OCEAN CITY -- The resort’s new city manager’s experience working with a divided council in Ft. Pierce, Fla. could suit him well in Ocean City where division and tension are the new norm at City Hall.
With contract negotiations reportedly nearly complete, David Recor is expected to become Ocean City’s fourth city manager, following Tony Barrett, Joe Braun and Dennis Dare, whose 21-year tenure as the city’s chief executive officer ended last September when the City Council voted 4-3 to give him an ultimatum -- resign or be fired. Dare chose to retire and worked out a severance package with the resort that kept him on the city’s payroll at his full weekly amount until April 1.
Recor is no stranger to split votes himself, having survived last October a 3-2 vote of the Ft. Pierce Commission to not terminate his employment contract with the city.
Ft. Pierce, Fla. Mayor Bob Benton, who voted for keeping Recor seven months ago but also voted to accept his resignation on Wednesday, is at City Hall daily and has been the mayor for nine years and was previously a city commissioner for eight years. Recor’s last day at City Hall will be Friday.
Benton was mayor when Recor was hired by Ft. Pierce in 2005 to be deputy city manager and advocated ascension to city manager when that post opened in 2008. If the Ocean City community gives him a fair shot and does not judge him on the hostile political climate in Ft. Pierce, Benton was confident Recor would impress.
“If they give him a chance, he will win them over and do a hell of a job for them. He’s a no nonsense guy. He’s young enough that he’s not set in his ways and he’s still learning. He listens well and does what he’s told by his bosses. I hate to see him go … If he doesn’t agree with you behind closed doors, he will explain it and you work it out. Ocean City is getting a very good manager,” Benton said.
In Ft. Pierce, a city with a population of 44,000, Recor oversees a municipal government of 400-plus employees with three collective bargaining units and an annual operating budget of $76 million.
Recor is withholding public comment until the contract with Ocean City is official. However, on Recor’s LinkedIn page, the top accomplishment he listed was reducing the city’s tax rate by more than 30% since fiscal year 2005. According to Benton, Recor is a master with finances.
“They are getting someone who can crunch numbers and do budgets as good as anyone. He’s very good at it and gets along well with his employees, who have not had a raise in three years, so you know where morale is,” Benton said. “If you tell your city manager, we don’t want to raise taxes, he does what he has to do.”
Benton said agreeing to accept Recor’s resignation on Wednesday was tough, but it was the only option.
“I felt it was better for the city and David’s future … I think Ocean City hiring him would be a very positive move. They would be very lucky to have a man of his quality,” Benton said.
Benton said Recor became city manager in a tumultuous time for Ft. Pierce. Similar to Ocean City’s budget issues, Ft. Pierce has been dealing with plummeting tax revenue due to declining property assessments. Recor made some tough decisions and proposed drastic measures to reduce the city’s spending, said Benton.
“He came in and took care of business. He was the bad guy when our revenue dropped almost 50 percent in four years and we had layoffs, early retirement buyout but at the same time we didn’t raise taxes,” said Benton. “He showed people around here we can make government efficient. He got rid of the dead wood.”
Nonetheless, there’s no disputing Recor’s time in Ft. Pierce has been full of ups and downs.
In September of 2006, while deputy city manager, he pleaded no contest to a charge of failing to comply with public record retention rules and paid a $100 civil fine. He reportedly destroyed performance evaluations of code enforcement officers who alleged racial discrimination. He was ordered by the State’s Attorney’s Office to take part in a public records management seminar.
In July 2009, some Ft. Pierce commissioners questioned why Recor did not include a brief stint in 2003 in Alaska as a planning and land-use director on his resume. While in Alaska, he was charged with shoplifting some items. The charges were later dismissed and Recor said previously it was a misunderstanding and that he did not include it on his resume then because it was a “personal adventure.” For the Ocean City process, the Alaska job was reportedly on his resume.
In April 2011, after an investigation, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office opted not to file charges against Recor after a government critic said Recor physically assaulted him outside of a government meeting.
In October of 2011, a vote of no confidence was requested, and the Ft. Pierce commissioners voted 3-2 to keep Recor despite two commissioners wanting him gone. One of those commissioners was Tom Perona, who blasted Recor at this week’s commission meeting for being untruthful last month about his aspirations elsewhere.
“It is not the fact that David Recor is looking for a new job that bothers me. It's not being truthful that I cannot tolerate,” Perona said after Recor said he was intending to stay in Ft. Pierce. “Lying to the commission and the public that we serve is inexcusable. We pay Mr. Recor $133,640 plus benefits each year to tell us the truth and we our bound by our constraints to rely on his statements as factual. I am convinced that he has intentionally violated this basic obligation and is not to be trusted,” he said. “When David Recor sat for that interview in Maryland, he lit the match that ignited his return bridge to his job in Fort Pierce. Today in my mind, that bridge is a pile of charred wood and twisted metal. … Since we were not successful in past attempts to achieve a consensus for no confidence, I plead with you that we consider not renewing his contract and task the city attorney to inform us of our options and procedures to accomplish this direction."
Benton said he does not believe Recor was being dishonest to the commission during the most recent job search process. Other known posts beside Ocean City that Recor has previously been in the running for were city manager jobs in Ft. Lauderdale in 2011 and Boynton Beach, Fla. earlier this year. He withdrew from the Boynton Beach job process in March, the same time he said he was no longer interested in Ocean City’s position. Once he learned he was a favorite for the Ocean City job, he stayed in the process and came to Ocean City on April 13.
Benton said in an interview Thursday he does not believe Recor lied to the commission as Perona said.
“He loves that area [Ocean City]. I know he brought his grandmother back to that area when he came for that interview on April 13. I know there were issues about lying. He did not lie to me. I believe he was truthful to everyone,” Benton said. “… For him not to be looking elsewhere, based off the turmoil here and the divided council, would have been foolish you could say.”
While admitting to being “sick and tired of the roller coaster” ride with Recor of late, Commissioner Reggie Sessions said he wished Recor was still with Ft. Pierce, Fla. However, Sessions did vote to accept Recor’s resignation on Wednesday.
“He has some issues, but they’re nothing you can’t work with. I have been one of his strongest supporters during his tenure. I think David has a very bright future in terms of his ability to manage a city. He’s very smart and he proved through our city’s financial challenges … that he was able to come up with a game plan to keep the momentum of the city going to the point it was almost a $22 million cutback in our budget but you couldn’t see the difference in the services,” Sessions said. “That took an individual with a tremendous professional ability who had to make some very tough decisions. On the flip side of that, 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. However, from my perspective, those negative things do not outweigh all the positives that he has to offer as a professional city manager.”
Like Ocean City, tourism is a major part of the Ft. Pierce economic picture, but it’s not the only industry such as the case in Ocean City.
St. Lucie, Fla. County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Linda Wright Cox, who was executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce for six years from 1998 to 2004, believes Recor is a solid fit for Ocean City. She has worked with Recor on a number of tourism initiatives. She said Recor went through the chamber’s leadership program shortly after arriving in Ft. Pierce.
“I truly think he will be a good fit for Ocean City and he has the capability of overcoming all the controversy,” Cox said. “I think he will do a great job for Ocean City. He’s an avid boater and fisherman and Ft. Pierce relies a lot on tourism. They have been doing an incredible work revitalizing Ft. Pierce’s downtown, so I have no question that he understands the importance of tourism.”
Recor is a credentialed manager with the International City/County Manager Association. Before coming to Ft. Pierce in 2005, he was the deputy director of Planning & Community Development from 2003 to 2005; 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.