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Helga van Eckert Is Job Council’s Top Choice As a Council Member Sits Out the Decision

| January 6, 2012

She's it. (FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 3:58 p.m.

Helga van Eckert hadn’t even made the first cut, when the nine members of Flagler County’s jobs council narrowed 63 applicants for the new economic development department’s executive job to a shortlist of 16 in November, and then eight for phone interviews the following months.

Then two things happened. A couple of candidates dropped out. And Bob Alex, who had applied to be a member of the council, hadn’t been chosen, but attended every meeting, caught the ear of Barbara Revels, the county commissioner who chairs the council. Alex–who’s run unsuccessfully for the county commission and the Palm Coast City Council–had been a commissioner of redevelopment and zoning in Perth Amboy, N.J., before his retirement seven years ago. He’d worked with Eckert seven years as Eckert headed the city’s redevelopment agency.

“I saw her work firsthand, I spoke with her almost daily, did presentations with her around the state. She was known, she has a very fine, solid background in redevelopment and economic development,” Alex said. “Even though I know her and I like her, I would have never made the recommendation if I didn’t have deep feelings of her abilities and her fit to this county.”

The recommendation was conveyed to the council and landed van Eckert on the phone-interview list. She made it through to the finalist round on Thursday, when she and two other candidates–Chris Clifton and Bruce Register–were interviewed in person.

Earlier this morning, when eight of the nine members of the jobs council convened again to vote on their choice (Paul Manning sat out the proceedings), it wasn’t close: Van Eckert was every council member’s first choice, with one exception (Joe Marotti picked her second, behind Clifton). Everyone picked Register third.

“I really do appreciate their confidence in bringing me on,” van Eckert said this afternoon, after completing a tour of Flagler County government officials organized for the candidates to familiarize them with the county’s highlights. The final decision, of course, will depend on whether all sides can agree on the job offer, and on the county commission’s ratification of the recommendation. Short of a political end-run, it is unlikely that the commission will override the council’s decision, especially because of the council’s near unanimity and the commission’s pledge to give it wide berth.

“She’s a still-waters-run-deep person,” Revels said of van Eckert after the council’s brief meeting. “She’s not all flash on the surface. That’s what I was worried about with Mr. Clifton, being a little flash.”

Revels added: “If you plugged in all of our needs and all of our areas, whether it’d be pulling the county together into one team one voice—that’s way overused—but to all be on the same page, and the fact that she’s worked hard with a small staff, she’s taken a very difficult community a long way, I just think that in every one of our areas that I think we have needs in, she’s excelled in a very steady path. Not a lot of flash, presents herself well, and I just think that she will be the one that wouldn’t be diminished in any of the capacities. Not to detract from anybody, but I felt like after Mr. Clifton’s contacts, he’s got all the knowledge, he can talk the talk, I was worried about what would we have after all of that. You know, was there more substance beneath there.”

There was a slight wrinkle in the proceedings.

Paul Manning. (© FlaglerLive)

Manning’s decision to snub the finalists’ interview process, which breaks the cohesion of what until now had been a distinctly collegial and unified effort on the council’s part–at least publicly– was surprising. Manning was not happy with the final choices. “Based on the phone interviews, their individual resumes and the research that I have done, there is nothing that would compel me to recommend that any of them be selected for the position,” he wrote Joe Mayer, the county’s human resources director who coordinated the interviewing process for the council. “I outlined what I was looking for in an applicant and, in my opinion, none of the remaining candidates measures up to those requirements.” He was interested in restarting the process and hiring a search firm to screen applicants. “By proceeding in this more confidential manner we might also be able to evaluate not only the qualifications but also the sincerity and commitment of the applicant, while at the same time avoid having Flagler County being used as a ‘stalking horse’.”

Manning did not respond to email or phone requests for comment. His reason to sit out the meeting was explained to at least some members of the council–but not in an open meeting. His absence was merely noted during the last two days’ meetings, but not publicly explained. In other words, Manning’s reasoning for sitting out had been conveyed to some of the council members outside the meetings.

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23 Responses for “Helga van Eckert Is Job Council’s Top Choice As a Council Member Sits Out the Decision”

  1. says:

    Did any of the members of the job council visit Perth Amboy and see for themselves what she had accomplished ?

  2. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    In my opinion, the council has identified ,the best candidate , to lead our economic development efforts. I have attended most of the sessions, where the council discussed, and talked with the leading candidates, and the issues. I have though, yet to hear the two dreaded words… in any of the meetings, either formal or informal. Two words, that will test the effectiveness of the County efforts, two words, that I believe contributed to the failure of Enterprise Flagler, and two words, that will make the difference in success or failure. Yes, we all know what those two words are.. But why have they not yet been mentioned?? Just where are the two words hiding?? Yes, the words are Palm Coast.. Palm Coast represents, over 2/3 of all the residents of Flagler County, and without their support, and buy on to the County efforts, we are still headed in the wrong way. Can Helga and the council slay the 800 pound gorilla, or just get it to go along with the new efforts? Will they become be a team player? Stay tuned, and we will find out soon.

