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Passing Over Nate McLaughlin, Bunnell Hires Ex-Manager Candidate Rodney Lucas as Development Director

| November 27, 2018

Rodney Lucas is Bunnell's new community development director. (© FlaglerLive)

Rodney Lucas is Bunnell’s new community development director. (© FlaglerLive)

The Bunnell City Commission ratified City Manager Alvin Jackson’s choice for a community development director Monday, but not before publicly questioning and undermining Jackson’s decision, calling on the candidate to justify himself, and openly wishing the job had gone to someone else: a majority of commissioners said they’d have preferred the job go to Nate McLaughlin, the former county commissioner who’s been shopping around for work, even though local contacts aside, McLaughlin has zero administrative experience either in community redevelopment or economic development.


The commission voted 4-1 to approve Jackson’s recommendation to hire Rodney Lucas, a former interim manager and community development and economic development director in Groveland, Fla. Lucas only a few months ago was a finalist for the city manager’s job in Bunnell, where he interviewed with the commission and won plaudits for his performance at the time.

What is normally a routine and unquestioned manager’s prerogative–commissioners only hire and fire the city attorney and the manager, leaving the hiring of all staff to the manager–turned into an unexpected slap in the face to Jackson’s authority, largely because commissioners who’ve long known McLaughlin were volubly aiming to curry favor with him: one commissioner said he was giving the manager “a pass” on the choice of Lucas, another said he was “disappointed” that McLaughlin wasn’t the pick, and Mayor Catherine Robinson said “we’ll see, we’ll see,” as to Lucas’s coming performance.

All the while, Lucas had sat before commissioners after Commissioner John Sowell had asked him to explain his goals for the city. Another commissioner privately said later that he wouldn’t have been surprised if Lucas had changed his mind and turned down the job.

The appointment appeared headed for the routine when Jackson announced it toward the end of the meeting. Unlike in Palm Coast, in Bunnell department-head appointments require a ratifying vote by the city commission.

“I think this is a homerun right here, bringing Rodney on with his background, his education, with his demeanor,” Commissioner John Rogers said. “He’ll fit right in with the staff and with our community.”

“We interviewed him for the city manager position and I must say you interviewed very well,” Robinson said. But after Rogers motioned to ratify the manager’s recommendation, and Commissioner Bill Baxley seconded, Commissioner Elbert Tucker, a friend of McLaughlin’s, intervened.

“Nate McLaughlin is another candidate who I thought could do the job, I know he could do the job,” Tucker said. “I’m just disappointed that Nate was not the finalist here.” He said McLaughlin’s contacts in the county would have been helpful. McLaughlin served two terms as a county commissioner, losing the Republican primary to Joe Mullins in August. Mullins eventually won the seat.

Nate McLaughlin with Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson last April. (© FlaglerLive)

Nate McLaughlin with Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson last April. (© FlaglerLive)

“I would somewhat concur with Commissioner Tucker,” Commissioner John Sowell said. “My first choice obviously would have been Nate as well, however I do not dispute the qualifications of Rodney. He has an impressive resume, he interviewed well for city manager as well. My concern is that we have a new city manager and a new person from outside that together are well qualified but don’t know the local area a lot yet. So I’d like to hear from Rodney what is his idea for the job before we vote.”

Lucas addressed the commission but spoke only in general and vague terms about economic development and perhaps restarting the city’s redevelopment district, known as a CRA (for Community Redevelopment Agency), disbanded several years ago during the housing collapse. “I’m a workaholic, and strategic and cerebral, so I look forward to working at you guys’s pleasure,” Lucas said–actually, at Jackson’s pleasure. He offered neither goals nor a vision, saying he’d wait to take his marching orders from the commission and Jackson after an anticipated Dec. 5 goal-setting session with the commission.

“You did interview Mr. McLaughlin?” Baxley asked Jackson.

“Yes, that’s correct,” Jackson said: McLaughlin was the only other candidate interviewed for the job, which drew four applicants. The two others were Jennifer H. Robertson of Palm Coast and John F. Moore Jr. of Altamonte Springs.

“And based on your interview you found this gentleman more qualified? Is this correct?” Baxley asked.

