Alvin Jackson has only been city manager in Bunnell for three years. But he’s the dean of the current class of managers and administrators in Flagler County: The school superintendent has been in office a year and a half, the interim or actual city managers of Palm Coast and Flagler Beach and the county administrator have all been in office less than a year, some of their tenures made even more tenuous at times by fickle politics.
For that relative stability, Jackson has earned the admiration–and gratefulness–of his four city commissioners and the mayor.
“My 28 years on this commission allows me to reflect on previous managers and he is one of the strongest we have had in my experience,” Mayor Catherine Robinson wrote.
“I was pleased with them,” Jackson said today about the evaluations. “It is not just me, it is really the performance of my team and my organization, so basically the performance evaluation as far as I’m concerned really represents the team, not just Alvin Jackson.”
There are some hints of discord in the ranks, with two commissioners–the commission’s two newest arrivals–pointing out what a previous commissioner had complained about repeatedly: that Jackson plays favorites with his staff, if not with commissioners.
Jackson is being evaluated on his third anniversary. The five evaluations combined add up to an average rating of 2.75 out of a possible 3, placing him in the “exceptional range.” He got perfect or near-perfect scores from Commissioner Tina Marie-Schultz, Mayor Catherine Robinson and Commissioner John Rogers. He was “highly effective” in the eyes of Robert Barnes, and merely “effective” in the eyes of Tonya Gordon, his harshest grader. His merit raise recommendations range from 1 to 3 percent, averaging 2.4 percent.
Dean though he may be, Jackson is also the least-paid local government executive: the end of September, his salary was $87,000. He got the same 2 percent cost-of-living raise that other employees got on Oct. 1, bringing his current salary to $88,754. Any merit increase approved this evening would be in addition to that.
The evaluation Bunnell commissioners use is a detailed analysis of 18 categories covering such things as job knowledge, customer focus, professionalism, communication, budgeting, emergency management, problem-solving, “diversity appreciation” and safety. Jackson gave commissioners a bit of help: he provided them with a list of 23 accomplishments rich in words like “successful,” “implemented,” “completed,” “revised” and “replaced.”
“Mr. Jackson has led the staff through a very difficult year with [unforeseen] issues that [have] been difficult to resolve,” Mayor Catherine Robinson wrote in her sum-up. “He has developed a plan to work through the finances for upgrading the wastewater treatment plant, finding temporary space for staff with long-term plans for permanent space.” Robinson was referring to Bunnell government’s other crisis this year: the discovery that its once-vaunted city hall on Moddy Boulevard is actually a leaky sieve, its roof too expensive to repair, its work spaces no longer safe. Jackson had to move various operations, including his own office, to the strip mall behind the Chicken Pantry (the one owned by Bob Newsholme, the tax accountant being investigated for fraud). The city in November is closing on land along Commerce Boulevard, where it will build a new city hall for over $7 million. The commission raised property taxes 23 percent this year to finance the plan. The new building may also include the police department.
Robinson noted the securing of grants to rehabilitate the old Coquina City Hall (which the city had to evacuate in 2009 for the same reason: water leaks), and she underscored Jackson’s experience in economic development “to move us toward our future.” Several businesses are planning to come to Bunnell, she wrote. Robinson gave Jackson exceptional marks in 15 of the 18 categories, notching down to “effective” in matters of staff accountability and building a “diverse and inclusive community by demonstrating respect in the workplace.” Oddly, Robinson also gave Jackson–the only non-white executive in local government, where all but one elected official is white–mere “effective” marks in the “diversity appreciation” category. “The are trainings that were done. Books have been shared and the city manager has led by example,” Robinson wrote.
The one criticism, or “area of improvement,” Robinson had for Jackson was not really a criticism: she was displeased that he worked to such a point as to lose personal leave time. She’s urging him to plan better so he could take the time off.
Robinson also laid out a work plan for the coming year: completing the land buy for the new city hall and designing the building, developing a plan for a new police department, and completing a finance plan for a new sewer plant. The mayor is recommending a 3 percent merit raise.
Rogers had been Jackson’s biggest champion three years ago, essentially reviving Jackson’s candidacy from the dead: the commission had at one point ruled him out. He gave him exceptional marks across the board but for one category: safety and security, though Rogers did not explain the lower mark, nor did he lay out areas for improvement. In a brief phone interview, Rogers explained that in that particular category, Jackson hadn’t done anything on which he could be evaluated: “nothing concerning or nothing amazing,” Rogers said.
