Palm Coast City Manager Denise Bevan Fired At Mayor David Alfin’s Urging

The Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday voted 3-2 to fire City Manager Denise Bevan, a massive change in city leadership that came with little buildup. The motion to do so was made by Mayor David Alfin, with a majority formed by Vice Mayor Ed Danko and Councilwoman Cathy Heighter. Councilman Nick Klufas and Councilwoman Thersa Carli Pontieri dissented. No firm cause was spoken to the public in the decision, other than an assertion of the city charter’s provision that the city manager serves at the pleasure of the council.
Bevan was hired as City Manager in February 2022, having previously been appointed interim City Manager following the resignation of Matt Morton in June 2021. Her selection was popular across the board, and her pick was supported by three of the five current City Council members (Heighter and Pontieri were not elected yet). There was no watershed moment in Bevan’s tenure in which her goodwill from the Council eroded, and yet nevertheless the Council found itself with a majority to ax her.
Mayor Alfin passed the gavel to Vice Mayor Danko to make the motion for Bevan’s firing, a procedural necessity in the uncommon instances in which motions arise from mayors. A few members of the public spoke, notably Steve Carr, a resident of Florida Park Drive who’s been lobbying for traffic-reduction measures almost unceasingly for several years. He accused the city government of inaction, something which Councilman Klufas pushed back on sharply and speculated affected Bevan’s firing.
The fiercest defender of Bevan on Tuesday was Councilwoman Pontieri, who took three separate chances to speak against her firing. She contested that two if not three of the sitting Council will no longer be there at year’s end, and so the decision shouldn’t be made until their seats turn over. Danko and Klufas are term-limited out of office in November, and Alfin is up for re-election. “I find it to be inappropriate to remove our city manager at this time, knowing that you all will not be working with whoever we choose in the future,” Pontieri said. “You all are basically going to be voting on behalf of an entire city that you may not be representing in eight months.”
Additionally, Pontieri attempted to shoulder the blame for perceived inaction and for the stresses of high-density development on the Council, and not on the city staff who work under Bevan’s leadership. Her point did not land with her colleagues.
“This city needs strong management, someone who is going to manage the job and be a leader,” added Councilwoman Heighter. “I think Denise has done a well job but I do feel we’re moving into a different area in this city, we’re a rapidly growing city, and we do need strong management, we do need someone who’ll address issues.” She was complimentary of Bevan overall and voice no ill will, but seemed to imply she did not consider Bevan to be the type of strong leader the city needs.
“My biggest qualm is this is going to leave so much turmoil for all the directors sitting in the back of our audience right now, and all the employees underneath them,” added Councilman Klufas. The last time the city was without a permanent City Manager, it was also without a mayor for a spell; the resignations of Matt Morton and ex-Mayor Milissa Holland left Palm Coast in a leadership vacuum that tenured staff still have not forgotten. To Pontieri’s point, city staff may still be working under an interim when a new mayor is possibly sworn in at the end of the year. Alfin has four challengers for his job.
“Change sometimes is inevitable and necessary to provide new perspectives and successfully navigate new challenges,” Alfin added in a genteel if sterile explanation of his stance. “While I compliment staff on their hard work and effort, I believe the time is now for a change in leadership to move our city forward while protecting our residents’ quality of life.”
The last words Denise heard as she walked away from her seat on the dais was, “thank you for everything Denise,” a defeated consolation from Klufas. Alfin moments earlier had directed her to meet with the human resources department. A couple members of the public applauded before being joined by Klufas and Pontieri who stood in solidarity, a rare move in which Council members join in with extra-curricular audience participation. Alfin, Danko, and Heighter waited silently.
The firing of Bevan marks the second time in just over a year that a Flagler County city has terminated its city manger. Flagler Beach did so last February with William Whitson. The difference in that process was that his firing was evident a mile away; city commissioners had alluded to that possibility for months. Whitson had clear and evident infractions against the city commission. None such are present with Bevan, who was dismissed seemingly more out of a general sentiment of wrongdoing or a general desire for change.
—Chris Gollon,