Last Updated: 4:14 p.m.
Since she was appointed interim Palm Coast City Manager on June 1 last year, Denise Bevan had been reluctant to assume the leadership of the city beyond that role, despite significant pressure from her staff and council members to be the permanent manager.
Bevan’s resistance ended today as Mayor David Alfin pulled a surprise. He passed the gavel to Vice Mayor Eddie Branquinho, termed the ongoing search for city manager again disappointing (“too few applicants, and a lack of interest by qualified search firms”), as the previous search had been, and made a motion to offer Bevan the permanent job. Councilman Victor Barbosa seconded. “This is a beautiful thing, hiring within our organization,” he said.
A council member asked her if she wanted the job, just to make sure. Bevan said she did. The vote was unanimous, and Branquinho nearly broke the gavel when he slammed it approvingly before standing up and leading the council in a standing ovation for Bevan. (“I’m in deep trouble because I think we need a new gavel and a new desk,” he said later. The gavel had had a long year.)
For Alfin, the unanimous vote on such a key issue on such a frayed council was itself a major victory, and fulfillment of a goal he’d set out since the search for a manager began. “It’s the only way to show the city manager you have respect on day one, so yes, I would say those were my expectations,” Alfin said in an interview after the meeting.
As Alfin noted in his remarks today, the dearth of applicants and the the disinterest among headhunting firms to conduct Palm Coast’s search was part of his thinking in offering the job to Bevan. That disinterest among search firms is stunning, if not surprising: it’s a poor reflection on the council’s recent history. But the abrogated first search, and now the second, gave Bevan time to grow in the job. Just as clearly, Alfin played a key role in bringing Bevan along from no to yes.
“Ms. Bevan was not an applicant in the first search round,” Alfin said. “I do have a regular meeting for City Council updates and I asked her, after the first search was terminated in favor of the new plan, I asked her: would she consider the position, and at that time she’d had a chance to speak with friends and family and whatever personal issues she needed to deal with. She said she would.” That was around a month ago, he recalled. He then turned to doing his own “extensive due diligence to make sure this was the right decision not just for the city but also for her,” Alfin said. “I wanted to make sure the fit was complete and correct.”
He’d watched Bevan tested over the last few months. “Her resolve and her effort as interim city manager was top notch and didn’t fluctuate, change in any way, and I actually look for that kind of consistency,” he said.
It was only this morning, just before the meeting, that he had himself concluded that he was satisfied. So he made the motion, his resolve also clearly apparent.
Even Ed Danko, the councilman who’d asked her if she wanted the job, was now for Bevan, when not long ago he said he would no longer meet with her in person and would only communicate by email. “I’m very impressed with your performance lately. And I want to personally thank you. You know why. So you have my support,” he said, leaving the you know why hanging cryptically.
Bevan had brought to the job years of cohesive collegiality with her staff and a keen ability to work with council members. Most of them,, anyway, going back over the years and with members long since gone. But in June she’d stepped into a position made difficult by a divided and often belligerent council, with one councilman–Danko–promising to fire her and refusing to meet with her, a vacant mayoral seat (Alfin wasn’t to be elected for another eight weeks) and uncertainty through the city’s ranks.
But it was Bevan who did through those ranks what Alfin did on the council: she calmed things down, restored a sense of self-assurance and direction, and focused the administration on its work. Her distaste for politics proved to be the necessary sort of buffer that worked best between the staff and the administration. Council member Nick Klufas said he has “continued to faith in Ms. Bevan with her leadership. And you know, she’s been here since I’ve been here and it’s been a tremendous journey thus far and always positive.”
The council chamber had been filled earlier in the morning, brimming with the Green Lion controversy. People spilled over into an overflow room, and public comment alone took up two hours. It was one of the unspoken if supreme ironies of the day that Bevan’s loudest enthusiasts today–Danko, Barbosa and Branquinho–were the trio who’d also been the loudest critics of the Green Lion lease extension a week ago–the lease extension negotiated under Bevan’s eye and guidance. The council today reversed course and chose to embrace the Green Lion. The two sides will negotiate the renewal directly, in open meetings, with Bevan at the dais of course.
By the time Alfin broached the matter of the manager search, the chamber was empty but for staffers and a handful of people in the audience. Only one resident, a W-Section resident who’d just spoken with Bevan for the very first time, spoke on the item, declaring Bevan uniquely qualified.
“Congratulations. I think it’s important that we stand together,” Alfin told Bevan as he had walked down from the dais to stand alongside her. The two faced the rest of the council from the well of the chamber.
“Thank you for your trust and support and I can’t wait to take our team to the next step. You guys are amazing,” Bevan told her staff, “those who are in city hall tonight or today. Awesome. And to all of our staff across the organization, thank you so much.”
Alfin’s second motion was to appoint one of the city council members to negotiate the contract with Bevan. Barbosa proposed the mayor fill that role, a motion that also won unanimity. Branquinho left the gavel alone, or rather immediately handed it back to Alfin.
In what seemed like an echo of her appointment, Barbosa made an announcement of his own during subsequent discussion, declaring that he was abandoning his run for County Commission, and that he would run for council again.