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In Flagler Beach, Anger and Hyperbole Over an Acting Manager’s Half-Year Limbo

| July 17, 2011

Bruce Campbell, in the foreground, isn't goping anywhere as his chief sponsor, Steve Settle--in the white shirt--atte,pts by every mean to appoint him manager. John Feind and Jane Mealy, to the right, have so far resisted the permanent appointment. (© FlaglerLive)

In Flagler Beach, they do the limbo.

It’s been 15 months since Bernie Murphy, Flagler Beach’s last manager, announced his resignation, and 10 since he left, after spending 1,500 days as the city’s interim manager, in what was one of the city’s more creative ways of flouting its own charter: the charter requires the manager to live in the city. Murphy lived in Ormond Beach. He didn’t want to move. So the city commission moved his title.

The parody hasn’t ended.

City Commissioner Steve Settle has been trying since last year to get Bruce Campbell appointed manager, as opposed to acting manager. So far nothing has worked. He tried again Thursday evening, and failed again in a 3-2 vote that rebuffed his attempt to change the city’s ordinance controlling the appointment of managers by making it easier for the commission to make the executive appointment.

According to its ordinances, the commission needs a supermajority of four votes to appoint a manager, even though by charter, it only needs three to fire a manager. To Settle, the fact that the charter says three votes are needed to fire a manager but is silent on how many are needed to appoint creates “what seems to be an unintended ambiguity in city ordinance.” In a two-page outline of his rationale for changing the controlling ordinance, he claimed the ordinance was in violation of the charter in an interpretive leap the city attorney, Drew Smith, didn’t let stand quite as stated.

“I don’t think they’re in direct conflict with one another but I think they lead to the deadlock that’s being discussed,” Smith said.

Settle on Thursday evening tried to portray himself as a compromiser and consensus builder, though the record, if not his tendency to be the commission’s most antagonistic member, contradicts him on both counts. Recalling the short-listing of finalists for the city manager’s job last fall, Settle said: “A fellow named Janke got three votes, and I thought about who do I really wanted to vote for, because I was supporting Bruce very strongly. I voted for Mr. Janke, because there was a majority, and in my mind, if there’s a majority, I believe that it’s incumbent on me to support the majority, so I believe that a majority is not going to hurt us, there’s nothing sacred about three votes.”

Actually, Settle never voted for Janke: there never was a vote to hire him. After the finalists’ interviews in September, each commissioner individually picked his or her top two choices on Sept. 13. Janke appeared on all four participating commissioners’ short lists—twice in first place, twice in second place. Settle had him in second, behind Campbell. The fifth commissioner, Ron Vath, had not participated in the interviews (he was absent), and wasn’t present when the ranking took place. Within days, Janke’s problems—his wife had starred in porn flicks—exploded and he withdrew from contention.

Settle also mis-characterized his willingness to lend his vote to a majority, if a majority exists. On October 28, there was a three-vote majority to hire Gary Word, then town manager of Surfside and former manager of Islamorada. Settle would not lend his fourth vote, in essence ensuring a stalemate when he could have been the one to end it.

The election of two new commissioners in March—Kim Carney and Marshall Shupe—did not end the stalemate, either.

“I’m for simplicity and I think we should try this,” Carney, a Campbell supporter, said of Settle’s ordinance change, reducing the needed majority to hire a manager to three.

“I don’t think this is a matter of trying something,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said. “This is not something we try. This is a very serious thing. I think that hiring a city manager is, after the budget or before the budget even, one of the most important things that we do and I think a 4 to 1 vote is important. You don’t like the word acting we can go back to the word interim or of record. I tried looking in the Thesaurus to come up with another word, because you’re right, it says that an acting city manager is like if Bruce can’t be in tomorrow and he appoints Libby [Kania] as acting.”

“She’s acting acting,” Settle cut in.

“I didn’t like the tone of your letter, so don’t make it worse for me,” Mealy cut back.

