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Die has been cast

By Staff | Feb 3, 2023

Cape Coral City Council decided Wednesday that it will not renew the contract of the city’s top administrator, Rob Hernandez.

Instead, City Manager Hernandez’s three-year contract will expire on its Aug. 11, 2023 end date and Council will embark on a search for a new city manager, the board determined.

In response, Mr. Hernandez, who had taken scheduled sick time and so was not present, has notified the city that he requests a hearing on the decision.

Mr. Hernandez, like most who hold this type of top-tier position and report to an elected board, had his supporters and his detractors, with those on each side listing their reasons for allowing the contract to rollover for another year, or not.

In this case, it was a pretty even split.

Councilmember Dan Sheppard, who came to the meeting prepared with a litany of reasons against renewal, and Councilmember Patty Cummings, were the most critical.

Also weighing in against allowing the contract to roll over into another year were Councilmember Keith Long, who said he had lost confidence in the current leadership, and Mayor John Gunter, who was, at best, tepid about Mr. Hernandez’s accomplishments.

“My belief is that the city manager has been average in his performance. I’m not looking for average. I want exceptional,” Mayor Gunter said. “I’ve always tried to be exceptional. I haven’t always succeeded, but I’ve always tried. When I see his record, I see an average city manager. Is that what you’re looking for? If you have an average leader, you have an average organization.”

Supporting the extension of Mr. Hernandez’s contract were council members Jessica Cosden, Robert Welsh and Tom Hayden, who was equally adamant in his support as were Councilmembers Sheppard and Cummings in theirs against.

Councilmember Bill Steinke, who did not weigh in with arguments against renewal, cast the deciding vote in what looked to be shaping up as a deadlock.

That, in essence, was a no-confidence vote, Councilmember Steinke said, and the effect was that Mr. Hernandez would not opt to stay past his contract date anyway.

He then voted for non-renewal, making the decision 5-3.

It was the proper — and courageous — vote given the circumstances and we commend Mr. Steinke for making it.

A fissure so deeply fractured along the line of support and confidence in the person who runs the day-to-day operations of our city benefits no one.

Not the elected board.

Not Mr. Hernandez.

And certainly not the residents.

We will not weigh in on Mr. Hernandez’s decision to request a hearing — we understand his desire to respond.

We will not comment on council members’ respective comments on their individual working relationships with Mr. Hernandez nor their comments on his job performance pro or con.

We’ll not even weigh in on the fact that a meeting of this magnitude should have been held in Council Chambers, not a conference room, and televised or, at minimum, livestreamed.

Any such criticism or support is moot and for the reason succinctly cited by Mr. Steinke — the die has been cast and it is better for all of the parties we enumerated to move on.

Here, we do have some comment.

The city’s top administrator must be more than a competent administrator, more, even, than a competent leader and motivator.

A city manager must — must — be a good fit, meshing not only with Council’s “vision,” but with the community as a whole. That’s the residents, property owners, business owners, the people who elect the council — and change its makeup at the polls.

Search firms do a good job of checking the boxes and bringing forth qualified candidates.

We are certain Council will choose its search team wisely.

Such HR vetting and the presentation of stellar resumes does not abrogate Council’s role, however:

To hire a person whose track record on such things as philosophy of management; approach to budgeting and taxes; transparency and keeping the public informed and approach to meeting preparation and presentation are simpatico, not only with the council majority du jour but the collective rest of us.

That is the challenge.

And a hard one, indeed.

We thank Mr. Hernandez for his service and wish him success as his career continues.

We wish Council success on its next steps as well.

–Breeze editorial

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