On Friday, January 22, Roger Hernstadt went on his first job interview in more than three decades.
A native of Sheepshead Bay, NY, Roger eventually made his way to South Florida on the heels of his parents and two older sisters.
“I’ve always lived on or near the water, and since moving to South Florida, it has always been my dream to ultimately wind up in the Keys,” he explained on the eve before his first day as Marathon’s newest city manager.
Roger moved to South Florida when his oldest sister Bonnie was pregnant with her first of four children. Ironically enough, he answered an ad in the newspaper to fill in for a woman on maternity leave in the Miami Metro Dade Citizens Services Office. When the employee returned from her leave, Roger was asked to remain on staff and his career in public service and municipal administration began.
He climbed the ranks from service representative to section head and supervisor to regional officer before he entered the Public Works Department for Miami-Dade County as a Code Compliance Manager in 1980.
Building both his skill sets and experience, Roger worked in nearly every position of Miami-Dade County’s Public Works Department – from serving as Chief of Causeways and Special Taxing Districts to Chief of Services and Administration, then on to the office of Assistant Director of Finance, Budget, Personnel, IT and Services to his final position with the county as Coordinator and eventually Director of the Office of Capital Improvements.
Clearly, his experience caught the eyes of Marathon’s city council during the January interviews.
Roger told the council during public interviews that if they were to hire him for the position, he would quickly be able to recognize a “good enough for government” mentality amongst staff on the city’s payroll.
“If hired, I plan to tour the city’s issues with the council on a regular basis,” he promised, adding, “I’m not a behind the desk kind of guy.”
After he officially accepted the contract on the table during last week’s regularly scheduled council meeting, Roger explained to The Marathon Weekly why he’s eager to take on the city’s many tasks at hand.
“I looked at all the hands each municipality had been dealt, and Marathon, compared to Islamorada and unincorporated Monroe County, has been very proactive in meeting the federal mandates for sewer and stormwater systems,” he explained, adding that the strategies in place for completing the multi-million dollar project are the most cost-effective and intelligent decisions that will eventually bring the community together.
Local government watchdog Karen Wilkinson asked each of the candidates during public interviews if they thought the city manager position was political or administrative, and Roger was the only interviewee who responded, firmly, that the position is absolutely and strictly an administrative one.
“I see my job as being a researcher, charged with fully vetting issues and providing recommendations to the council,” Roger elaborated. “It’s not my job to sway them one way or another with their decisions. The five council members, elected by the community, are the ones who establish community standards and the quality of life.”
Prior to accepting the position in Marathon, Roger served as the Assistant City Manager and Chief of Staff for the City of Miami. Since public administration has been his life-long career, and he’s worked in practically every facet of municipal government, Roger knows he’s capable, and not it’s his time to lead.
Since public administration has been his life-long career, and he’s worked in practically every facet of municipal government, Roger knows he will be a capable and approachable member of city hall.
He described his management style as communication-oriented with a focus on constant and direct contact with the community. Noting that he’s been cautioned by many people on the intimate relationship he’s likely to have with the people of Marathon, Roger again promised he’s ready to rise to the occasion.
“My office did $200 million of sidewalk resurfacing and drainage system construction right in front of people’s homes. Believe me, I know all about conducting business in a small town,” he laughed.
At the conclusion of that project, a five-question survey of each home in the neighborhood proved, according to him, a 93 percent or higher satisfactory rating among residents.
“We have to be out on the street, out in the community to be effective,” he affirmed. “We’re spending taxpayer dollars, and if they’re not happy, what have you really accomplished?”
Photo on Left: Marathon’s newest city manager, Roger Hernstadt and his wife, Jessica.
At the end of the 2009-2010 school year, Roger’s wife, Jessica, a real estate and family law attorney, will permanently relocate with her son, 12-year-old Aiden. Roger’s oldest son, Matthew, is currently a junior at Florida State studying Management and Finance.
Preparing to begin his first day on the job, Roger emphasized that the opportunity to live and work in Marathon is truly a dream come true, and though he recently sold his sailboat and is looking to getting back into power boating, he doesn’t anticipate that return any time soon.