Bunnell City Commissioner John Rogers remembers how when, almost a decade ago, Florida Highway Patrol veteran Brannon Snead was among the final two applying for the Bunnell police chief’s job, then-City Manager Armando Martinez called him “a rising star.” The star is now closer to its zenith–Snead is 45–and today, he was named Bunnell’s interim police chief, mere hours after the sudden departure of Tom Foster, who’d been police chief for almost eight years, some of that as interim manager. Foster has retired.
“I have decided to retire and start a new chapter in my life,” Foster told City Manager Alvin Jackson in a lengthy, two-page letter on Dec. 2 “This decision has been difficult for my
family and I, however the recent passing of Dominic Guida, has made my final decision clearer.” Guida, a 43-year-old sergeant with the Bunnell Police Department, died during training on Nov. 9. Foster said his last day would be Jan. 3, but Jackson said today his last day was Monday.
In 2013, the chief’s job went to Jeff Hoffman, who’d been a captain at the Daytona Beach Police Department and did not stay long before becoming the chief deputy at the Sheriff’s Office under Jim Manfre. Hoffman and Snead had been among 31 candidates. It wasn’t Snead’s only connection with Bunnell: he’s known Jackson for many years. Jackson had long told Snead to keep Bunnell in mind, should there be an opening. And as soon as it appeared that Bunnell would be without a police chief, Jackson contacted Snead and offered him the interim post–interim only, because the city would have to go through a formal and open process to appoint a permanent police chief. The interim appointment, however, gives Snead a vast advantage.
“I need a chief, and I need it right now,” Jackson said, “and I need someone that I have confidence in and that I know has the skill sets and the public management skills that that I desire. And someone that I know that will be a good fit for the for the team.” Snead will be paid $75,712, leading an agency budgeted for 12 uniformed police officers. The agency currently has nine.
Though he discusses his new job in terms of a transition for now, Snead doesn’t speak like an interim. His overriding goal: to get the Bunnell Police Department accredited, which means the department would recognizably meet rigorous professional standards. “It needs to be an accredited agency, I think we agree on that,” Snead said in a 25-minute interview at Jackson’s office this morning, not half an hour after Snead’s arrival in town. “That’s one focus once we continue to talk we want to push towards.”
To Jackson, Snead’s profile matches up with the sort of “professional public managers” he wants in directors’ positions. Snead is a certified public manager and supervisory. “That fits extremely well with the team that that we’re putting together,” Jackson said, openly suggesting that Snead may have a city manager’s position in his future. (Jackson is not worried about his own job.) “I do have a strong policy background and analysis,” Snead said, “so we’re going to do some auditing and look at some things to make sure that the department’s running proficiently and running the right way, and we’ll just go from there.”
Originally from Charleston, W.Va.–his father is a retired law enforcement officer in the state–Snead grew up in Tallahassee, is married, has a step-son, and is a cancer survivor. He’s spent the majority of his career in law enforcement, with FHP, but he also was a finance manager in an automotive business and has been a consultant on Federal Emergency Management Administration projects.
By the time he earned his bachelor’s in criminal justice from Thomas University in Georgia in 2003, he’d already worked five years with FHP, some of it as a traffic homicide investigator. He was briefly a police officer in Tallahassee before returning to FHP in 2004, winning numerous awards. For the past four and a half years, he’s been a reserve commander in Gretna, a small town west of Tallahassee.
Jackson said he and Foster had been having discussions about his retirement “for some time.” He said it was not a matter of dissatisfaction with Foster, but added: “I’m constantly working on areas that we need to improve upon. There’s some areas that we were working on as it relates to public safety.” Pressed for details, Jackson said he was “looking forward,” not back–the sort of terminology that clearly indicated some discomfort with discussing the details of the relationship with Foster that may have led to a more precipitate retirement.
South Bunnell is the single-largest concentration of Black residents in the county. Asked about recent trends in progressive policing and the Black Lives Matter movement, Snead took on the question without hesitation, or prevarications: “I’m used to working in a multicultural environments,” he said. “Black lives do matter. I mean, it’s been a movement that’s going on for a while. You’ll have various people say, well, all lives matter. But you know, the biggest thing is for us to address–do black lives matter. And they do. I’m going to be a chief of equality and people. We’re going to come up with if there’s anything that we need to address or take care of, we will, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re just going to put our best foot forward, take it day to day.”
He also spoke comfortably in personal terms, discussing the more spiritual parts of his personality. “I’m one of those people who, you know, you sometimes get jaded about what you see in law enforcement because you deal with with things that are very negative at times. But you have to be positive and you have to have some type of grounding to get through them. You deal with a lot of trauma, a lot of stress, and those can be very taxing on your life or your lifespan of course. I can tell you, if it wasn’t for my family, my father being in law enforcement, my mother who has a strong management background, my wife is in the medical field: to be able to bounce things off and talking through things, it’s a lot. But there’s a lot of people out there who suffer from mental illness and stress, and you don’t know the interaction of what they’re dealing with. So you have to exercise a lot of patience, especially with this position. The other thing though, too, is you have to make quick decisions, but you have to make sure those decisions are correct. I mean, it’s trial by fire with law enforcement. Our biggest thing is to be transparent with things and to help this department as much as we can become a professional department.” Snead had pushed accreditation even in his interview with the city a decade ago.
Jackson is optimistic and enthusiastic by nature. He was particularly so today. “As always, I’m excited,” he said, as he’d been processing Snead’s paperwork and preparing to introduce him to commissioners. (As Snead and Jackson spoke, Rogers, the commissioner, dropped by.) “Because this is another opportunity to go to the next level and create another department that’s going to be world class, and that’s what I’m pushing towards, is for Bunnell to be the best little city in America, which means that we have to hire the best and bring in the best.”
In his retirement letter, Foster summarized his achievements, including his efforts to improve the reputation of the city, which was not in good shape when he arrived, especially because of the police department, several of whose members faced charges or were convicted of various offenses. “We changed what was once a negative image and reputation of this department, molding it into a professionally recognized and reputable agency,” Foster wrote. He described the community policing approach he implemented, which built bridges with South Bunnell especially, and cited the 22.3 percent crime reduction of the past year. “Working with our community I have championed and organized partnerships with numerous law
enforcement agencies and community partners participating in many events and functions i.e., shop with a cop, polar plunge, the Early Learning coalition, Halloween, MLK parade, building of a park for children instead of vagrants and drug dealers, and many others.”
“I am truly blessed to have served as the longest tenured chief in this city’s history,” Foster concluded. “My initial intention was to retire in March 2022, but as I stated with
the passing of Sgt. Guida, it has opened my eyes and I have come to terms that I did what God has asked me to do. Philippians 4:13 states ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me,’ he has provided me the strength to step away and the strength to be at peace with this decision. I Thank God for his guidance and protection throughout my career.”
Snead joins a list of police chiefs that, going back to 1996, have included Bill Karback, Flynn Edmonson, H.B. Robinson, Bill Davis, Mike Ignasiak, Armando Martinez, Arthur Jones, Hoffman and Foster.