Eight months after the City Council voted to dismiss long-time City Manager Dennis Dare, David Recor was officially hired this week as Ocean City’s fourth city manager.
Before coming to Ft. Pierce in 2005 as its deputy city manager and becoming city manager in 2008, Recor, a credentialed manager with the International City/County Manager Association, was the deputy director of Planning & Community Development from 2003 to 2005 for Fairfax, Va.; planning and land use director for Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska for one month in 2003; deputy planning director for Hilton Head Island from 1998 to 2003; director of administrative services for the Desoto County Board of Supervisors in Arcadia, Fla. from 1996 to 1998; growth management administrator for Cape Coral, Fla. from 1993 to 1996; zoning administrator for Culpeper, Va. from 1989 to 1993; and assistant town manager for Chincoteague, Va. for less than a year in 1989.
In a candid phone interview on Wednesday with Editor Steve Green, Recor discussed his last month as city manager in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; his confidence he can bring unity to the city and exactly how he will do it; the phone call that revealed his identity; his prowess with financial figures; and what some perceive as a defensive personality.
Q. How are you feeling today about becoming Ocean City’s fourth city manager?
A. It is an honor and privilege to be named the resort’s fourth city manager and follow the distinguished career of long-time City Manager Dennis Dare. I know that Dennis was very well respected in the community, and I have given my assurances to the Mayor and Council and would like to assure the town’s employees and community residents that we are going to work together and seek only to build upon the years of outstanding years of service and leadership that was epitomized by the previous administration.
Q. Are you at all troubled or concerned about the fact that it was a 4-3 City Council vote to hire you and a 4-3 vote to approve the employment agreement? Are you concerned about that?
A. You know, I am not concerned about that. Some people are going to ask: why?
The reason is I’m confident in my skills and abilities and I’m confident that once we begin our work that I will be able to turn those votes around. As has been previously stated, I do not believe those votes were necessarily against me as city manager.
This recruitment drew 60-plus candidates from all across the country. I expected the recruitment to be very competitive. The fact is folks know a lot about me by way of my phone number. What they don’t know is that there were probably many other very qualified candidates in the recruitment, so it doesn’t surprise me when you have seven elected officials that are making a decision that some are going to find one candidate better or favor one over the other. So that’s why the unanimous vote of support really meant a lot to me yesterday.
While they may not have agreed with the employment agreement or the process and they voted that way for consistency, they voted unanimously to support me in my role as city manager and that means a lot to me. I intend to work hard for the Mayor and City Council and intend to represent the employees well, and a year from now I hope to have made the Mayor and Council proud with the decision they made.
Q. You have spoken about uniting the council and the confidence you have that you can do that. How do you plan to go about that task?
A. I’m really looking forward to beginning our work on developing consensus on common goals and objectives, including a prioritized list of projects and activities, because what I can do then is use that feedback to develop an annual work program with specific action items that can be delegated and passed to various departments throughout the organization. I think that was something the Mayor and Council there was really drawn to.
The employees are going to have a significant role in that process, and I thinks that’s going to be energizing and motivating to the organization and that’s going to result in a demonstrative success for the team. In order to keep our efforts focused, we will develop a reporting format so we monitor, measure and evaluate and we keep the public regularly informed on the progress of this initiative.
I know that transparency is important to the council, so this is something I’m really excited to get to work on. This is the foundation on which I believe we will begin to build consensus and develop some unity in the organization and the council. I’m really excited to get to work on that and stop referring to a majority and minority and start focusing on a strategic plan built on goals and objectives where there is a consensus of the council as a whole. That is what will drive our work effort. That is what the employees will know we are working toward and we will do this every year. It’s developed by the employees, but the council will establish the priorities. It will keep us focused. That’s how we are going to be successful. It’s going to be our first initiative and we are going to do it.
Q. Earlier, you mentioned the phone number, which was revealed by way of a phone call from a local councilman. That surely made things over the last month a little stormier for you in Ft. Pierce. Do you regret taking the call?
