It was Bunnell City Manager Armando Martinez’s 11th hour, literally: at a few minutes before 11 p.m. Monday, Bunnell City Commissioner Elbert Tucker made a motion not to renew Martinez’s contract when it expires in October. Commissioner John Rogers, after a long silence, seconded.
At 27 minutes after midnight, Martinez had lost, 3-2: his contract would not be renewed in October. But he appeared—in a rushed request for a “consensus” from the board, not a vote—to have saved his five or six-month severance package, valued at over $45,000. That may give Martinez the last laugh: he’ll be on Bunnell’s payroll at his full salary for almost a year more.
Tucker, Rogers and Bill Baxley voted not to renew the contract. Mayor Catherine Robinson and Jenny Crain-Brady voted against the motion. The vote followed almost two hours of discussion by commissioners and members of the public, including pleas by Mayor Catherine Robinson to her colleagues to reconsider, and equally impassioned pleas by members of the public for clearer explanations about the firing.
“OK, so what is the purpose behind not wanting to renew?” Robinson asked, beginning yet another defense of Martinez—defenses she’s carried out before several times on his behalf, successfully.
This is the same board that voted unanimously, with Baxter’s exception, to renew his contract last year, Robinson said. “The man has done an outstanding job,” she said, and the least he was owed was an explanation. If money is the issue, “we’re right in the middle of cities that are 10,000 or less,” she said, referring to his salary. “What is it that he’s done that would not warrant a renewal of his contract?” Robinson asked.
She rifled through papers—obviously prepared for her ahead of the meeting—to summarize achievements during Martinez’s tenure, from reductions in property taxes to savings to solid waste income to increasing reserves. She reminded the audience that until Martinez’s arrival, the tenure of city managers was between one and two years. “We had some real losers, I’m going to say that,” Robinson said, refusing to name names. “Mr. Martinez is not one of them.”
But Tucker would have none of it.
“I’m not going to argue. My motion stands,” he said. “If you don’t want to vote my way, then that’s your 20 percent.”
Martinez, too, was prepared, again bringing out a dossier of his accomplishments.
“I was kind of surprised when this issue came up so soon again after it was put to rest,” Martinez said, beginning his own defense: he spoke of his 10 departments (up from seven), employee raises, going from “dire straits” financially to a city on a sound footing
“It wasn’t easy to get people to work here. We had a bad reputation,” Martinez said, speaking of his success in hiring high performers like his grant director, Judi Stetson. By the time he was done he had taken on the rhetorical rhythms of a preacher, cheerleading his own and his staff’s doings, pounding the air (or the dais) with his index finger and rifling numbers from his set of notes. “I don’t like to put myself in a position where I’m talking about myself, but I think you need to know,” he said. Some of the accomplishments he described were major, like Bunnell’s annexation of 87,000 acres. Some were not—like upgrades from Word 2003 software.
He said he was also perplexed about Tucker’s move, especially over his salary, which he said had not been an issue before. That was not accurate: Tucker has been making an issue of Martinez’s salary since he was hired, and did it again when a bare majority gave Martinez the $6,000 he was supposed to have given up when he gave up a second job title he had not been supposed to have kept after he stopped being Bunnell’s police chief. Martinez’s list of accomplishments also left silent major scandals that took place on his watch, including the arrest on felony charges of two cops, a state investigation of the police department, which had been riven with mismanagement, and the reversal of a commission policy that had amounted to a shakedown of drivers merely suspected but not necessarily breaking laws.
“I have yet to hear an intelligent, and I do mean an intelligent reason for this to be occurring,” James Fisk, a resident of Palm Coast and a member of Bunnell’s centennial committee, said. “What wrong has he done? Your citizens deserve an explanation.”
Numerous Bunnell city employees, among them police officers and department heads, spoke in defense of Martinez, describing more stable times and greater respect for the city on his watch, but in vain.
Baxley offered a few explanations: he charged Martinez with “lying” to the people of Plantation Bay, on an issue he did not explain (though Martinez did, conceding only that he may have told an incomplete story, but not lied). Baxley blamed Martinez for not following the city charger on managerial succession—or who would be in charge in Martinez’s absence—and he blamed Martinez for costing the city $18,000 in legal fees, so far, in a dispute between Palm Terrace, the mobile home community, and Bunnell over water issues. “A good city manager would have headed this off, would have done what was done tonight with the saw mill estates people,” Baxley said. Martinez defended himself, saying all he did was at the commission’s direction.
Rogers said he’d brought up issues to Martinez’s attention before only to be shot down, with Martinez saying he only needed three votes. “To be honest with you the pleasure is gone for me, and he serves at our will, and our pleasure,” Rogers said.
By the time Tucker had taken up his item the meeting was four hours old. Tucker’s item had been preceded by a nearly two-hour discussion about what passes for the decaying sewer system in Sawmill Estates, the wealthiest subdivision in Bunnell, where three of the five commission members live. By then the air conditioning system seemed to have stopped functioning in the commission chambers, too.
