When asked to provide an overall letter grade for his first year on the job as the town manager of Longboat Key, Dave Bullock doesn’t need any time to think about it. He’s already graded himself.
“I deserve a ‘C,’” Bullock said.
Bullock’s self-imposed grade is a far cry from the evaluations received from his seven bosses. The Longboat Key Town Commission, overall, gave him glowing remarks for its annual review and didn’t even feel the need to discuss his performance in public at a workshop.
Refusing to grade himself on individual categories, Bullock said there’s a reason for his “C” rating.
“I would have liked to resolve the pension issue sooner and had a bit more success permitting sand structures for the north end,” Bullock said. “I also want to continue forging solid relationships with both counties to make sure we are treated equally with the rest of the neighboring municipalities. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about Longboat Key because we don’t need or ask for a lot.”
The college-history-major-turned-public-servant said a phrase from a former history professor has stuck with him throughout his career.
“A professor once said that if you have a career in government, you will always find yourself at the intersection of individual versus community,” Bullock said. “Forty years later, I remember those words and they are a bull’s-eye for my job.”
That phrase is the main reason Bullock met a self-imposed goal in his first year to meet with at least 100 residents, to gauge their sense of community and what they expect from their town.
He asked them all what they like most about living on Longboat Key.
“They all said they could choose to live anywhere they want, but they choose to live here,” Bullock said.
Bullock said despite perceived differences between the north and south ends of the island, residents from all over the Key have an overwhelming sense of community.
“I don’t see a perceived disconnect from north end and south end residents,” Bullock said. “I see an overwhelming love for the community regardless of what block number you live in.”
That sense of community, according to Bullock, means that discussions of a community center and even a future town center should continue to be explored.
“Communities that have done (town centers) well serve as a positive thing in the community,” Bullock said. “When we get what residents want, they will let us know and will help us approve it. One of the gifts of this community is there is no shortage of informed opinions.”
The town manager sits in his office Monday, wearing a tie with a Monet painting on it from his collection of more than 100 ties, surrounded by disheveled paperwork that’s not organized to the naked eye. But it works for Bullock.
“Ask me where anything is on this desk and I can get it for you right away,” Bullock said.
When asked about his plans for his second year, Bullock said his first year was all about an external focus, meeting residents and learning about the island.
“The coming year will be more of an internal focus, making sure departments and employees are working to efficiently offer services to our residents,” said Bullock, who is already utilizing Town Engineer Anne Ross as a consultant on special projects and keeping an eye on her for future management opportunities. “I want to see employees refocused with a universal goal to help make this community better,” said Bullock.
Bullock calls his employees “a high-performing team that needs to make sure it is in a continuous learning mode.”
He also hopes to convert pension plans to 401(a) plans and/or find amicable resolutions with the unions on those matters; oversee future redevelopment proposals such as the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort; find a balance of good cellular service with which all residents can agree; and find a residential/commercial/tourism balance that residents agree upon through the work of a future consultant and public hearings.
“There’s a lot of cool stuff coming up,” Bullock said.
Bullock said after his first year on the Key, he feels his main responsibility to residents is to ensure Longboat Key remains a highly desirable place to live.
“I take that responsibility very seriously,” Bullock said.
His ongoing goal, Bullock said, is to keep asking: What is the future of Longboat Key?
“In 50 years, I want someone to still say, ‘I can live anywhere in the world, and I choose to live on Longboat Key,’” Bullock said. “To achieve that, we always need to be looking into the future.”
Bullock said the day he can’t make Longboat Key any better than it is today is the day he will tender his resignation.
“I’m a subscriber to continuous improvement,” Bullock said. “Sitting around complacent in your job position is not in my DNA.”