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Hernandez named Cape’s top choice for city manager post

By Staff | May 29, 2020

Cape Coral City Council has selected its candidate of choice for the city’s top administrative position.

Rob Hernandez, deputy city manager for Fort Lauderdale, was named Council’s top choice on Friday to replace City Manager John Szerlag, who has announced that he will retire in November.

Hernandez received six Council votes with candidate Rob Perry, who most recently worked for the city of Albuquerque, N.M., receiving two. Perry got five second place votes to Hernandez’s two

Council decided that Mayor Joe Coviello will conduct the contract negotiations with Hernandez.

Should those negotiations fail to come to fruition, the city will then enter into negotiations with Perry.

The two were among five finalists selected for in-person interviews by Council.

The other three were Anne Fritz, chief financial officer for the city of St. Petersburg; Leonard Sossamon, most recently county administrator for Hernando County and Kenny Young, who most recently worked for Loudoun County, Va.

As advertised, the position will pay $180,000-$270,000 with benefits that are “reasonably generous.”

Hernandez is currently deputy city manager in Fort Lauderdale, and previously served as city manager in Savannah, Ga., from 2016 to 2019.

“It was a tough decision. It boiled down to that he works in Fort Lauderdale, which is similar in size to us. He has the right credentials, he’s familiar with the fire service assessment and other things we’re doing here,” Coviello said. “He seems to have the right personality to meld well here.”

On Thursday, the candidates met the councilmembers in one-on-one sessions. On Friday, they went in front of the dais to answer questions from council.

Each candidate got about 40 minutes with Council, with each also getting a three-minute closing statement.

The council members had certain questions to ask each candidate and did not deviate throughout the process. For Councilmember Lois Welsh, it was about the UEP. For Councilmember Jennifer Nelson, it was job training.

Councilmember John Carioscia asked how a candidate would cut the budget 5 percent and the most important elements to serving residents. Ccustomer service was the typical answer. Councilmember John Gunter asked about their top three qualities in being a leader.

One of the takeaways about the interviews is that the candidates came well-prepared on topics regarding Cape Coral, with a knowledge of the city’s strengths and weaknesses. They also used their experiences elsewhere and wove them into what they could do for the city.

Hernandez stood out as he said local government’s role in developing workforce education is out of its realm and that the city’s location, which is not near airports or interstates, poses a real challenge in terms of brining in high-tech jobs.

Hernandez also said he has a unique management style. He is laid back and not big on wearing suits and likes to be out in the public instead of behind a desk.

“Humor, humility and patience are the three big qualities of being a leader. Nobody wants to work for a tyrant. I want people to feel like it’s a family and make things fun. Show people you’re human,” Hernandez said. “You need to be more informal to be more nimble.”