The Longboat Key Town Commission will likely choose one of two paths by Sept. 15, 2012.
It can extend David Bullock’s one-year, town-manager contract either by vote or inaction, the latter of which would cause the contract to renew automatically. Or it can choose another candidate for the permanent position.
But is Bullock on the fast-track to a permanent position?
Several commissioners stressed Monday, Oct. 3, that Bullock’s appointment was intended to guide the town as it worked to solve pressing issues. But many residents expressed concerns about the process.
They asked why the process didn’t have more public input. They asked why the commission didn’t keep Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogle, who has been serving as acting town manager for the past two weeks, in place for now. And they expressed concerns that the commission wouldn’t consider other candidates for the role.
“The candidate being considered is clearly looking past a year,” resident John Summers told the commission. “It looks more like a permanent position with a probationary period of a year.”
After St. Denis resigned two weeks earlier, the commission reached consensus to move forward with a plan outlined in a letter by Mayor Jim Brown for the town-manager selection process: Appoint a town department head to serve as acting town manager for a couple of days or weeks. Then, appoint an interim town manager to serve for six to eight months while beginning a national search to find a long-term replacement. The commission directed Town Attorney David Persson to begin the interim search process and appointed Hogle as acting town manager.
Speaking before a packed crowd Monday night in Town Hall chambers, Persson outlined the search process in which he consulted with a network of people and considered multiple candidates. Although Persson had not considered Bullock, in part because of his affiliation with Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley, who resigned earlier this year amid controversy, multiple people suggested that Persson consider Bullock, especially for his skill set.
Bullock stepped to the podium and addressed the commission and the public Monday.
“I will work hard to make this the best town in the nation,” he said.
But several members of the public also spoke up about the impending agreement.
“I think we are going too fast for this appointment,” resident Alycia Craft said.
Resident Anne Summers, who spoke before her husband, John, criticized the commission’s decision to move forward before many residents returned for the season.
“All this occurred at the low season of the island, and that’s troublesome,” she said. “The perception is that it occurred for the benefit of commissioners and not for the benefit of residents.”
Commissioner Lynn Larson also questioned the process and the benefits in the contract. She pointed out that the word “interim” was not stated anywhere in Bullock’s contract. And she expressed concern that only one main candidate was considered.
“I have a big problem with the process,” Larson said. “Interviewing one person for a job like this is a mistake.”
She said signing Bullock for a $180,000-a-year salary might send a negative message to current employees who were not considered and who haven’t had a raise in five years.
But Commissioner Phill Younger stressed the extent of the search and said that both he and Larson interviewed Hogle for the position.
“I think the search process was much wider than people thought reading the newspapers,” he said.
Commissioner Pat Zunz said that she thought it was reasonable for Bullock, who is of roughly the same age and experience as St. Denis, should expect similar compensation.
Brown said that the town needed to appoint an interim manager sooner rather than later to “get the town out of the turmoil that it’s in right now.”
Commissioners also praised Bullock for his capabilities.
Commissioner Hal Lenobel praised Bullock, whom he met 14 years earlier, as “the most industrious and capable employee that we possibly could have chosen.”
Vice Mayor David Brenner also praised Bullock. After the meeting, he told the Longboat Observer that he was impressed by Bullock’s support of the town’s efforts with the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) and by his experience with Bullock on the Economic Development Corp. He said that the needs of a leader in a Gulf Coast community are unique.
“I don’t think there are a ton of candidates who will fill this role,” Brenner said.
The next step
Before taking a vote, several commissioners emphasized that the decision that they were about to make wasn’t permanent.
“We are still looking at other people,” Mayor Jim Brown said of the long-term town manager search. “We’re trying to do your business as well as we can. I’m exhausted.”
“To me, he’s going to be the interim, the interim, the interim town manager,” Commissioner Jack Duncan stated. “That means he is going to be going through the evaluation process constantly.”
Larson made a motion to change the contract to a six-month contract with the option to renew.
“I probably won’t get a second,” she said.
She was right.
The commission voted 6-1, with Larson dissenting, to approve Bullock’s contract, as negotiated by Persson.
“I still have a problem with that automatic renewal and that annual renewal of the contract,” Larson said. “I don’t have a problem with Mr. Bullock.”
The following individuals submitted their resumes for consideration by the Longboat Key Town Commission for the interim town manager position.
• David Andrews — has served as assistant town manager/finance director for the town of Paradise Valley, Ariz., since March 2010. He holds a master’s of public administration and served as finance director, and then, town manager, for Oro Valley, Ariz.
• Karen Feeney — is an independent financial consultant for the city of Aurora, Co., and recently purchased a home on Longboat Key. Her background includes a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA, along with nearly 20 years in municipal government as director of financial services.
• Daniel Klemen — will retire this month from his position as special assistant to the mayor of the city of Jacksonville, for which he has also served as chief administrative officer/chief operating officer and fire chief. Klemen’s resume also includes 20 years as Tallahassee city manager and more than eight years as Hillsborough County administrator.
Sound off: The selection process
Residents share their thoughts on David Bullock’s one-year town manager contract.
“I’m just most concerned that they follow through with what they said they were going to do and do a thorough search. Mr. Bullock has a familiarity with the area and with Longboat, and that’s an advantage in the interim … In the long term, this gives us the opportunity to paint on a fresh canvas in relation to bringing someone in who can think outside the box, give us a new look and help us to maximize this great island.” — Bob Gault
“I think this is potentially a missed opportunity. The whole economy is upside down and we need change, someone who has turned around towns. Instead, you sought the qualities of Bruce St. Denis, who left.” — David Novak
“I picked up the paper and was stunned by the news. What bothers me is, what is the elephant in the room? What did St. Denis not do, and what is it that Mr. Bullock is being asked to do?” — Samir Ragheb
“I’m not going to second-guess the commissioners. Even though it was quick, I’m sure they were thorough.” — Beverly Shapiro
Town Attorney David Persson described the contract he negotiated with David Bullock as the “anti-St. Denis agreement,” in part because it allows the commission to terminate Bullock without cause in the first year with just 30 days’ severance pay, compared to the 12 months required in St. Denis’ contract and the three months’ severance pay given to regular employees. The following terms were spelled out in Bullock’s and St. Denis’ contracts:
Manager David Bullock Bruce St. Denis
Salary $180,000 $177,000
Deferred compensation 17.8% of annual salary 28% of annual salary
Car allowance Reimbursement for job-related mileage Use of a town vehicle
30 days’ salary and benefits in first year; 12 months’ salary
Severance 90 days’ salary and benefits after one year and benefits