  3. palmcoaster says:

    @ Wesh…good question.
    After walking our desolated strip small and large malls in this county, sure any comparison does justice.
    Given the fact that the council got thru all their choices to these last three, she sure shows to be the less harmful to this cause. Regarding Charlie’s 800 pound gorilla, lets leave it out of the game this time.
    Enough wasted so far. Palm Coast is better off on its own…as the 800 lbs gorilla spends less money and hopefully with better results to attract more (hope non competitive with the existing ones) small businesses that are the real creators of jobs. Also would be great that Palm Coast cease and desist wasting our $$ in this:

  4. says:

    She’s from NJ….she can handle anything thrown at her in Flagler…your lucky she came along…grap her while you can !

  5. Frank Zedar says:

    Regarding this whole issue, you may enjoy the last three posts of my Blog:

    1. From Perth Amboy to Flagler – A New Beginning
    2. Economic Revival Afoot for 2012?
    3. Flagler Economic Development Dilemma

  6. Are you serious? says:

    So this is it? People do you realize what has happen? This was probably our last chance for this community.

    Our community is “all end”, this is our last great hope to help our local economy. Melissa killed enterprise Flagler and know there isn’t any private sector or chamber involvement in economic development. All we have now are these 9 retirees.

    Where is all this “untapped intellectual talent” from the hammock, Melissa promise. She was going to fill the board with fortune 500 marketing experts, branding experts, high tech people. And none of this happen.

    Then we decided to hire a CEO and pay more than this community can afford, but it was going to be worth it because we were going to finally get a CEO and quadruple the budget; get serious about our community.

    Our community can not maintain an annual half a million dollar budget. We probably have one may two years tops.

    And the board chose Helga from Podunk, NJ to be our leader? noting. Against her, but she isn’t that strong and she does not come from a community we want to emulate and we don’t have time for her to learn Florida economic development.

    The board handled this recruiting all wrong. They posted the position and waited for people to apply. Flagler does not have a good repetition in the economic development world I think this will be the 7th executive director since the council 100. So the good applicants stayed away. Did you notice no one from Florida applied (other than Bruce, but you see why he applied).

    I thought we wanted to be different. A creative and innovative community. Then we should look at creative and thriving communities such as , Austin, Denver, Boulder and recruit their number two person.

    And if this doesn’t work recruit a number two from Cornerstone, Enterprise Florida, Tampa Bay etc. Someone that has great contacts and knows Florida.

    This is the role of a staffing head hunter company. IT IS NOT TOO LATE. LIsten to Paul; I know it is a little embarrassing but do the right thing and hire a professional staffing agency. This maybe our last opportunity.

    • Layla says:

      You are correct about us having a bad reputation. Am hearing this more and more from OUTSIDE Flagler and a reputation like that is a killer for jobs.

      We’re not even matching the state numbers. Our community is going into a nose dive because we are stuck with politicians who cover for one another and want to maintain the status quo on both the council and commission. Not good.

      Commissioners keep throwing money at it, now a lobbyist, which deflects any blame away from them.

      Good comments re Perth Amboy. It most definitely is NOT a community we want to emulate. The way I see it, this position and whoever is in it, serves as a whipping post to keep the blame away from our Flagler government, who’s time it is to go.

      The good ol boy network here is so strong we can’t ever get good candidates that aren’t a part of it. And the new ones we elect soon get swallowed up in it. How can we ever get anything done that way?

      Growth is happening in other cities and states.

  7. themontecito says:

    Despite what you may be saying about this candidate. You just have to call up there and speak to the board of elected officials and see for yourself. She actually has a good reputation as a good communicator.

    This would be a refreshing change, a communicator “wow”.

    Milissa Holland is one of the better commissioners and some folks have faith in her.

    so if you want to be critical please explain yourself so we can agree or not.

    • Layla says:

      I thought that’s what I just did. We obviously DON’T agree. Doesn’t bother me, does it bother you? Or are we getting ready to do away with that next in this country?

  8. palmcoaster says:

    Next we have a good example of a Volusia elected official following the trail of how hard to come by taxes are being spent by their Ad uthority Agency, that functions as our TDC here in Flagler. Due to some good shake up there, now they want public out put on it! What about doing same here?

  9. palmcoaster says:

    At Federal level we start moving in the right direction to recoup our jobs now.
    Lets demand it at local level as well.

  10. JL says:

    I agree with Are you serious… We do NOT want to be anything like Jersey. We should have tried to recruit people from areas that we would like to emmulate. There are no cities in Jersey we should want to look to be like. Has anyone looked at what this person’s budget will be? Already their pay is too high. Especially for this area of Florida. We’re not Miami. Can we afford the budget this person will need. They will need to travel, bring people in to visit, etc.
    Has anyone thought of advertising up north for retirees to move down? They did this back in the 90s and lots of people retired to Flagler for that reason. There are lots of people in NY, Jersey, PA that have nice pensions they want to retire to Florida on, but they just don’t know where to begin. Commercials like Eric Estrada used to do would be a nice start.

