It was not a good night for Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson.
First, City Commissioner Jan Reeger tried to fire him, claiming, without any specifics, to be “shocked and horrified” by what she’d been uncovering. Her motion died. Then Vice Mayor John Rogers tried to give Jackson a 3.6 percent raise. His motion failed, 3-2. Commissioner Bill Baxley suggested 1 percent, in line with what city employees would get if they were to receive a mediocre evaluation, as Jackson very much did that evening. But Rogers motioned for a 2 percent raise, and with Commissioner Donnie Nobles switching sides and joining Rogers and Mayor Catherine Robinson, that motion passed, 3-2.
Along the way, Reeger twice more spoke of “serious problems” on Jackson’s watch and even Robinson and Rogers, who gave Jackson glowing review, said certain elements of his leadership need improvements, with Rogers adopting the language of a probationer when he said of the manager, who’s marking his first year on the job: “He’s deserving another chance, another year, and well go from there.” Rogers had used similarly qualified language with the previous manager, who didn’t serve out his next year, though Rogers also said Jackson worked hard and has given the city a “vision.”
Reeger again spoke up.
“I attended all the interviews of the city manager and was a loud proponent of Mr. Jackson,” she said. “For me to take this turn around, I’m not taking it lightly, I have extremely good reasons for this, this is not an evidentiary scenario and I would ask commissioners to look into things and make the same sort of inquiries that I did, and I believe they would find that termination is in order and I intend to pursue this issue.”
The mayor called for the vote. Jackson got a $1,640 raise to his base salary of $82,000. It was entirely coincidental that the city clerk spoke next of Christmas in Bunnell.
Jackson’s five evaluations were written as if for two different people. There’s the Jackson of Robinson and Rogers, with Rogers’s 4.90 approaching a perfect 5 out of 5 overall–his only issues was with Jackson’s budget preparation, his control of the finance department and his ability to carry out commission policies, though even on those scores he got 4’s, meeting or exceeding expectations. Robinson’s review came in at 4.2, weighed down by middling scores on fiscal management but still buttressed by strong scores elsewhere. “His strength is effective communication toward economic development for the City and working well with other local governments as well as the County,” Robinson wrote. Jackson’s personable approach has never been questioned, though as yet his reputation as a strong economic development manager has been based mostly on his own claims and glossy reports, on paper, to the city, rather than on actual achievements in the city.
Over the course of his two interviews for the job last year, Jackson came across as a strong self-promoter, but also as a keen inflator of his own accomplishments and titles, among them his claim to have a doctorate from an institution in Jacksonville that was never more than a one-door religious outfit and has since shuttered. Commissioners still refer to him as “Dr. Jackson.”
The evaluations by Baxley, Nobles and Reeger were a different story.
Baxley’s was barely a 3–Meets Job Standards, and would have been in the “Improvement Needed” category but for a single item lower by one grade. Baxley’s marks were mediocre across the board, even for Jackson’s public relations, and needing improvement in his fiscal management. Though it was Reeger who tried to fire Jackson, it was Nobles who rated him lowest: 2.37, with very poor marks in communications (Jackson apparently does not keep Nobles informed on city finances or other reports), and poor marks in leadership of staff and relations with the commission.
Reeger’s overall score was a relatively robust 3.51, but she said after Monday’s meeting that she should have “pulled back” the evaluation, and would have given him much lower marks, including possibly zeroes on some items, had she known =what she’d learned after turning it in. She gave him the highest marks for his personal traits and public relations, but poor marks for his fiscal management. “Effectively, a year is a short time to properly evaluate,” she wrote. There have been some disappointments and some hopes not fulfilled. The talent is there and the next year may bring wonderful plans.”
The hopeful tone of Reeger’s evaluation was gone by the time she addressed the commission Monday, stunning her colleagues. Robinson had introduced the topic of Jackson’s evaluations after a swift, largely routine meeting that had at one point featured an appearance by Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland and City Manager Matt Morton, who asked–and received–the Bunnell commission’s support for Palm Coast’s partnership with the University of Florida’s plan for an extension of its medical education in Town Center. The commission had also heard a series of land-use matters, including a zoning change that will allow for a 30-unit apartment complex for low-income people at the west end of town. When Robinson summarized Jackson’s evaluations and asked if a raise was in order, Reeger first spoke.
“I make a motion that we terminate Alvin Jackson as city manager, effective immediately,” Reeger said, to a couple of “wows” in the audience. Baxley seconded the motion “just to hear the discussion part.”
“I am deeply disappointed and I take this situation very seriously,” Reeger said. “Commissioners, there’s no requirement to provide reasons, but I would ask you please think about what happened in this very room with our budget fiasco, I have not let that go I have been taking a look at some finances in the budget and finding problems, things that should have been attended to. We also at our last regular meeting had an employee fiasco, and you might want to recall who attended that meeting. Also, we are fortunate over some time, that we haven’t lost our chief of police.” But Reeger did not get more specific even as she spoke of a list that was “substantial and growing. I guarantee that if we don’t do this, it will cause irreparable harm to our city.”
Baxley withdrew his second, and Reeger’s motion died.
Earlier this year the finance director got a job elsewhere and immediately after she left, the entire finance department resigned, leaving the city in shambles just as budget season was under way. On Oct. 28, the city commission meeting turned into a reverse inquisition of Jackson’s actions–along with those of City Clerk Kristen Bates–in the evaluation of an employee. That employee’s immediate supervisor, Ronnie Jones, charged that Jackson and Bates had forced him to alter his evaluation of the employee, to reflect more negativity than he intended, and when he refused, they altered the evaluation anyway. Jones was himself fired.
So Robinson was at least somewhat disingenuous when she responded to Reeger’s motion: “I don’t know where this has come from,” Robinson said during the discussion about a raise for Jackson. “I looked at the evaluations and I saw fair evaluations and I saw evaluations that signify needing improvement, and certainly we can work on those areas that commissioners feel were lacking. This was the first year, coming on board, and yes we had a financial–fiasco is a good word, but I think he rallied through that and we got on board and we have stabilized ion that department. So yes he’s accountable for all the areas in the city but who knew that the problems were going to develop and that the staff was going to leave. So he managed to get through the crisis, and we got the budget done and we got the hearings done all in time,” hiring a finance director along the way and using county government employees to make it through. “I believe that the positives certainly outweigh the negatives. Are there other areas that we need to work on? Sure there are. But I don’t feel that, certainly I do believe that he deserves a raise and I do believe he deserves the next year to be able to lead and direct.” Robinson, too, spoke vaguely of “things behind the scenes” that others may not know about that argue in favor of Jackson.
Jackson spoke briefly at the end of the meeting, thanking the commission “for your confidence and the increase,” saying he’d continue to work on communications. He offered to sit down with Reeger to “get you in a more positive position toward me.” The two spoke, toe to toe, briefly after the meeting. In an interview, Reeger would not provide additional details about her claims regarding Jackson, saying some of it was written to her, some of it was hearsay, and some of it was spoken to her “in confidence.” She said she would continue to examine the issue.