Though nine were invited and seven applicants appeared for interviews, the Marathon City Council made their choice early last Saturday morning, and their choice was Roger Hernstadt.
After rounds of public interviews last Friday morning followed by private, one-on-one interviews with each council member in the afternoon, the council agreed Hernstadt, who is currently serving as Assistant City Manager for the City of Miami, was the best fit for the position.
Hernstadt began his initial interview by noting that his wife was already on the hunt for a new home Friday morning.
“Our family visits the Keys often, so we consider ourselves semi-local,” Hernstadt laughed.
He came to the interview with more than 30 years of municipal government experience in South Florida in both the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County.
Councilman Dick Ramsay expressed concern over Hernstadt’s long-time friendship with Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi, but Hernstadt assured the council that he would never let personal relationships interfere with the direction of the council.
Vice Mayor Mike Cinque grilled Hernstadt on his vision for the future of the community, to which he responded that the down economy will eventually recover and now, while costs are still low, is the operative time to coordinate capital improvements throughout the city.
He also brings decades of experience in water and sewer operations in a much larger municipality to this city currently in the midst of a central sewer system installation.
“I’m a stickler for detail and very forward thinking,” he continued.
Interim City Manager Peter Rosasco gladly handed over the reins Tuesday evening during the council’s regularly scheduled meeting.
Hernstadt told the council that though there were terms of his contract “could use some tweaking, nothing was a deal breaker.”
The International City/County Management Association (ICMA), states that he has the option to vacate the position within two years of accepting the contract.
“I have to make that commitment to you whether you make it to me or not, but I intend to be here a lot longer than that,” Hernstadt said Saturday morning as he and the council hammered out the fine print of his contract. “While I intend to be here and am moving my family here, I think you should have the same type of commitment to me.”
Mayor Ginger Snead told Hernstadt that the length of the contract was “a moot point because if we don’t like what you’re doing, we can get rid of you after 90 days.”
In other business:
• Snead gave glowing reports of their recent visit to Tallahassee regarding the city’s effort to purchase the island of Boot Key, and Rosasco echoed her sentiments, saying lobbyists spoke admirably of the city’s efforts toward land acquisition.
• The council discussed extending the expired permit amnesty period. Cinque called the burden of expired permits a “double-edged sword” because even as staff and contractors have been working diligently to close out long expired permits, there are still more than 2,000 open permits, a large portion of which remain when Marathon was under county governance. Building Department Official Ron Wampler confirmed that his staff had been coordinating administrative permit inspections for several homeowners in order to resolve any outstanding issues. The council also discussed permitting issues that arise once work has already been completed. After a bit of debate, council directed staff to return with the draft of a policy that reflected their concerns.
• Councilman Rich Keating asked staff how and why audio recordings from a July 21, 2008 planning commission meeting cannot be located. Planning Director George Garrett explained the process of transferring audio recordings from the meetings, adding that the particular meeting involved a request for beer and wine license at a new Walgreens located next door to Publix.
“I’m not concerned as much with the language of the meeting as much as I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Keating said.
• USI Insurance Services representative Steve Golden appeared before the council at Rosasco’s request to discuss possible amendments to city employee insurance policies. Rosasco said around budget time later in the year, council as well as constituents often suggests sending out Requests for Proposals for the city’s insurance services.
“Were we to have some sort of employee participation in an insurance program, we’d be looking at a cost savings,” Ramsay said. “With reductions in our property values, we’re going to have to tighten our belts.”
Councilman Pete Worthington suggested USI provide the council with a report on what neighboring municipalities offered their employees.
“That’s called benchmarking, and we’re currently in the middle of that process with the City of Miami,” Golden said, adding that over the past year, his company’s focus has been reevaluating benefits packages for companies across the country.
“That is part of our contracted service with the city.”
Often vocal Grassy Key resident John Walton commended the council for their efforts to get a jump on budgeting issues before the process begins later this year.
• Peter Batty, representative from The Spotswood Companies, updated the council on the progress of the Holiday Inn Express development as well as the stalled Faro Blanco project. Regarding the Holiday Inn Express, Batty reported he expects the facility will be open by mid-October of this year.
“We consider ourselves lucky to have financed the Holiday Inn Express project, but with the current economy, we have not been able to secure investment funding [for Faro Blanco redevelopment],” Batty said.
• The first reading of a proposed ordinance that would provide $10,000 for first-time homebuyers in Marathon was approved after lengthy debate regarding a proposed conditional deed restriction on the property.