One year ago, on June 1, 2021, Denise Bevan was hired as the interim city manager for the city of Palm Coast, after the surprising resignation of former City Manager Matt Morton. When the permanent position became available, she at first didn't apply for it, and never expected to be in her current position as city manager, which was made official Feb. 15, 2022. What changed her mind?
"I know it sounds mushy," Bevan said in an interview May 27, at City Hall, "but it was a journey."
Bevan was hired in 2007 as a senior environmental planner, after working in the private sector. She was hesitant about working for the government at first, but she felt welcomed right away, first by Kathleen Maker, in Human Resources, who told Bevan she'd be perfect to join the Green Team, which was a group of employees assigned to help the city become more environmentally friendly. She still remembers one of the Green Team's simple yet impactful initiatives: to set the printers to "duplex" as a default, meaning that most paper would be printed double-sided.
"It saved stacks and stacks of paper," Bevan recalled. "There's a picture somewhere that shows all the stacks of paper on a table that we'd saved. So having folks contribute in a safe, empowered environment was huge. That was a great team."
The atmosphere at City Hall, which was located at City Marketplace at the time, was collaborative, bringing together employees from disparate departments to solve problems.
Bevan also felt her experience in the private sector was valued. Early in her tenure at the city, staff was trying to get through a regulatory process, and she was invited to accompany then-City Manager Jim Landon to meet with officials at the St. Johns Water Management District. But when they got there, they realized they had been set up to meet with the wrong department. The meeting was not going to be effective, and it appeared that everyone had wasted the trip.
"We're in the lobby, and I'm standing there with our group," Bevan recalled, "and I look outside, and I see the permitting biologist, the regulatory scientist, that we need to talk to. So I run out there, and I said, 'Can you spare five minutes?' She said, 'Yeah, sure.'
"So she comes in, and we solve it, literally, in the hallway at the management district."
The city staff members had feared the problem was complex, but it turned out to be simple: A technical element had been missed.
"We fixed it in five minutes," Bevan said.
Since they were already there, and they had the appointment to meet with other officials — in the land management side of the water management office — they decided to keep the appointment and see what they could do. As it turned out, that project involved the permitting of a recreational trail in Graham Swamp. Again, Bevan had past experience that helped. She was familiar with the trail project and was able to help in a way that only she could. She was there as a staff member to assist Landon, but she functioned almost as a consultant for the city.
"We made leaps and bounds of gains in that brief moment," Bevan recalled.
Later she was told that, after they returned to City Hall, Landon stopped in to see Bevan's supervisor at the time, Ray Tyner. Landon gave Tyner a thumbs up and said, "Good hire."
Those experiences helped cement Bevan's place at City Hall and helped her feel valued — helped her feel she had made the right decision to join the city rather than continue in the private sector. Over the next 15 years or so, she rose to the position of administration coordinator and then chief of staff over infrastructure.
Still, when the City Council debated, on June 1, 2021, whom to appoint as interim city manager, it was not an easy decision. Bevan's name was initially proposed by then-Councilman Victor Barbosa, but Councilman Ed Danko wasn't so sure, favoring someone who had been a city manager before. Danko said: "If you’re flying an airplane, you really need to be a pilot, and I would hate to see us put somebody in a position who's never done the city manger job, where they could possibly fail."
Fire Chief Jerry Forte was considered for the role, but instead he backed Bevan. "There is nobody in this city that is more intimate with that program than Denise Bevan," Forte said on June 1, 2021. "She brings a lot of ability to work with everybody within the organization. ... I think what we need now is some calm, some stability.”
Bevan's response was reserved: "I'm here to serve the city of Palm Coast in any capacity necessary."
She served as interim for months before the search process began in earnest to fill the spot permanently. Initially, she didn't apply to be city manager. But the candidates who did apply couldn't gain City Council favor, and the search appeared to stall. The opening remained.
But Bevan was nervous to take the reins completely, knowing that if she ever fell out of favor with the City Council, she could be terminated as city manager. If someone else was hired as city manager, she could go back to being chief of staff, remaining a key leader in City Hall.
"This organization is so important to me," Bevan said. "I had to ask, 'Am I OK with possibly having to leave Palm Coast if Council chooses someone else? Am I OK with that risk?"
"Look how far you've come. You have steadied the ship. You have calmed the waters. You can continue to do this. You got this."
LAUREN JOHNSTON, chief of staff, encouraging Denise Bevan to apply for the position of city manager in February 2022
Lauren Johnston, who was chief of staff and was out on maternity leave with a 6-week-old baby, took a walk with Bevan at the beach one day.
"You got this," Johnston told her. "Look how far you've come. You have steadied the ship. You have calmed the waters. You can continue to do this. You got this."
That vote of confidence made an impact on Bevan.
The other factor was Bevan's mother.
"I talk to my family every week, and they get the Cliff Notes of how my week went," Bevan said. One day, her mother heard some discouragement or stress in Bevan's weekly report, when Bevan was starting the process to apply for the position of city manager.
She asked Bevan — in a tone that Bevan described as "Mama Bear" — "Do I need to come to Florida?" Then her mother said, "I'm the proudest mom that could ever be, and I know you're doing the right thing for you."
It was a moment of vulnerability for Bevan's mother.
"She knows that I'm driven and where my heart is, and for her to encourage me says volumes, because she would never want to put me in a position where I couldn't achieve all my goals," Bevan said.
On Feb. 15, 2022, Mayor David Alfin made the motion to hire Bevan. The City Council gave her glowing reviews before voting to hire her.
"I’m very impressed with your performance lately and I personally want to thank you," Danko said. "You have my support.”
Bevan again hinted that it had been a journey. "Serving the citizens of Palm Coast and working alongside our incredible team for the past 15 years has allowed me to truly develop a passion to make the city of Palm Coast the best place to enjoy from all facets of life," she told the City Council that day. "I’m excited to work alongside my team to continue to provide the highest level of service to our citizens.”
June 1, 2022, was the one-year anniversary of Bevan being hired as interim city manager.