City renews contract with administrator

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee City Council renewed its contract with current City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca at the Aug. 6 meeting.

The contract will run for five years and have a base salary of $113,000.

Mr. Montes De Oca was first chosen to be the city administrator in 2015. He was awarded the job by the city council after council members interviewed six candidates for the position. But there is only one member from 2015 still on city council, Mayor Dowling Watford, and the administrator’s 2019 contract negotiation was a little more bumpy than his first.

Those rough waters during the 2019 negotiation were first foreshadowed at the city council’s previous meeting on July 16. In fact, following that initial discussion at the July 16 meeting, Mr. Montes De Oca wasn’t even sure if the city council would renew his contract at all. He was so convinced of that fact that Mr. Montes De Oca threw his name into consideration for Glades County manager. Once the city renewed his contract, however, he pulled his name out of consideration for the Glades County position.

Councilman Bobby Keefe decided to speak before the contract renewal on Aug. 6 to apologize for giving Mr. Montes De Oca the wrong impression in the last meeting.

“I wanted to formally apologize to the administrator for the lack of communication at the last meeting,” said Councilman Keefe. “Mayor Watford had asked whether we wanted to retain our administrator and that wasn’t even a thought in any of our minds, I’m sure. I had no idea what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just wanted to let you know that my intent was not to embarrass you or put you on the spot. I’m glad you’re here.”

With the contract Mr. Montes De Oca included a comparison to other city administrators in the area. Along the Treasure Coast the average city administrator’s salary is $130,981.79, while in the Heartland region and surrounding Lake Okeechobee the average salary is $136,475.00.

Councilwoman Monica Clark mentioned she didn’t think Okeechobee could really be compared to the other counties, since many of them also manage utilities and have an increased employee count. Councilman Bob Jarriel expressed concern on the salary amount and said he would be in favor of a bonus system for the administrator.
Mr. Montes De Oca replied he thought the salary was fair and he didn’t like the idea of his income being tied to a bonus system.

“I’ve thought about this a lot today,” said Mayor Watford. “I’m in the dark ages when it comes to salary, so there was a little bit of sticker shock at first. I will say that based on other salaries, ours is pretty low, and I understand that every city is different. But the kicker for me were the engineering services the current administrator provides. How much would we have to pay for that if he wasn’t doing that?”

When he was initially chosen back in 2015, what pushed many city council members towards picking Mr. Montes De Oca was his engineering background and degree. Council members felt those skills would bring dividends if the city could develop the City Industrial Park further.

Mayor Watford also seemed reluctant to tie bonuses to evaluations, which can be very subjective.

Council member Clark asked Mr. Montes De Oca if he would accept the contract if the city council removed two provisions within it. The provisions dealt with giving the administrator an annual salary increase as provided for all full-time employees and an annual cost of living salary increase. Mr. Montes De Oca replied that he would accept that contract.

The new contract will be effective as of Oct. 1.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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