When a dream job becomes a nightmare

He got it open — At a preview of The Center at Deltona just before it opened, Events Manager Chris O’Donnell shows off a table set fancily for an event.

He got it open — At a preview of The Center at Deltona just before it opened, Events Manager Chris O’Donnell shows off a table set fancily for an event.


Chris O’Donnell is proud of the work he did to launch The Center at Deltona, before he abruptly resigned in January, about two weeks after the government-owned community gathering spot and events facility opened.

“It’s not every day you’re getting the opportunity of getting a building built,” O’Donnell said. “I booked 244 events before I left.”

Now O’Donnell is looking for employment. After his experience working for the City of Deltona, he said, he is limiting his search to jobs in the private sector. 

“I’m sending out about 15 résumés a day,” O’Donnell said Feb. 7.

He speaks with fondness mixed with regret about his time at The Center and the facility’s potential.

“I never before got the opportunity to build a building from scratch, and I thought I was going to go far with it,” he said.

Instead, according to O’Donnell’s Jan. 11 resignation letter, what had seemed like a dream job turned instead, he wrote, into a “Dream Nightmare.”

The letter, which Deltona officials at first refused to release to the news media because it mentions O’Donnell’s health, describes a saga of frustration and conflict.

The letter describes O’Donnell’s intense efforts and long hours to make The Center a success, amid criticism and disagreements with other city officials, office politics on the part of The Center’s staff, and deep-seated frustration over a perceived lack of support from his superiors. 

The combination of adverse and unpleasant factors took its toll on O’Donnell’s health, he said in his written outpouring to Shang.

The work schedule resulted in exhaustion and burnout.

“This week I have worked over 70 hours and will finish out the week with over 80 hours. I do not have the stamina to keep this pace up and I really do not want to put these kinds of hours in when I am not appreciated,” O’Donnell wrote. “My assistant has been trying to get rid of me from day 1. She has undercut me every way she could.”

The situation at The Center, he went, was “making me ill and is no longer enjoyable.”

He continued, “This job has thoroughly worn me down both physically and mentally. I am totally shot. I even thought about driving off a bridge the other night.”

He also wrote, “Jane, I have given you 2000% of everything I had. I have worked through the most hostile conditions, from Commissioners wanting me fired the first month I was here, to all of the negative comments I have endured over the past 11 months.”

The search for O’Donnell’s replacement has since begun.

O’Donnell’s annual salary as events manager of The Center at Deltona was $52,728.

The Beacon asked to talk with Shang about O’Donnell’s departure, but at this writing we have not communicated with her. Deltona Public Information Director Lee Lopez said O’Donnell’s exit has not affected events or scheduling at The Center.

O’Donnell and Deltona city officials signed a separation agreement upon his departure, agreeing not to bring legal action against one another because of factors leading to O’Donnell’s decision to quit, and agreeing to refrain from disparaging one another. 

Meanwhile, O’Donnell is pressing ahead with the next chapter of his career, and is willing to consider any leads readers may wish to share.

“Any help would be appreciated,” he said.

— Al Everson, al@beacononlinenews.com

When is a public record private?

Chris O’Donnell’s Jan. 11 resignation letter and separation agreement were at first withheld from the public and press because the city’s administrative staff said the documents were exempt from Florida’s open-records law because of the medical privacy mandated by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

After The Beacon requested a copy of the documents a second time, they were released to us Feb. 5, accompanied by a note written by Deltona City Attorney Marsha Segal-George. She said that HIPAA exempted the resignation letter so long as O’Donnell was an employee of the city, but no longer applied once he left his position.

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