By Susan Salisbury
For The Palm Beach Post
Keith Davis, president and managing shareholder of Davis and Ashton, P.A., in West Palm Beach, serves as general counsel to seven municipalities from Tequesta to Briny Breezes.
That’s a lot of meetings to attend, but Davis likes to lighten things up by wearing one of his 25 pairs of colorful Vans sneakers that have become his trademark.
“Star Trek, Beatles, Donkey Kong, BBQ grilling, Pepperoni Pizza and, of course, the classic Checkerboard. I have about 25 pairs decorated with everything. People get a kick out of it,” said Davis.
“The public meetings I attend require me to sit on the dais with the governing body, manager and clerk. I can wear the Vans sneakers with my regular business attire ── suit and bow tie, Davis said. “Many clients look forward to seeing which pair I will show up wearing to their meeting each month.”
As municipalities have sought to cut expenses, more have begun outsourcing services, including legal services.
“We are filling an evolving niche,” Davis said.
“On any given day, I am responsible for answering to as many as 50 elected officials, plus their staff,” Davis said. “Being an “expert” in local government law requires a good attorney to know the fundamentals about almost every aspect of the law.”
But the smaller communities that Davis serves, such as Mangonia Park, Tequesta and Royal Palm Beach, are where the action is.
Tequesta, for example, has three major projects that will take up the last vacant parcels on U.S. 1.
They are The Reserve at Tequesta ── 69 residential units, Pelican Square ── townhouses/offices and a four-story office building.
Name: Keith Warren Davis
Title: President and managing shareholder, Davis & Ashton, P.A.
Hometown and where you live now: Grew up in Tequesta. I now live in Palm City.
Family: Wife Jennifer; daughter Brianne; son Chase; stepdaughter Amanda; stepsons Kenny and Dean.
Education: Jupiter High School Class of 1985 (JHS Marching Warriors Drum Major ’84-’85 season); BA from University of South Florida 1989 (also Sigma Chi Fraternity); JD from Marshall Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary in Virginia 1992.
Career: Attorney: Assistant Public Defender 1992-1995; Assistant State Attorney 1995-2001; Insurance defense 2001-2002; Local Government law (Davis & Ashton, P.A.) 2002-present.
About your firm: Davis & Ashton, P.A. has five attorneys (two partners and three associates) and an office manager (who happens to be my daughter Brianne). We represent local governments as well as regional and local districts. We also serve as code enforcement special magistrates.
The firm was originally known as Corbett and White in the 1980s and 1990s when John Corbett and his wife Trela White were partners.
The firm is general counsel to the following municipalities – Village of Tequesta, Town of Palm Beach Shores, Mangonia Park, Royal Palm Beach, Atlantis, Manalapan and Briny Breezes. We also serve as general counsel to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, the Florida Green Finance Authority and the Palm Beach County League of Cities, Inc. Several of our attorneys serve as code enforcement special magistrates. I serve on the Board of Directors of the Florida Municipal Attorneys Association and on the Florida League of Cities legislative committee for municipal administration.
First break in business: Though I didn’t know it at the time, getting hired by Corbett and White ended up being the best professional thing that happened in my career. Everything I have become and all that we have accomplished and continue to accomplish at Davis & Ashton, P.A. truly springs from that decision. Although they have since retired, I am glad I can still count them both among my friends.
How your business has changed: Local government law becomes more complex every year. The past decade Palm Beach County has created the county Office of Inspector General, the Commission on Ethics, new training requirements for municipal elected officials, a new infrastructure surtax, revisions to certain elections laws, public records, website and social media challenges, annual state level legislation that chips away at municipal “home rule,” federal laws and court opinions that impact everything from sign codes, the compliance with the ADA and regulation of certain infrastructure in rights-of-way. The matters with which my attorneys and I must keep current grows and changes all the time. Our firm went through a “split” about five years ago, as happens with many law-firms. Other than the couple of municipalities that stayed with the attorneys who split from the firm, we never lost a client. That is something I am very proud of.
Best business book (or any leadership book) that you have read: Not a fan of business books but “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand, and “The Stand” by Stephen King are favorites. I think that they both look at the concept of “good overcoming evil” (in different and unique ways) and show the reader that even if evil scorches the earth, good will overcome and go forward.
Best piece of business advice you have received: Before reaching the point of no return in a situation, ask yourself “Is this the hill I am willing to die on?” My former boss, State Attorney Barry Krischer, gave me that one.
What you tell young people about your business: My job allows me to work closely with important people such as mayors, commissioners, councilors, police and fire chiefs, even senators and Congress people. It is a privilege and a large responsibility to make sure that I give them the best legal advice available so that they can make the decisions they have to make every day in order to make our communities the best they can be.
Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? I’d call the one year that I worked as an insurance defense attorney a failure. I was recruited out of the State Attorney’s Office into private practice at a mid-size insurance defense firm. The lure was nothing but more financial compensation. It did not take long to realize I did not enjoy the work at all. For an entire year I dreaded going to work every day. Of course that impacted all aspects of my life. The lesson is that “there’s more to life than making more money.”
What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? As more residents move in, issues such as water quality, transportation, housing, education and general quality will be more important. The challenge is to find forward thinkers with innovative ideas to balance the population growth with the provision of new, and upkeep of existing infrastructure and public facilities. My generation of leaders and advisers is dealing with redevelopment of blighted areas, moving toward the use of more mass transit and multi-modal methods of transportation (not just cars), and alarming environmental issues that come from local (plastic straws) statewide (agriculture pesticides) and global (sea level rise and coral reef disease) concerns.
Power lunch spot: Depending on the company, either Okeechobee Steakhouse, Park Avenue BBQ, or BJs Brewhouse.
Where would we find you when you are not at the office? Playing trombone with the Palm Beach Gardens Concert Band, or with my wife searching for and collecting rare/antique books and Highwayman art, or model railroading.
Favorite smart phone app: Pocket Universe. Because we aren’t alone out there…
What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? The ability to carry on a meaningful conversation in person; having a personality that lends itself to advising government leaders.