John Feind, the commission chairman, said the commission had agreed to delay the vote on a manager until after the budget process, which “would be a good indicator to me and satisfy my questions” about Campbell. He termed the 4-vote requirement a good application of checks and balances. “I base part of that on the history we had several years ago when three commissioners attempted to run the town and they were thwarted by the mayor, because he would not approve some of the actions that were taken, he would veto it, or she would veto it.” He added: “It’s a little bit of a stretch to say we haven’t had a city manager in five years, or four years, whatever the case may be. It’s semantics. The people that were in the position certainly got the job done, and that is including the present situation.”

The most telling part of Feind’s statement may not have been his opposition to Settle’s proposal, but the implied endorsement of Campbell’s worth: it’s the first time Feind explicitly said that Campbell was “getting the job done.”

After Settle upbraided Feind for using an “inappropriate” example to make his point about checks and balances—the ordinance Settle is trying to change, he said, pre-dates the three-commissioner cabal by years—and for implying that the commission as a whole had agreed to wait until after the budget process to make a decision, Settle made his central point: “We’ve gone seven months. There’s not a credible management system in the world where somebody’s put on probation longer than six months. That’s when you either fish or cut bait. You know for sure whether somebody after six months whether somebody deserves to continue in the job or should leave. I mean, that’s just sensible management. We just can’t go on. And yes, it has been five years since we had a city manager. We’ve had interim, we’ve had acting, but we have not had a city manager in five years, and that to me is unthinkable.”

Mealy reiterated that the budget process isn’t over: “I haven’t seen how we get to that number,” she said, citing Campbell’s budget bottom line, which recommends raising property tax rates enough to keep revenue even, making up for lost valuations.

The latest round of uncertainty, since Murphy’s resignation, has gone on for 15 months.

After Murphy’s announcement, the city published a casting call for its next chief executive. Some 140 applicants replied, many of them with stellar qualifications, only for the commissioners to reduce the field to a set of candidates the commission itself was predisposed not to hire with the required 4-vote majority. There were a few out-of-towners and a couple of in-towners, with a commission divided between those who wanted to hire out-of-towners, regardless of the in-towners’ qualifications, and those who wanted to hire in-towners, regardless of the out-of-towners’ qualifications. One out-of-towner looked like he might break the deadlock, but he turned out to have a tawdrily recent past.

The in-towner at least two commissioners, Ron Vath and Steve Settle, wanted, is Campbell, but Campbell’s exclusively private-business background made Feind and Mealy uneasy. So did the politics that surrounded Campbell’s candidacy, which had more in common with a political campaign than an attempt to win an executive job. If commissioners were looking at resumes without looking at names, they’d have had a wealth of candidates with the mix of experience and public leadership that they claimed to be seeking. But it was a given from the start of the campaign that Campbell’s name would be in the final mix regardless, as it has been.

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16 Responses for “In Flagler Beach, Anger and Hyperbole Over an Acting Manager’s Half-Year Limbo”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Why isn’t anybody bringing up the fact that the city charter was deliberately changed several years ago so that four votes would be required to hire a city manager. There was no reason, other than to keep Murphy in place, for that change then or now.

    Obviously, Campbell is doing a creditable job and there is no rational reason to deny him a full appointment, but reason and logic have been long missing from Flagler Beach and it’s unlikely to return while Commissioners Mealy and Feind continue their childish power plays.

  2. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    “Settle made his central point: “We’ve gone seven months. There’s not a credible management system in the world where somebody’s put on probation longer than six months. That’s when you either fish or cut bait.”

    Couldn’t agree more with Settle, they’ve had 7 months to evaluate Mr. Campbell, what else do they need to make a decision?

  3. Bigfoot says:

    It is true that Mr.Feind and Ms. Mealy would not see the good in Mr. Campbell as they have never seen private industry work , only public coffers and retirement goodies is their domain.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Can we find out why is that councilmen Mr. Feind and Mrs Mealy oppose or dislike Mr. Campbell for Manager…?

  5. Caveman says:

    It is true that those which come from private industry often carry a sense of superiority with them when they enter the public domain. However, time and again, the skills acquired in private industry don’t gaurantee success or failure when being applied to the public sector. Public sector work is the ultimate challenge regardless of background. Feind and Mealy are still trying to decide.

