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In Bunnell Police Chief Battle, a Popular Choice Against City Manager’s Unpopular Criteria

| February 3, 2012

Lt. Randy Burke wants to be police chief. City Manager Armando Martinez may have other ideas. (© FlaglerLive)

Except for a brief interruption two years ago, Randy Burke has been a Bunnell city police officer for almost 20 years, 10 of them as second in command. He lists his objective at the top of his resume: “To achieve the position of chief of police for the city of Bunnell.” He turned in his application for the top job the moment it was advertised internally, after Arthur Jones, the current chief, announced his retirement come April.

Burke’s application for the $50,000-a-year job doesn’t qualify. At least not officially.

“Lt. Burke was the only person who attempted to apply internally, but he was denied that opportunity because he does not qualify based on the job announcement posting requirements,” Dan Davis, Bunnell’s city clerk, wrote in an email.

Burke has no bachelor’s degree. That criteria is part of the job requirements. City Manager Armando Martinez wrote the criteria, even though the BA requirement is new. Jones doesn’t have a B.A. He wasn’t even a ranked officer when he was named chief in November 2008. He’d spent years as a school cop in Broward County and an investigator in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department’s homicide unit, then as a cop in Bunnell.

Burke, ironically the only Bunnell officer who lives within the city limits (Jones lives in Palm Coast, Martinez lives in Borward County), considers the BA requirement an attempt to keep him from getting the job. “You can’t lower the qualifications for Jones and raise them for me,” Burke says.

Five people so far have applied for the position after its posting on a police chiefs’ association’s website: Gary W. Benedict, Robert Campbell, Kevin R. Costello, Victor D. Neal and Joseph E. Sisti. The name many people expected—Louis Vega, an old colleague and friend of Martinez from their Miami days, and now a reserve officer in Bunnell—is not on the list. Martinez has said previously that Vega “was never interested and he was never going to be a candidate as far as I know.”

The issue surrounding the possible rejection of Burke’s application has done something unusual in Bunnell. It has stirred enough people to action that, last month at a city commission meeting, Koreen Kowalsky-Colpoys, along with Ramona and Bill Woodfin, presented a petition to the commissioners, signed by more than 200 people, asking that Burke “be placed in the position for Bunnell police chief.” (See the full petition below.)

Koreen Kowalsky-Colpoys (© FlaglerLive)

“I live in the city, and I for one want somebody who knows the area,” Kowalsky-Colpoys, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the city commission in March 2011, says. “Lt. Burke lives in Bunnell, and he knows the area, he knows all the residents, he knows exactly what’s going on, and he practically runs that whole department now as it is. Why can’t we have somebody in there that knows us, knows what’s going on in the city wand would do what’s right for the citizens of the city? He’s been passed over three times for this. Chief Jones didn’t have a bachelor’s degree when he was hired.”

The petition has some backing on the commission. At least two commissioners—Elbert Tucker and John Rogers—have spoken favorably of looking for a new chief close to home. But a petition on a non-political office can backfire by politicizing the position. That’s what happened to some degree last year in Flagler Beach, when city commissioners were looking for a new city manager. They did a national search and got 140 applicants, many of them eminently qualified, but from the beginning, Bruce Campbell, who worked in the city’s public works department at the time, had an inside track. He’d been a top executive at a large company before, but he had no public experience, and on paper, many of the applicants surpassed his qualifications.

In one regard, they didn’t: Campbell had a local following that literally campaigned for him, petitioned on his behalf, and made plenty of noise at commission meetings. The tactic alienated some commissioners, who resisted appointing Campbell for months, but finally—when other short-listed candidates fell through—gave in. Campbell by most regards has done well since and earned the commission’s support.

Armando Martinez (© FlaglerLive)

Martinez is politically savvy. He hasn’t closed the door on a Burke application. He knows the power of petitions, which have a way of growing legs: if a popular movement for Burke is turned back, it could roll over into a political campaign at the next city elections, early in 2013, when two commission seats and the mayor’s seat are up. Martinez, who has a razor-thin 3-2 endorsement on the commission, can’t afford to see either Commissioner Daisy Henry or Mayor Catherine Robinson defeated. (The thin support led Martinez to look for another job last summer.) And it doesn’t take many votes to win a seat on the commission: Jenny Crain Brady was elected last March with just 126 votes, Rogers with 110. Martinez and commissioners may find it difficult to ignore a petition with double those numbers, assuming all the names are legitimate.

“Everybody is going to be considered,” Martinez said on Friday. “The fact that there was a petition, I’m going to have the board take a hard look at Lt. Burke. But the issue here is to get the best candidate.”

