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City manager’s retirement date bumped up to August

By Staff | Jun 9, 2020

As the city of Cape Coral works to finalize a contract with its candidate of choice for city manager, the City Council on Monday established when the current manager will leave the position he has held for eight years.

City Manager John Szerlag’s final day in the position will be Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 11:59 p.m., council determined.

Council also agreed to hold a regular meeting next Monday, instead of a workshop, to iron out a schedule of when, exactly, to hold its budget workshops and when the incoming city manager, presumably Rob Hernandez, will assume his duties.

The proposed FY 2021 budget will be released on July 17. Three public workshops to adjust the numbers and set the millage, fire service assessment and public service tax rates will follow.

The workshop dates of Aug 11, 18 and 25 are set. Szerlag seemed interested in holding the three budget workshops before his departure over the course of one week — Aug. 4, 6 and 11 — which would result in a shorter timeframe before his departure.

Council did not support compressing the calendar.

Councilmember Jennifer Nelson said she would be unable to attend some of those new meeting times because of work obligations, preferring the regular Tuesday schedule.

Council also wants to see Hernandez step in and assume the duties related to the city’s top administrative post quickly.

Mayor Joe Coviello, who has been tapped as the city’s contract negotiator, said he wanted Hernandez to take over and be part of the budget process and initiate a smooth transition.

“I’m more comfortable with a new city manager. I don’t want him to have to live with another city manager’s budget for a whole year,” Coviello said. “He’s shown he’s efficient and that has saved his cities millions of dollars. I want him to hit the ground running.”

Councilmember Lois Welsh said perhaps Szerlag should step down earlier and allow Hernandez to take over the budget process. She suggested Szerlag retire July 17 and allow a fresh set of eyes to look at the budget.

Others on council, including Rick Williams and John Carioscia, said they wanted Szerlag to stay longer so that Hernandez could get an education on the budgetary needs of the city with Szerlag still on board to explain it.

“We can use Szerlag’s expertise and history while going through this process. Let’s give him enough time to do what he wants to do,” Williams said. “He knows the numbers and why they’re there.”

“Even if the budget is 100 percent complete, we need the man who put it together to explain and answer our questions,” Carioscia said. “Nobody is going to come in here and explain a $900 million budget.”

Both Szerlag and Hernandez said they do not wish to have overlap.

Szerlag had announced his retirement come November.

He will be given three months severance for health insurance, worth $1,500, and $2,600 in pension funding, for a total of $4,100.

In other business:

n Council unanimously approved a long-discussed parking ordinance that would allow for small vehicles and trucks with commercial lettering, graphics or wraps to be parked in driveways.

Repeated parking on the grass or on any other impervious surface will be prohibited, as will be the parking of commercial vehicles in multi-family zoning areas. Car covers must also be in good condition and the use of tarps as car covers is prohibited.

The latter law received several e-comments during the public hearing, with mixed reactions. One said that as a landowner with a large family he has the right to park on the grass since he has nowhere else to park their vehicles. Others said grass parking was an eyesore.

Coviello was concerned that the ordinance would be tough to enforce at first, but once residents become educated, it would get easier.

n Council unanimously approved a resolution that will decrease building permit fees by 25 percent effective Tuesday.

The resolution was put forward because of $4.75 million in excessive revenue in the Building Fund reserves. The decrease will be re-examined on a quarterly basis to see if it needs to be extended.