The sudden resignation of Coral Gables City Manager Pat Salerno has given residents a view of rising tensions between the manager, known for his hard-charging style, and some of the city’s top elected leaders.
Salerno’s five years as manager were, by all accounts, marked by good financial stewardship of the city. So some were left shocked by his decision to resign, which he announced at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.
Even though the move was abrupt, not all commissioners were surprised. The two newest commissioners — Vince Lago and Patricia Keon, both elected last April — have expressed frustration with Salerno at recent commission meetings.
And a recent meeting revealed fissures between Salerno and City Attorney Craig Leen.
Keon said Wednesday she had heard speculation about Salerno’s resignation for a few weeks. She added that even though she never had issues with his work, city staff members had approached her with complaints about his management style.
In 2012, Salerno barely survived a move to oust him by former Commissioner Maria Anderson, who said at the time that she had heard similar complaints from city employees. He kept his job by a 3-2 vote.
“I think it would have served him well to be more open to suggestion, more open to criticism,” Keon said, adding that his style, which has been described as brusque, was better-suited for City Hall in 2009, when the city faced a budget crisis. Salerno had previously served as the city manager of Sunrise for 18 years.
Salerno’s relationship with Lago has grown even more strained. In recent months, Lago grew increasingly frustrated with the manager’s office while seeking information about traffic accidents on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Lago had requested accident statistics and received incomplete reports from the manager’s office.
Acting City Manager Carmen Olazabal, who had worked under Salerno, said Tuesday that the reports — which came from the police department — were inaccurate.
Lago had planned to get clarification from Salerno on his requests for data at Tuesday’s meeting before Salerno resigned.
“I was surprised, and I was looking for answers,” Lago said Wednesday.
During a March commission meeting, a tense discussion on the dais saw Salerno disagreeing with Leen on an interpretation of the city charter. Leen reports to the commission, as does Salerno.
Commissioners were considering a vote to have the commission aide position — someone to assist commissioners with clerical duties — report to the commission instead of to the manager. Salerno disagreed with Leen’s opinion that the commission had the authority to create such a job. In the end, the commission voted to move the position to the city clerk’s office.
“There was absolutely tension at that meeting,” said Commissioner Frank Quesada.
Quesada said he had not expected Salerno to resign, noting that he had never had problems with the manager.
With Salerno’s last day set for April 18, Olazabal, an assistant city manager, will be acting manager until the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. April 22 at City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way. At that meeting, the commission will name an interim manager and discuss the search process for a new, permanent administrator.
The city says it wants to conduct a national search for a new top administrator. Whoever gets the job will oversee a $195 million budget to run the city of 48,000 people.
Meanwhile, Salerno said he continued to get a steady stream of phone calls and emails Wednesday from people offering support and asking him to reconsider.
He said he has not changed his mind, adding that he is spending his final days tying up loose ends.
“I’m tidying up, closing up things, talking to staff and making them aware of various initiatives and projects there are,” he said.