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Among Qualities Sought in Next Palm Coast Manager: Many of Those Not Found in Former One

| October 24, 2018

Just 13 people turned up this morning at City Hall at the first of two workshops seeking public input on Palm Coast's next city manager. (c FlaglerLive)

Just 13 people turned up this morning at City Hall at the first of two workshops seeking public input on Palm Coast’s next city manager. (c FlaglerLive)

City officials and staffers aside, just 13 people turned up for a morning workshop intended to give Palm Coast residents a say in what sort of city manager they want. But that gave those 13–four of them from the Chamber of Commerce–an outsized voice in the coming choice.

The chamber’s Allen Goodman, for example, read an eight-point statement on behalf of the business organization, describing “characteristics that we believe should be sought in a new city manager,” that repeatedly sounded like what ex-Manager Jim Landon decidedly was not: “”Be willing to interact with the public directly.” “Friendly, approachable and humble.” “Someone who is passionate about building and sustaining partnerships-relationships with all constituents.” “Be transparent.” “Media savvy.” “Excellent communication skills.”

To be sure, the chamber’s list–introduced by John Subers, the chamber’s chairman and a senior executive at Florida Hospital Flagler–also included several qualities that described Landon, who developed a hyper-professional administration, was keen on Palm Coast’s history and was, at least for many of his 11 years here, goal-driven.

The discussion was general and in many ways unsurprising, shedding light on the routines and mechanics of searches most cities and counties go through when they’re seeking a manager. The signal difference in this case is that Palm Coast chose to use a search firm, Texas-based Strategic Government Resources. The Palm Coast City Council hired SGR for $12,000 to conduct the search and distill the list of applicants to those it considers most desirable for the city.

SGR will focus on three attributes in developing a match: “Clicking with the council, clicking with the organization and clicking with the community,” SGR vice president Doug Thomas, a former Lakeland city manager, said.

The workshop was led by SGR's Doug Thomas, a former Lakeland city manager. (c FlaglerLive)

The workshop was led by SGR’s Doug Thomas, a former Lakeland city manager. (c FlaglerLive)

The council elected to hold two public-involvement workshops at City Hall–the second is scheduled for 6 pm this evening–led by Thomas, who recommended including such meetings in the process. It is the first time in Palm Coast’s three searches that the city has included that step, though this morning’s meeting recalled the dearth of public involvement when the council held a series of public workshops as part of reviewing its charter.

Two council members attended today’s morning session: Mayor Milissa Holland and council member Bob Cuff. Three staff members were present. The audience included a council candidate, a former council member, a former sheriff, a county commission candidate, four members of the chamber of commerce’s executive board, and a few council meeting regulars. The small turnout enabled a less formal approach that resembled more of a discussion between those in attendance and Thomas, who–47 minutes in–asked the assembly “what is it that you like” in the next manager.

That’s when Subers and others began offering their direct suggestions.

Moments later, Joe Mullins, a candidate for the county commission, asked for Thomas’s business card: “I have a feeling after Nov. 6 we might be calling on you to do the same thing on the county level,” Mullins said: Mullins has made no secret of wanting to fire County Administrator Craig Coffey. He has at least one additional vote to do so, but a third vote has been less certain so far.

Former Sheriff Jim Manfre also read a statement that on the whole echoed the chamber’s focus on communications, accountability and transparency. “Solutions rather than being presented as unilateral should be multilateral providing consensus building as a means to the best solution,” Manfre said. “It is impossible for elected officials to be conversant in all city matters so each should be assigned an area of expertise so that they are are proficient in that area on behalf of the council and public.”

chamber of commerce

Those who did turn up had an outsize voice: from left, Jim Mulhollin, Mark Langello and Allen Goodman of the Flagler Chamber of Commerce, former Palm Coast council member Dave Ferguson, County Commission candidate Joe Mullins, and Florida Hospital Flagler executive and Chamber Board Chairman Joihn Subers. (c FlaglerLive)

Dave Ferguson, a former council member, spoke of his experience with Jacksonville, where he spent many years and where he saw young people leaving 35 years ago–the way they are leaving Palm Coast today. “The biggest issue is I think the vision statement of what Palm Coast wants to be when it grows up,” Ferguson said. People that started the community like it the way it used to be, not the way it’s going, he said. “You need somebody who understands that equation very well,” including constituencies that want to make the city more friendly for business and more friendly to millennials, without clogging the city’s streets with undue traffic.

The two council members did not interject at any point, other than when Holland introduced Thomas.

He said the search process will take three months, sharply contrasting with the council’s and administration’s assumptions, before Landon was fired–and when he was prolonging his undefined retirement plans–that the process could stretch over a year.