  6. carla cline says:

    I have had the pleasure of working with Mr. Bruce Campbell in the last few months and must say he is a breath of fresh air in our community government! His manner, while very professional is a reflection of what our little beach town is trying to achieve by being positive and forward thinking. It is so frustrating to continue watching people go around and around thinking that they are making changes. Businesses continue to struggle because of close minded visions and the greed of attitudes thinking that their stake in the sand should be most important. I find it interesting that human nature would rather point out the faults of others than see where they could improve themselves.
    If you live today the best you can, tomorrow will take care of itself. cheers

  7. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Caveman says:
    July 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm
    “Feind and Mealy are still trying to decide.”

    They’ve had 7 months! It’s time to fish or cut bait.

  8. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Thanks for providing the RSS link for comments. It seems to being working just fine.

  9. John Smith says:

    I DO NOT BELIEVE that IT IS Bruce doing his job, IT IS THE GROUP that made a mockery of his selection and trying to FORCE Bruce down the throat of the city for there own agenda and Bruce was in the middle by being associated with them. If Bruce would have run for the seat with out any of that groups blessing then he would be the man. I strongly believe that is the problem with Bruce getting the job on on a permanent basis. He shows that he has the cities best interest in mind and just needs to listen to his staff before he makes some wrong moves on certain things. I think once he gets through this budget thing and he shows some good LEADERSHIP through it he will be given the position.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    I believe that nowadays is not easy for our cities to find a good manager that at the same time will be willing to satisfy the needs of its residents as well and not be pressure by the special interest of developers and other contractors asking for permitsand exceptions for their projects.
    I think that at least the elected officials and the residents of Flagler Beach have already the big advantage of seeing Mr. Campbell’s work for 7 months already before confirmation on his post.
    Nor the County or City of Palm Coast had this positive priveledge. I think if Mr. Campbell would have made some blunders would have been gone already. For the one’s that oppose his confirmation without expressing a reason, I will seriously remind them in today’s times the old adage; “Is better bad known, than good to be known”
    Remember that the 10 years or more Assistant Manager Oel Wingo to former Kelton and current Landon Managers in the city of Palm Coast, left her post in our city for the Manager post in Holly Hill and I think she didn’t even last 7 months there, before being fired. What works well for Pete may not for Pedro.
    Also several years ago Flagler Beach Manager lady was jailed for miss appropiation of the city public funds was 2004 or so…and I recall that Councilmen Feind and Mealy were around there as well.
    Could not find a trace of that incident in Google. She was an Ormond resident where she was taken to jail.

  11. John Smith says:

    Palmcoaster thats why you live in PC. The person of which you speak was NOT the city manager she was in the finance dept.
    The lady of which you try to speak of quit and was a good city manager that got the city through the 4 storms in 04 with no problem then quit do to health problems.

  12. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Former Flagler Beach city manager Nancy Cimino (sp ?) was a very good manager and an honest well-meaning person who did live in Flagler Beach. She found it impossible to please all the prima donnas on the city commission (not all of whom were female) and their hangers-on as it will impossible for any well qualified manager who knows how to do the job now and in the future as long as the same people and situation are allowed to continue to make this city look like a set in a farcical operetta. The only thing we’re missing is the gold braid on the palace guard uniforms.

    Citizens, vote out incumbents next time round and keep on voting them out until we get some people who are interested in husbanding our taxes and returning Flagler Beach to the old-fashioned little town we all loved.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Dear John Smith thank you for your clarification regarding that lady position’s in the city of Flagler Beach .
    as you say probably, my memory failed me and she was in the finance dept but in a high position probably director.. around 2004. Thank you again. My apologies to the city manager then. Unfortunately my facts research did not come up with the incident story at all to prevent my error and for some peculiar reason stil doesn’t . Anyway if anything like that would have taken place under the watch of Mr. Campbell sure he would have been in very hot water by now. Living in Palm Coast does not prevent us to really like Flagler Beach as well.

  14. Linda Morgan says:

    Carla Cline, you are a breath of fresh air. Your open mind and optimistic out look are great qualities to have. I personally agree with your comment wholeheartedly. Well said.

  15. flagler beach native says:


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