Dan Davis, the Bunnell city clerk who two and a half years ago resigned in a fit of public anger and disagreement with then-manager Armando Martinez, was appointed Bunnell’s city manager in a 3-2 vote this evening, ending a search that lasted less than a month.
In his job interview last week Davis, who had been the deputy clerk since late last year, addressed his resignation candidly, apologizing for it and describing himself a regretful but changed man. He was not at the 6 p.m. meeting today, though he wouldn’t have missed much: the meeting lasted less than 15 minutes, it was attended by a half dozen people, none of whom addressed the commission, and commissioners seemed disinclined to debate the matter after Elbert Tucker made a motion to appoint Davis. Bill Baxley seconded.
Briefly, Commissioner John Rogers spoke disapprovingly of the process, which had been limited to interviewing internal candidates–Davis, Finance Director Stella Gurnee, and City Engineer Ferdinand Tiblier. Rogers wanted the position advertised before making a choice and was under the impression that the commission had voted to that effect. But Tucker was uninterested in a long search, and City Manager Larry Williams reminded Rogers that the commission had agreed to look at internal candidates first.
When Mayor Catherine Robinson called for the vote moments later, Rogers was in the thin majority despite his protest. He’d just heard Commissioner Robinson speak approvingly of all three candidates and likely thought the vote was going to be unanimous for Davis. The 3-2 vote, with Catherine and Bonita Robinson in dissent, surprised him. “I thought he had more traction than that when Bonita said what she said,” Rogers said.
Rogers had been weary of Davis’s past because of his temperament, but no longer. “I think he learned his lesson,” Rogers said. “I spoke to his pastor, he was one of his references, and I think he learned his lesson, and we’ll give him a chance.”
Reached by phone, Davis was not troubled by the split vote, which he expected, as he’d gotten a sense that some commissioners wanted to look externally. “At the end of the day I don’t think they’re going to function like 3-2, I think now that it’s said and done, I think I’m going to have their support, they’re going to see what I can do,” Davis said. He’s never managed a city before but was Bunnell’s clerk for four years and had been deputy clerk in Palm Coast for six years, two of them under City Manager Jim Landon, a position he left only to become the clerk in Bunnell. He is a Bunnell resident, living in the same neighborhood as Rogers and Mayor Robinson.
“I was really hoping they’d just pick Tib or Stella or myself, stay internal,” Davis said, referring to Tiblier by his nickname at the city. “I was really good with that. The fact that they picked me was a bonus.” Revisiting his interview, he said he chose to be candid about his past–and, in several instances, his lack of experience in specific fields such as utilities or public safety–because he said it would have been pointless “to snow the board and act like it never happened.” He wanted to be truthful and set the record straight, and he wanted to address the matter publicly. Doing so, he said, took a load off his chest, “and I felt so much better for doing it.” Transparency and honesty are part of his approach–as a city clerk, Davis has always lived up to his pledge of transparency and respect for the state’s open records law–and he was merely putting it in practice regarding his past.
His first tasks, he said, will be to spend the next two weeks with Williams to become current, meet with every employee, and start visiting every business in town. His deputy clerk position–a $27,000-a-year position–may not necessarily be filled right away, he said. But he hopes and expects the other two contenders for the job to stay with the city. “We’ve all been very cordial to each other and it feels heartfelt,” he said. “I think they respect me, I don’t think I’ll have any problem. I hope they don’t leave. I need them.”
Tucker gave the briefest explanation for his choice: “I voted for Dan because he’s a qualified candidate, he has the background, he has experience in the city of Bunnell, he was a clerk for a time, everything that comes before us comes before him first.”
Baxley said he hadn’t made up his mind until this afternoon. But once he did, it was for Davis.
The entire process was a remarkable contrast with the last time the commission went through the exercise, before hiring Williams, just two years ago. That process was bitter, drawn out and initially drew from some 80 applicants, with heated meetings and plenty of public participation.
Mayor Robinson’s expressions usually tell her story. She was not smiling after the meeting. Asked about the vote, she said: “We’ll see how he does.” She was not disappointed about the process, saying it respected the approach of giving internal candidates their chance, but the three men’s minds, she said, “were already made up when they came in.” She added, about Davis: He’s now been given the opportunity to grow and develop in the job, and that opportunity is now his to either be successful in the position or to fail in the position.”