DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — As has often been the case in the past five years, the city is without a chief administrator.
The DeFuniak Springs City Council voted 4-1 Thursday to fire City Manager Danny Lucas. Lucas had been on the job for about six months.
The firing followed the discovery that Lucas had falsely claimed in his employment application to be a graduate of the University of Georgia.
City Attorney Clayton Adkinson said he confirmed the deception through an investigation initiated when information was provided to him by “a member of the public.”
“The University of Georgia was unable to verify that he was a student at the University of Georgia, or that he was a graduate of the University of Georgia,” Adkinson said in a document presented April 18 to the council and Mayor Bob Campbell.
Lucas's firing drew about 150 people to the meeting in anticipation of what would transpire. Campbell, who often has been at odds with council member, was among those who were livid.
“Somebody was looking long and hard for a technicality to bring him down. He was, in my opinion, a cracker jack city manager,” Campbell said. “He was astute and trying to clean up the mess dumped in his lap. I don’t know what was so scary about him other than how professional he was.”
Lucas's application indicates he had 13 years of city manager experience in three municipalities in either South Carolina or Georgia.
One person in the audience Thursday identified himself as a former college administrator. He said he believed Lucas had filled out the job application in question as truthfully as he could, but that the application itself is formatted in such a way that it made it appear he had attempted to deceive city officials.
Hoopla aside, Councilman Kermit Wright said, Lucas plain and simple lied in filling out an application he had agreed to truthfully complete.
“He’d never been a student at the University of Georgia,” Wright said. “That pretty much got him.”
Adkinson also noted in his report that he could find no documentation showing anyone at the city had done the due diligence required in investigating Lucas’s background before hiring him.
“It appears that a full background check, verification, or other investigation was not completed prior to employment. Therefore, no documents exist within the city’s files to support or refute information provided by Mr. Lucas,” his report said.
The city’s failing to properly process paperwork has long been an issue. A grand jury that reviewed city management reported in February that jurors were “shocked to learn of the lack of knowledge of government operations by those entrusted with governance.”
They found a “certain culture” exists that blocks the flow of information within city hall.
“We have determined that a systemic problem exists,” the grand jury said.
City resident Linda Morse said city administrators have proven once again that they cannot be trusted to govern.
“I believe the City Council is doing everything in its power to clean up the messes of the past,” Morse said. “But we have a bunch of nincompoops working for the city who can’t follow directions.”
The grand jury spoke in its presentment about a lack of continuity within city government having a negative impact on its smooth function. Lucas is the fifth city manager or interim city manager to leave DeFuniak Springs in the past five years.
Sara Bowers was the last city manager. She resigned in 2016 after City Council members spoke critically of her job performance.
The city has also been operating without a finance director for the past year. Joe Brown, the last one to resign, was the third in that position to leave in five years.
City resident Shayne Betts blames the five-member City Council for Lucas's firing and the bulk of the city’s failings. She said DeFuniak Springs residents need to step up and find elected officials they can count on to do the right thing.
“We’ve done enough hoping and praying, and now we’ve got to have action. Changes will benefit the whole community and we need to find qualified people that will run and take these council seats,” Betts said. “I’m very appalled and disgusted at the representation we’re getting from the council. They’re not representing the citizens.”