage rate or below, which would keep that revenue source flat without raising taxes. I am proud to have voted to set the maximum millage rate at rollback for Fiscal 2018. This is a big change from years past when more was coming out of your wallets each year. I believe that our City has some great minds and hard workers and that we can fix problems and improve overall service without dipping into our citizens’ piggybanks every year.
Dealing with all of these issues has not been without difficulty but that is simply a byproduct of being willing to take the initiative and tackle the tough issues facing our island head on. I relish the challenge and look forward to finishing the year strong. Your continued support has meant so much and I am excited to continue to work for our community to the best of my ability. Please don’t hesitate to email me at JGrifoni@MarcoCityCouncil.com or call at 239-315-2089 if you’d like to discuss this or any other issue.
Jared Grifoni, Marco Island