With 4 Out-of-Towners, Flagler Beach Resumes Interviews to Fill Manager’s Chair
FlaglerLive | September 9, 2010
Last week the Flagler Beach City Commission interviewed three hometown favorites in the quasi-race for city manager: Caryn Miller, Mike Evans and Bruce Campbell, each of them intimately linked to the city (Campbell and Miller work for the city, Evans was one of its commissioners 10 years ago).
This week, it’s the out-of-towners’ turn. On Wednesday, the commission interviewed Joseph Miranti of St. Cloud. He retired last year after two years as the operations manager for the Florida Department of Children and Families’ district that includes Flagler, St. Johns, Volusia and Putnam counties, and was previously the Madison County manager.
Today, the commission–beginning at 1:30 p.m.–is interviewing the last four candidates on the shortlist (itself drawn from 140 applicants): Edward Sealover, Scott Janke, Gary Word and James Burick.
The race is far from decided, considering the strong impression some of those candidates are making.
As in previous interviews (and other commission meetings and workshops), Commissioner Ron Vath was absent. He’s working for the Federal Emergency Management Administration–in Iowa, Commission Chairman John Feind said today. Vath’s absence will delay the commission’s decision to fill the manager’s seat, Vath said, possibly past Oct. 1, when Bernie Murphy, the current manager, will leave. The chairman said recordings of the interviews will be sent to Vath, enabling him to catch up on the interviews he missed and presumably take part in the decisions and votes to pick a manager.
“He told me he would be back working here by Oct. 4,” Penny Overstreet, the city clerk, said. “He’s working 12 hours a day,” she added. She’s communicating with him through email. He hasn’t responded through his cell phone. The uncertainty left the commission perplexed about how next to proceed–whether to wait for his input, whether to go ahead with a decision, whether to set a meeting to discuss it. Commissioner Steve Settle was ready to move ahead. Settle: “If we can’t make a choice fairly easily, something is wrong with us,” Settle said. “This might be a lot easier than we thought it would be.” He added: “The number of outstanding candidates we interviewed are limited.” The outstanding ones in his view? “a couple.” (One candidate who’d withdrawn last month, James Campbell, was willing to be interviewed again, but Feind said “he’s finished.”)
In the end, the commission agreed to set the following Thursday (Sept. 16) to discuss the candidates interviewed, narrow down the list to two finalists, and decide who would negotiate with their top choice–with or without Vath.
“I think that Ron made a choice,” Commissioner Joy McGrew said. “We need to make a decision, we need to move on. Our goal is Oct. 1. I’m not willing to put it off.”
“It’s a nice thing that Mr. Vath is doing and it’s a service to the country and all that,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said, but the times are critical, leaving the commission no choice but moving on.
Should a new manager not be named by Oct. 1, Feind said Libby Kania, the assistant to the city manager, would be the interim manager.
Edward Sealover was the county coordinator in Nassau County, Fla., for three years until April. He was heavily involved in preparing and revising budgets, among other duties typical of local government administrators. He described a management style that culd be summed up as detail-oriented. When asked about his weaknesses, he said he had a number of them. One of them of course is that I’m an outsider here, so I don’t have the local knowledge.” Some of the other weaknesses: “I can be temperamental, I can be moody, I can be inpatient, and sometimes I’m my own worst enemy.” The answer was among his most precise, eliciting an approving remark from Commissioner Joy McGrew.
Sealover’s demeanor, however, was at odds with his self-portrait: he presented himself unassumingly, with a relatively soft voice. He assured the commission that the job would not be a stepping stone (as every candidate has), though it’s difficult to imagine a candidate who would say that his intentions in Flagler Beach are only temporary.
The interviews are barely attended: just five people sat through the first interview. Two more had walked in for the second and the third.In any other circumstance, Scott Janke would be the sort of manager candidate cities would likely fight over: he has a long, solid, varied history as a municipal manager in Alaska and Florida, in coastal towns especially, most recently as the town manager of Fort Myers Beach (which is slightly larger, by population, than Flagler Beach), where he served from March 2008 to July 2009.
