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Cape city manager announces retirement

By Staff | Nov 5, 2019

The city of Cape Coral will begin exploring succession plans for its top administrator in the wake of City Manager John Szerlag’s announced retirement come next year.

Szerlag, who was hired in spring of 2012, has told Council he intends to retire in November 2020.

Mayor Joe Coveillo opened the discussion at Monday’s Cape Coral City Council meeting and the elected board will continue that conversation at the Nov. 18 meeting to hammer out some kind of proposal where Szerlag and the city can negotiate a partial-year contract so the city can find his replacement, either in the city or out of house.

Szerlag said there needs to be a plan put in place so the new city manager, whomever it may be, can hit the floor running even if it happens months before Szerlag’s official departure.

The discussion is necessary, since contract discussions between Szerlag and Council have always happened in November. The contact automatically renews if there is no dissent.

If Council can’t agree on a plan, it will trigger an automatic renewal for the full year for Szerlag starting in May, to be paid in full even if Szerlag does step down in the fall.

The question that concerned most was when to start the search.

Councilmember Marilyn Stout said she would feel better to start the search later in case they find a great candidate in May.

Councilmember Rick Williams said if they find that great candidate, the city could keep Szerlag on as a temporary consultant, or keep him on for a one-month transition period to help the new city manager with the nuances of the job.

“It looks like we’re going to negotiate for six months. It seemed to be the appetite from Council. In that time, we’ll look for a new city manager,” Coviello said. “John is getting near retirement so we want to have a succession plan.”

Szerlag’s current compensation is $173,000 per year, plus benefits.

In other business:

* Councilmember Jessica Cosden brought up a letter sent to the city regarding The Florida Forever program, a land acquisitions program designed to buy sensitive land.

Florida Forever was seeking signatures from the Council, but while the elected board liked the idea, the thought of all the algae and red tide from summer 2018 was still fresh in their minds.

“I’m reluctant to ask for money if we can’t help our water projects,” Stout said. “I support this. But the timing is bad.”

Rick Williams said with climate change and the sea level rise, the drinking water source is beginning to become contaminated. Cosden said preserving land can help preserve the water.

No decision was made for support, but there will be further study into the subject.