  11. Redo needed says:

    No disrespect to Helga, but the other posters were right we are all in and I expected someone great for the money we are spending. Someone from a thriving, high tech community not New Jersey.

    Thank goodness the commission has to approve the recommendation. I know Allan, George, and the other guy will realize the advisory committee mistake.

    The commission should have insisted on a head hunter to begin with.

  12. Frank Zedar says:

    I’m trying, but don’t see anywhere, that we are “trying to be, or look like New Jersey?”
    Cross-pollination is a long standing management success strategy. For example, hiring a pure “car person” for a key management position at Ford, may not always be the right move. Yet hiring a proven success from, say… McDonalds or WalMart, may be the ticket to alter “stuck” thinking at Ford.
    Good work habits, communication skills, and ideas, transcend industries… and geographic regions.
    And for what it’s worth, if you can be successful in the extremely tough economic and political environment of Perth Amboy, NJ, I’d like you on my team.

  13. PJ says:

    The jersey girl is a great selection and we need her.

  14. agnese says:

    So many experts, so little results

  15. No Expert says:

    The reason why they are looking to hire the people they are is because they really don’t want an expert from a successful area or a true professional in the field. This expert would only contradict every idea and plan that Flagler County and Palm Coast have tried in the last 10 years. The County really does not want to be successful in true economic development. They want someone to just follow through with what the commission wants. Then they need someone to blame when their poor ideas don’t work.

  16. jane in PC says:

    Why wouldn’t they hire an expert to find the right person? As already been posted, our community doesn’t have a great repretation so posting a notice of a job opening would only attract people like the Bruce guy. A person that is trying to move up to a leadership position or people looking to relocate to Florida. Helga said it herself it was time to move to Florida.

    We should have hired an expert have them determine a list of potential people based on what we want and where we want to go as a community. And recruit these targeted few. Just like targeted industries, we determine what we want and then go out and get them.

    I hope the board on the 17th comes to their sense and hires a head hunter.

    Frank please answer why you didn’t select a head hunter to help us find the right person? Not smart.

    • No Expert says:

      It is a vicious circle. No Economic Development Professional worth having wants to end their career in Flagler County/Palm Coast and none of the Flagler County/Palm Coast leaders want to hire a real Economic Development Professional. It makes everyone look bad. After all, it is better to look good than to be good.

      Population growth is not an economic strategy! Only government employees and realtors (residential and commercial) will tell you that. No Economic Development person will tell you that, and if they do…don’t hire them. Ah, another vicious circle.

  17. Frank Zedar says:

    I am not aware of any government employees or Realtors who believe that “population growth is an economic development strategy?” But I’ll ask around…
    Regarding head hunters… like everything else, some are good and some are not… but all are expensive. In this challenging economic environment, it seems that every city and county in the country is searching for an economic development savior. The Flagler search effort was a professional endeavor and high HR principles were upheld.
    Helga is truly an excellent economic development professional with a track record which matches Flagler’s needs. And since when is “wanting to move to Florida” a negative observation? Heck, it’s the very reason most businesses come here in the first place.
    By the way, all the meetings of this council are announced and open to the public. Maybe showing up with opinions and good ideas is the more productive option to throwing anonymous darts?

    • No Expert says:

      The Population Growth Strategy Example

      Expect a turnaround in 2012 for city of Palm Coast

      John Netts Quote:”Generally, things are looking better and better for Palm Coast in 2012. Nationally, Florida ranks third in growth among all states, and statistics show this growth trend favors central and northeast Florida. This means new residents to fill our vacant houses, more consumers to purchase goods and services locally, and new and expanded business opportunities.” End Quote. If you are looking for the real estate market to improve to cure the economy, population growth is your economic strategy.

      Palm Coast and Flagler County are looking for mainly retail. Retail needs more money in the economy to grow. Simply put, if there is one million dollars of expendable income in the community for eating out, every new restaurant open only takes a piece of that share of the million. The way more restaurants make it is by adding more expendable income to the community. This is done in two ways. One, attract and prepare for businesses that do not rely on the local economy. Manufacturing, corporate office, technology. Or two, more population with new money. So far it looks like the area is looking for population and not the other industries. From what I understand is Helga’s experience is with store fronts and community redevelopment. If she has a lot of experience attracting manufacturing, corporate offices, and technology companies, my apologies for the misunderstanding.

      • No Expert says:

        Another population growth strategy. Don’t forget about all of those postcards sent to owners of vacant lots in Palm Coast encouraging them to go ahead and build on those lots.

        What about the Palm Coast Jingle strategy? Is that really what businesses use to decide to locate to an area? Now it might be catchy for residents.

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