In a remarkably controlled meeting, the Palm Coast City Council this evening ended City Manager Matt Morton’s tenure, waiving his 30-day notice, and appointed Denise Bevan, a chief of staff, to the interim position. She had previously been in charge of the administration’s goal-setting, and was recently elevated to the position of chief of staff–one of two serving in that role.
“I’m here to serve the city of Palm Coast, in any capacity necessary,” Bevan told the council this evening. “I would ask to better understand the terms, and to work with each council member and our amazing team on what that looks like. With that, thank you.” Bevan’s tenure with the city goes back many years, serving as the point person for various initiatives and, for several years, heading the administrative side of the council’s strategic action plan, or priorities. Unpretentious, respected and liked by staff and always rigorously prepared, Bevan is fluent in the council’s language and, because of her regular interactions with council members, its psychology: in key regards, she’s not as green as Council member Ed Danko feared.
Both Morton’s departure and Bevan’s appointment are contingent on Bevan accepting the negotiated terms of her interim contract. Those negotiations are to be carried out later this week, but are not expected to be difficult or an obstacle to her appointment. That means Morton is still officially employed as the city manager. “I expect to have it done by the end of the week,” Morton said.
Fire Chief Jerry Forte spoke to the council about the normal line of succession, breaking through what verged on a deadlock as the council had began disagreeing over whether to appoint Bevan or seek out someone from outside the city.
Forte in October had suggested Bevan when the discussion of a succession plan had come up. He provided a full-hearted endorsement of Bevan in his remarks to the council, describing her as a person who would bring “calm, some stability,” and someone who would work well with anyone at any level in the city.
If there was a Midas touch tonight, it was Forte’s. He made it almost impossible for council members to overlook his recommendation.
The council had three options: to waive Morton’s 30-day period between the time he announced his resignation and the time it becomes effective (on July 1), to fire him, or to let him serve out the 30 days. The first two options would require an immediate appointment. If the council was to “eliminate” Morton, City Attorney Bill Reischmann said, the council would have to have an interim in place by charter: the position may not be left vacant.
“This is the first time the four of you have had the legal ability to have this conversation,” Reischmann said. The council’s discussion was even-tempered, as was a capacity crowd at City Hall, even as a few members of the audience, among them former employee Jason Giraulo, called for the firing of Morton. Giraulo said Morton had “destroyed” his career.
Yet all told, few people addressed the council either about Morton or his successor’s appointment, though most had shown up to see how the council would handle those items. Klufas thanked the council and the public for the way the meeting was handled, saying the panel had met the challenge.
It was Klufas who, surprisingly, said it was time to sever the city’s relationship with Morton immediately. As a matter of health for Morton, Klufas said it was “healthiest and best” to sever Morton from the city, otherwise he would face “unsurmountable attacks on every item.” There was no disagreement, even from Council member Eddie Branquinho, who had said over the weekend he wanted to ask Morton to extend his tenure by a month, to give the city time to work things out.
Council member Victor Barbosa wanted to have Morton fired this evening. “I think the city is ready to move on.” He made that motion earlier in the meeting, also proposing to appoint Bevan, but was asked to rescind it so the council could finish all other business, including the elimination of a so-called “difficult citizens” list (which it did).
Reischmann said he had received an email from Ronald Mclemore, former city manager in Debary, Daytona Beach and Winter Spring, saying he’d be willing to step in strictly as an interim. But that route proved unnecessary. As for Jerry Cameron, the county administrator whose name had been twisting city officials’ lips left and right over the weekend as a potential interim, he was never mentioned.