Bunnell Commission attracts 7 candidates for 2 vacant seats, but one withdraws as county invokes ‘conflict’ policy

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The call for candidates from the Town of Bunnell Commission to fill two seats left vacant by the resignation of commissioners this month drew seven candidates, each bringing a rich and diverse set of qualifications that will make the commission’s choices a little difficult. The applicants include two former commissioners, a planning board member, a former commission candidate and code enforcement board member, and an employee of the county government emergency management division.

But that employee, Nealon Joseph, who brings an accomplished resume to work, was forced to step down by the county government administration. The administration cited a recently enacted policy that prohibits county employees from holding elected office that “requires the employee to interact with the county in a manner that presents real or perceived conflicts of interest or that would interfere with it. the county’s administration of its intergovernmental activities “.

Ironically, one of the two seats was left vacant by Donnie Nobles, who was a county employee in public works when he was elected in March 2019. Nobles resigned after suffering a series of strokes. The other seat opened when longtime commissioner Bill Baxley resigned this month, months after his wife passed away, so he could be closer to his family in New Hampshire.

Since the seats will be filled in March, the charter committee could fill them by nomination, which the committee intends to do at its Monday evening meeting. He sent out the call for applications on July 11, with a deadline of July 21.

The nominees are Robert Barnes, Daisy Henry, Gary Masten, Bonita Robinson, Tina-Marie Schultz and David Wilhite.

Barnes has been retired from the Federal Aviation Administration since 2020, having worked as an aircraft mechanic and becoming vice president of maintenance for Pan Am, the once legendary and dominant airline that went bankrupt and went out of business in 1991. Barnes cites extensive experience in budgeting and negotiating with unionized and non-unionized staff. (Budgeting experience is essential as the commission is in the middle of budget season, with its next budget due to pass in September.) Barnes is also Supervisor of the Deer Run Community Development District Board of Directors, a position that he should probably resign as it is under the aegis of the city government.

Henry, a pastor from Bunnell, had previously been director of community development and served for several years on the city commission until her defeat in 2013, when she was overthrown by Baxley. Indeed, it seeks to be appointed to its former seat. She ran for a special election in 2019, following the resignation of John Sowell, who had left town. She lost by two votes.

Masten moved to Bunnell in 2019 after what he describes as “a leadership career in tax management for almost 41 years.” He had recently worked as an assistant vice president of an insurance company, public safety assistant at the Ocean City, MD Police Department, project manager, claims manager, and more. Like Barnes and other candidates, he is a resident of the Grand Reserve. “While most residents do indeed come from areas outside Bunnell, it doesn’t change the fact that what everyone wants is decisions made that benefit Bunnell and all of its residents. , not only to those of the Grande Réserve, ”he said of the large subdivision. “We all chose to live here.

Robinson, who recently graduated from Flagler College in public administration, served for three years on the city commission, from 2014 to 2017. “It is clear that the council is looking for a candidate who knows the responsibilities associated with the role of commissioner. Bunnell, and can perform them with confidence and professionalism, ”she wrote in her cover letter. “Given these requirements, my past commission experience and my degree in public administration, I am certain that I have the skills to do the job properly. Robinson has held various jobs in Bunnell County and Government.

Schultz, director of business operations for Thomas Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, has held office leadership roles and served in numerous community service roles and was named “Outstanding Young Woman of the Year” in Idaho in 1988 , according to his resume, served on the city’s code enforcement board and ran in the last two elections for the Bunnell commission. “I stepped in when asked to help the city administration with the utility fee workshop and the town hall meeting,” she wrote of her decision to attend. the application of the code, “providing solutions to the workshop discussion which were then used”.

Wilhite, whose candidacy was the least formal or the weakest, submitted a “letter of introduction” but no curriculum vitae. He calls Bunnell “a great place to live and I don’t want to see any changes in the small town lifestyles that we enjoy,” words that contrast with Baxley’s farewell words: said two ago weeks. “I think it’s going to be really cool. It’s a great community now, but I think it will be a lot better in the future. Wilhite’s introduction cites jobs in the long-haul and telecom industry, owning a mobile tool truck and a foreman installing underground fiber optic cable for Qwest Communications. He says he also “worked in the underground industry as a new business development manager for a company located in Bunnell.”

County employee Nealon Joseph also brought a strong resume to the pool, including 10 years in the Air Force, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and emergency and disaster management from the American Military University, and has worked with Flagler’s Emergency Management Division since 2018 as an Emergency Management Planner.

Today, however, he withdrew: “I am sorry to say that I have been informed that Flagler County has decided not to allow me to serve as city commissioner,” he said. written to Kristen Bates, the city clerk. “The county cites a possible conflict of interest as the main cause. I’m sorry for the short notice, but please remove me from the list of candidates.

In a detailed explanation, Heidi Petito, the county administrator, said the county has no intention of penalizing Joseph or any employee seeking public office. But the adoption in February of the county policy was a game-changer. Nobles’ resignation rendered his case moot. Another county employee, Craig Lenniger, sits on the Ton of Marineland board of directors. But he, too, will not be allowed to run for office, Petito said, although he is not being asked to step down so as not to disrupt the functioning of the city.

“This item has been treated with great foresight and is consistent with how the state deals with this issue, as state government employees are not allowed to apply for state office. Applying this same approach, local government employees would not be allowed to search for a local government office, ”Petito wrote in an email in response to questions. “In addition, there are many reasons to do so, because we would not want to interfere with intergovernmental relations. This could complicate the ability of a transparent and direct relationship and can create many public perception issues. We would not want to give the impression of exerting influence over another jurisdiction as a county employee with a local function. This could present a conflict with the county operations administration.

In Joseph’s case, Petito wrote, state law places the county emergency management division as the de facto municipal emergency management agency in the event of an emergency, so Joseph’s role in as a planner would conflict with his role in the municipal commission. “This was also supported by our director of human resources, the director of emergency management and our county attorney,” said Petito, responding to questions that were originally posed to Al Hadeed, the county attorney, and Jonathan. Lord, the chief of emergency management.

Inexplicably, Joe Mullins, the erratic and often bizarre County Commissioner, tried to stop Petito, the newly appointed administrator, from explaining the situation. “Don’t feel pressured to respond or be touched by his gibberish,” he said of the reporter’s questions.


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