By board, Martinez wasn’t referring to the city commission, which has no direct say in the interviewing or hiring of a new chief, but to an advisory panel of people in or close to law enforcement that he’s forming. The panel will go through the applications and conduct interviews. It tentatively will include Noel Griffin of the State Attorney’s office, a representative from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Mike Ignasiak, plus Jones and Martinez.

The meetings of that board will not be open to the public, Martinez says, nor will city commission members be invited to sit in (if they were, the meetings would have to be open).

Martinez described it as “a plus” if the applicant for the position were local. But the Burke application may prove problematic. Martinez wanted to speak with Sid Nowell, the city attorney, to ensure that considering Burke’s application, in light of the written job qualification requirements, would not be seen as unfair to other candidates. Why the difference in requirements between Burke and Jones? “It wasn’t required. It was required when I became chief, and it wasn’t required when he became chief because historically and traditionally since I’ve been here all the promotions at the Bunnell Police Department have been internal.” In this case, to widen the scope and get the best candidate, Martinez decided to include the BA requirement again.

“I’m basically overlooked by Martinez. I don’t think he particularly cares for me,” Burke said. “I don’t think he likes the fact that I won my job back.”

Burke was referring to the time when he was the subject of an investigation and was fired in April 2009. He had been accused of taking $100 that had been collected for an ex-cop who was having a tough time around Christmas two years earlier (Burke and other supervisors had fired that cop for poor performance). A Flagler County Sheriff’s investigation found that Burke had “misappropriated” the money, but it could not determine whether he’d stolen it.

Martinez fired him. Burke challenged the decision. An arbitrator found that Burke had been careless, negligent and irresponsible when he didn’t deliver the money (which included $20 from Burke’s own pocket), but that firing him was an excessive punishment. Burke was re-hired in August 2010 and got $53,000 in back pay, but was demoted from captain to lieutenant, the rank he now holds.

Martinez, Burke said, “doesn’t like to lose to people. He also doesn’t like to be told no.”

Burke concedes making mistakes in the past. “I’m by no means perfect and I make mistakes, same as everybody else,” he said. But he also corrects them , he says, as he does the police department’s own: he says he’s been in charge of the department’s records and evidence division, which he described as “a mess” when he took it over about six months ago (an understatement, compared to the way a State Attorney’s investigation described that division a year and a half ago), instituting set standards there.

Martinez is resentful of implications that he has anything against Burke. “Anybody that applies will be considered at one point or another,” Martinez said. “At the end of the day I’m going to do what I believe is right, not what the popular decision will be.”

Randy Burke petition for Bunnell Police chief

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49 Responses for “In Bunnell Police Chief Battle, a Popular Choice Against City Manager’s Unpopular Criteria”

  1. Bullgator2410 says:

    Are you serious? Randy Burke with or without a college degree would be a serious mistake for Bunnell. Now, a thinking person may recall the days when Bunnell Commissioners were assigned Departments and assumed the role of ‘Department Head’ of thier assigned department. A thinking person then might realize if they were to recall that plan of action, we could essentially eliminate the City Manager (Martinez) and save the City about $135,000 with salary, insurance, gas, etc. Included in the trimming of the fat, allow the Sheriffs Office to contract to patrol the City of Bunnell and save the $300,000 or so it would save by eliminating the Bunnell Police Department. Add all that up and with about $435,000 we won’t need to scrap metal for the folks down at City Hall to get their holiday jollies! Just sayin. Oh, and btw, if they insist on keeping a City Manager, let’s try and find one that actually puts time in on the clock each day UNLIKE Martinez who is essentially NEVER at work and if they insist on a Chief I’m taking Joe Sisti any day who truly has been a police officer for as long as I can recall in and around our city and county without one sexual harrassment lawsuit or ‘interruptions’ of his career.

       9 likes

  2. the montecito says:

    Bullgator2410:

    Do you not realize that some folks that get elected don’t and can’t read a P&L ,balance sheets or for that matter a budget?

    They become commissioner because of popularity and spending money on positive/ negative propaganda campain.

    You need a city manager that can manage multiple departments with a strong command of a budget and a finance director that can manage mutiple budgets like Bunnell has now.

    No real change required there!

    Politicians run department? Why on earth would you do that?

    What you save in your own cobweb loaded mind of yours will be for nothing, especially when the mistakes start happening because of some rookie politician that may last 2 years in the seat.

    Where is the direction for the department head?

    Also most of these people on the commission have real jobs and businesses so they don’t have time to micro manage a department head.

    Why would any director want to work under that condition!

    As far as the beloved Bunnell PD. Without them you will have every thug from Orland and Daytona camping out in Bunnell to sell to the Palm Coast drugies. Here once again is a Police department that needs continued leadership as anyother .

