Editors note: This story was updated at 2:07 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, after The Beacon successfully contacted Acting City Manager John Peters.
There is another shake-up in the works at Deltona City Hall.
In the runup to Thanksgiving, city leaders had some tough turkey on their table.
Just 10 months after City Manager Jane Shang resigned after falling out of favor with the City Commission, the man who succeeded her (on a temporary basis) has likewise drawn criticism — and the governing body is now looking to put someone else in his post.
Amid the uncertainty about how to find a new permanent city manager, the Deltona City Commission Nov. 19 broached the notion of firing interim City Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper.
Instead, they ended up demoting him and agreeing to ask Public Works Director John Peters to assume the top post, at least temporarily.
Among other concerns about Cooper, Mayor Heidi Herzberg mentioned Cooper had been looking for another job.
“I feel that we’re left in the dark,” Vice Mayor Anita Bradford told her colleagues at the beginning of the discussion.
The deliberation centered on some inward reflection by commissioners of their lack of oversight of the city government and a litany of complaints about Cooper’s career performance. Members of the commission faulted Cooper for allegedly not keeping them informed and for failing to follow up on their requests for action and information.
“Over time, we have grown as a city and in population. We have lost accountability,” Herzberg said, adding the commission should insist on personnel evaluations for the manager and his workforce. “Today is a time to move forward and get to work. … We’re all responsible. … It is my goal. … It starts here, and it starts now.”
“We need to figure out how to correct the problem and how to move forward,” Commissioner Maritza Avila-Vazquez said.
Bradford pressed her case for removing Cooper from the top administrative post immediately.
“Lack of meetings and lack of information about what is going on,” she said. “We are here to make certain that this city is run professionally.”
Bradford dropped a bombshell.
“I would like to make a motion to terminate him and get another person in that position,” she proposed.
None of Bradford’s colleagues seconded her motion, and thus it died. The debate, however, did not.
“I like Dr. Cooper,” Commissioner Dana McCool said, before she mentioned a lack of responsiveness to her questions and concerns.
“There have been phone calls that have gone unanswered. There have been emails that have gone unanswered,” she added.
Freshman Commissioner David Sosa — who was sworn into office only a few days before — put the blame on those around him.
“I don’t think we have properly managed this city,” he said. “I think we need to sit down as a commission and come up with guidelines to follow.”
Cooper had a strong supporter in Commissioner Loren King.
“I think Dr. Cooper has done a pretty good job,” King said. “COVID has been a huge problem for us. … I don’t think that there is one person here that could get it all done.”
“To fire Mr. Cooper or to demote him is not going to make any difference right now,” King continued. “To try to change right now is foolish and not called for.”
Herzberg capped the discourse with her own PowerPoint-aided list of shortcomings.
“We should be holding our manager accountable,” she said, prefacing her remarks about unfulfilled requests to Cooper.
The mayor said she had asked in January for an update on the city’s finances.
“To date, nothing,” Herzberg noted.
Further, she continued, she had requested information on planned improvements in Deltona’s Community Redevelopment Area and had received “nothing.” Herzberg said her request to begin personnel evaluations within the municipal staff, and to include the city manager, had gotten “zero response.”
“Dr. Cooper did not want to tell me that he was looking for another job,” the mayor said. “We have issues.”
In his response to the statements by his bosses, Cooper offered subdued and humble words.
“This has been a very difficult, difficult year,” he told his critics. “I have been dedicated to this city. I have worked hard for this city.”
When members of the audience were allowed to address the commission, Jennifer Chasteen told the elected body its members were to blame for the breakdown in action and communication.
“You need to see how many fingers are pointing back at you,” she said. “You guys need to be accountable.”
The City Commission voted 4-3 to demote Cooper to his former position of deputy city manager. Herzberg, Bradford, McCool and Sosa formed the majority, while King, Avila-Vazquez and Commissioner Victor Ramos dissented.
Before adjourning, the commission voiced its desire to name Peters as interim city manager. Peters was not present during the meeting. The commission directed City Attorney Skip Fowler to contact Peters and negotiate a contract for him to become interim manager, until the elected body hires a permanent successor to Shang and Cooper.
Herzberg said the commission may convene in a special session after Thanksgiving to elevate Peters to the interim post and to hire an executive-search firm to assist in finding a new permanent administrator.
Contacted Friday, Peters told The Beacon, “I am sending an email to the city commission informing them that I have accepted the position of acting city manager.”
Peters also said he will call a special meeting of the city commission for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30 to discuss the contract that he has negotiated with City Attorney Skip Fowler.
Effective immediately, Cooper has been demoted, and is no longer in charge of the day-to-day operation of Deltona’s government.