Profuse praise and a raise for city manager

Port St. Lucie City Manager Russ Blackburn received glowing reviews from four city councilmembers for a banner year that included salvaging dicey economic development projects in Tradition, but Mayor Greg Oravec pushed Blackburn to do more.

Despite Oravec’s criticism, the City Council voted unanimously to award Blackburn a 3 percent raise, hiking his salary to $211,292, and a bonus of two weeks off.

In his third year managing Florida’s seventh largest city, Blackburn sold the vacant Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute laboratory to Cleveland Clinic Florida, facilitated Florida International University’s impending takeover of Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, and started selling land in the developer-abandoned Tradition Commerce Center.

Blackburn also finished the $91 million Crosstown Parkway Bridge, started work on road and sidewalk projects funded with a 1/2 percent sales tax, and advanced several projects in the new park under construction on Westmoreland Boulevard.

“In the quest for continual improvement, we can never rest on last year’s laurels,” Oravec told Blackburn. “This year, for the first time since we’ve been working together, I didn’t see a more reflective and critical evaluation of opportunities for improvement in 2020.”

“I’ve been waiting and wanting you, Russ, to shift into a higher gear of leadership, to build a team of high-level professionals who live by the city’s organizational values, understand why they are here and can be trusted to meaningfully advance our most important strategic priorities without your day to day attention,” Oravec said.

“I don’t think you can do it all by yourself Russ.”

In addition to beefing up the executive leadership team, Blackburn must improve his project management and push to complete land sales in Tradition Commerce Center and City Center, Oravec said.

“I don’t want us to find ourselves in the next recession lamenting that we didn’t push on City Center harder, or that we left three closings in Southern Grove on the table,” Oravec said. “I don’t ever want us to take this special moment in time or our current opportunities for granted. It’s not always like this. We’re overdue for a recession.”

The other four council members took turns praising Blackburn’s performance without the slightest hint of criticism.

“It’s been a great year,” said Vice Mayor Shannon Martin.

“We’ve gotten many things accomplished, more things than I expected. I’m very proud of how everyone is working together and stepping up to the plate.”

Councilwoman Stephanie Morgan said she was “honored” to work with Blackburn and credited him with “a job well done this past year.”

“I think you are an outstanding city manager,” Morgan told Blackburn. “I think all other 411 cities out there should be very jealous of who we have and don’t even think about coming and taking him away.”

Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo said she gave Blackburn grades of “outstanding” or “exceeds job standards” in all performance categories.

“In relationship with the community, he has done an excellent job,” Caraballo said. “He’s outstanding with organizational management. I couldn’t ask for a better chief executive officer to work with.”

Councilman John Carvelli called Blackburn’s performance “outstanding.”

“We are doing quite well as a city,” Carvelli said. “A lot of good stuff happened this year and last year.”

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