By George Miller, 2-21-23, 7:05 pm, updated later in the evening
At the 2-21-23 meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission Just Voted 3-2 (before 7 pm) to Terminate City Manager Dale Martin without cause, effective immediately, with a follow up plan succession plan discussed after a recess (item 7.1).
Most of the only eight public speakers were in favor of keeping him, some praising him to the skies and some merely suggesting a trial period to see if he could do what the new Commission wants. Two wanted him out.
Local CCDF civic organization Executive Director Jack Knocke was all for replacing him. He said he had observed Martin treating taxpayers poorly. Many issues were architected by him and managed improperly. He had every chance to bring along a list of issues to correct. Knocke said he hears constant complaints about Martin- we need a change of the guard.
He told Citizens Journal this later on: “I have spoken numerous times at city commission meetings about wasteful spending, increases in taxes, non-competitive contracts, regulatory overreach, retaliation, and disrespect to taxpayers. The city needs a change in leadership. This is a very positive development for Fernandina Beach.”
Marianne Galbreth wanted to keep Martin, said she knows him, read about him in a local newspaper, that he has integrity, intelligence, fair minded, competent, professional, thoroughly trustworthy and more. She opined that terminating him would result in chaos, that terminating him thusly would make it harder to recruit here, that much “institutional knowledge” would be lost with his departure and that such actions should only be taken in situations such as mismanagement of city funds.
Michael Morrison said he saw two wrongs with the process, that it was trivial, meddlesome, would incur great costs and motivate others to leave. He encouraged Commissioners to dismiss the motion and give Martin a vote of confidence.
Margaret Davis said the new Commission wants to change the direction of the city and that this is a poorly timed step to that goal. They have the power to do it, but should only do so after all reasonable attempts are made to rectify the situation. There should be an outside investigation of any alleged mismanagement. If he is terminated, an interim City Manager would be needed and a search for a replacement could cost $35,000 (such searches usually cost way more).
Sheila Cokio (?) said this is short-sighted, biased, a personal grievance and sounds like there was previous agreement. Usually this is only done for gross malfeasance. His last review wasn’t anything less than positive. Need to develop a plan. The Commission is too new for this. It was an impetuous decision. Salary disparities and high housing costs here will make recruitment difficult. A search could cost 40% of the salary. She does not support the motion to terminate.
Former U.S. Marine and rower across the Atlantic and soon the Pacific Paul Lore: “It hurts my heart” to see how this is happening…he also “served his country honorably”.
Darryl Ford This seems to be a strong conflict between Democrat/Conservative, politics are driving this. As a Great American Insurance retired VP, he thinks “termination is viewed as an employment death sentence.” His concern was not with accuracy of Sturges’ complaints. He is uncomfortable with Martin’s articles and Citizen controversies. He asked for a pause in the process, hold Martin accountable, give him a chance to address it- this action is premature. Give him a warning, come to an agreement on actions, exhaust every step.
Former Mayor Johnny Miller said he has tried to stay out of it and other Commission matters. He called Martin who he said was in shock, didn’t see it coming. Miller went through the hiring prices that saw Martin recruited. He liked the aspect of Martin’s chain of command experience. He said that Martin was always there to answer grievances, take input, direction, public comments, to make it work. He gave credit for Martin’s work during Hurricane Matthew as avoiding catastrophic loss of life. He never had any doubt that Martin handled it right. Miller said he understands the issues with the Sunshine law prohibiting outside discussion of Commission matters among themselves. Slow this down. Table it. Give him a chance to respond. Talk to former Commissioners.
Commissioner Chip Ross was Martin’s strongest defender on the dais. He said he has had multiple surprises in the last 2 weeks (presumably referring to this matter). He said he has asked hundreds of people in the last few years, mostly not revealing who he was and almost all said that they love living here, great place. He is surprised at the number of Commissioners that want to fire Martin. He added that for 30 years, the waterfront has been in disrepair, but under Martin, the marina is now open, the seawall and riverfront walk are funded (our understanding is that this is only partial) and that this was all accomplished by the current City Manager. During recent presentations at a visioning meeting, he said that there were no complaints about the City Manager. But at the same time, he mentioned complaints about the poor relationships with other agencies, disrepair of city structures/properties. He also seemed to suggest that Mayor Bean violated the Sunshine Law, saying he heard that the Mayor said “it was a done deal.” Bean flatly denied that when it was his turn to speak and said he had seen emails saying that, though. Ross also said that Asycue had campaigned on facts, not rhetoric, seemingly suggesting that he was not doing this now.
