Days after his five-year anniversary as city manager in Coral Gables, Pat Salerno unexpectedly resigned during a City Commission meeting Tuesday morning.
A longtime municipal administrator with many fans and critics both on and off the dais, Salerno left many in City Hall shocked with his decision, which is effective April 18.
Rumblings of his resignation filled City Hall after Salerno was absent during the first part of the meeting. After a unusual break from the meeting, Salerno took his seat at the dais to make his announcement. The manager known for his no-nonsense demeanor showed emotion as he spoke softly.
“It’s been an honor to serve this commission and the people of Coral Gables,” he told the commission before handing over his seat to assistant manager Carmen Olazabal.
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He later told the Miami Herald that no single event led to his decision, saying it’s time to move on, although others pointed to the rising tension between him and some of the commissioners.
The Commission voted Tuesday 4-1 to accept Salerno’s resignation, with Mayor Jim Cason dissenting. Afterward, they lauded Salerno for his attention to the city’s bottom line in the lean years after the Great Recession.
Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk Jr. noted the city’s reserves had dwindled to around $1 million when Salerno arrived in April 2009. After years of cost-cutting — and lower property taxes — the city has $28.7 million in reserves.
“This is a tough day for the residents,” he said. “The city’s a better place today than when he came in here five years ago.”
Commissioner Patricia Keon echoed Kerdyk Jr.
“I don’t ever doubt for one second that you always acted in what you believed to be the best interest for the city,” she said.
Cason said he’s worked with many managers over the years working with different organizations, and he had no problems with Salerno.
“We’ve had all kinds of managers and everybody has their strengths and weaknesses,” Cason said. “But I’m very, very pleased and proud to have worked with Pat Salerno.”
Although he is widely praised for his finanical stewardship of the City Beautiful, Salerno’s five years at the helm were marked by occasional problems that some say stemmed from his brusque management style.
In 2012, Salerno narrowly avoided getting fired after then-commmissioner Maria Anderson moved to oust him amid concerns about the negative employee morale at City Hall. Salerno prevailed in a 3-2 vote.
A recent string of email correspondence obtained by the Herald shows what was likely a breaking point for Commissioner Vince Lago, who has butted heads with the manager before. Lago was elected to the commission last April.
In November, Lago had requested data on traffic accidents from 2011 to 2013 for a stretch of Ponce de Leon Boulevard near Salamanca Avenue after residents complained of several accidents in the area. In March, Lago received a report from Salerno’s office, through Olazabal, that showed an increase in accidents along the boulevard but did not include the complete memo the police department had written to the manager’s office.
After another request in March for accident statistics from Antilla Avenue south to Miracle Mile along with the dates of construction of a tree-lined median, Lago again received only certain pages from what police delivered to the manager’s office.
Lago told the Herald he was concerned about the missing information Tuesday.
“I just want to make sure we are as transparent as possible and we are relying on the most up-to-date information as possible,” he said.
Olazabal said she had discussed the numbers presented in the second police memo with Salerno, and they determined they did not accurately represent the issue because the statistics covered a wider area than the median construction and included inaccurate construction dates.
“If I would have forwarded this to the commission, it would have been wrong,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
Lago saw it as a safety issue that required more urgency.
“If the city manager disagreed with the numbers provided by the police, then his duty as an employee of the commission is to provide me those numbers immediately so that action can be taken or whatever precautionary measures are required are implemented,” he said.
Lago had placed an item on Tuesday’s agenda to remove Salerno’s power to prepare meeting agendas and give it to the city clerk, as well as three discussion items about the commission’s working relationship with city staff — all items presumably aimed at Salerno.
For his part, Salerno said he’s worked diligently for all five commissioners throughout his tenure, even if his position is to serve five politicians.
“My job is apolitical,” he said. “But I have to be sensitive to the issues I work around.”
As he returned to work Tuesday, he noted the city’s accomplishments under his watch, including stabilized finances, lower property taxes, increased development, and initiating projects that had long been stalled, like the Miracle Mile streetscaping and redeveloping two city parking garages behind the Mile.
“We turned this organization around,” he said. “We changed the culture, the work ethic and the professionalism of the staff.”
Salerno arrived in Coral Gables after 18 years as manager in Sunrise, where a road near the BB&T Center is named after him. Several framed photographs of street signs bearing his name hang in his office in City Hall. He looked at it before sitting down to explain to a reporter that he never saw his role as manager as just a job.
“I think it’s more of a calling,” he said.