It’s been the longest interview in history this side of Kate Middleton: Bruce Campbell has been acting manager in Flagler Beach since January 2–nine months–serving seven commissioners and a mayor along the way (two of those commissioners have been replaced), and never getting the four-vote majority he’s needed to be appointed permanent city manager.
That may change Thursday.
Flagler Beach Commission Chairman John Feind, who’s opposed Campbell’s appointment until now, added an item to the Oct. 13 commission meeting: “Consider appointing Bruce Campbell as City Manager.”
The item suggests that Feind has made up his mind in favor of Campbell. If so, he didn’t say on Friday when contacted by a reporter. “Do I have an idea what I’m going to do? yeah, I do,” Feind said, but he wouldn’t let on what, exactly, that would be. He still wants to hear from the public, though whatever clamor had accompanied Campbell’s circus-like support a year ago has only increased since. “There’s a general consensus in the community that he’s done an outstanding job,” Commissioner Steve Settle said in April, during one of Settle’s many attempts to give Campbell the job. Feind himself conceded Friday that Campbell has done well as an acting manager–“generally so, yes,” in Feind’s words.
The chairman had set budget season as Campbell’s litmus test. Budget season is over. How did Campbell do? “He did a good a job at the budget.”
Barring a surprise road-to-Damascus moment by three commissioners–Marshal Shupe, Kim Carney and Settle–Campbell has those votes. He’s needed one more from either Feind or Jane Mealy, who opposed Campbell’s appointment the strongest when Campbell wended his way through the interviewing process. He did so more by elimination, favoritism, stalemate and supporters’ political maneuvering than conventional merit in the summer of 2010, surfacing on the short list from a stack of 140 applicants. His lack of public executive experience made Mealy nervous. (See his full resume below.) His political fan base made Mealy and Feind nervous. Both had voted against appointing Campbell acting manager when the commission did so, on a 3-2 vote almost a year ago (on Oct. 28).
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If Feind appears ready to move in Campbell’s favor, Mealy appears less inclined to do so. She, too, would not say how she would vote on Thursday. Her report card for Campbell was less glowing than Feind’s. “I was satisfied with the budget. I still have to think about how satisfied I was with how he did it,” Mealy said. More generally, she added: “There’s some things I’m happy about and some things I’m not happy about or less happy about and I have to decide whether—it’s still a hard decision for me.”
While Settle has been pushing for Campbell’s permanent appointment since last year, too much can be made of the fact that Feind, this time, is the one placing the matter on the agenda. In reality, Feind is merely, as chairman, fulfilling a promise he made last spring–when he resisted Settle’s latest push to appoint Campbell–to bring up the matter immediately after budget season.
But wording and circumstances matter, too: the agenda item was not neutral, and the pressure on the commission to appoint a manager one way or another has grown too intense for the panel to fall short once again. There is no other candidate in play, and no desire among a majority of commissioners to reopen the application process, let alone do a nationwide search. Campbell is it.
For Feind and Mealy, in sum, their hand is being forced. That leaves them with a stark choice, which isn’t much of a choice at all. Either they fold and give Campbell the fourth vote for the permanent appointment, or they’re seen as obstructionists with no constructive alternative to fall back on.
They can no longer argue that Campbell has no public executive experience. They cannot argue that they don’t know his style. They don’t have the option of looking at other candidates: a majority of the commission (and the mayor’s voice) won’t let them. They cannot even fall back on the default option of keeping Campbell as acting manager any longer. That’s run its course, with their own statements compelling them to make a choice one way or another. In that sense, they’re boxed in, leaving them with no real choice: should both commissioners declare their opposition to appointing Campbell simply because they cannot give him their full endorsement, they would merely be saying that they cannot give him the full-fledged title, but are in effect willing to keep him as acting manager, since the rest of the commission won’t abide a change. But both commissioners have also said that they didn’t want to weasel around the city charter, which requires a permanent manager’s appointment, barring emergencies. The emergency is long gone, if there ever was one.
Feind’s and Mealy’s opposition would come down to obstinate principle. That may have been honorable 12 or six months ago. It’s more likely to look like prideful stubbornness now–as two commissioners placing their personal convictions, which are not in doubt, above what appears to be broad consensus that the city needs to move past this particular (and particularly embarrassing) hurdle. Feind may be moving toward changing his vote for the good of the city rather than out of personal conviction (the way former Commissioner Joy McGrew did last year to give Campbell the acting job). If Feind does so, he may save Mealy the trouble of changing hers, though a unanimous vote for a city manager is always the preferred vote of confidence for a government looking for fresh-start unity.
Thursday’s meeting (Sept. 13) begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Flagler Beach City Hall.