By the time the vote was taken, the chamber had turned into a hothouse of claims, counterclaims and fresh resentments.
The vote was quickly followed by another: to hire Lonnie Groot as the city’s new attorney, replacing Sid Nowell, who announced his resignation last month.
This being Bunnell, no meeting ends without final-minute theatrics, which in this case were authored by Crain-Brady, who said she’d have questions to Groot about Sunshine law violations–she said the vote to end Martinez’s contract was pre-arranged–and about making bribes to the city manager. She did not elaborate, but briskly walked out of the chamber as soon as the meeting was over. Martinez said that in April, after the original motions to fire him (which failed) a commissioner he did not name offered him severance if he’d resign.
What a sad day for the city of Bunnell,we meed to vote out the commissioners,I will do every thing possible to get them out.
Charles Gardner says
Bad decision for unknown reasons. Mr. Martinez brought Bunnell out of the dark ages.
Realty Check says
Tucker still thinks its 1965, he is backwards in his thinking, he is a good old boy who wants no change in his city, he needs to look in the mirror if he wants to identify the problems in that city.
I think Baxley, Tucker and Rogers forgot who they are working for. You are suppose to be working for the citizens of Bunnell. You completely ignored what the citizens of Bunnell said at the meeting which makes me believe this is all for your own personal gain! Did you not here what the police officers, city employees and the citizens said? I promise you when election time comes up I will work day and night to have all three of you removed from this board. It is obvious to me you do not care what the tax payers of Bunnell think. Please remember we are your BOSS! You work for us and your job performance and your arrogance is unacceptable.
Even though I’m a resident of PC, I appreciated Martinez because he’s not a member of the ‘old boy’ network. When will Bunnell embrace the 21st Century and get their proverbial heads out of their butts? Probably never.
And people wonder why gas is 10-20 cents higher in Bunnell.
Bye-Bye!… Enough said!
Mr. Martinez should look onward and upward. I believe this will open opportunities for him and allow him to be closer to his family at the same time. Best of luck!
Diego Miller says
The Flagler county commission fired David Haas, one of the best administrators Flagler had ever had, exactly the same way. They have never explained why.
Very very sad. A very open, passionate and very astute . Many of us in Plantation Bay were putting our faith in his genuine concern for our water dilemma . I hope Bunnell reconsiders the
good work Armando Martinez has done in putting Bunnell on ‘the map’ in the undersigned’s opinion.
What a gentleman our area may lose
north ditch says
Well, it’s about time somebody woke up in Bunnell. THANK YOU TUCKER, BAXLEY AND ROGERS!
Well, not that I really follow Bunnell politics, but wasn’t Martinez on a short list for another city manager job elsewhere recently? It sounds like he wasn’t long for this town regardless.
Talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face.
One step forward and two steps back. Disappointing.
Stay tuned though. This may not be over quite yet.
Charles Gardner says
You may be right, it probably isn’t over.
The people of bunnell have nothing to fear the mayor will give a couple more of her family members a job with the city to take up the slack. Nepotism is alive and well.
Thomas McKay says
Last night was my mothers 86th birthday and we had about 23 people over to celebrate her birthday and the topic came up about letting the city manager Armando Martinez go.It became a heated subject about are city commissioners.How does a newly elected city commission(Bill Baxley)know the city manager and how he operates in the short time he has been in office?We talked about this subject for over 2 hours and think the whole firing was a set up.We would like to get Bill Baxley under oath and tell the citizens of Bunnell that he(Bill Baxley),Elbert Tucker and John Rogers never talked about this before Monday’s meeting.This so looks like a back room deal.Not one of the commissioners could give us a reason why they let him go!The mayor said over and over what a great job he has done.Could someone out there tell us if that is legal for 3 commissioners to talk about letting a city manager go with out bringing up the subject at a public meeting first?All of us at the party would like to have someone with a legal backround to try and help us out with this.We just all think this stinks like 23 hogs in a pin.
Charles Gardner says
Only a few short weeks ago this same issue came up with Baxley voting to retain Martinez. It certainly seems that something is amiss here. Government in the Sunshine, really?
north ditch says
Tucker and Rogers have been openly opposed to Martinez for a long time. Baxley ran on the platform that Martinez should go and regularly attended city meetings prior to his election to the commission! I say, pffffft to your accusations of Sunshine Gov’t and say, ’bout time the sun came up on that carpetbaggers’ a** in another town!!
Jennifer Lopez says
The people of the City of Bunnell need to get off the high horse. That man, Martinez has snowed you all. He is not worth all that money you pay him. Mayor is right they had some loser, and winners too, but she forgets those. She needs to step down and move over too.
You all have alot to worry about in your town besides who has that million dollar job. You better get a good one this time. \