“Yes, sir, and let me just say this: we are really busy in the building and that community development department, the growth that’s coming in,” Jackson said. “We needed someone who understood how to do what I call hands in the dirt work, and we needed someone not learning on the job but someone that’s actually had that experience.” Jackson had been familiar with Groveland, Lucas’s former city, and its rapid growth spurts, which Lucas navigated with a small staff. “Outside of not knowing the area, just like myself, I think we can quickly do that.”

“So you feel that that would have been Nate McLaughlin’s downfall?”

City Manager Alvin Jackson. (© FlaglerLive)

City Manager Alvin Jackson. (© FlaglerLive)

“I wouldn’t say downfall, I think he would have had a learning curve on the actual technical part of the job,” Jackson said, in essence resisting what would have been a nakedly political appointment that would have damaged his administration’s credibility at the start of his tenure.

“The city manager needs to bring his own, people on his own team. We hire and fire the manager and the lawyer. He hires the rest of the staff,” Rogers said.

Sowell persisted, as did Robinson. “I would have preferred the other, as I mentioned, but I’ll give you a pass because I want you to be able to pick your team, so I’ll support it,” Sowell told Jackson, “but I’d think the doors we could have gotten opened going the other route.”

McLaughlin–who’d attended Sowell’s and Rogers’s swearing-in in April 2017–was not in the audience. He had told commissioners before the meeting that he felt he had the three votes for his appointment. He did, but he didn’t have the manager’s vote, which in this instance carried the day.

Immediately after the 4-1 vote Robinson said she agreed with two colleagues’ preference for McLaughlin, “but,” she said, “I have to yield myself to the city manager in hiring a staff so that part is difficult for me because I’ve known Nate a long time and Nate has done a phenomenal job for the county and I believe that he may have had some shortcomings on this, but I also believe that he had a lot of strengths. So we’ll see. We’ll see. Welcome, Mr. Lucas.”

Tucker also questioned Lucas’s salary: it was advertised at $59,000. Lucas was hired at just over $62,000 (McLaughlin was making about $53,000 as a county commissioner). “He brings significant on-the-ground experience,” Jackson explained of Lucas, “so we wanted to at least be close to commensurate.”

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18 Responses for “Passing Over Nate McLaughlin, Bunnell Hires Ex-Manager Candidate Rodney Lucas as Development Director”

  1. carol says:

    Nate, get back to the real estate business.

  2. tulip says:

    I am very pleased with Mr Jackson’s decision and the fact that he stuck to his guns and hired someone who is very qualified and didn’t buckle under pressure from others and hire an unqualified person for the job just because of his connections in the county. If more leaders made qualifying decisions rather than political or who you know decisions, we would all be better off.

    This also revealed how willing the Bunnell commission is to hire “friends” first even if they aren’t qualified for the job. Shame on them

  3. Jan J Reeger says:

    While I am a major supporter of Nate, I didn’t feel sure he was right for this position. I like him and respect him but more job qualifications are necessary. His “contacts in the county” are not what is needed. Knowledge out of the county is more important for this position. I skimmed the Lucas resume and it appears he has the right qualifications.

  4. Fernando Melendez says:

    Congratulations to Rodney Lucas community development director of Bunnell

  5. John DeWitt says:

    @Jan Reeger: You make me laugh. Knowledge of the county? Nate was a Commissioner for eight years. Rodney Lucas had to find the county on a map. But he is well qualified.

  6. Frank Zedar says:

    “largely because commissioners who’ve long known McLaughlin were volubly aiming to curry favor with him:” This is pretty funny, actually… “Curry favor with him…” Sounds like language from a Senate or Gubernatorial race, involving billionaires and untold intrigue… Too bad Nate’s hat wasn’t in the ring earlier, so he could have had an opportunity to express himself. The chosen fellow, however, seems eminently qualified…

  7. Tax payer says:

    McLaughlin would take any job! The man has no experience at not much of anything other than talking out of both sides of his mouth. When we saw what he did his last meeting to promote and support Craig Coffey and their underhanded deal with Bings that was enough to let me know McLaughlin doesn’t need to be in any pubic service capacity. We won’t even go back to all the other things that give good reason for McLaughlin to hang his head in shame. The fact that he had no experience for the job he was applying is a good reason to not fill the job with McLaughlin. I am very pleased with the city commission’s vote to hire a qualified individual and not McLaughlin. McLaughlin has been holding hands with Elbert Tucker and Mrs. Robinson for a long time and knowing Nate, it has been for what they can do for him. Maybe now Nate McLaughlin can sell more of Elbert Tuckers real estate or he can get a job at their Mormon Church.

