Bunnell’s Finance Director Resigns, Taking a Swipe at New Commission Majority
FlaglerLive | July 16, 2013
Three months ago the open secret that had been Bunnell Finance Director Cynthia Bertha’s affair with Bunnell Police Chief Jeff Hoffman was publicly outed as then-City Clerk Dan Davis revealed it at the end of a city commission meeting, citing it as one reason he was resigning. Davis was upset that City Manager Armando Martinez had allowed the relationship to carry on.
Martinez has since been fired by the commission, which is allowing the manager to stay on until October. On Friday, Bertha, best known as Cissy to friends and colleagues, tendered her resignation, citing a new job but also, in a swipe unusual for its political candor, at least in a resignation letter, blaming the new majority of the commission for her decision.
“My resignation is in no way to be perceived as my being unhappy or dissatisfied with my job, its responsibilities, or your leadership,” she wrote Martinez, who has generally elicited strong loyalty from his top administrative staff. “However, based on decisions that have been made in recent months, the vision of the current board majority has changed and many years of hard work and progress that your team has accomplished will essentially come undone.” (See the full letter below.)
The new majority Bertha was referring to is the three-man bloc represented by Elbert Tucker, John Rogers and Bill Baxley, elected to the commission in that order over the years, with Baxley the latest addition in March. Baxley replaced Daisy Henry, whose presence had provided a previous three-bloc majority to Mayor Catherine Robinson and reliable ally Jenny Crain-Brady. That majority staunchly supported Martinez and city staff. Tucker and Rogers frequently criticized that majority for supporting its own administration at the expense of city residents and taxpayers. Baxley’s arrival shifted power away from Robinson, and the new majority made that power known almost immediately.
Bertha was making $52,500, and will officially be on the job until early August. She took a job as the finance manager of the City of Lake Helen, between DeLand and Deltona. That job’s salary topped off at $50,000. She did not cite specifics in her resignation letter. But three changes have so far illustrated the new majority’s direction.The first was a change in policy, ending Martinez’s habit of naming one of his top administrators as acting manager when he was away. The commission had approved that approach by a vote, but Tucker and Rogers had criticized it for going against the city charter which—read with strict adherence to its letter—sets out a specific line of succession when the manager is away, starting with the city clerk. One of the reasons Davis was displeased with Martinez is that Martinez did not follow that approach. Bertha was among the staffers put in charge when he was away. Soon after his election, Baxley joined Tucker and Rogers in overturning the previous vote, and requiring the manager to follow the charter, strictly, in matters of succession.
The second change was not the doing of the new majority. But it would not likely have happened without it: Sid Nowell, the long-time city attorney, resigned, and was replaced by Lonnie Groot. Tucker and Rogers had made clear more than a year ago that they opposed Nowell’s reappointment. With Baxley’s arrival, Nowell, who is again the sheriff’s attorney as well as in private practice at Nowell, Bayer and Maguire, the Flagler Beach firm, is not lacking for work. Resigning was a preemptive move.
The third change was Martinez’s firing, which shook his staff and prominent members of the community. Martinez does have a following and there is movement in Bunnell to craft next year’s election campaign around the issue of the new majority’s firing of the manager—and to replace Rogers with a candidate more amenable to the old majority. By then Martinez will be gone. But he will leave the city with five months’ severance, beginning in October, and running out in March, around the time of the election. Asked if he would consider returning as manager then, if the election switched the majority again, Martinez, in an interview last month, said he’d consider it—if he wasn’t employed elsewhere.
Rogers, Baxley and Tucker, however, rejected Bertha’s claim that they were intent on undoing the city’s progress, though they more or less strained not to speak to her letter directly.
“She’s been a valuable member of the city staff, and this board member appreciates all the hard work she’s done for the city. I wish her nothing but the best of luck in the future, “ Rogers said. “As far as her comment in the letter, I have no comment.”
Rogers was asked if, aside from Bertha’s comment, the new majority was undoing works under Martinez.
“With the recent decision to not renew Mr. Martinez’s contract, I can see why you ask that question,” Rogers said. “However, Mr. Martinez was clearly looking for another job. My position all along has been if he’s looking for a job, why shouldn’t we be looking for another city manager?”
Martinez has applied to at least two jobs in the last two years in South Florida. His family lives in Brevard County, where he commutes every day.
Baxley more directly characterized Bertha as “probably just a disgruntled employee is the only thing I can say.” He added: “She’s done a good job, she’s been an excellent finance director and I wish her well, but I don’t have a comment on her comment. I don’t believe she’s correct. I believe we’re headed in pretty much the same direction.”
Baxley is asking the commission at its next meeting to consider appointing an interim manager. Baxley doesn’t want to see Martinez go before his actual employment term runs out. But he wants an interim to be trained on his watch. “We need to go ahead and appoint an interim city manager at this point so that person can be brought up to speed of everything going on in Bunnell before Mr. Martinez leaves,” Baxley said. He said several department heads in the current administration—most of them Martinez hires—could be that interim manager.
Tucker said Bertha’s characterization of the new majority may have been the result of “some aggravation on her part.” Bertha’s relationship with the police chief had raised questions among commissioners—questions raised with Nowell, who dismissed grounds for action. “That was common knowledge,” Tucker said. “It wasn’t a secret, and once again the board has no control over that. That’s the manager’s responsibility.”
Tucker said that the direction of the board under the new majority “remains to be seen.”