The Commission voted 3-2 to oust Martin, with Sturges, Bean and Asycue concurring while Ross and Antun were dissenting. Ross was flat out against it, while Antun wanted to see a more deliberative process. A motion to make retired Police Chief Foxworth interim City Manager was made along with holding a workshop in 2 weeks to discuss the succession plan. This passed unanimously.
Antun said that he had spoken to former Commissioners/Mayors and heard Sturges’ complaints. He asked the Commission members if they had “any appetite to provide a list of goals and a deadline” (to Martin) “or is it a done deal?”
Sturges announced that he had another list of 23 complaints about Martin, from a constituent. He again called for Martin’s immediate termination without cause and hoped that other Commissioners had done their due diligence. He concluded his presentation saying that this Commission is going in a different direction and that new leadership and fresh eyes are needed.
Asycue said he wasn’t necessarily happy about how this process unfolded, but he only has the ability to speak here (Sunshine Law). He would have liked a workshop to cover this first, “but we’re here now.”
Antun wanted to know what the succession strategy is.
Mayor Bean first addressed the allegations of Ross against him, denying them. Again he said others had mentioned that in emails, which he did not originate. He observed that it’s 2 to 2 (in favor vs opposed) and that his vote will decide the matter. He praised Martin as a “stand-up guy, who “propelled the City forward,” had “done exceptionally in some ways”. But Bean took Sturges’ concerns seriously, but due to the aforementioned items, postponed the process two weeks for reflection before acting tonight. He heard from many constituents and made a plan to move forward on this. He then suggested retired Police Chief Foxworth as an interim City Manager.
Ross immediately interjected that they couldn’t do a vote, because there were no terms, salary, scope- “that’s your plan, the Bean plan” (sounding a bit derisive).
Bean and Bach evidently had already worked this out, as they immediately came back that Foxworth would be full time, same salary as Martin, W-2 employee, no benefits because he already has them for his retirement, 3 month term, renewable.
Ross asked “why are we so cheap?” He felt it was an uncompetitive salary, but didn’t bring that up during Martin’s tenure. He wanted to know how the search would be conducted.
Bach said she didn’t know- that’s up to you (the Commission), there are many options, but no answer yet- city staff, HR Director, RFP, use of search firms, national publications,- you decide- I’m here to help. You have all our city staff- city will go on just as strong tomorrow.
Bean responded to a question on Foxworth’s qualifications, saying that he is an excellent manager of people. Bean proposed a Citizens’ committee to help with the succession process. He reminded us that there will be a workshop to address this in two weeks and asked for recommendations for potential committee members.
During the 2-7-23 Fernandina Beach City Commission meeting City Manager’s comment period, Vice Mayor David Sturges had called for the ouster of City Manager Dale Martin. Tonight, the Commission debated this and came to the above conclusions. Report on the 2-7-23 meeting: https://www.citizensjournal.net/fernandina-city-vice-mayor-sturges-proposes-firing-manager-dale-martin/
The Consent Agenda and other several other items, including several development code changes, were approved unanimously without discussion (see agenda).
They also moved (item 8.5) to change the city election date to coincide with the primary date, so it would be August and November elections from now on. One speaker, Ms. Davis, opposed this, suggesting to only vote for candidates in August if there were three or more candidates and do the runoff on general election day, otherwise, just election day. After some interaction with Commissioners, City Attorney Bach and Ms. Davis, this was adopted unanimously. Now the elections people will have to scramble to make this happen.
Commissioner Darron Asycue asked if it was even legal to issue a continuance for the Tringali townhomes project application, which was pulled at the last minute from the last meeting’s agenda (see 2-7-23 meeting report). City Attorney Tammi Bach thought not. She thought that the parties’ signatures would be ready in time. They weren’t. She said that one of the properties was not owned by a trust, as previously said, but an individual. She didn’t realize it was an incomplete application and the problem wasn’t really discovered at the last minute. It was an error. Asycue asked if the application fee could be refunded. Bach said it has been done before and is discretionary.
Taina Christner took the podium to complain about that item being taken off the 2-7-23 agenda at the last minute and how that wasted the time and money of those who gad come to speak. She criticized how the process has been handled.
The Commission also found time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pirates Club (see photo)….
There was also some discussion on a proposed audit to uncover either non-compliance or criminal action. More on approach, scope, resources that later., on this site
George Miller is Publisher and Co-Founder of Citizens Journal Florida, based in Fernandina Beach. He is a “retired” operations management consultant, software and publishing executive and manufacturing management professional.