Bullock signs Longboat Town Manager contract

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If the Longboat Key Town Commission ratifies a contract signed today by Sarasota Deputy Administrator Dave Bullock, he is Longboat Key’s hire for a one-year interim town manager.

“Working as manager of Longboat Key would be the perfect crown to my last 17 years of public service,” said Bullock.

Bullock spoke of what he sees as the role of the manger relative to the community.

“Longboat has all the collective community intellect you could want of experienced citizens who want the best life and experiences. All a manager does is help a community reach its potential. Government is only there to make improvements,” said Bullock.

The contract pays Bullock $180,000 for the year plus benefits (see Bullock’s contract), but according to Town Attorney David Persson, offers the commission flexibility if at any time it is not satisfied with Bullock’s performance.

The terms say that Bullock is entitled to one-month of severance (under $20,000) if terminated at any time without cause during the year. If at the end of the year the commissioners want to keep Bullock, his salary will remain at $180,000. At the end of the year if the town wishes to terminate Bullock, the town will pay no severance whatsoever.

When asked about accepting a job with a one-year contract and no severance if things do not work out, Bullock replied, “Every job I have ever had I consider permanent — there is only 100 percent.”


Larson dissents; majority proceeds

The decision to pursue Bullock follows the termination Sept. 19 of former Town Manager Bruce St. Denis. The commission laid out a strategy to locate an interim manager to keep the town moving as it searched for a permanent candidate. The process also was designed to allow the town to evaluate the interim manager as a prime contender.

The decision to pursue Bullock came amid protest by Commissioner Lynn Larson at Monday’s Special Meeting when the commission authorized Persson to negotiate the contract.

Larson told fellow commissioners to look at other options and at town employees as well. The seven-member commission had met with Bullock individually over the weekend.

At the meeting, Commissioners Phill Younger, Hal Lenobel, Jack Duncan, Dave Brenner and Mayor Jim Brown expressed clear confidence in Bullock.


Bling on the beach

Town Attorney David Persson opened the discussion Monday about the interim town manager by saying he understood that each commissioner had the opportunity over the weekend to speak with Sarasota County Deputy Administrator Bullock. Persson sought direction as to whether the commission wanted to pursue Bullock and negotiate a contract or to continue its search.

Commissioner Larson spoke first and said she sat down with Bullock as well as Police Chief and Acting Town Manager Al Hogle.

“After discussing with the two candidates, we would be walking past a diamond in the sand if we passed on Al Hogle,” said Larson.

Commissioner Younger said the decision was an extremely agonizing and tough call and that he had the utmost respect for Fire Chief Paul Dezzi and Hogle.

“That being said, if I were closing my eyes not knowing the situation I would choose Bullock,” Younger said.

Commissioner Zunz also suggested the commission slow down the manager hiring process.

“What the last few days have shown us is perhaps the decision should not be made so quickly. Another person has applied who is extremely well qualified. I don’t understand why we would act so quickly,” said Zunz.

Mayor Brown answered, “We don’t need to rush, but we have to keep the town moving forward. I believe Bullock would be a good interim manager. Chief Hogle is at a disadvantage here; we have not had time to talk to him.”

Commissioner Duncan asked, “Where do you draw the line? We can talk to all department heads and open all this up, but need to make a determination on how to best approach this and in what time frame.”

Other than Larson and Zunz, the rest of the commission was impressed with Bullock and felt his qualifications would lead the town effectively on an interim basis.

Younger warned that the town “could be too cautious and drag this down to a morass.”

Larson disagreed and said she didn’t think the town had looked at enough people and that it was not fair to make a decision based on two candidates.

“We’re rushing to judgments,” said Larson.


Exit strategy appreciated

Commissioner Hal Lenobel said he was “highly impressed with Bullock and heard many other recommendations.”

Duncan said that Bullock made it clear he is looking for a one-year contract, and that is exactly what serves the town well.

“We are looking for an interim manager. The operative word is interim, so we can get the town moving in the right direction,” said Duncan.

The majority of the commissioners said the terms that Persson plans to negotiate with Bullock will protect the town in that it provides commissioners two distinct exit strategies. First, at any point in the year, the town can terminate Bullock and owe him one month’s severance. The other option is if at the end of one year, the town is not satisfied with Bullock or has found someone they prefer, Bullock can be terminated with no severance.