There will be no lack of candidates. “Florida is a desirable state despite the challenges I mentioned earlier about being advertised and being in the public eye,” Thomas said, referring to the way Florida’s open-records laws tend to make some candidates shy about applying: conversely, a lot of people like the low taxes and the absence of snow. But the number of candidates he expected was not necessarily high: “I’m assuming we’ll have 35-40 easily,” he said. But he recalled drawing 60 candidates for a recent search in Green Cove Springs. (Seven years ago Flagler Beach drew 70 applicants when it had a city manager opening, though the recession may have been padding the numbers.)

The position will be advertised in the municipal leagues and city and county managers’ association publications. There may be technology and innovation-based venues. SGR has its own “outreach network” that reaches 60,000 people across various sectors. The firm also has a dedicated social media specialist, adding another layer of outreach or advertising. Two-thirds of semi-finalists, many of them “passive” candidates who are not necessarily looking for a job, tend to be the most desirable ones who see one of any of those elements and who decide to apply. Thomas said fully 75 percent of applicants in general are “passive.”

Palm Coast has had just two managers in its 20-year history: Dick Kelton and Landon. That will work in the city’s favor during the search because applicants will see stability rather than mercurial tenures behind that history.

Shortly after the hour-mark of the meeting, the audience had shrunk to just four people, then to one. The meeting was scheduled for two hours. It was ended around the 90-minute mark.

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11 Responses for “Among Qualities Sought in Next Palm Coast Manager: Many of Those Not Found in Former One”

  1. oldtimer says:

    News flash! most people are working at 9 am

  2. mausborn says:

    Mark Twain: “If voting made a difference, they wouldn’t let us do it” Republicans and Democrats playing off each other to keep you divided. That’s how they stay in the business of spending your tax dollars.
    Putin just declared victory, consider that when you vote.

  3. FlaglerKnows says:

    Help me understand how mullins could bring anything valuable to the discussion

  4. John Brady says:

    I sure wish I did not have a commitment at both times on the same day.

    The Palm Coast City Council hired SGR for $12,000 to conduct the search and distill the list of applicants to those it considers most desirable for the city.

    Why didn’t follow the boiler plate set by The Flagler County School District? That is appoint citizens to a committee to “distill” the list of candidates. Why does city council refuse to allow meaningful citizen input?

    Two meetings on the same day? Remember the farce of Charter Review?

  5. George Meegan says:

    Here we go again the cueless Mayor and a yes man Councilperson wanting Citizens input.
    What we want is a Strong Mayor and Councilpersons form of government where the mayor has education and experience and functions as the manager, not an appointed overpaid puppet of the good old boys running the city from behind the curtains.
    With Councilpersons and Mayor earning a full time salary doing day to day management representing their citizens with a fiduciary resonsability that is met. As an elected group they would be subject to reelection and be only voted to stay as a result of reaching fiscal limitation. No more a manager being backed by an out of Town lawyer who has connections to the local good old boys who direct him to get things done.
    Until the city charter charter s written and passed by the electorate, nothing will get done. You can’t expect low paid elected straw Mayor and Councilpersons to be of quality to get anything done.
    Again , citizen are much smarter than a Manager who is lead by their nose from behind the curtain, this is not OZ !

  6. Dennis McDonald says:

    Mr Hansen has operated in lock step with Craig Coffey since shortly after being appointed by the Governor. A staunch defender of all things Coffey. The Sally Sherman/assistant county manager debacle is just one of the most recent rubber stampings of Mr Hansen. There are many, largest of all is the Sheriff HQ. Mr Hansen was not a member of the BOCC that bought this disaster but in the last year he has been Chairman of the run around circus to hide Mr Coffey’s failures. The cover up gets you in the end !

    Mr Hansen’s Defeat on November 6 will provide the THIRD vote.

  7. Richard says:

    Just another move to “pull the wool over the residents heads” and keep everyone in the dark by not allowing for their input. Way to go city officials!

  8. George Meegan says:

    Qualities of all governmental elected or appointed people have standards relative to their job.
    Having responsibilities to the public they serve in a fiduciary level first where projects are paid for without shifting funds as they please for projects of their personal want. Those projects that have been done in the past by city Managers that were appointed with sweetheart contracts written up by lawyers that then advise or demand they do political unneeded but profitable to corporations or individuals is what has been going on for every year since the city of Palm Coast was incorporated. Running the water company as a profit business where charges over cost we then used for more unneeded projects put the city in the position to increase taxes and water fees. Only a Strong Mayoral-Councilpers form of government will stop this !

  9. thomas says:

    Mr. Landon got things done

  10. tulip says:

    To OLDTIMER there was a second meeting at 6pm However these meetings aren’t heavily advertised in too many places. Probably is a reason for that

  11. Teacher says:

    Why not have an online form (these can be created for free using Google docs and any computer- even a 5th grader can make one!) so that ANY resident can complete and offer feedback to these major city decisions ANY time of the day? This style of hardly advertised face-to-face meetings at 10AM are so 1980….

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