Then he was fired, though he had done nothing wrong. His wife, Anabela Mota Janke (a.k.a. Jazella Moore) was outed as a porn actress. The Fort Myers Beach town council made Scott Janke pay the price. “It really had to do with her history, not my own,” Janke told the Flagler Beach city commissioners, broaching the subject himself early in his interview to explain why he was no longer the manager in Fort Myers Beach–and why he has yet to find another job. He’s been separated from his wife since January. The commission was not inquisitive.
That said, Janke came across assertively, confidently, clearly, and brimming with ideas, including various stints that might have won him a spot on “Undercover Boss,” the television series where executives work in their companies’ more menial jobs to better learn their operations and staff. Janke described riding in back of a garbage truck for a week–openly, not under cover–which changed the way the town he was managing picked up garbage, saving the equivalent of a day a week in labor, and money. He installed sewer pipes for a week and in his younger days got licensed as a lifeguard to better learn what lifeguards were up against. “I’m hands-on but I don’t get in their way,” he said of his management style and his staff.
He described working in beach communities as opportunities to channel money from the local Tourist Development Council to fund and foster beach-side events, said he “believed in transparency long before it became a popular term,” and went into details, explaining how he’d manage budgets but not what he might cut: he has precise ideas regarding Flagler Beach, but he did not want to reveal them just yet. He described reading the city’s ordinances as his evening’s homework. Poignantly, he concluded his interview with a reminder to commissioners eager to fill the post: “I could start in a week,” Janke said.Gary Word’s favorite word throughout his interview was professionalism. When his interview was done, and alone among all the candidates, he turned the tables and asked the commissioners several questions–what kind of manager they’re looking for, and whether commissioners generally respect the recommendations of staff. That question elicited a careful answer from Commissioner who did not want to give the impression of being a rubber-stamp commissioner. Commissioners Steve Settle and Feind were more willing to say that they’d accept recommendations. Commissioner Joy McGrew was more specific: . “If you can justify it to me and I can justify it to the public, then I’m comfortable,” she said.
His other question–what kind of manager the commission is looking for–elicited a double-edged answer from McGrew: “I’m looking for somebody to cook chili next Friday.” She wasn’t entirely kidding. She was referring to the city’s First Fridays, when commission members and many others in the community turn out for mini-festivals in the city. Word had described himself as “shy.” He cautioned the commission that if it’s looking for a strong personality, visible everywhere, he would not be it, though he is entirely willing to do the Rotary and chamber circuit. McGrew said she wants someone “who wants to take ownership of Flagler Beach,” who’s out at the city’s First Fridays, and who is, in fact, visible.
Word was not shy about going into details with his management style (professionalism featured prominently), which he described as “participatory-collaborative.” Or with budget cuts he conducted in his current job in Surfside, where the library was closed and 26 people were laid off to make ends meet. He is not into using a city’s reserves to run a city’s operations. When asked what he was looking for from his next job, he said it would be a stable community that “respects professionalism” and progressive leadership. He applied for the Flagler Beach city manager’s job four years ago.
His greatest strength? Establishing professional administrative government in two communities. Word is leaving Surfside: the town council there turned over, and is no longer in sync with their manager, who’s turned in his resignation effective Oct. 1.James Bursick, until last month the town manager of Melbourne Beach, likely lost a few points when he said that he would not be entirely committed to living full time in Flagler Beach, should ge get the job–a key requirement the commissioners have telegraphed to every candidate. Bursick’s wife has been the city clerk in Vero Beach for the past 25 years, and she and her husband have twin boys in hih school there, so they would not be moving immediately. Bursick himself would commute to Vero Beach on weekends, though he would have a residence in Flagler Beach.
Bursick would bring some 30 years of experience in city management at various levels, with particular experience in public works and budgeting. He was fired from the top job in Melbourne Beach when there were commissioners that did not agree” with some of his decisions, he told the Flagler Beach commissioners.
Asked about his management style, Bursick said: “I’m probably more hands on the projects than some managers. I like to really be involved. That’s probably because I’ve been directly involved in construction projects throughout my career.” A few minutes later, however, he described one of his weaknesses as delegating too much to his department directors.
By the time Bursick was interviewed, the audience was back down to just five people.
[This is a developing story. Details about each individual interview will be posted soon]