ISLAMORADA -- Village Manger Ed Koconis tapped Finance Director Maria Aguilar earlier this month to also hold the title of deputy village manager. He also promoted Cheryl Cioffari from the position of principal planner to assistant planning director.
Koconis announced the decisions in a Feb. 11 email to the Village Council.
The moves came as the manager faces a push from councilmen Mike Forster and Dave Purdo to drop his second portfolio as planning director. It also came just hours before the council agreed to appoint an ad-hoc committee to consider ways to improve permitting and planning efficiency.
Koconis had been operating without a deputy village manager during his two-plus-year tenure as Islamorada's chief administrator. Previously, he had designated executive assistant Mary Swaney to assume management duties while he was out of town.
Aguilar has served as finance director since the summer of 2011. Koconis said he picked her for the deputy manager post because many decisions made by the village manager have a financial impact.
"In my conversations with her, we usually are on the same page on our understanding in decision making," he said.
Aguilar, who Koconis says declined a raise, hasn't been tasked with any new day-to-day responsibilities as of yet, though Koconis said he plans to consider such changes. Her primary duty as deputy manager will be to fill in for Koconis when he is out of the office.
Cioffari, as principal planner, was already serving as Koconis' second lead in the planning department prior to her recent promotion. The elevation to assistant planning director came with a $2,000 raise and, the manager wrote to council members, "greater responsibility in daily permitting activity."
Koconis told the Free Press last week the Cioffari will also be authorized to make some purchasing decisions and to send out certain official planning department letters. Major decisions, such as recommendation on issues that go before the Village Council, as well administrative variance determinations, will still be made by Koconis.
In interviews last week, council members had mixed opinions on whether the promotion of Cioffari will amount to a tangible change in the planning department.
"I think it makes a difference," said Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn, who added he is happy with the present situation, in which Koconis is both village manager and planning director.
Councilwoman Deb Gillis said she is taking a wait-and-see approach to whether the promotions of Aguilar and Cioffari reduce Koconis' workload and help smooth permitting and planning operations.
"I'd be willing to let it ride for a while and see if we fixed the problem," Gillis said.
Forster, though, took a less flattering view, saying the moves were a politically motivated effort by Koconis to stave off the appointment of the ad-hoc planning task force.
"He's playing politics instead of managing, and I think he needs to run the village and not worry about politics," Forster said.
Forster has called for a discussion at the Thursday, Feb. 28, Village Council meeting on whether to remove a clause in Koconis' contract that gives the manager the option of retaining the planning director position and a six-figure salary should he be fired as manager.
Koconis last week downplayed suggestions that the Feb. 11 promotions were driven by politics.
"We've been working to make things better for a long time," he said. "This isn't anything new. It may appear different because of the timing, but it is just another step."