Aventura - Sunny Isles

He was this city’s first top administrator. 21 years later, he’s retiring.

Eric Soroka will retire as Aventura’s first — and so far only — city manager effective in January.
Eric Soroka will retire as Aventura’s first — and so far only — city manager effective in January. Eric Soroka

Aventura’s first — and so far, only — city manager is retiring in January after more than two decades in that job.

Eric Soroka came on as the city manager in 1996, only months after Aventura incorporated. The city had three employees and a $300,000 budget. Today it employs about 200 people and has a $58.2 million budget. But perhaps more surprising than that growth is Soroka’s tenure in a job that typically lasts about five years.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start a city government from the ground up; an exciting challenge. We created the city from nothing,” said Soroka, now 61.

“But the timing is right for me and I’m looking forward to spending time with my family.”

“How does someone survive that long in that role like that? A role that’s constantly at the mercy of politicians? You’re either very, very, very good — or you’re very, very, very lucky,” said Aventura Mayor Enid Weisman. “In this case, he is very good.”

We created the city from nothing.

Eric Soroka, Aventura city manager

Soroka started his career as one of the youngest city managers — at the age of 24, he said. After graduating from William Paterson University in New Jersey, his first stint was managing the city of North Lauderdale in Broward from 1980 to 1991. For the next five years he was the city manager of Miramar, before resigning and going to Aventura in 1996.

In the ’90s, Aventura residents were fighting for better police protection and more control over their planning and development, “and that’s why they decided to incorporate,” Soroka said.

“They felt that they were a donor city, sending more tax dollars to the county and getting less service,” Soroka said. “It was a unique experience in Aventura. In older, more established cities, it’s difficult to change a lot of things. But with brand new cities, you get to look at different models and see which ones work. Over the years we’ve implemented them, and it has worked well.”

He has stayed there ever since.

According to a 2014 East Carolina University study, the median tenure for a city manager in 2011 — the most recent figures at the time — was five years.

“Although, in principle, city managers are not policy makers, they inevitably become involved in the policy-making process as they choose issues for council agendas, provide analyses of policy alternatives, and lead city employees who implement public policy,” said professor Bonnie G. Mani, author of the study. “So it is not surprising that political conflict could affect their tenure.”

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Eric Soroka in 1996, the night he resigned as Miramar’s city manager to take the same job in the new city of Aventura. EMILY KELSEY Miami Herald Archive

Jeffrey Perlow, who has served as an Aventura commissioner and mayor, said Soroka’s success at staying in office is “quite amazing.”

“He runs the city as though it was his own money. He’s very good from a budgeting standpoint, has a very good rapport with the commissioners. Any time you have commissions that turn over every few years you’re going to have to deal with different ideas flowing in, different personalities. [Soroka] worked well with us. He listened to all of us and has such a deep, historical knowledge of our community that everyone developed a great respect for him.”

Today, the city of 37,000 is predominantly built out and undergoing several redevelopment projects. It has the lowest tax rate of any city in Miami-Dade or Broward. The reason? Soroka says it’s mostly due to the city’s tax base, particularly Aventura Mall — one of the largest shopping malls in the nation — and thousands of high-end condominiums, all within the city’s 3.2 square miles.

According to the second-quarter 2017 report by the Miami Association of Realtors, the median sales price for a condo in Aventura is $295,000; for a single-family home, it’s $828,000. Countywide the median prices are $229,000 for a condo and $328,300 for a single-family home.

How does someone survive that long in that role like that? A role that’s constantly at the mercy of politicians? ... In this case, he is very good.

Aventura Mayor Enid Weisman

During the two decades since it incorporated, the city has built a cultural arts center, community recreation center, five parks and a K-8 charter school and is close to starting construction of a charter high school.

Although Soroka won’t be city manager, he’ll still have an important role in the city. For 18 months after he retires, he will act as consultant on the charter school project.

His retirement comes three years after his wife, Teresa Soroka, retired as the Aventura city clerk.

Last month, the Aventura City Commission voted unanimously to start its search to replace Soroka with help from Colin Baenziger & Associates, a municipal executive search and recruiting firm. Applications are due Aug. 25. The commission will select finalists Oct. 3 and interview them on Oct 12.

Soroka’s salary is $250,000. The position is being advertised at $220,000 a year plus benefits and requires a bachelor’s degree in business administration, public administration or public policy, as well as seven to 10 years of experience as a senior-level government official.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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