By Lacey McLaughlin
Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 5:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 11:12 p.m.
PORT ORANGE — Assistant City Manager Shannon Lewis became the sixth Port Orange official to resign in six weeks Wednesday after a heated debate at this week’s council meeting that put citizens at odds over their role in government.
Lewis said her decision was for personal and professional reasons, but several citizens and council members claim hostile politics and personal attacks played a role. Lewis’ departure follows the fire chief, purchasing manager, finance director, city manager and public utilities director, all of whom resigned amid heavy scrutiny in the wake of $411,500 in unauthorized water meter purchases that were discovered in June.
Earlier this month, City Council members asked Lewis to serve as interim manager until a permanent city manager could be hired to replace Greg Kisela, who is leaving Friday to manage the Panhandle city of Destin. Lewis said she was interested in serving only for three weeks to a month until the city was able to fill a long-term interim position.
Port Orange Mayor Allen Green said Lewis indicated that serving as interim manager was not worth the criticism and demands from some citizens who are heavily involved with the city’s daily operations.
The most active of those critics, Audit and Budget Committee Chairman Ted Noftall, sent her an email on July 18 voicing disapproval of her decision to not stay on as interim city manager. The email, a public record, was republished on a blog maintained by Port Orange resident Hank Springer. Noftall said Lewis had a responsibility to step up and fill Kisela’s role until a permanent candidate was found.
“What you want apparently is for council to waste $200,000 in taxpayer dollars to interview, hire, train and then dismiss an interim manager in a six to nine month period –– half of which that person will spend learning where the washrooms are,” Noftall wrote, adding that he hoped Lewis would reconsider her decision before “dissatisfaction mounts with the irresponsibility of your reluctance on this instance.”
Kisela said that despite her efforts to avoid the spotlight, Lewis was unable to escape being a target for critics.
“You don’t want to be in an environment that’s toxic and they continue to spew their venom,” Kisela said. “She was honest and straightforward and she still got attacked for that.”
Noftall said he has a right to express his disapproval in city leaders. He compared Lewis to a vice president who is responsible for stepping up when the city manager is unable to do so. He said it’s not criticism causing the resignations but the surfacing of several mismanagement issues that have been swept under the rug for decades.
“I can’t believe that people are resigning because Ted Noftall is mean,” Noftall said. “Everyone needs to put on their big boy pants and step up to the plate and do the job that they were hired to do.”
Such criticism was the source of much debate at Tuesday’s council meeting, though Lewis said Noftall’s remarks had no bearing on her decision to resign.
Some residents, though, believe the constant barrage of criticism has created an untenable work environment.
“The reason this city has lost so many department heads in recent weeks has nothing to with Ms. Lewis and much to do with the harassment from a small group of bullies and a couple of council members who are micromanaging city operations,” Port Orange resident John Connors said during the council meeting. “They claim they are trying to save the city money, but they are costing the city thousands in legal fees, audits and production of 10-year-old documents.”
Lewis has agreed to serve as an acting city manager following Kisela’s departure and will remain with the city until an interim manager can be hired, perhaps by the end of August. Today at 5 p.m. the council will hold a special meeting to create a short list of candidates for interim city manager. More than 60 had applied for the position through Wednesday, including former Holly Hill Manager Jim McCroskey, who resigned in April. Many of the candidates are from out of state.
Vice Mayor Don Burnette expressed concerns over how the resignations would impact the city.
“We are losing a lot of institutional knowledge,” Burnette said. “It means that we are going to have to work harder to make sure the transition is going as smooth as possible.”
via Port Orange sees another resignation | News-JournalOnline.com.
By Lacey McLaughlin