MARATHON -- Mike Puto, although busier than ever, says he is happy to be helping his community as Marathon's acting manager.
The former city manager was tapped last month by the Marathon City Council to run things until a replacement is found for Roger Hernstadt, who stepped down to take the manager's job in Marco Island.
Puto said he is having fun back in his old seat and that city staff has made him feel welcomed. They even presented him with an Etch-a-Sketch after Councilwoman Ginger Snead pointed out that Puto does not send emails and generally avoids computers. Staff has helped him by taking dictation and typing out his email responses.
But it's Puto's walking shoes that are getting the most wear, as he is out and about meeting with residents who are unhappy with code, planning or construction-related issues and with the staff members who know how to get things done. He often communicates that staff does not make the rules.
"I have to support the staff who often are the face of the city laws, and sometimes the system sucks, so we need to help people [operate within the system}," Puto told the Free Press.
Whether it's a code compliance issue, such as construction without a permit, or addressing irate residents whose neighborhood is torn up while a sewer pipe is laid, Puto said he finds that often people simply want to speak with him.
"My time is taken up with meetings and people's needs," he said. "I let them know what is taking place, such as when construction work is scheduled to be done."
Puto's continuous open-door policy has its drawbacks. He said while it would be ideal if people made appointments with him, he knows many more will just drop by.
Puto also seeks thorough communication with the council, letting members know in advance his recommendations and sharing what staff is being questioned about so there are no surprises.
He said along that line that the manager contract expected to be discussed at the Tuesday, Feb. 25, council meeting would outline what pay and benefits the new manager can expect.
"Whoever applies to be the manager will know what they are getting, like a car, a phone, and not expect to negotiate a contract after applying," Putos said.
The council was expected to approve the manager's job description and method of ranking their top 15 favorite candidates following a list of criteria, including Florida Keys residency, education, management and municipal experience, and budgetary/financial skills.
The council, which met after press time, was also to consider seeking new bids for the city hall construction project and changing the local preference in construction proposals to a sliding scale.
On behalf of the city hall project's design team, Steven Grasley, president of Solaria, was to ask that city staff and the architect be allowed to redesign the building as "a single story on grade structure" in order to meet a construction budget of $4.5 million. If approved, the council could expect to hear the next steps March 25.
The proposed text for changing the local preference in purchasing ordinance was 12 percent for bids, proposals or quotes of $0 to $250,000, with a maximum bonus differential of $30,000; 10 percent for bids, proposals or quotes of $250,001 to $500,000, with a maximum bonus differential of $50,000; 7.5 percent for bids, proposals or quotes of $500,001 to $1 million, with a maximum bonus differential of $75,000; and 5 percent for bids, proposals or quotes of $1,000,001 or above.
The council sought the change in this ordinance because Marathon officials say they were paying more than necessary for projects due to the 10 percent locals preference threshold adopted previously by ordinance.