In the culmination of six months of change and turmoil in Bunnell government, the City Commission late Monday evening voted 3-2 to hire Lawrence J. Williams as its next city manager. Williams, who turned 70 Thursday, was the city manager of Belle Isle for eight years until 2008, and had managed Eatonville for five years before that. He lives in Palm Coast, less than seven miles from what will be his office at the Government Services Building.
Commissioners Elbert Tucker, John Rogers and Bill Baxley voted for Williams, who’s already said that he would limit his salary to $67,000, less than the $70,000 to $80,000 range the position was advertised for. Mayor Catherine Robinson and Commissioner Jenny Crain Brady voted in dissent. The commission appointed Tucker to negotiate the contract with Williams.
“I think we’re in a pretty good negotiating position with this man,” Tucker said after the meeting, “because we don’t have to give him as much money, he’s retired, he’s here, he’s 6.7 miles away.” Tucker is fine with Williams not living in Bunnell. “I feel that he is a very good candidate, and we’ll see how it works out.”
Commissioners had ranked the four finalists they interviewed Saturday. Williams had three top rankings–those of the three men. Judi Stetson, the city’s grants, special projects and Community Redevelopment Agency director, had two top rankings–those of Robinson and Crain-Brady. Doug Drymon, formerly a deputy manager in Leesburg, was ranked second by all five commissioners, and Perry Mitrano, Bunnell’s solid waste director, was ranked third across the board.
The matter was decided at the tail end of a meeting that had stretched slightly more than two hours, including a 15-minute break at the beginning to mark the departures–with cake, hugs and handshakes–of three employees: City Manager Armando Martinez, Police Chief Jeff Hoffman (who’s taking a top post at the Flagler Sheriff’s Office) and Barbara Harkins, the city’s long-time human resources administrator. All three were in attendance, Martinez sitting at the place he’s occupied as manager since 2008, though Martinez this evening did not address the commission. His tenure officially ends on Oct. 13. He said he was going to be a grandfather to his three grandchildren, and had no immediate plans beyond that.
Stetson and Mitrano, who were in the audience–as they always are, as directors, since they actively take part in commission meetings–took the tallies and vote with grace.
“I have such a string faith,” Stetson said, “God’s put me exactly where he wants me.”
“I’m proud of the board,” Mitrano said. “Everything was on the up and up, and that was critical. I’m proud of that. The outcome is the outcome.” He added: “We have to hope Mr. Williams is our leader and in his style of management he can reflect patience, good budgeting, fairness to his employees, and trust in his directors.”
The decision to name Williams wasn’t smooth, but few of the commission’s many decisions leading to this point have been smooth over the past six months, since Baxley won election and changed the complexion of the board. That election switched majority power away from Robinson–and support for Martinez–to Tucker, and opposition to Martinez, as well as several other key city issues.
First, it wasn’t clear whether a fifth candidate, who had not been interviewed–but who Rogers wanted interviewed–would get his chance at an interview. That candidate, Alvin Jackson, was added to the list of finalists at Rogers’s insistence. But he was in Africa when City Clerk Sandi Bolser attempted to schedule his Saturday interview with the board. The commission agreed to try to interview him by Skype tonight. As it turned out, he was on a plane. Rogers said the commission could be liable for a lawsuit if it did not interview Jackson. But that was not the case, Raymond Branch, the attorney sitting in for Lonnie Groot, said, as long as the city had afforded Jackson the same chance at being interviewed–which the city had. It was Jackson’s own schedule, not the city’s unwillingness to interview him, that led to conflicts.
Once that matter was dealt with, there was confusion among commissioners about the rankings themselves, and how those rankings should be tallied and scored. Again, Branch said that unless commissioners had established a clear rule as to how the rankings would be used, those rankings would be merely advisory, not deciding. So the motion was made and seconded to hire Williams.
“I have to tell you I’m alarmed by the inconsistency [with which] this board has been behaving,” Michael Barr, who frequently speaks to the commission and attends almost all meetings, told the panel. “This is the third time in three meetings that the rules have changed, and I don’t understand why this keeps happening, and perhaps mayor, you’re the leader here, and you need to govern appropriately.”
“I’m 20 percent, and I can’t lead who does not follow,” Robinson interrupted. “Everything that we have done has been set clearly up before we did it. And there was no discussion and no comments and no concerns and no issues until we get to the other side of it to actually begin the process, and then there’s confusion and then there’s this discussion that goes on.”
“Well,” Barr continued, “there has been this ongoing confusion and it’s very concerning for those of us who deal with the city on a regular basis.”
