By Mike Lednovich
Citing a litany of mismanagement and lack of communication, Vice Mayor David Sturges called for the termination of City Manager Dale Martin at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. This was very late in the evening, after the audience of citizens had left.
“I’m making a motion to terminate Dale Martin’s contract without cause and give him a 30-day written notice immediately,” Sturges said right after Martin had given his city manager’s report to the commission.
The commission would eventually vote 3-2 to postpone the decision until the next commission meeting.
“I know it’s late in the hour and it’s city business and if it wasn’t important I wouldn’t be bringing it up,” Sturges said as he began listing his reasons to terminate Martin.
Sturges said Martin has engaged in mismanaging the city and cited the following:
- Before becoming a commissioner, Sturges said he attended a City Commission budget meeting at which the city manager looked up city property owners on the Nassau County Tax Appraiser’s website, identified the owners by name and read their tax bills, thus publicly embarrassing the property owners.
- He said the termination of 30-year plus City Streets Director Rex Lester without cause 18 months before his retirement was wrong.
- Sturges claimed the city manager delayed the decision to terminate the city commissioners’ health benefits for six months until one commissioner was eligible for Medicare, which was selective management.
- In the Brett’s Restaurant debate about closing the establishment, Sturges said Martin failed to persuade commissioner Chip Ross to delay asking about insurance issues thus “disgracing our city.” He said Martin hijacked the ensuing City Commission meeting and showed favoritism to Commissioner Ross on the Brett’s issue.
- On the Brett’s lease, Sturges charged that Martin has manipulated the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process to favor one potential company. He said it was unacceptable financial mismanagement.
- Sturges said he learned of Airport Manager Nathan Coyle’s resignation from reading about it in the local newspaper instead of being told about it by Martin.
- The vice mayor said in the hiring of a new police chief, Martin had ignored his request to meet to discuss with him the hiring. “I would think he would listen to my input since I’m one of his bosses,” Sturges said.
- Sturges said on the hiring of a new police chief that interim Police Chief Jim Hurley had left the position and that the deputy police chief was not given any instructions on what his responsibilities would be until a new police chief is hired.
- Sturges said he learned that Martin had informed city staff that Commissioner Ross was preparing an upcoming (2023-2024) budget report about the impact of 10% department budget cuts. Sturges said Martin told city staff “to make it look ugly.” Sturges said he verified the statement with three city department heads.
“The city manager does not control my behavior regarding Brett’s,” said Ross in rebutting Sturges’ claims for terminating Martin. “This is baloney….and it has nothing to do with the city manager.”
Ross also said it was “totally inappropriate” for any city commissioner to be involved in the hiring of a city department head, according to the city charter.
“I think the city manager has done a good job. The airport works, the marina works. The whole thing with FEMA was hundreds of hours of time and we got an excellent result. (His termination) would put this whole city into chaos,” Ross said.
Martin said he had made some mistakes, but pushed back on Sturges’ claims about Brett’s and the hiring of a new police chief.
“Commissioner Ross and I do not discuss Brett’s. I completely disagree with his handling of Brett’s,” Martin told commissioners. “It is on the next City Commission agenda that the city will suspend any code actions against Brett’s.”
On hiring a new police chief, Martin read an email exchange with Sturges regarding potential candidates just before Christmas of last year. He said he intends to announce a new police chief at the next City Commission meeting.
“I personally reviewed 61 police chief applications and interviewed six (finalist) candidates. It’s a difficult decision,” Martin said.
Commissioner Ayscue said “sometimes this is a very healthy discussion to be had because we can’t discuss these things among ourselves,” he said. “The 10% make-it-hurt comment, I did hear that from a few department heads as well.”
Mayor Bradley Bean spoke last before the vote to postpone the decision. “I have had frustration in the past with direction and policy,” Bean said.
Martin told commissioners they had laid out his shortcomings and asked for the opportunity “to prove to you I can work with this commission, which is a whole 180-degree different change (than the previous commission). This is a transition period and I will support this City Commission.”