Cape Coral’s mayor explains why the city manager’s contract won’t be renewed

Reporter: Samantha Johns Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

The city manager for Southwest Florida’s largest city is out after scoring only slightly above average on the yearly evaluation. Cape Coral City Council voted against extending Rob Hernandez’s contract on Wednesday.

Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter wanted someone exceptional for the city manager role. After Hernandez received a 3.8 out of 5 during his yearly evaluation last year, the mayor started to have doubts Hernandez wasn’t the right man for the job.

During a special meeting called by Gunter on Wednesday, council members voted 5-3 against renewing Hernandez’s contract.

“I’m wanting to make sure that our city’s exceptional, and it all starts at the top and trickles down from there. So that’s that was my personal belief that we want to make sure that we have an exceptional person. And that’s why I made the decision that I did,” said Gunter.

Hernandez took over the city manager role back in 2020. He signed a three-year deal with a starting salary of almost $240,000. The contract was set to expire on August 12 and required a minimum of six months’ notice of non-renewal.

Councilman Tom Hayden, one of the three votes to keep Hernandez, said he was disappointed to see the outcome. “It was a surprise to me, mainly because what was shared was, they were unsubstantiated allegations, you know, to me, most of them were baseless facts. And there really wasn’t enough there for me for to justify him losing his job.”

The decision comes just months after Hernandez was given a 6.25% raise after a yearly evaluation. It happened in November when the council gave him a 3.8 out of 5.

“He was meeting his expectations, exceeding some. He knew there were things that he had to work on, and he was prepared to do that before his next evaluation,” Hayden said.

Hernandez won’t get the chance to do that. While it’s still uncertain if he’ll fulfill the rest of his contract, Mayor Gunter hopes he will.

“Council’s decision last night was not to renew the contract, not to terminate. So I think there’s a clear distinction between the two,” said Gunter.

“The fact that two council members that have only been on council for two months voted to not renew his contract, without really having to spend a whole lot of time, you know, it wasn’t really fair to him,” said Hayden.

Hayden believes the city’s making a mistake. He said Hernandez requested a public hearing Thursday morning to fight the decision, but Mayor Gunter is already preparing for the future.

“We will probably end up doing a national search like we have done in the past, which most organizations do. We will interview those candidates. And we will narrow it down to a particular person,” said Gunter.

WINK News asked the mayor if he had a specific candidate already in mind. “That’s not my decision. It’s not a decision maybe on a particular person that I’m looking for, but it’s who we all, as a council, are looking for.”

Hayden said the city’s letting a good man go, and he fears what the decision will do to the morale of city employees.

“Rob had built relationships with all of his administrative heads with other staff members. So all that changes now for them because there is going to be the fear of the unknown and who might come in,” said Hayden.

As the search for a new city manager begins, the mayor promises no gaps in leadership will be felt.

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