Then Robinson sprang a surprise: “Well, I could resign right now and turn the gavel over to Vice Mayor R0gers and then that will remove me from the confusion. I have no problem doing that, and I can leave it with you.”
“With all due respect, that’s not even close to where I’m getting to with this,” Barr said. “What I would ask of all of you is, is there any precedential rule or law or some sort of recognized organization or functions that this board needs to hold to its decisions?”
“The board can change its mind. It’s a majority,” Robinson said. “What can I tell you?”
“You’ve told me enough,” a dejected Barr said. “Thank you.”
Having witnessed the process that led to his appointment, Williams had also witnessed the fracture and dissension on the board that Barr was referring to–and that Williams, assuming contract negotiations are to conclude in his and the city’s favor, will now be contending with.
“What may have done it for me or what probably did do it for me was the fact of my experience,” Williams said as he was walking out of the building, by himself. “I’ve been a city manager in Florida for 13 years, both in a small African-American town in Eatonville, and then eight years in Belle Isle.” Asked about the fractured vote that got him named–an uncomfortable way for a manager to start a tenure–he said: “I work for the mayor and the council. I work for five people. I have no animosity about those who vote against me. That’s how votes go. You’re going to get some that like you, some that don;t quite like you. I hope I can earn their trust and their respect, and I think we’ll work well together.”
Anything is better than what we have now!! Good luck Mr. Williams.
Charles Gardner says
According to my calculations Drymon scores 10, Williams 11, Stetson 14 and Mitrano 15. Drymon was low score and should have gotten the job. Looks like the men were trying to out guess the women and vice versa.
Charles Gardner says
Oops. I forgot the bonus points for low salary.
Tax Payer says
We can finally move ahead. We now have a good City Manager and great employees. Its up to you the Commissioner to now work together to make this city great.
Lawrence Williams (Larry) sounds like he’ll fit in with the good ‘ol boys from Bunnell.
He’s lily-white, and his name isn’t of Spanish extraction. (oh no)
Look away Dixieland.
Tax Payer says
If you where at the interviews Saturday you would have heard Mr Drymon state that please don’t pick me if the is problem with the Commissioners. So, thats what happen, they did not pick him. The golden girls always had it there way and now the table has turn. So quick crying and get over it.
chris conklin says
Just wondering when the people that run the city will get over the good old boy deal. Perry was the obvious choice. He owes nothing to anybody and would give you a manager to be proud of. But then flagler live would be boring. Maybe you can hire him as an attorney.
I am lost for words ,what a way to start ,but then again city managers come , and city managers go.
And to have to negotiate his salary with ole’mister cheapskate, himself,,,,like Charlie Gardner says basically you get what you pay for. How long till this poor fellow see’s the mess he’s gotten himself into,,,,. My question is why don’t all the commissioners have some sort of say in the salary negotiations could it be the 20% er’s have thrown the towel in and just let the 60%er’s handle the negotiations .still sounds like a lope sided commission has the last word on the outcome of this new city manager and who he really works for,.certainly not the tax paying citizens of bunnell. I know we’re not suppose to drag religion into this equation ,,,but god help us ,I see no leadership or harmony among this present commission we are gonna need cooperation not animosity towards each other to get this city back on track,,,, good luck my friend your gonna need it .god bless America and the city of bunnell
Dennis McDonald says
Let’s see Mr. Williams has 13 years experience as a Florida City Manager and is paid $67k per year. Landon has NO experience proven by his extensive list of failures and get’s paid in excess of $250k. What’s wrong with this equation ?
Maybe we have a Palm Coast City Manager that might just be overpaid to follow an Agenda NOT beneficial to the Citizens. Consider where else could you get a job with this pay [one of the highest in FLA / more than the Governor], no relevant experience and consistently fail the good people of your City ? Why would those 5 Council members Mr Williams spoke of continue to employ you ?
Could it be that the Council and Mayor have “other” interests ? Like $4.8 million for the CRA to waste on Town Center in 2014 that we receive no tax from, brilliant. Makes the Golf Carts look like a bargain.
I just wish Palm Coast had a City Council where 3 out of 5 members would actually represent the people that elected them !
Opinions from the New Palm Coast
70 years old, so now you will need to search again in a year or two, this is good old boy BS, you were looking for a puppet and they found one. Why not hire someone who is of a working age that can grow in the position and needs the job, not a retirie who is bored.
What in the world says
For they sow the wind
And they reap the whirlwind.
The standing grain has no growth;
It yields no meal.
Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.