Stop the Presses: Neville calls for change in City Leadership

In a move that started today’s special meeting for the St Augustine City Commission with an unexpected bang, the annual evaluation of the city manager began with Seat 4 Commissioner Todd Neville calling for a change in leadership for the city.

The 8:00 a.m. meeting, announced by Historic City News last week, was scantly attended by the public — although public comment was allowed at its commencement, no one asked to speak.  The meeting was moved from the Alcazar Room, where regularly scheduled commission meetings are held, into the Alcazar conference room behind the commission table.  All commissioners were present, Regan, the city attorney and city clerk, and perhaps six members of the public and press.

Neville and Regan, who are social friends outside commission meetings, are in a number of social and community service organizations together, and who are generally in lock-step with each other, at least publicly, were anything but so this morning.

The bone of contention between the two appears to be Regan’s handling, or mishandling, of the City Mobility Program — a topic close to Neville and his wife Heather’s heart.  Neville’s perception is that the city has not made progress on mobility; the city’s long-time number one priority.

Heather Neville is the founder and director of VeloFest.  She has made a name for herself as somewhat an authority on the use of bicycles; both for recreation as well as an integral part of the community transportation system.  VeloFest provides resources like free bicycle route maps and infrastructure like the Bicycle Valet system used at major events in the city.

Neville cited this morning what he termed the initial “mis-hire” of Jo Laurie Penrose for the position of mobility director — he Regan’s decision cost the city a year of progress, a poor rollout of the mobility study effort, and botched execution of the plan for re-striping San Marco Avenue which the Commission support unanimously.

Neville’s view was that, because of poor execution, the city had lost three years on improving mobility.  He feels Regan is to blame for the failure even though Neville referred to recurring staff performance issues that he has brought up in commission meetings.  Without sharing specifics, Neville says the City Manager has failed to address those staff issues long enough.

Leaders of the community activism group “St Augustine Residents Matter” and regular Historic City News contributors, Lee Geanuleas and his wife Deborah, reported their impression that four of the commissioners were pleased with Regan’s performance, to varying degrees, overall, and one was not pleased and believed it was time to make a change.

Geanuleas assessed the following commissioner positions:

  • Freeman – Strongly in favor of retaining the City Manager
  • Sikes-Kline – Strongly in favor of retaining the City Manager
  • Horvath – In favor of retaining the City Manager
  • Shaver – In favor of retaining the City Manager with reservations
  • Neville – Not in favor of retaining the City Manager

Freeman and Sikes-Kline essentially thought that Neville was overstating the problem with mobility and that, overall, the city has done well under Regan’s management, particularly in the face of two hurricanes. Sikes-Kline worried that perhaps expectations regarding mobility have been raised unrealistically and encouraged Regan to better manage both the Commission’s and the public’s expectations.

Sikes-Kline also noted that she had worked with three different City Manger’s during her public service tenure and that there had been “other failures” in the past so botching the San Marco roll out was not, by itself, grounds for firing Regan.

Shaver said that she wanted to see improvements by the City Manager in using hard data and metrics to keep the Commission and public up to speed on the progress of key municipal priorities — such as street paving and other infrastructure work.

Shaver expressed frustration that the Commission had no way of knowing if the city’s backlog of infrastructure maintenance was growing or shrinking. Despite those reservations, the Mayor clearly expressed her support for Regan.

Horvath did not say much but did offer that the city should purchase the technology necessary for reporting problems at the neighborhood level that would also provide feedback to residents on those reports. She supported Regan’s continued employment as City Manager.

John Regan provided a thorough and spirited “defense” of his performance noting recent awards he has won, the success he’s had managing the budget through some very difficult challenges and the positive trend in the city’s credit rating. He also noted his management of the recent Confederate memorial issue that could have taken a turn in the direction of the violence in Charlottesville, VA and his plan for dealing with increases in panhandling downtown. While it would have been easy for Regan to react to the very public criticism of his performance in a personal manner, he presented his case most professionally.

Clearly Commissioner Neville is frustrated with the lack of meaningful progress on the city’s number one priority. He has a point. While his frustration was shared by the Mayor, it was not to a degree that she thought there should be a change in leadership.

Freeman, Sikes-Kline and Horvath were satisfied with what has or hasn’t been accomplished in mobility and believed other aspects of the Regan’s performance argued strongly for his retention.

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