Charles Burkett was the Mayor of Surfside, Florida when Andrew Hyatt (pictured) was the Town Manager of that community. When Burkett lost the last election (by 35 votes), Hyatt left his position as Town Manager. The newly elected Mayor Shlomo Danzinger and Hyatt didn’t see eye-to-eye, which often happens following an election
The Town of Fort Myers Beach is now in contract negotiations with Hyatt to hire him on as Town Manager after the Town Council voted him the top candidate of four finalists they interviewed last week. Barring issues with those contract negotiations, Hyatt will lead Fort Myers Beach through the most important time in its history, a long and complicated rebuild following Hurricane Ian, which damaged or destroyed nearly every structure on the 7-mile island.
We spoke with former Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett and asked him about his working relationship with Hyatt. Here’s what he had to say.
BTR: Tell us about your experience working with Mr. Hyatt.
Charles Burkett: We hired him because we had lost our Town Manager who was very good. He came on board in the midst of the COVID crisis and to complicate matters we had a building fall down here in Surfside. He was the Manager and I was the Mayor. It was all hands on deck for 30 days, 24 hours a day non stop. He performed marvelously.
BTR: One thing people might not know about the Town Manager position is that you’re basically one or two votes away from losing your job, depending on how elections go. People see a resume with so many jobs and they think job hopper. Can you put the residents of Fort Myers Beach at ease about that?
Charles Burkett: That’s exactly what happened. I lost the last election by 35 votes and that brought in a completely different direction and style. In one day the Town Manager, the Assistant Town Manager and the Police Chief were all shown the door with no notice or consideration or acknowledgement of the work they’d done. It was pretty shocking the way this group in power handled that personnel issue. Quite frankly many residents were disgusted at the way it went down. You have elected officials that want people that will do what they are told irrespective of whether or not it’s professionally advised in the mind of the Town Manager or not. That’s what happened. The Town Manager was acting in a responsible fashion and he and the Mayor had different ideas on how things should be done. I think the Mayor decided he didn’t want anyone except a complete yes man to him and proceeded to fire the 3 most powerful people in our town. I think Andy took it well. He handled it much more professionally than I would have. When things are going well it’s easy to be everything to everybody. It’s when the chips are down when you see the real man. We had the chips down when the building fell. It was a complete disaster. His thanks for all of that was to be unceremoniously shown the door. The Assistant Manager went on to get the number one financial job in the city of Miami Beach for a lot more money. Surfside lost 3 very capable individuals and the Mayor got what he was looking for.
BTR: When the building collapsed in Surfside that was certainly a national tragedy. Fort Myers Beach is dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. What can the residents expect from the style of management and leadership from Mr. Hyatt?
Charles: They can expect compassion, competency, judgment, poise and respect. Mr. Hyatt is a gentleman. He’s got beautiful children and a lovely wife. He’s got a tremendous professional life. They will be in good hands. When I win the election next year I want to hire him back and he probably won’t want to come back.
BTR: Talk about his style with the staff.
Charles: He has a strong faith. He is the kind of person that cares about people which is what you want dealing with staff. Good managers takes everything into account. He looks at the quality of a person, the type of person they are, the job they do and he knows what he’s doing. He’s probably not good at flying airplanes, or selling Real Estate but when it comes to being the Town Manager he’s the man I want.
BTR: What do you think is the right structure for small towns? Is it a strong manager and weak council? Is it an elected Mayor like Surfside has? How do you see it working so there’s not so much turnover?
Charles Burkett: This is a question that’s very difficult to address. I think more transparency, discussion, and speech is the way we deal with it. When it comes to the fickleness of elected officials, some of whom can’t run their own lives well but get up and put a tie on and sit behind the dais and think they are in a position of pronounced wisdom upon their voters is one of the problems. We get a lot of people that are elected that aren’t really leaders or experienced in life and that bleeds over into a lot of the decisions and the results you’re talking about. Right now we have people in office, some good and some not and these things are happening. It’s important to know what you’re dealing with. You’re not dealing with a guy here who was let go because he was doing anything wrong. You’re dealing with a guy who put his heart into this town and cared about it and got canned because some halfwit who thought he wasn’t following his particular instructions to the T.
BTR: What do you want to tell our community that Mr. Hyatt might not have said during our public meetings with him last week?
Charles Burkett: I think it’s important to look at the man as a person then as a professional. As a person he’s a family man. He’s also had experience as a Town Manager. He gets out among the town and gets his hands dirty. He’s not punching the clock only between 9-5. He’s available 24 hours a day. He’s a high quality person with very specific skills in this area. Once you get to talk to him you realize he’s that nice person. If you’re lucky enough to work with him you realize he’s doing a very good job as Town Manager.
You can also watch our interview with Hyatt HERE.