Bird in the hand

Vice Mayor Brenner spoke of instances where the number one candidate went elsewhere while a community got bogged down in process.

“I don’t want to see that happen here. If we are going to open this process up, we should hear candidates this week so next Monday we can make a decision,” said Brenner.

Persson reminded the commission that he was instructed to look outside the organization and said that unless the commission changed the ground rules, that’s what he would continue to do.

Persson explained the parameters in which he was instructed the week prior to find an interim manager. He said it was a two-stage process: “You assess if your candidate meets your qualifications and if so, I bring back a contract for your consideration.”

Brenner made a final comment and said he had worked with Bullock on various issues in the county and was impressed on many levels.

“This is a case of the bird in the hand carries the day. I think talking to Hogle and others makes sense but Bullock is right for the job,” said Brenner.

Younger made the motion for Persson to negotiate a contract with Bullock, with Commissioners Zunz, Younger, Lenobel, Duncan, Vice Mayor Brenner and Mayor Brown voting “yes” and Larson voting “no.”


Key is implementation

After the meeting, Longboat Key News spoke in depth with Duncan, Younger and Brown about meeting with Bullock and what convinces them he is the right choice.

Duncan said Bullock has 14-odd years of experience in the county as a deputy administrator and understands the role of town manager. Duncan said he found Bullock to be a “very down to earth individual who sees his responsibility to the town.”

Duncan said Bullock, after serving in a 2,000–plus county organization, looks forward to a hands-on experience that he feels he may get more of on Longboat.

“He has a desire to interface with Longboaters,” said Duncan.

Duncan said he is impressed that Bullock is not only familiar with Longboat Key, but also with the issues it is facing.

“He sees Longboat Key as needing some significant changes. He sees that Longboat is going through a renaissance. He sees we are going through a transition. He sees the town manager’s job is to lead that direction. I was very impressed with that approach,” said Duncan.

Duncan said Bullock saw his strength lies in implementation. Duncan said that Bullock told him ‘the community does planning and the manager does implementation,’ and he liked that response.

Duncan said the role of the commission now is to lay out collectively what they want him to focus on and what they want to accomplish.

“We will watch him implement that. If at the end of three or six months, we could strongly implement a search process. If he is doing a fantastic job, he is a prime choice for the permanent position.”


Good qualities, connections

Commissioner Younger said he spent a long time speaking with Bullock. Younger said the long time was a response to the answers he was getting.

“I asked a lot of penetrating questions he answered directly. I asked him about Jim Ley and the fallback from the purchasing issue in Sarasota, for instance,” said Younger.

Younger said after asking about the Sarasota purchasing issue, he felt very confident and satisfied in Bullock’s actions and response to help remedy many of the problems that were unearthed.

Younger said he asked him about management and priorities and how he deals with people, and in each instance he found Bullock’s answers on-point and applicable to the key.

Younger said he did also interview Chief Hogle.

“If I had to make a call, I would pick Bullock,” said Younger.

Younger added that Bullock’s connections in Sarasota could help Longboat in many realms. Younger also said the contract is to be drawn to allow either party to exit if the arrangement does to work out, and that serves the town well.

Mayor Jim Brown said one of the most important things is Bullock has many of the same qualities as former Manger Bruce St. Denis.

“Bullock speaks well, makes people comfortable — I hated to lose that with Bruce. Bullock was Jim Ley’s troubleshooter; he got the tough jobs done,” said Brown.


Bullock background

Bullock has been continuously employed by Sarasota County since 1994 when he was hired at $59,999 as the solid waste director. Former County Administrator Jim Ley was hired in 1997 and Bullock was promoted in 1998 by Ley to the number-two position in the county as deputy administrator at a salary of $79,999. Bullock has remained in that position since and currently earns $180,065 per year.

Bullock earned a Bachelors of Science in Education from West Chester State College in Pennsylvania in May 1972 and worked in the construction and waste management industries before relocating to Sarasota.

Bullock has been married to Donna, the “smartest person I have ever met,” as he puts it, for 28 years. They have three grown children between them, daughter Noli, and sons, Sean and Michael.

Bullock spoke of his passion for water sports — boating, scuba diving and fishing — that has kept him literally swimming and diving for years around the key.

Bullock said if the contract is agreed upon, he will be available by the end of October.

The commission will consider the contract and if a supermajority (at least five of seven) say “yes,” Bullock is Longboat Key’s new interim town manager.

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