    My guess is that the Mayor and all commissioners are not getting anything but their way on this one.

    Burke is doing a good job as the second in command. He is comfortable there because it is his job to do. But what’s with all the baggage? Flagle beach PD have not a good thing to say about him. why? what about the missing $100 of donation money? what happened here? The constant rumor of past issues.

    Can somebody come clean on Burke. Like a commissioner with the smarts to ask these questions in the process of interview should Burke get to interview.

    Look if Burke is the best qualified candidate then he gets the job, if not take it like a man and say thank you for your consideration Mr. Martinez and Commissions and go back to your current job. Burke may get a chance to interview because he is an inside candidate. Qualified or not that may be the only time the city may consider an under qualified applicant.

    Let’s not skimp here, get the best you can get. Let’s see who shows up for the job. You must consider every applicant no matter what.

    If you want to get some high school tactic of a pettion to promote someone that may not be qualified please go back to High School. You should not be a commissioner.

    This is for the future of the city and what is needed is a super clean cop that can manage cops and a budget.

    But most of all you must stop the drug situation and you will repair the Bunnell stigma of “Oh Bunnell?” why go there and for what?

    This is a great place let’s get the best cop we can get to be Chief, period………………

       1 likes

  3. Bullgator2410 says:

    Oh yeah, I am all too familiar with a VM who probably has never seen a P&L and runs on the tails of the friends of friends and relatives. I have no cobwebs in my mind, just see things differently than you. Most of our commissioners last way more than 2 years. Rookie Rogers is hitting 2 years and he’s still called the Rookie and I am sure he’s not going anywhere. Elbert is safe and unfortunately so is Jenni, most likely. Now the mayor, that may be a horse of another color, MAYBE. Just in case you haven’t noticed, the drug traffic in Bunnell is probably it’s strongest contributor to the town’s economy, and that’s with the BPD riding up and down Bacher at least 7 or 8 times in a shift. The ‘business leaders’ of that trade do not fear the BPD nor should they. I mean they had the Murray’s working with them, or competing with them for God’s sake. If I were Armando, I would be needing a proverbial chill pill knowing that the Murray’s are about to face the charges in court and after several years, I predict something very unusual will happen. The Murray’s are going to remember even MORE now than they did then about Flynt and Martinez. They have had a hard scrabble two years while everyone else dodged the piles. Just sayin.

       5 likes

  4. the montecito says:

    Bullgator,

    I see your point.

    The New POLICE CHIEF must do something about the drug situation first and foremose. Let’s not get a happy go lucky guy for chief by petittion but a qualified cop is all I’m say’in too…….

       3 likes

  5. SG says:

    Martinez needs to go ASAP and take some of them smart mouth department heads with him! When is the next city election?

       2 likes

  6. bunnell boy says:

    If you are leaving bunnell please take the city manager with you. Oh by the way make room for the mayor also!

       1 likes

  7. UNKNOWN says:

    I THNIK THEY SHOULD HIRE SOMEONE ON THE OUTSIDE CAUSE BERKE KEEPS TO MUCH GOING ON. WHY BE WORRIED BOUT ANOTHER OFFICER IF YOU NEED A BA DEGREE THEN GO GET IT AND TRY FOR THE POSITION NEXT GO ROUND. BERKE CAN BE A VERY NASTY PERSON WITH NO REMORSE, HE NEED TO STAY IN THE POSITION THAT HE IS IN NOW. HE BETTER BE GLAD HE GOT HIS JOB BACK AND BE HAPPY CAUSE I THINK HE SHOULDN’T HAVE GOT IT BAC.

       1 likes

  8. UNKNOWN says:

    AND FOR THE PETITION THAT BERKE HAD GOING AROUND I BELIEVE HE GOT JUST CERTIN ONES TO SIGN OFF ON IT. CAUSE THIS MY FIRST TIME HEARING ABOUT A PETITION HE HAD GOING AROUND.BERKE GIVE IT UP AND GO GET A BA DEGREE THEN YOU WOULDN’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT GETTING PUT DOWN TO BE A CHEIF IT IS REQUIRED THAT YOU HAVE THE BA DEGREE AND THE KNOWLEDGE THAT GOES WITH IT AND BERKE U DON’T QUALIFY SO GET IN ROLLED IN SCHOOL AND GO GET THAT DEGREE.

       0 likes

  9. Anonynous says:

    Also the people of Bunnell need to seriously wonder why are there so many Law Suits against the city of Bunnell ? Do people even know whats going on ? I only wish that the people that hold high office would be investigated with the same vim and viger as lowly Sherriff Deputys, and Police officers. I suspect they would find plenty in there closets. The Good Ol Boy network is alive and well in Flagler County.

       0 likes

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