A. In my mind, the phone call was actually very innocent.
I didn’t receive any inside information. I don’t think I gained an unfair advantage. A council member simply wanted to know that I understood my role as city manager in a council-manager form of government, and I do. It was an innocent attempt to have a question answered, and it was more of a casual conversation than anything else.
Unfortunately, the ramifications I don’t think were considered, but we have moved forward. In the end, I’m glad it all worked out the way it did.
When I withdrew from the recruitment [in early March], I was concerned about all the media attention that would be given to my participation. So when Jon Anzivino [of Springsted, Inc., the city’s hired search process] followed up with me and said, ‘can we talk about this?’ He told me the interview process will be held in executive session, which is unlike in Florida where everything is subject to the Sunshine Law. A list of candidates’ names is published in the paper, things are done on television.
While the intentions I think were innocent, the phone call published my phone number and linked me to the process. There was no guarantee we were going to reach an agreement, but it made me very vulnerable in my current position. So, while it may have seemed like I was playing both sides against the fence, I had to do everything I could to protect my current position in the event we were unable to reach an agreement in Ocean City.
It was difficult going through a third party [Springsted] and not being able to communicate directly with the council during the process. That was hard because I was having to rely on my messages being given to them without them hearing the sincerity in my voice and the passion in which I really wanted to work things out. Things happen for a reason and things worked out. I feel blessed and very fortunate and can’t wait to get to work.
Q. I spoke with officials last week down in Ft. Pierce and your financial abilities were lauded, specifically having to deal with a reduction in revenue in excess of $22 million during a period of time. Your mayor said some of those cuts put you an unfavorable light among many. Ocean City has been going through a similar situation in recent years. Can you tell us about those controversial decisions and how they were made?
A. I think the department heads and employees in Ocean City will find that I’m actually a very collaborative manager. I involve the department heads in the decision-making process. I believe it’s important to have as many eyes on a problem as you can. In the end, I accept responsibility for the decision, but I do believe in ‘group think’ and identifying options and alternatives and presenting the council with those.
I also believe in getting out ahead and forecasting. As our revenue began to shrink here, I was very candid and upfront with the commission here that we needed to correct some of the fatal flaws of our previous budget practices. What I meant by that was using overly optimistic revenue projections. There were examples of those sorts of things that I felt we needed to stop and we did. That was one of my first tasks as city manager.
I am a math guy. I love working with spreadsheets and doing quantitative analysis. One thing I emphasis to my department heads and elected officials is as a conservative steward of the public’s funds that I keep the financial solvency of the organization at the forefront of every decision that we make.
Q. When I spoke last week to Ft. Pierce Commissioner Reggie Sessions, one of your former bosses, he spoke very highly of you, calling you an intelligent leader and saying he was a strong supporter of you. However, he also said, “David’s young. When you are young, you tend to have a stronger pride … and he has some characteristics about him in terms of his nature and response and temper sometimes with individuals in the political field. They realize that he’s volatile and will react … that will sometimes cause problems for him.” Can you address that? Is it passion or is it that you just feel the need to defend yourself at times?
A. I think sometimes that comes across as being defensive.
Commissioner Sessions has offered some very good advice that I have taken to heart. That is to be meek and humble and not react to the political criticisms. Meek and humble has been great advice. Knowing when to hit the pause button has been another piece of good advice.
Not every criticism or point, whether it’s accurate or just wrong, is worthy of a response, in other words. Not everything merits a response.
I felt like if somebody made a statement on the record after we presented a very thorough financial analysis that demonstrated quantitatively that this is the best business decision for the city and then somebody gets up and says ‘no it’s not’ without any kind of justification.
I felt that needed to be clarified. Sure, that probably came across as being defensive. I think what Reggie was really referring to was some of the folks here knew how to push my buttons. There were attacks on my family by some, and there’s no being meek and humble about those sorts of things. That’s just uncalled for, no matter who you are.
I have taken constructive criticism over the years and I have learned from it, and I have never been afraid to admit when I made a mistake. What I believe is that’s important to acknowledge when a mistake has been made because that’s the only way you learn from it.