By George Miller, 2-24-23
When the City Commission voted on Tuesday night to terminate Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin immediately and without cause, some were surprised that new Commissioner James Antun voted no, but not so much when Chip Ross also did.
We know that he was motivated to run for the office because of the difficulty he has had getting permits to improve/expand his business facilities and other things he thought were wrong with the management of the city. Therefore, some thought that he would enthusiastically support a change.
So, we talked with him this week to find out why he voted no …
In summary, he thought that the process was rushed, flawed, lacked an adequate paper trail like a well-run corporation would use and gave Martin no opportunity to conform to what the Commission wanted and to attempt to meet their requirements.
He said he asked around about Martin and received about a hundred emails, both pro and con. He professed not to know the percentage pro and con of these. He said that politicians such as Commissioners come in two flavors: those who have a fixed set of core values and positions which guide them and those that see which way the wind is blowing and act accordingly. He classified himself as in the middle, having his core beliefs but also interested in what constituents want and why.
He said he had no role beforehand in the selection of retired Chief Mark Foxworth as Interim City Manager. He thought that Deputy City Manager Charlie George would fill that role, but a bit of investigation revealed that perhaps he didn’t welcome it. Antun told us that he first heard about the Foxworth choice a day earlier from City Attorney Bach. He said she was already doing due diligence after she realized that the position might soon be open. Antun said he was not aware of any collusion amongst the Commissioners on any of this outside of the meetings. But it does look as if Bach was a de facto “switchboard.”
Antun further observed that Martin had received good performance reviews of 4 and 5 while Mayor Lednovich and Kreger were in office. He said “I would need more ammo if I were to vote consistent with the other three Commissioners who voted to terminate. He thought that a list of concerns should have been given to Martin and an opportunity for him to address them first, put him on notice and cut him loose if he didn’t satisfactorily address these.
That being said, Antun was duly impressed by the list of concerns stated in writing and what he had heard around before and then during his inquiries. He said that his biggest concern was the allegation that Martin had told staff members about responding to a mandated 10% reduced budget: “make it look ugly.” If that was true, then it would appear that Martin was trying to undermine the Commission’s attempt to get the rapidly expanding city expenditures under control. He told Citizens Journal Florida that he is getting different stories on this, with staff contradicting each other. We are omitting names from this article, because of the danger of people getting caught in the middle over unconfirmed allegations.
He thought that a succession plan should have been in place before cutting Martin loose. What’s the plan, process, concerns, timeline? he asked. He added that “there were eight years of Martin’s time as City Manager and others would claim there were numerous allegations as to why this was overdue.”
Antun thought that a disagreement between the Commission and Martin over the new Police Chief hire was the final trigger for the termination. Although the hire was Martin’s responsibility, Commission members did have some concerns over where it was going. Antun said he also asked Martin “what’s going on with the Police Chief hire?” before the meeting.
He had heard several interim City Manager names floated, such as Joe Garrity, Nate Coyle, John Mandrich and then Mark Foxworth. It appeared that Mayor Bradley Bean was driving it and no one seemed to have objections to Foxworth as the Interim City Manager. They passed on Deputy City Manager Charlie George- his name was never even mentioned at the meeting.
There was no succession plan yet in place. But, Bach, Bean and others seemed to be working on it, Bean’s proposal for a workshop to plan it was unanimously accepted during the 2-21-23 Commission meeting when Martin was terminated.
We discussed the need to clear the decks quickly vs a slower, more deliberate probation and termination process. He understands the need to get moving on the new city direction on a timely basis. All in all, Commissioner Antun said he respects the decision of his colleagues and will support it.
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.