(By Ed Ryan) Why have rules on your books, if you have no plan to follow them? The Fort Myers Beach town council has one more meeting before a deadline written into the town manager’s contract passes, and there’s been no discussion about them abiding by that agreement.
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt’s contract states the council shall review and evaluate his performance annually at a public meeting between February 1st and May 31st with the performance clearly stated on the agenda. It’s Hernstadt’s responsibility to put the item on a town council agenda. He also has an opportunity to mention the review at every council meeting during the “town manager’s items” portion of the meeting. He’s done neither.
If he had nothing to fear about his performance, he would gladly bring it up during a meeting and look forward to a glowing review. Perhaps, it would be quite the opposite.
When incorporated in the mid-90’s, the Fort Myers Beach town government was purposely set up with a “strong manager” approach to government. In return for all of that power, the town is expected to evaluate how the town manager is doing by publicly evaluating his performance. It may be awkward to hear your job performance being reviewed out in the open, but it’s the price you pay for cashing a taxpayer funded check every week...and a big one at that. Taxpayers have every right to know if their money is being spent wisely. The good, the bad and the ugly.
The public has a right to know where their elected officials stand on the person that gets paid the most money and wields the most power over them. The taxpayers pay his salary, not the town council. Not reviewing his performance is a complete failure of their duties as elected officials. It shows they are not being responsible to the voters for the money they spend. Hernstadt makes about $200,000 with benefits, vehicle allowances and other perks. This town council also ignored the contract deadline to review Hernstadt’s performance one year ago (they discussed it in June after public pressure to do something).
If this council supports the work Hernstadt is doing for the town, one of them should bring up the issue for the public to see, and publicly support him. Ignoring the issue completely is doing a disservice to the taxpayers who pay his salary and benefits. If they have no plan to publicly review his performance, they should remove that requirement from his contract. It’s called accountability. Perhaps these five elected officials just don’t want to do the work it takes to evaluate a highly paid town manager.
The next regular town council meeting is Monday, May 16th at 9AM. There is also a Management and Planning session this Thursday. The review is not on that agenda.
This council was one vote short of replacing Hernstadt last year which makes ignoring their responsibility to evaluate him this year even more perplexing. He did not receive a glowing review in 2021. Is he doing any better one year later?
Councilman Dan Allers tried to get the town to move past Hernstadt and start working on hiring a new manager. At a June 2021 town council meeting, Allers said he’d heard from his neighbors and they told him the town is no longer friendly and welcoming. Under town manager Roger Hernstadt those two words have been replaced with fear, miscommunication and frustration, according to Allers.
At that meeting, councilman Jim Atterholt agreed with Allers saying with the upcoming “renaissance” of Fort Myers Beach, with all the new projects about to begin, a manager with a new skillset is required. “We need a kinder, gentler servant approach.” Atterholt has often said there needs to be better communication with the community and that falls at the feet of the manager.
Allers’ effort to replace Hernstadt did not have majority support of the council.
Hernstadt’s contract was extended by the previous council. They also gave him a raise. Tracy Gore was the Mayor in 2019 when she, Dennis Boback, Joanne Shamp and Bruce Butcher voted to add three years to his contract, catching former council member Anita Cereceda off guard because it was suggested during a council meeting where a contract extension and raise were not agenda items. Hernstadt’s contract called for a public evaluation, not a salary evaluation. And, Gore and Boback were about to be replaced on the town council so they locked the next council into a contract.
Hernstadt’s original contract of four years would have expired at the end of 2021. It now runs through 2024. With an election this November (two out of the five seats are up), and one year remaining on Hernstadt’s contract when that election takes place, it will be interesting to see if this council does the same as the previous council and extend the contract.
Hernstadt came to Fort Myers Beach after leaving Marco Island where he was the town manager for three years. While he did resign, in all likelihood he would have been fired if he didn’t. Hernstadt signed a developer’s application without the Marco Island town council’s approval during a time the town was trying to moderate growth. The council was not happy about being left in the dark about a plan to build a 165-room hotel near Veterans Community Park. Hernstadt blamed his decision on advice he received from the Marco town attorney. After resigning Hernstadt asked Marco to pay him $100,000 in severance pay, according to NBC-2.