Bunnell Commissioner Jan Reeger Monday evening attempted for the third time in as many meetings to fire City Manager Alvin Jackson, who’s been on the job 15 months. And for the third time, she failed, making even less headway than the first two, when the rest of the commission at least allowed her to briefly make her case.
Not this time. Vice Mayor John Rogers, a veteran of getting interrupted in midstream in his earlier years on the commission, usually by the mayor, was the one who stopped Reeger from speaking just as she was getting started at the end of an hour-long meeting, citing a point of order. Mayor Catherine Robinson then picked up the thread and shut Reeger down entirely, after getting no second to Reeger’s motion to fire Jackson.
“And with that, I will move on, and unless there is something that the attorney tells me that we need to look further,” the mayor said after speaking for five minutes, “that issue should be dead in the water, and not brought up again any time in the near future, please.”
The mayor told Reeger that she could not bring up the issue publicly anymore, but had to discuss the matters with Jackson or the city attorney. If the city attorney found reason to question Jackson’s tenure, then he–the attorney–would convey that to the mayor, who would then act on it from her seat on the commission. It was a strange interpretation of the charter that would, in effect, place the attorney in the role of a conduit between one commissioner’s concerns and the mayor, which would be illegal under the state’s open meetings law.
Reeger didn’t challenge the mayor and didn’t attempt to speak again. “I was prepared to make some comments,” Reeger said today, “but I was in a bit of shock. If I had said Madame mayor, would you recognize me, I don’t know if she would have.”
Reeger made her motion before she had a chance to make her case about Jackson. But had she had that chance, she would not have had more to say than she had the first two times, when she cited what she perceived as his mismanagement of the budget process a few months ago and his “heavy-handed” firing (then re-hiring_ of Randy Jones, a city employee, after Jones refused to be swayed to evaluate another employee more negatively than he had. Jones was rehired, but also demoted.
“They’ve been willing to accept the bad behavior, the fiascos that have happened,” Reeger said, “so until I’m able to either find more things that would be convincing to them, I don’t think anything is going to change. There are a couple of thoughts I have about pursuing. I’ll see how that goes.”
The discussion about Jackson’s future was an agenda item, placed there at Reeger’s request. When Robinson recognized her to speak, Reeger started by clarifying that she’d not meant to criticize the mayor over a previous issue regarding the mayor’s appearance before Flagler County’s legislative delegation. But Rogers immediately cut her off, saying the discussion was about the city manager and a motion should be made. In fact, officials on elected board may frame or preface their discussion points however they choose to: other board members don;t have the authority to constrain or silence them unless they are, in fact, out of order. Reeger clearly was not.
But Reeger complied and made a motion to fire Jackson. The motion got no second and died.
Reeger had been silenced. The mayor, though the item was done with, did not silence herself: “I want to address the fact that there are things that have gone on here that are not appropriate, and again the re-direction for this board is that if there is an issue that has to do with the day to day operation of the city,” Robinson said, confusing the oversight role of commissioners with the management role of the manager, “that needs to go to the city manager, because the city manager is in charge, and is in control of the day to day operations of the city. Our role as city commission, as a board, is to set policy and approve contracts.” (In fact, commissioners’ role is to critically examine and either approve or reject much more than contracts, including budget issues, land use issues, warrants and so on.)
Robinson then spoke of her role as she rarely has before–as a strong mayor with more authority than her fellow commissioners: “My role as a mayor is to be the head of the board and to be the face of the city,” she said. She then went even further, explicitly prescribing how a commissioner should act: “I think that if there are any issues that continue to prevail, because this is now the third time this has come up, that I would redirect you to the city attorney and for you and the city attorney to have a conversation because we, as a board, unless it’s in the public, cannot have a conversation with you one-on-one. Obviously there’s concerns you have regarding the city manager, and we don’t know what they are, and we’re not going to hear them tonight.” But it had been Reeger’s intention to speak of those issues, albeit with nothing new to offer than she had previously.
Robinson said Reeger could have conversations with Wade Vose, the city attorney, and if the attorney feels there’s been grounds for terminating Jackson–again, not the sort of role the city attorney would normally be responsible for: the hiring and firing of the manager is the exclusive purview of commissioners–“then the city attorney would then contact me, and it’s my role to actually act on those items. The charter gives me the authority, which no one else on this board has, to suspend the city manager, so we can further identify if it is true or not.” (The charter gives the mayor the authority to suspend the manager, but it does not deny other commissioners the authority to question the manager’s performance or to re-evaluate him.)
“So I have not heard anything, and rumors or from staff or from the attorney or from the city manager that would give me pause to think that I need to second a motion to terminate the city manager,” Robinson continued. “We have done evaluations, he had a 3.6 [out of 5], and I think we need to put this thing to rest and it not come up again unless you have definite items that you feel warrant the level of terminating the city manager, and that needs to go through the attorney at this point.”
“I still don’t know what that means,” Reeger said Tuesday, referring to Robinson directing her to the city attorney. But she conceded that she had not further built up her case for firing Jackson than she had previously. “I can’t say I’ve really at his point necessarily uncovered anything as serious” as the budget issues and the handling of Jones, Reeger said. “I think there’s things that have not gotten done, I don’t know, there’s just a number–I’m wondering if my bringing these issues forward and whatever has maybe tempered him a bit, but don’t know. They say a leopard doesn’t change his spots.”
Robinson had gone further to define her role as mayor, and to justify perceived criticism that Jackson treats her differently than other commissioners: “Yes, he does treat me differently because I am the mayor of the city of Bunnell, and I have responsibilities in the city of Bunnell that no one else on this board has,” Robinson said. “I go to meetings that no one on this board goes to. There are confidential issues that go on in the city of Bunnell regarding economic development that I am a part of and involved in because it is confidential. That is part of what the mayor does. So it’s not that I get preferential treatment, but part of the reason why I think there’s an issue here is that I feel like there’s been a lack of communication, and I think that communication needs to be strengthened.” She added: “I don’t want you to think that I’m doing something out of line or because I want to be the showboat. I’m trying to do my job that the charter has told me that I need to do as mayor of the city of Bunnell.”
It was then that she explicitly told Reeger not to bring up the matter of Jackson’s future again any time soon.
Today, Reeger turned in her petitions qualifying her for the March 2020 election, when she hopes to retain her seat. Hers and Rogers’ seats are up. Tonya Gordon and Tina Marie Schultz have also filed. Rogers said today he intends to run for re-election.