Update, Sept. 16: This story has been updated with additional information and comments from Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg.
For the second time in as many years, there is high-level turmoil and uncertainty in Volusia County’s biggest city.
Acting City Manager John Peters is putting out the word that he intends to resign from the job. His resignation appears as an item of business on the Deltona City Commission’s Sept. 19 meeting agenda.
“I think the simple answer is that I took a vacation up to North Carolina to see my family, and I had time to reflect,” Peters told The Beacon. “The bottom line is that it became clear to me that I need to step away.”
Peters’ decision was not a surprise to Mayor Heidi Herzberg.
“I did meet with him,” she said. “He did indicate that he is applying for other jobs, and he indicated he said that he could not finish some of the projects he wanted, like the Rhode Island Avenue extension [a proposed Interstate 4 interchange].”
“He’s an infrastructure guy,” Herzberg said, regarding Peters’ work in Deltona’s water, stormwater and road projects.
Peters was Deltona’s public-works director before the City Commission tapped him in November 2020 to serve as the city’s top administrator after the governing body expressed a lack of confidence in then-City Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper. Commissioners said Cooper had failed to inform them of his quests for work elsewhere.
Cooper had been a protege of former City Manager Jane Shang, who resigned in January 2020, following a vote of no confidence in her leadership. Cooper moved into the top spot.
Shortly before Thanksgiving 2020, the commission demoted Cooper to deputy city manager and named Peters to serve in the top post. Peters had not sought the job, but entered into a contract to serve as acting manager, pending the conclusion of a search for a new permanent manager.
Cooper, for his part, subsequently became city manager of Forest Park, Georgia.
Peters has recently voiced unspecified concerns about city commissioners interfering in the day-to-day operations of the city government, something Deltona’s charter forbids, and which state law cites as grounds for removing a commissioner from elected office.
Without giving details, Peters also said there is a breakdown in morale within the municipal workforce. Peters said he has talked with each of the seven city commissioners over the past several days, and informed them of his decision.
Commissioner Victor Ramos said Peters has made up his mind.
“He told me he does not want to stay in Deltona, and that he has applied in other places,” Ramos said.
Under Peters’ employment contract, he may have the option to return to his former position as public-works director, if that position is vacant, or the City Commission could agree to accept his resignation.
As a sidelight, the public-works director’s slot is, indeed, now empty, following the resignation of Steve Danskine earlier this month.
Will the City Commission somehow persuade Peters to rescind his resignation or return him to his former post? Will the City Commission launch a new search for a permanent city manager?
“I think Monday night we’ll find out,” Ramos said.
The sudden changes in Deltona’s government and politics come just weeks before the Nov. 8 general election, in which Deltona voters will decide whether to amend their charter to allow the city manager and the city attorney to live as far away as 25 miles from the city limits.
Deltona’s charter, as adopted in 1995, requires both of the top appointed officials to reside inside the city limits.
Peters lives in DeBary, well within the proposed distance for a charter officer, if the amendment passes at the polls. Because he does not live inside Deltona, he has been designated “acting” city manager during his tenure at the top, rather than city manager.
Deltona’s leaders have also gotten around the requirement for the city attorney to live inside the city by contracting for an Orlando law firm, Fowler O’Quinn Feeney & Sneed, to handle the city’s legal needs and business, rather than hiring a staff attorney.
If the City Commission accepts Peters’ resignation, he will walk away with about $69,000 in a severance payout. His annual salary is $165,000.
What happens next?
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Herzberg replied.