By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- Ken Parker's last meeting as city manager was almost like a child's last day at school -- Mr. Parker, who retired Thursday, didn't leave without getting a report card.
And while the grades the city manager received from the City Council were favorable to his 28-year career in Port Orange, his last year was not met with as much acclaim.
City leaders reviewed Mr. Parker's job performance at a recent meeting before his retirement from the city manager position he's held since 1984. Vice Mayor Don Burnette requested the performance review after a memo circulated among council members where Mr. Parker said he took responsibility for the water billing gaffe that found the city undercharged wholesale customers in Daytona Beach Shores at least $2 million.
"He accepted responsibility for that as CEO of the city, which he should," Mr. Burnette said. "However, because he floated that memo I thought it was important we bring it forward for discussion as a council."
He did say, however, his review of Mr. Parker was an "incomplete" one because city leaders are waiting for the results of a forensic audit of the finance department and its utility billing system.
"We're working towards resolution of those problems and we're not completely out of the evaluative stage," Mr. Burnette said.
With the water utility billing problem still leaving council members unsettled, they believed there was room for improvement in some areas of Mr. Parker's management.
Mr. Burnette said his weak points were in the areas of supervision, execution of policy, financial management and policy execution -- weaknesses he attributed to the water billing issues, as well as public works director Warren Pike's firing after it was found his teenage son had unauthorized access to the public works department's headquarters, leading him and a friend to steal thousands of dollars in city-owned property.
But in his overall assessment of Mr. Parker, strengths he highlighted included accessibility to citizens, economic development, planning and intergovernmental relations. The vice mayor concluded, "while it was a C-minus year, it was an A-plus for a career."
Councilman Dennis Kennedy agreed with Mr. Burnette's assessment. He said Mr. Parker should take a lower grade because of the finance and public works issues as they resulted from employees Mr. Parker put in place and oversaw, for which he is "ultimately" responsible.
"We have found a great deal of issues that have come about not necessarily from Ken Parker's complacency, but the fact we had some complacency over the years that transmitted into what ultimately became the issue we had this year," Mr. Kennedy said, although he added he would give an "A-plus" grade for Mr. Parker's career.
Councilman Drew Bastian said it would be difficult to evaluate Mr. Parker's performance as he has only served as councilman for six weeks, but voiced disapproval of recent decisions involving "a couple of employees and the way things were handled," referring to the retirements of John Shelley and Betty Barnhart, the finance department employees blamed for the water billing problems. In recent meetings, some citizens said the two should have been terminated instead.
Mayor Allen Green said he hasn't always agreed with Mr. Parker's decisions, but commended the outgoing manager for finding ways to implement new projects and programs in the city.
The only citizen to comment on the council's assessment of Mr. Parker, former city councilman Ben Talluto, ran down a list of those amenities established under the city manager's watch to contrast the Port Orange of today with Port Orange when Ken Parker first became manager -- new police and fire stations, expanded recreational facilities, the golf course at Cypress Head and Eastport Business Center, concluding with the more recent additions of The Pavilion at Port Orange, Raydon and U.S. Foods.
"When (Mr. Parker) came here, it was nothing. Port Orange was the Wild West of Volusia County," Mr. Talluto said. "... God help us if we can't get another (manager) like him."