After more than four months in office and a long search process, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome announced her pick Monday for the top deputy who will run her City Hall.
Troy Bell will be Broome's chief administrative officer, selected from 150 applicants. He will run Broome's administration and be the person largely responsible for helping to carry out her vision of uniting Baton Rouge during a time of deep racial and economic divides.
Bell has worked for local governments, charter school systems and private companies, though he was publicly fired from his most recent government job as deputy city manager in Walla Walla, Washington.
He and Broome said in separate interviews Monday with The Advocate that they expect him to stay longer in Baton Rouge than he has stayed in most of his recent jobs, as he has worked in several positions since 2010. Bell said he has spent his career trying to gain enough experience in different fields to make him enough of a generalist to effectively run a city government.
"When I agreed to take this position with the mayor, my agreement was, 'I am here as long as you want me to be,'" he said.
Broome said he "certainly rose to the top" of the 10 or so people who she interviewed for the job. Over the years, Bell has worked for a wide variety of institutions, including IBM and the city of Beverly Hills, where he was the special assistant to the city manager.
Most recently, Bell was the deputy city manager from July to November of 2016 in Walla Walla, where he received mixed reviews. The mayor there recommended Bell for the job in Baton Rouge, while the city manager, Bell's direct supervisor, called for his termination.
Bell said Monday that he loved the job in Walla Walla, worked 20-hour days and was surprised by how his time in city government ended. He said he still does not understand the full reasons behind his firing.
In a letter sent to Walla Walla council members, City Manager Nabiel Shawa wrote that Bell let down their hopes. Shawa described him as likable and good at making conversation, but said his performance and initiative were lacking.
"What I have seen is a lot of good intentions but inadequate follow through and completion," Shawa wrote.
Shawa did not return an interview request Monday. But Walla Walla Mayor Allen Pomraning said in an interview that he was also surprised when Shawa asked for Bell's termination.
Pomraning described Bell as well-networked, and said he was a good addition to their government. He said he recommended Bell to Broome "from the bottom of my heart."
"We are both engineers, so I immediately liked him," Pomraning said. "Engineers tend to have the same analytical, problem solving styles. You'll see that in Baton Rouge. He's very data oriented. He'll find the data that will support a decision."
Bell said he has been living in Walla Walla and working as a consultant since he was terminated, and that he saw the job ad for the Baton Rouge chief administrative officer position on the International City Management Association website. He submitted an application that included a resume, a two-page cover letter, pages of references and transcripts from the University of Miami and the Baruch College of the City University of New York.
The public dispute over the loss of his job in Walla Walla was not the first in his background. Bell spent a month as deputy director for the Florida Division of Real Estate in 2006 before being fired, according to a 2006 Tallahassee Democrat story.
The story quotes a spokeswoman from the Florida Division of Real Estate saying Bell lied on his application to work for them by saying he left his previous job at the South Florida Water Management District on his own accord. The spokeswoman told the Tallahassee newspaper that the Division of Real Estate discovered Bell was fired from the Water Management District in 2003. The article said the real estate agency's first check with the water district on Bell indicated he resigned, but with a subsequent check they discovered he was terminated.
Upon discovering the discrepancy on his application, the Division of Real Estate fired Bell in 2006, the story said.
On Monday, Bell denied being fired from either job. He said he resigned from his job at the Water Management District and went to work for a past boss of his who also moved from the Water Management District to the Division of Real Estate.
And he blamed an internal "political firestorm" during the transition of power between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for people claiming he was fired from the Water Management District when he had in actuality resigned.
"My application was accurate and I maintained all along that my application was accurate," Bell said. "In all of the back and forth around that, [my boss at the Division of Real Estate] felt as though it was becoming too much of a distraction, so, as a result of that, I went ahead and resigned."
Broome also said that she checked Bell's references and it was her "understanding that he resigned from those positions."
Neither the Water Management District nor the Division of Real Estate returned The Advocate's requests for comment on Monday.
Bell also once worked as a police officer. While at school at the University of Miami, he said, he worked part-time as a sworn reservist for Homestead and El Portal, two of the smaller municipalities outside Miami.
Bell also found himself on the other side of the law on two occasions, though he was never prosecuted. On Monday, he generally declined to talk about his prior arrests except to say that he has a well-rounded view of the criminal justice system since he has both worked in law enforcement and faced false accusations.
"That experience has given me a heightened level of sensitivity to the weight and power of accusations," Bell said. "You can essentially ruin somebody's career and their future by simply making an accusation that ends up in a false arrest."
Bell was arrested once in 1998 for the misdemeanor counts of battery and assault and battery, and again in 2000 on false personation of a law enforcement officer, unlawful use of a police badge — a charge Bell said has since been ruled unconstitutional — battery of a law enforcement officer and two counts of resisting an officer, according to Miami-Dade online court records. However, the Miami-Dade state attorney's office did not prosecute any of the charges. Court records have been destroyed in the 2000 case because Bell successfully completed a pre-trial diversion program, according to state attorney office records.
The new chief administrative officer Monday maintained his innocence on all counts, although declined to discuss the circumstances leading to his arrests.
Broome, who referred questions about any arrests to Bell, said she believes he was a good pick as a chief administrative officer and that his "record speaks for itself as a city administrator."
Bell will take over the job from former city-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel, who will now become the city's director of environmental services.