By Erika Webb
Acting Deltona City Manager Dave Denny drew a crowd of cheerleading city staff members to the final commission meeting of 2013. But they weren't there to send their boss and co-worker out with a bang. For now, Mr. Denny will stay in the position he's held for the better part of the past year.
At its regular meeting Dec. 16, the Deltona City Commission voted 6-1 to approve Mr. Denny's employment agreement, which will be effective Jan. 1 and will continue through June 30 with a salary increase from $130,000 to $135,000.
The approval came on the heels of some turmoil at City Hall last month. Mr. Denny tendered his resignation, effective Dec. 29, at a commission workshop Nov. 25.
"The resignation letter was prompted by prior issues where staff was publicly reprimanded by commissioners, for following city policy," Deltona's Public Information Officer Lee Lopez wrote in an emailed response to questions.
Mr. Denny was asked to reconsider his resignation letter by a majority of the commission, Mr. Lopez explained.
After City Manager Faith Miller resigned last February, Mr. Denny, then deputy city manager, stepped into the position of acting city manager.
At the April 15 commission meeting, the acting city manager compensation and benefits package was approved as for April 1 through Sept. 30.
The commission extended the contract for another 90 days at the regular meeting Sept. 3.
At a workshop on Oct. 18, the commission agreed to offer Mr. Denny a six- month contract to serve as city manager. The proposal was placed on the Dec. 16 meeting agenda, with a term to run for a six-month period effective Dec. 29.
Following submission of his letter to commissioners stating he was considering resignation, Mr. Denny met with members of the commission individually to discuss his concerns.
"After having very positive meetings with most of the commission, I have decided to follow the desire of the commission and present a contract as city manager," Mr. Denny wrote in an agenda item for the Dec. 16 meeting.
Deltona resident and retired city employee Helen Dicks spoke to the commission about Mr. Denny's credentials and virtues, telling them three previous extensive city manager searches were time consuming and a waste of taxpayers' money. She noted only one of those three searches yielded a city manager who stayed in the position for more than two years.
She listed Mr. Denny's credentials, including his vast knowledge of and experience with water and utilities.
"He works well with the staff because he was a part of that staff for many years," Ms. Dicks said.
Calling Mr. Denny a "strong city manager," she reminded commissioners they are "to set policy and do the will of the voters".
"It is not your responsibility to micromanage his duties as city manager," Ms. Dicks said.
Deltona resident Doug MacDonald told the commission their decision regarding Mr. Denny's retention would be the most important decision they will make during their tenure.
Among Mr. MacDonald's concerns was the matter of the city manager's residency.
"My understanding is the city charter requires the city manager to live within the city limits," Mr. MacDonald said.
He described Mr. Denny as "competent".
"I think he's done a good job," Mr. MacDonald said.
But he questioned whether, at 66 years old, Mr. Denny has the energy, commitment and vision to lead the city forward.
"I don't think he does," Mr. MacDonald said.
"I say let the man go," he added. "Let's get a new young man in here to lead us forward."
John Viccaro, president of the Deltona Professional Fire Fighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2913, added an employee's perspective.
He said Mr. Denny should stay.
"We have hope now," Mr. Viccaro said.
"Mr. Denny took on a task that I don't think anyone in this room was prepared to take on," he added. "He spent a lot of hard hours to fix a lot of things he had nothing, no responsibility in creating."
Deltona resident Susan Armon told commissioners she wasn't interested in speaking for or against Mr. Denny.
"I think he's been a fine employee of the city," Ms. Armon said.
She asked commissioners to take time to consider whether or not changes should be made. She questioned the prudence of conducting a nationwide city manager search.
"I don't think his age or anything else should come into your consideration," she said.
"If I had to deal with you people every day, I don't think I'd like you very much, either," she concluded, laughing.
Vice Mayor Heidi Herzberg agreed with the idea a widespread city manager search could be costly and unnecessary.
She also addressed Mr. McDonald's question about the residency requirement, saying Deltona's charter does require the city manager to live within city limits but that a charter review committee is looking at whether or not the requirement should be changed.
"As I look out here today I see a support of employees that I've never seen for any other city manager or for any other person," Vice Mayor Herzberg said.
She reminded her fellow commissioners that $25,000 is budgeted to conduct a city manager search.
If you don't like the applicants is that going to cost the city another $25,000 for another search? she asked.
The vice mayor praised Mr. Denny for the positive feedback she's received from other city managers about his cooperative nature, knowledge of issues and willingness to attend various meetings.
"That was never the case before, ladies and gentlemen," she said.
Commissioner Zenaida Denizac said it was clear "that Mr. Denny's frustration "is due to the fact that elected officials do not understand their role."
She suggested commissioners take a second look at the charter and fully understand their role -- to legislate.
"When we don't respect the charter we're just disrespecting the entire city of Deltona," Commissioner Denizac said.
"It is not my job to interfere with the job of the city manager. It is not my job to go to any of the employees, directly or indirectly, and direct them," she added.
Commissioner Webster Barnaby cast the lone no vote, saying the motion on the table was "not about whether we should terminate him or not. It's about whether we should extend the contract."
He said he had no knowledge of any commissioner "micromanaging" the city manager, adding he has been very pleased with Mr. Denny's performance.
The commissioner said Mr. Denny's letter of possible intent to resign sent what "should be a clear message" and the employees, friends and relatives gathered in defense and support of the city manager "looks like a movement" led by Mr. Denny.
"I don't want that person working for me," Commissioner Barnaby said, "because that person is a subversive."
He apologized to fellow commissioners, the mayor and residents for "being out of order" at the Nov. 25 workshop.
He said he rarely gets out of order.
"I'm a gentleman," he said. "I like to conduct myself in a way that shows respect."
Commissioner Fred Lowry directed the question of the city charter residency requirement to City Attorney Becky Vose who said there is no problem with Mr. Denny's residency per the current charter.
Mayor John Masiarczyk addressed Mr. MacDonalds' concerns about Mr. Denny's age.
"I'm older than Mr. Denny and I still think I'm functioning pretty good on eight cylinders, or six ... I'm kind of small ... but I think I operate pretty well," Mayor Masiarczyk joked, adding age should have nothing to do with Mr. Denny's contract.
He said he doesn't think anybody else could carry the city through its water issues.
"I felt it was one of the greatest achievements this city made when we snatched him away from Florida Water," the mayor said.
Mr. Denny's comments were brief. He thanked the employees in attendance but said, "I never asked any employees to be here."
He also thanked residents for their phone calls and for attending the meeting. "We'll try to do great things for the city as we move forward," Mr. Denny said.