Schultz’s evaluation was a perfect score reflected in her brief sum-up: about Jackson: “Trustworthy, Respectful, Ethical, Approachable, Excellent Management, Communication and Leadership skills. Most importantly I’m impressed with your integrity.”
Three commissioners appointed Schultz and Barnes in late July to fill out the terms of Commissioners Bill Baxley, who had resigned and moved to New Hampshire, and Donnie Nobles, who resigned for health reasons.
Barnes’s evaluation was somewhat more measured, toggling between effective and exceptional, finding positives in every category but curbing enthusiasm in some regards: in matters of safety, emergency management, teamwork, innovation, contract management and a few other categories, Barnes emphasizes the satisfactory rather than the exceptional. Barnes elaborates in a summary of areas that need improvement: “Focus on additional engagement and building trust with all employees in all groups will provide benefits,” Barnes wrote, shedding a bit more light on what other commissioners–with Gordon’s exception–only hint at: a bit of tension here and there in Jackson’s ranks. “Additional focus on improving safety and reducing expenses with improved operation and maintenance of city equipment and facilities should be a priority.” Barnes is proposing a 2 percent raise.
The clearest indication of Gordon’s dissatisfaction with Jackson is in the one-line comment she left in the needs-improvement box: “Communicate equally with Commissioners.” That’s usually the Achille’s heel of government executives balancing the interests of the commissioners at whose pleasure they serve. Some are very good at keeping all politics or favoritism out of their equations. Some are less so, either because the elected themselves tend to isolate themselves–or voice dissent–or because of calculations that make winning over an outlier less critical, though such calculations are risky on boards whose complexions can change on a dime. Armando Martinez, a city manager several years ago, was notorious for playing favorites, and eventually paid the price. Jackson is not known for playing favorites, though one other previous commissioner, Jan Reeger, had made a similar charge.
The favoritism Gordon is concerned with appears not to concern only commissioners. In the category about collaboration and teamwork, Gordon was quite critical: “All employees should be treated equal,” she wrote. No favoritism. Letting certain employees leave early on or before holidays and still collect pay and others cannot leave early. Going to bot for some employees or departments and not others.” Gordon is also concerned about a certain lack of communication from the manager, or his blame-others manner of communication: “We have had numerous conversations on calls from businesses and citizens with complaints on a department,” Gordon wrote, explaining her lesser mark in the management category. “When we spoke, you turned it on the complainant instead of correcting it within. After it was said and done, it was the department head that was at fault. I expect the truth at all times and for it to be corrected, not blaming others.” On the other hand, she commends him: “You’re qood at helping solve on issue or finding an answer when a problem arises.”
Jackson said he had “no idea” what Gordon was referring to, and that he treats all commissioners “and all staff equally.”
Gordon in her evaluation pointed to what looked like an alarming purchase, like the Pentagon’s once-infamous $640 toilet seats: detail about costs during covid: “Some purchases are not necessary. Example: $5,000 for a thermometer,” Gordon wrote.
Jackson said the cost was actually $6,165, but it was not for a hand-held thermometer as commonly imagined, but for three “thermal imaging” devices used by local agencies to detect people’s temperatures. The devices were used during the height of the covid pandemic. “Covid dollars paid for those,” Jackson said.
Jackson spoke of his evaluation and his staff this afternoon with the same ebullience that is reflected in his organization’s mission statement, one of whose tenets states: “We do the coolest work on the planet.”
The full evaluations are below.
I am troubled by the statement in this article that Mr. Jackson is, quote: “the least paid local government executive” in the area. Why is this? Sounds like maybe a little discrimination going on??? I would like to also point out that all administrators can be criticized for showing favoritism. I think we have all experienced that at some point in our careers. Most of it sounds like petty complaints to me. Regardless, his pay needs to be commensurate with his number of years on the job and with what other administrators in our area are being paid. Any less than that smacks of discrimination.
To be more precise: the next-lowest paid city or county top executive is Flagler Beach’s William Whitson, whose base salary is $127,000, almost $40,000 more than Jackson.
TV Trey says
You right brother it is discrimination. It don’t matter that he makes 80 thousand dollars in a city of 3000 people. Palm Coast pays what twice that for a population of 88ooo people??? It don’t matter the population. Pay this man equal. 30 times the population don’t matter. Stop this racial oppression.
