By REID TUCKER
Prospective DeFuniak Springs City Manager Mike Standley withdrew himself from consideration for the position one day after a fierce debate at City Hall regarding the progress of his background check.
The Council convened a special meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 12, to address the background check issue, which City Marshal Mark Weeks previously said could be concluded in time for Standley’s desired starting day, Oct. 17. However, Weeks told the Council that questions raised by a letter from Regional Utilities of Walton County, one of Standley’s former employers, and alleged interference from City Attorney Clayton Adkinson were holding up the background check.
Adkinson countered that Weeks and other members of the DeFuniak Springs Police Department were handling the situation using methods “more akin to a criminal investigation” rather than a “mere background check.” Adkinson was concerned these actions, which he said included attempting to contact members of Regional Utilities’ board of directors, exceeded the lawful authority of the city as a prospective employer.
Standley delivered a letter to City Hall the following day in which he removed himself from consideration as the new city manager. Though did not return a phone message left by The Herald, he in his letter thanked the Council members for their interest in hiring him. He wrote that he decided to step down because the background check process had “gone on much too long and should not have gotten to this point.”
“I felt and I’m confident the City Council felt that after serving as city manager for 21 years there was some value for the experience and the instant startup time I could bring,” Standley continued in his letter. “It is quite obvious this (feeling) is not shared by all the elected officials and residents. This job is hard enough when you have a totally unified commitment of support.”
Standley concluded the letter by saying he “looked forward to helping the city” in his current position as Baskerville-Donovan, Inc.’s client development manager.
The debate flared in the Council chambers but extended beyond it, as Weeks, Adkinson and others responded at length to the statements made at meeting with media releases beginning the following day through Tuesday of this week.
“There was never an attempt to do anything other than what was right on our part,” Weeks said in his release on Friday, Oct. 14. “We never at any time were conducting a criminal investigation on any applicant. We stand by the process we used and if asked again to conduct another background check, we will again utilize the same process. Our goal is to be thorough, transparent and unbiased.”
Special Projects Coordinator and Human Resources Manager Michelle Schack, the city staff member that carried out the preliminary background screening on Standley, said she encountered “no negative findings.” Schack conducted a criminal history check as well as Social Security and driver’s license checks and called all three personal references listed in Standley’s application. This left the DFSPD tasked with interviewing Standley’s former and current employers, which include the aforementioned Regional Utilities of Walton County and Baskerville-Donovan, Inc.
Standley, who served as DeFuniak Springs’ city manager from 1984 to 2005, indicated in his application that he served as president and general manager at Regional Utilities until July of 2010. The following September he began employment at Baskerville-Donovan, Inc., a Pensacola-based infrastructure engineering and consultation firm soon to begin negotiation for a contract with the city.
During the special meeting, Weeks told the Council that the letter from Regional Utilities indicated Standley’s contract was terminated based on mutual agreement between him and the company’s board of directors. However, Weeks said the letter given to the DFSPD specified that the remainder of Standley’s contract was bought out by the company, which Weeks said warranted further investigation. DFSPD investigator Bart Smith, the detective assigned to handle the background check, told the Council that an additional two weeks would be needed to look into the matter more fully.
Smith said had been pulled off his regular investigative duties in order to devote all his energies toward conducting the background check. However, Smith said he felt pressured to end this investigation early and that said he was told he was “digging too deep” by Adkinson. The assertion was “categorically denied” by Adkinson who said Weeks and the DFSPD were trying to stall the hiring process.
In support of his claim, Adkinson said prior background checks on all other potential candidates for the city manager position were completed in “approximately 13 days.” He said the projected timeframe of the investigation is what led him to make repeated attempts at contacting Weeks and Smith by telephone on the days leading up to the special meeting.
Adkinson also chose to make his response in written form, releasing a letter to the media the day before Standley’s withdrawal. Adkinson said the suggestion that he was interfering in the investigation was particularly unfounded because he was the one to first request that the DFSPD conduct the background check, as had been done with all other applicants for the city manager position.
“In my capacity as city attorney, one of my primary duties is to protect the city and the City Council from potential liabilities,” Adkinson said in the release. “Unfortunately, the actions of Mr. Weeks and the City Police Department in concluding this background check may well have exposed the city to liabilities. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I attempted to become involved in this process last week.
“My actions were not undertaken to hinder or impede the city’s background check, but rather to prevent the excessively intense scope of inquiry from continuing, and to thereby shield the city from the potential liability this process was creating.”
Adkinson said the DFSPD had attempted to contact members of Regional Utilities’ Board of Directors – an action which he said was inappropriate considering his perception of the scope of the background check. Weeks countered by saying that Adkinson contacted Regional Utilities prior to Smith’s attempts at an interview, which Weeks alleged is the reason for receiving a response in letter form rather than being allowed to speak directly to the company’s president.
For his part, Smith said he was not against hiring Standley, but rather that he wanted to see the city’s business handled as transparently and thoroughly as possible….
Read the full story in the October 20, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.