City Manager Jim Scholl on Wednesday hired 9-year veteran employee Greg Veliz as assistant city manager of operations, saying it's important to promote qualified candidates already on the payroll.
"Greg and I had the pleasure of working together in my previous tour as City Manager so I am confident he will continue to serve us well in this new capacity," Scholl wrote earlier in an email sent to commissioners. "Greg has a demonstrated record of performance with the city that has earned him this promotion."
Veliz, 52, the community services director since August 2008, will earn $120,000 a year, according to Scholl.
The promotion comes with a 30 percent raise.
Veliz currently earns $91,980, having started out at $85,000, according to city spokeswoman Alyson Crean.
Scholl said Veliz's starting date is still under negotiation and being coordinated with the human resources director.
The announcement about Veliz during Wednesday's meeting at Old City Hall drew cheers from the audience, as Veliz sat in the front row smiling and received congratulations throughout the meeting from city staff.
Veliz, a third-generation Conch who has raised five children together with his wife of 18 years, Teri, said he was excited about the new opportunity.
"I've built my resume based on this," Veliz said Wednesday evening. "I can't wait to hit the ground running. I hope to bring a lot to the table."
Veliz succeeds David Fernandez, a 30-year veteran city employee who retired earlier this year after a political rumpus that led to the commission ousting City Manager Bob Vitas one year before his contract expired.
Fernandez earned $127,000 as assistant city manager, and in June announced he was retiring but would stay on at City Hall to take a new job as "utilities director," for $113,835 a year.
That floored several commissioners who were dismayed that Vitas had struck the deal without first consulting City Attorney Shawn Smith as city policy dictates.
Vitas eventually took a severance package and Fernandez retired July 3 per his plans, leaving the city without any goodbye parties as he requested.
City Commissioner Tony Yaniz praised Scholl for the hiring decision, calling it an example of hiring local talent. It will give hope to people starting out at the bottom of the ladder that they, too, can work their way up to the top jobs, Yaniz said.
Veliz started at the city in November 2005 as a field lateral inspector -- checking out manholes, sewer lines and grease traps -- with the utilities department at $35,277 and within six months was promoted to deputy community services director with his paycheck rising to $51,100 a year.
The city created that assistant parks and recreation-type job and filled it with Veliz, a friend of then-City Commissioner Dan Kolhage. Former City Manager Julio Avael said at the time that he needed to start grooming someone to take over the parks and rec department when Randy Sterling retired.
Only one other city worker applied for the assistant parks and rec job: Jay Gewin, who later became the utilities manager.
Gewin resigned in May the day after the commission rejected his report advising the city to hire a new garbage hauler and dump Waste Management for a lower bid.
Scholl delivered the Veliz news Wednesday but only after first finishing his report and handing the meeting back to Mayor Craig Cates.
"That's all I have this evening," Scholl said, and Cates moved on after asking if there were any questions from the dais. There weren't.
But after a moment, Scholl said, "Oh, excuse me, Mr. Mayor, I forgot the most important part. Greg Veliz had applied for the Assistant City Manager position and I formally hired him today," Scholl said.
Veliz, who started out in 1992 as a construction supervisor for a hotel renovation done by Kolfin Corp., said he has been working toward this job for years.
Veliz has a bachelor's degree in political science from Florida State University and graduated from the Florida International University's Academy for Strategic Management, his resume states.
Veliz isn't the only city staff member moving up the ladder at City Hall.
On Wednesday, Scholl confirmed that John Paul Castro had been recently promoted to utilities director at a salary of $85,000.
Castro started as operations manager for the Key West Bight in December 2010, earning $61,825, according to Crean. In October 2013, he was promoted to deputy director of marine services.