The Palm Coast City Council will appoint a replacement to Steve Nobile’s seat by early June.
In a break with recent approaches—or rather in a return to the council’s earlier customs, before the arrival of City Manager Jim Landon—the interviews for the potential appointee will all be conducted in the open, in the context of a public workshop, with the whole council present.
Two more recent appointments for vacant seats entailed closed-door, one-on-one interviews between each council member and each candidate separately, a process favored by the manager. Only the votes to appoint were conducted in the open, and one of them violated the Sunshine Law, according to the First Amendment Foundation at the time. That’s a brand of secrecy that’s not sitting well with the current council.
Mayor Milissa Holland forcefully and on three separate occasions at today’s workshop on the issue said she’d want open interviews, citing the way the interviews were conducted to fill the seat left vacant in February 2002 by the death of her father, Jim Holland, not yet halfway through his term.
“Those interviews were open to the public, they weren’t done privately,” Holland said. “I’m not a big fan of closing off interviews to a public appointment. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do, so my only suggestion is, during this process, that we keep it open and transparent to those applicants.”
Holland was fine with holding one-on-one interviews that kept doors open, so anyone could drop in, watch and listen. Council member Bob Cuff didn’t see the need for the round-robin approach, preferring that each candidate appear before the entire council, in an open setting.
“We can do an open interview with the council as a whole. I’m fine with that,” Holland said.
“The process would have to be changed,” City Attorney Bill Reischmann said in an odd rejoinder, “so that it would be done with notice and minutes kept to fulfill the requirements of chapter 286.” But that’s the requirement of any government meeting, including today’s workshop.
“I think that’s unbelievably important,” Holland said.
Jim Holland died February 10, 2002. By February 21, the council had set the process on finding a replacement—and named Holland Park after the late council member, to boot. By March 12, they had appointed Tom Lawrence out of five applicants in a second special meeting. The second meeting was needed after the council had deadlocked between Lawrence and another candidate in n earlier meeting. It was the only time the council stuck closely to its charter’s requirement, which calls for the appointment of a replacement to a vacated seat within 30 days.
The process was messier after Ralph Carter died in 2005. Breaking with the charter, the council stalled four months until Alan Peterson was elected that November.
Three years later, when Peterson resigned to run for the County Commission, the council began its habit of holding one-on-one interviews: Landon had started his tenure as city manager. Bill Lewis was selected by coin toss seven weeks after Peterson’s resignation. The same secretive process was repeated in 2012 after Frank Meeker resigned, with City Attoirney Bill Reischmann defending the secrecy in a memo to the council as long as the vote to appoint is done in the open: “As long as that vote is at a public meeting, it can, at Council’s discretion, occur with little or no discussion, no interviews, and no disclosure of the Council’s decision making process,” Reischmann wrote. Then-Mayor Jon Netts deferred to Reischmann, defending the approach, which led to the appointment of David Ferguson.
In fact, the city—behind Landon’s and Reischmann’s recommendations–had violated the Sunshine Law, as the First Amendment Foundation contended, when council members ranked the 16 applicants for the position behind closed doors instead of in an open meeting, a formal action that should have taken place in the open. The issue would have been moot had the council chosen to conduct all its business in the open—as Holland said should be done this time around.
The council today also agreed not to consider applications from candidates running in the District 4 race. So far, two candidates have announced—John Tipton and Jose Eduardo Branquinho, the latter making his announcement today, to the council. Qualifying closes June 22. If only two people qualify, the winner of the August vote could be appointed, though by then the council will have gone through the appointment process: it could be up to whoever wins the appointment to then resign and let the elected winner take the seat, a likely outcome. If a runoff is required in the election, then the elected winner will not be seated until November and the appointee will serve until then.
Nobile today at one point suggested waiting until qualifying ends to decide how to proceed, promting another suggestion from the city attorney: “I don’t know what promises to very important people in your life you’ve already made” about the resignation day, Reischmann told him, “but if you were to change that, move it further along, it could at least get us closer to covering some of these other windows that I earlier described. How’s that for putting you on the spot?”
Nobile didn’t answer, and Holland pre-empted him anyway: “I just think we need to move forward with the process.”
The position will be advertised on the city’s website and in the News-Tribune, and letters of solicitation will be sent to graduates of the city’s Citizenship Academy and to individuals who serve on the city’s advisory board. No one will be prohibited from applying, but only residents of District 4 will be considered, and only those who are not candidates in the District 4 election this year.
District 4 includes all of the R Section, the E Section, parts of the W Section, the K, LL and the Z sections. Geographically, it extends across U.S. 1 west a certain distance, but few people live there. See a map of the district here.
The application form, which you may download and mail, is below. The position pays less than $10,000 a year, or a little more than $800 a month, with some minor electronic perks.
The application deadline is Wednesday, May 23 at noon. The application may be mailed to:
160 Lake Avenue
Palm Coast, FL 32164