The Apalachicola city commission has moved quickly to address the gap left by the departure of City Manager Ron Nalley, who has resigned effective Friday, Feb. 14.
At a special meeting Monday afternoon, commissioners voted unanimously to bring in a highly respected retired government administrator, Port St. Joe resident Christopher Holley, on an interim three-month basis.
Nalley announced his resignation at the commission’s regular monthly meeting Feb. 4, three weeks after a highly charged Jan. 15 special meeting in which the future of the city manager position was the focus.
Following tense exchanges between city commissioners, and the speaking out by several city residents mainly in favor of, and sometimes against, Nalley’s leadership atop the city administration, the commission voted last month to hold a future workshop, at an undetermined date, in which the issue of the city manager form of government would be front and center.
With Mayor Kevin Begos and Commissioner Despina George likely thumbs-down on Nalley’s continued employment, and Commissioners Brenda Ash and Anita Grove likely in favor of sticking with Nalley after his 18 months on the job, Commissioner Adriane Elliott emerged as a swing vote.
After declining to second George’s motion on Jan. 15 to terminate Nalley, she spoke out in support of a renewed examination of the structure of city government, and whether there needed to be city charter changes in the role and responsibility of the city manager, a process likely to take several months of discussion and ratification.
Begos had encouraged his colleagues to discuss the city manager position with Nalley, and that is where the 50-year-old city manager began his announcement last week.
“I appreciate those who took the time to come and see me,” he said. “Commissioner Elliott and I had a very good meeting. I appreciate her frank and open conversation with me, and based on the results of that conversation, I feel like I have a professional and ethical responsibility to go ahead and resign my position.”
Immediately prior to last week’s meeting, City Attorney Kristy Banks had worked out some slight changes to a revised severance agreement, which addresses a provision included in the employment agreement Nalley signed when he was hired in Aug. 2018. The severance package will pay Nalley five months’ salary, or about $28,000.
“This has been a difficult subject for the community and all of us appreciate Ron’s professionalism in this and Commissioner Elliott’s efforts to find compromises,” said Begos, following Nalley’s announcement. “This was a severance agreement in a contract that the previous administration approved. We have to honor that; I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Ash, who voted with her colleagues to accept Nalley’s resignation, expressed her fond support of him.
“You know my feeling about you and your work ethic,” he said. “This is going to be a hard break-up for me but I do understand I have to let you go.”
The vote was 4-0 to accept Nalley’s resignation, with Grove, who was attending via conference call, unable to cast a ballot.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation for those in the community who have offered me your thanks, your kind words and your letters of support,” Nalley said, following the vote. “I wish to also thank our staff for their hard work, long hours and graciously welcoming me into the city of Apalachicola family. I will certainly miss the friendships we have developed.
“I leave confident knowing I have done my part in putting the city back on a firm foundation,” he said. “While it’s not been easy in a short amount of time, we have made great progress in paying down the debt default, our financing and budgeting, Hurricane Michael recovery, and lowering the TTHM (trihalomethane) levels in our water, just to name a few.”
Nalley said that “while I may not be the right fit for this new board,” he strongly supports the city manager form of government.
A large round of applause from the audience followed his remarks.
Ash asked about what steps would be taken to ensure there is “a point of contact that is running the day-to-day operations of the city. We can’t just sit back and allow nothing to happen.”
Begos said former mayor and county planner Alan Pierce had suggested to him Holley might be interested.
“I was tremendously impressed with him as a person and grateful he is open to working with us on an interim basis,” said Begos.
Holley is set to start work Monday, following the unanimous approval at a special meeting Monday of a three-month interim deal, which calls for him to be paid $4,750 per month for 24 hours per week, with a rate of $60 per hour above that.
“Either party could end it with two weeks’ notice,” said the mayor.
Begos said that based on budgetary calculations regarding accounting software and the elimination of Nalley’s $65,000 annual salary, the city will see a drop of about $2,000 per month in personnel costs.
“I expect we will advertise for a new manager/administrator soon,” Begos said. “We still have to decide what form of government we want.”
Holley brings more than four decades of experience working at the city and county level in locations throughout Florida. The holder of a master’s in public administration from the University of South Florida, he worked for 13 years as county manager of Okaloosa County, a decade as director of the Florida Association of Counties, in various economic and tourist development posts in the Panhandle and most recently, as Pensacola’s city administrator.
“I’m willing to help,” he told city commissioners. “Transitions are difficult to go through.”
Holley said he continues to have contracts with the Port St. Joe Port Authority, and with Pensacola, which will take him to Tallahassee, but “none of which are a conflict here.
“I’m crossing my fingers and hoping we (Apalachicola) can reset and my job will be done,” he said. “But you never know. If you think I can help and fill in and right the ship, I’m glad to help.”
Holley was warmly received by the commissioners. “I think it’s imperative we keep moving in the right direction,” said Grove. “It’s a good use of money; we’ll find it.
“We have a pretty good plan in place. Things are going to fall through the cracks, and having someone to help us find someone (as a permanent successor) will be valuable too,” she said.
George said Holley’s priorities will have to include determining any future staffing requirements, and addressing the conversion to new accounting software. “It’s critical we have an up-to-date budget,” she said.
“For the first two weeks, I’ll keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut,” said Holley. “I look to be a mentor. It doesn’t do me any good to do radical changes. My top priority is helping to find your new leader. I’m willing to give it a shot.”
In addition to addressing the city manager post, city commissioners voted unanimously to advertise for a librarian assistant, a much-needed post since librarian Jill Rourke has announced she will be leaving at the end of the month.
“It is with unwavering determination and a grieving heart that I tender my resignation,” she wrote, in a Jan. 17 letter. “I do thank you for the opportunity to develop the library and work with wonderful, dedicated volunteers and staff. I am humbled by the trust you have placed in me the last two years.”