Marathon’s newest city manager can finally begin looking for permanent real estate inside city limits.

Tuesday evening, Roger Hernstadt’s six-month performance review was unanimously positive from all five council members during their regularly scheduled meeting at the Monroe County Government Center.

Councilman Rich Keating, who joined the city’s dais at roughly the same time Hernstadt was hired, gave glowing recommendations for the former Assistant Manager and Chief of Staff for the City of Miami.

“He’s exactly what Marathon’s been looking for, and I believe he is an asset,” Keating commended.

But the council was in a bit of a disagreement over the contract terms, specifically with regards to severance pay.

Councilman Dick Ramsay said he’d not yet have a chance to fully review amendments to the contract prior to the meeting and asked to postpone approving the extension. Mayor Ginger Snead said she preferred to resolve the issue prior to the upcoming budget hearings.

“I don’t want to go into budget negotiations with this contract still up in the air,” Snead said.

Marathon Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Samess, Florida Keys Contractors Association President Chris Gratton, Grassy Key resident John Walton and attorney Frank Greenman all spoke very highly of Hernstadt’s proven performance in the first half of this year.

“Roger is the best city manager in Monroe County by a long shot,” Greenman commended. “I’ve seen his incredible institutional data of inventory, and Roger carries for information in his head than most computers could hope.”

Greenman, a former city councilman, explained that one of the city’s original goals was to hire its own professional management staff.

“You’re prevented by the charter of telling employees what to do, thank God,” Greenman continued. “We’d lose employees if that system was changed, and it would look like the Dade County School Board in Hialeah.”

The council finally unanimously agreed to a three-year contract for $130,000 yearly salary and annual reviews with no pay increases.

“Welcome. Buy a house and get moved in,” Mayor Snead requested.

In other business:
The city council presented nine Marathon families with $10,000 first time homebuyer loans.

Snead explained that the council opted to use monies that have been paid to the city by developers as part of their development agreement to fund loans specifically for affordable housing.

“We decided to use that money for people that maybe wanted to buy a house but didn’t have the funds,” she continued, clarifying that the loans would come from the city’s affordable housing trust fund and not from taxpayer monies.

According to Rick Casey of the Middle Keys Community Land Trust, seven of the nine families to which loans were awarded are currently in the process of buying a home. The two pending families pending loans have until early July to secure both a contract on a house and bank-approved loan.

In order to apply for the affordable housing loan from the city’s trust, attendance at a homebuyer’s seminar was required. It educated attendees step-by-step about the home buying process, and Casey said of the 22 couples that attended the seminar, 16 of them completed application packages.

Number two in the loan lottery were Larry and Holly Smorgala, and she admitted that when she first spoke with Casey regarding the application package, she thought it was a long shot they would be approved.

“I thought there were be hundreds of applications,” she admitted, adding she was pleasantly surprised Tuesday afternoon when she was alerted her family had been approved.

• Dr. Linda Gottwald and the Stand Up for Animals organization, who’s contract with the county to operate the only no-kill animal shelter in the Middle Keys was extended for 90 days for reconsideration and negotiation, received numerous testaments of verbal support from residents and animal care professionals.

Marathon Dog Park activist Mary Stella recounted an incident seven years ago when she watched a man on a boat in Boot Key Harbor kick his dog overboard and proclaim, “Let the dog drown.” SUFA responded after hours to the incident, she continued, reiterating that to take away the physical shelter, coordinator and services SUFA provides would “end up costing the county more money.”

“We know the county is in a tough place budget wise, but I think and hope they can use common sense to negotiate the terms of that contract,” said Vice Mayor Mike Cinque.

• Ramsay reported that Marathon is well on it way to having a port of entry at Boot Key Harbor and the Marathon Airport.

“It’s no guarantee, but I have a high level of confidence we’ll be a port of entry by the end of the year.”


Larry and Holly Smorgala were among the nine families to receive affordable housing loans from the City of Marathon’s Affordable Housing Trust Tuesday evening during the council’s regularly scheduled meeting.



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