You don’t conduct 1,000 traffic death investigations for 33 years with a faint heart: as a Florida Highway Patrol corporal in charge of scenes where horror and mayhem could unsettle anyone, Young was known as a steady, unflappable presence. He wasn’t indifferent or unemotional–his doggedness after the facts of his cases was driven by a commitment to victims and their families–but nothing could shake him.
Monday evening, Pete Young was shaken.
He did not expect Bunnell City Commissioner John Rogers to motion for his immediate appointment to a vacant seat on the commission. True, Young last week won his election to the commission in an uncontested race, as did Rogers, as did fellow-Commissioner Tonya Gordon, the first time that’s happened for three candidates in the same election since 2009. But Young wasn’t to be sworn in until April.
The commission has been operating with a vacant seat since the resignation of Bob Barnes in July. Young had been appointed to it in August. But he resigned just two weeks later after discovering that, at the time, the position conflicted with the Florida Retirement System’s terms.
Rogers figured that now that Young has been elected, there was no sense waiting until April to fill the seat. He did not tell Young. That would have been a violation of the Sunshine law: even when an official has been elected, but not yet been seated, he or she is under sunshine rules, which prevent members of the same government body from discussing anything that may come before their government, outside of a public meeting.
So there was Young, sitting through the city commission’s brief meeting in back of the chamber at the Government Services Building, with his wife Julie and one of his two daughters, Jennifer Rodbourn, as the commission went through its short agenda. During commissioners’ comments segment, Rogers made the motion to appoint him, Commissioner Tina Marie-Schultz and Mayor Catherine Robinson approved, and Young was appointed on a 3-0 vote. Gordon was absent.
Young had not even been asked. “We ought to ask you before we do it, huh?” Robinson told him.
Young walked up to the podium. “I’d been hoping and praying for this day,” he said, thanking the commission. He was still expecting to be sworn in, but there came City Manager Alvin Jackson with a green bible in one hand and the phrases of the swearing in on a piece of paper in the other (clearly, he had been told to prepare). Young, with his wife of 44 years at his side, repeated the oath, stumbling a few times as newly elected or appointed people do, and he was a commissioner again. (Young served two years on the Bunnell commission between 2006 and 2008, before state law prevented sworn officers from serving on an elected board.)
Young then went back to his seat in back of the room. Robinson had to call him back, and ask him to take his seat alongside his colleagues. That’s when they realized he had been in tears. “I’m really shocked and surprised, I wasn’t expecting this,” he said.
“Your hearts in the right place,” Robinson told him. “You’ve served before, so this is not new for you. But we’re glad to have you.” She invited him to take part in the commission’s coal-setting session Friday in Building G of the Vince Carter Sanctuary in Bunnell (the day-long session is open to the public).
It was fitting that Rogers motioned for the appointment. Rogers has been looking to have Young on the commission for a while. But the two go back a few decades. Rogers is 55, Young 67. They had a run-in when Rogers was 12, biking down a street in Bunnell, when Young was the police chief, in his mid-20s.
“He pulled me over. I was on a dirt bike,” Rogers said. “He said, where’s your license? I don;t have one. Registration? I don’t have one.” He wasn’t required to have either. “I’m going to give you two choices,” Rogers said Young told him. “I’m going to either take you to jail, or take you to your brother. Which one do you want? So I tell him, Go to jail, go to jail. So this joker takes me to my brother and witnesses aggravated child abuse and doesn’t do nothing.”
Rogers was being cared for at the time by his late brother Pat Rogers, who died four years ago. “He tried to catch me, throwing wrenches at me,” Rogers remembered, referring to his older brother. “He couldn’t catch me.” Young, as always, heard the story with a smirk, saying little. That was when “everybody knew everybody” in Bunnell, Young said.
Young will serve until April in Barnes’s former seat. Young will then be administered the oath of office again for his elected seat, as will Rogers and Gordon. Gordon was elected in a special election, specifically to fill out the two years remaining on Barnes’s term.