Norm Fugate’s political career was short-lived–less than two years–but according to the former Williston councilman, it was never intended to be something to carry into the retirement years.
Fugate, who cited scheduling conflicts with his job, resigned last week from the city council–just four months short of his term’s expiration.
“I said for many years that I would never get into politics,” Fugate said last Friday.
But on the heels of his resignation as Williston’s city attorney and an ever-growing personal fear that something just wasn’t right at city hall, Fugate chose to run in 2011.
Shortly after April’s victory, he learned that Cedar Key’s attorney retired.
Fugate and family have strong ties to the island community as well as owning a weekend home there.
“And since I’d lost a client (Williston), I needed to replace the lost income,” he explained, adding that municipal representation accounts for about one-third of his practice.
When his proposal for services was accepted by the Cedar Key Council a few months later, Fugate found himself in a quandary because the Cedar Key Council met the same day and time as Williston.
On more than one occasion, with more than one sitting counciil, he asked for the meeting time to be changed but never had any support.
By then it was budget time, and workshops and special meetings kept him in the loop and a presence in government.
Just when he thought he might resign, former City Clerk Nan Mack filed a complaint against him for creating a hostile work environment.
“There was no way I was going to quit then,” he said, adding that a resignation could have been seen as validation of the complaint.
Once an independent investigator found no cause for Mack’s complaint, the city was in the process of hiring a new manager and preparing budgets again.
And then Jerry Robinson resigned.
The timing was just never in his favor, Fugate said, because he never wanted to leave the council in a lurch while critical events were taking place.
Finally, with a permanent city manager hired, the budget process behind the council and less than six months until a new election, the stars aligned and he knew now was the time to say farewell.
Fugate said he couldn’t just “ride out” the remainder of his term because he would only be able to attend one regular meeting in almost four months.
“Politics, by their nature, is tough,” Fugate said, but it was also contentious on his family members, who were also seen through a fishbowl and sometimes scrutinized for his work on the council.
He leaves the council though proud of some of the things that transpired during his time on board.
“I guess the biggest accomplishment,” he said when asked, “ is we got the truth out about the utility billing, the rates and the overcharges.”
Through that several-month period when the utility billing was under constant review, Fugate said it reengaged the citizenry to what was going on in the city.
There are no regrets in his reason to resign, he said. “I feel bad about it, but there aren’t regrets. I never intended for it to be a permanent situation.”
And just because his name will no longer be on a placard on the council desk, doesn’t mean Fugate won’t be a presence, maybe even a voice, in city happenings.
“Now I can have meaningful conversations with city council members,” he said.
He also hopes that future elections will give Williston voters choices–lots of them.
Fugate believes there should never be a race that is uncontested.
“But my main mantra has been and still is openness,” he said. “When you’re doing public work, you have to have that transparency there. I hope this continues.”