By Mike Phillips
Was it a done deal? Of course it was. Well before the Fernandina Beach City Commission’s vote to dismiss City Manager Dale Martin Tuesday evening:
- Mayor Bradley Bean had paid a courtesy call on Martin the day before to wish him farewell.
- Bean also had lined up former police chief Mark Foxworth to serve as interim city manager.
- And everyone at City Hall, and pretty well everyone else in town, knew what was going to happen.
So then the question is, what next? Will the commission engage one of the search firms that specialize in finding city managers? They don’t know. How long will the search take? They only engaged Foxworth for 90 days, but they left room for an extension — which means they don’t know. What qualities are they looking for in a city manager that Martin didn’t possess? They haven’t said.
And the ultimate question is:
What was wrong with Dale Martin? The only answer you get back from commissioners is, “It’s time for a change.” Or, “We’re going in a new direction.” What change, what direction they haven’t said. In his almost 8 years at the helm (a long stretch for city managers in general) Martin with infinite patience got major capital projects done in a community that doesn’t like paying for capital projects. He convinced department heads to take responsibility for their departments rather than running to the city manager for direction. He discharged unproductive people but did it gently. If you’ve ever had to do that, you know it’s perhaps the ultimate mark of a good manager. And unlike any other city manager I’ve ever known (which is quite a few) he told the community every week what was going on.
So where is the city headed after this significant change? Only engaged citizens can answer that. The engaged citizens who came to the microphone Tuesday evening said they didn’t understand why the commissioners were in such a hurry, why they lacked the patience, or wisdom, to forge relationships with Martin. Good question.