Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Debate over City Manager Divides Green Cove Springs

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Debate over City Manager Divides Green Cove Springs

Article excerpt

Byline: DEBRA W. BUEHN

The handmade stickers told the story of a divided Green Cove Springs.

At a special City Council session Monday, held to formally call a public hearing on accusations that City Manager Don Bowles violated election ethics, about half of the people in the audience wore stickers bearing the slogan "Save Don Bowles" - and about half did not.

The split is over Bowles' future as city manager and his role in the city's April 6 election, which included votes on proposed city charter amendments and two council seats. Two council members accused Bowles of campaigning for certain candidates; supporters of Bowles complained that some of the proposed charter amendments targeted the city manager.

The result was heated neighbor-to-neighbor debate during the campaign season and a record turnout at the polls.

"This was a hotter election than normal," said Bob Tague, a Green Cove Springs resident.

Next on the agenda is the public hearing, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The hearing is slated to air accusations made by Councilmen John Buchanan and Mike Kelter that Bowles violated election ethics by campaigning, with Buchanan saying he had seen Bowles handing out literature for candidate Debbie Ricks.

The special meeting held Monday was staged to ensure that the motion for a public hearing, initially made at a council meeting the week before, was technically correct. Monday's motion passed 4-1, with Councilman Bob Page dissenting.

Buchanan and Kelter's dim view of a city manager campaigning is shared by Martha Perego, director of ethics for the Washington-based International City/County Management Association. That organization does not tolerate city managers campaigning, she said.

"They need to stay out of politics," she said. "It is self-serving."

International City/County ManagementAssociation members who are found to have been involved in political campaigns are censured, she said.

In the election, Page defeated challenger Bill Gause for Seat 4 and Ricks won Seat 5 over sitting Councilman Ron Snow. Mayor Felecia Hampshire was unopposed for Seat 3. …

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