Been There says
Bunnell didn’t have the money to pay top dollar at the time he was hired. Their budget was in the dirt. He agreed to his salary. Salary should be based on level of responsibility. If Dr. Jackson wanted more money, he could have negotiated for it. He chose to accept the job and move here because this is where his wife wanted to retire. His salary has nothing to do with him being non-white.
Charlie Ericksen Jr says
This true gentleman , has been on board since day one, and has brought additional honor to the city.
He’s done an exceptional job..
Jan Reeger says
Alvin is a charmer and charismatic person. While he may be personable, there are some weaknesses as a City Manager.
For one, $6165 is still too much money for a piece of equipment only used once regardless of where the money came from. Budgeting is not a forte.
Second, he did inherit the failing city hall but his plan for the future probably does not need to be a 7 million dollar plus price tag to charge the citizens.
Third, when hired, he fired or otherwise edged out long term city employees who would not be his puppets. He does have his favorites.
Fourth, he refused to deal with numerous complaints about the Community Development department. Our city reputation took a nosedive on this.
Fifth, I am surprised at compliments on Economic Development. It was one major area where his resume indicated he should excel. I had high hopes and after 3 years am disappointed.
Corn and Taters says
This smells and tastes like sour grapes because when you tried to convince Dr J to do a little back door dealing with a developer to benefit the both of you, he said no! I guess that is a pretty big disappointment. And, as far as Tonya, she’s a left over from an embarrassing reign of ill qualified commissioners. A respectable and qualified candidate needs to replace her. Give the man a raise, he’s turned the City around and handled several moves and a pandemic.
Haw Creek Man says
Left over from an embarrassing qualified commissioner? What the hell are you talking about?
May I ask how often you’re at a meeting? Also, what have you done for the city? There are volunteer committees you can join. Maybe you should get involved.
I have had more results from Tonya then any other commissioner.
Evidently you have a personal problem with her.
Michael Hair says
Someone tells the truth about politics!! GO TONYA!!!!
Happy Day says
I am in agreement this man should be paid more. I know for a fact Palm Coast pays about 70 percent of the fire protection for Bunnell(through county taxes). They have the money to pay him what he deserves as City Manager of the biggest City in the county
what a joke says
I’m just curious where everyone thinks the money should come from to pay him more were talking about Bunnell do you want them to raise water bills again too?? Some resident already can hardly pay. As a previous long term employee this article makes me sick. He does have favorites and is sneaky. And the commission was warned but didn’t care to listen to any good employees it had.
Sound like a good evaluation. Pay him more money. If he were white he will probably get more.
Janet Scott says
NO NEED TO THROW IN
THE “WHITE” remark.
Bunnell has never been that way and I got one think you are out of line.
If he took the job at a set dollar amount he knew going in what the Salary would be…
You can’t tax the people of Bunnell just because he’s black and doesn’t make the salary of other municipalities in the county!
When the delapitadated jousting is addressed anc cleaned up
And the businesss are paying there fair share
And the CITY is able and his work has shown to be worthwhile
Then maybe bump thd salarery…
As I drive around in three town I grew up in I’m appalled how it looks…
Clean up the town, give good water, sewer, trash pick up, good roads nice buildings…
When all that happens and you see NEWBusiness move in
Then think about it! I’m for the worker bees being paid better….. they do the work !!
Bunell was like the country. Pay Black people less than White folks. Study your history. Look at the Fla. Teachers years ago and probably today. You sound white and was probably sheiled from the real world. Blacks are generally paid less than Whites. The color need to be there so people like you can learn about this hypocritical country.
It has nothing at all to do with the color of his skin, NOTHING! The Commissioners are blindly following another smooth talker like Martinez. He just about bankrupted the city. That’s why the police department was cut in half and many positions in the city were eliminated.
I know for a fact he has favorites, I live through it Monday through Friday, and his quote about each commissioner, “I know just what to say to each one”.
I’d like to know why $6165 piece of equipment was bought when the city’s office was closed during COVID last year and the meetings were on zoom. It doesn’t matter that they got the money back.
The employees that work everyday in the heat should be the ones getting a raise. Yes, the commission will pass for a 2% raise for every employee but no one ever gets more then 1%, even with a excellent evaluation.
And it doesn’t matter what are supervisor rates us at, Jackson and Kristen change it. It’s happened more than once.
This city is heading for bankruptcy. Watch and see.