  8. Concerned Citizen says:

    Glad to see Bunnell letting fresh faces in. Sometimes new people are a good thing!!

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Lame duck Nate MgLaughlin after pushing and voting 3 to 2 to pave our pristine Bings Landing with and over 5 thousand sq ft building expansion and at least 30 more parking spots and 4 or 5 boat docks exclusive for the new restaurant….should stay away from any elected government position in this county and cities. He is a walking conflict of interest against us all while voting to commercialize our public parks for private interest. Parks acquired by the people with Florida Land Preservation Funds. He is a walking bomb against the preservation of Florida lands. The good old boy network has to end in this county. We elect our representatives first and most to vote for us, our services, infrastructure and land preservation and not special interest and developers number one agendas most the time. Jeez, most Bunnell commissioners willing to push and hire a realtor with no college, credentials or experience at all in community development just for his supposedly access to current county government contacts? Lets do not forget in future elections or government jobs openings who voted in favor of a BBQ versus our park preservation.

  10. Ramone says:

    The pay in Bunnell is incredibly low. You can’t even hire a building official for 62k. That’s why Bunnell uses a Building Official that works on weekends and is employed by three different cities. The smarter move would have been to hire a full time Building Official that has Community Development experience. Most of them do. But with that low of salary, I doubt it would happen.

  11. Dan Davis says:

    The majority of this commission still doesn’t understand (or care) what or who is needed. Why would you hire a dept. head that had no
    experince. Until the charter is changed taking away commissioner’s having to approve hiring/firing of dept. heads (who does that?) the manager will never be fully empowered to manage staff and the city….and Bunnell will continue to be the laughed at, living in the 70’s, good ole boy/gal, hook your buddy up town.

  12. Trailer Bob says:

    I almost spit my coffee out on this one. Nate has no experience…period. Time to get new faces to govern here. I cannot believe that someone who went bankrupt not long ago would be even considered for any position in government. Guess they didn’t notice that the people have voted and they do not want Nate to be part of our leadership. I believe it was a few weeks ago that we, the people, fired Nate. Time to find a “real” job Nate. And yes, you will have to work 9-5, Monday through Friday. Just can’t think of just what type of job you could actually perform well at.

  13. can't believe it says:

    maybe they saw his last vote on bing’s , KARMA !!!!

  14. tulip says:

    A newcomer is good to have. Mr Lucas starts with a clean slate, is not under the influence of some of the “big boys”. This will enable him to have the ability to concentrate more on the good of the community and its growth, see things from a different perspective than it is now, and be more able to listen and respect others opinions and thoughts of his team and the residents and take those ideas into consideration.

  15. Taxpayer says:

    McLauglin has no career job experience and doesn’t have long before he will be retirement age. He is good at let’s say nothing! The man let us down as a Commissioner and should have thought about that when he let Coffey lead him around by the nose. The Bunnell City Commission and Mayor are a joke! I’m sure glad the new city manager had authority to hire a man qualified for the job.

  16. Denise Calderwood says:

    Congratulations Mr. Jackson for selecting a qualified person for the job. Just because a person is a former County or City Commissioner that does not justify making them qualified for a position of that stature. The City of Bunnell has a great history and a very bright future and I for one am willing to continue to provide my support and expertise as a grant writer to the city on behalf of its citizens, after all, Bunnell is the county seat and it is the crossroads of Flagler County and the second largest land mass city in the state of Florida, only second to Jacksonville, so watch out Palm Coast…..

  17. weldon ryan says:

    Wow! Times are changing! I’m elated to see the dynamics of Bunnell change. Congratz to Mr. Jackson and Mr.Lucas on the formation of a new paradigm for Bunnell. I wish you’ll much success as we know it’s important for Flagler County to truly flourish.

  18. Billy Bob says:

    Carol- Mc Laughlin has no job skills or employment experience to speak of; other than talking bull shit. Maybe the BOCC will now fire Coffey and then McLaughlin and Coffey can go into business together. They can call it “Ribbon Cutters Got Shredded”.

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