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Flagler Administrator Craig Coffey Offers to Resign; Special Meeting Set for Wednesday

| January 8, 2019

Craig Coffey has been the Flagler County administrator since 2007. His tenure became increasingly rocky over the past year. (© FlaglerLive)

Craig Coffey has been the Flagler County administrator since 2007. His tenure became increasingly rocky over the past year. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey’s 11-year tenure is ending.

Coffey this afternoon tendered what amounts to a resignation offer to county commissioners. The commission will meet in special session Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to decide whether and how to accept the offer.

“It’s my understanding that the administrator will offer a letter of separation,” Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien said late this afternoon. “I think it’s a separation agreement, which basically mean a termination of his contract.” The separation would be effective upon the commission’s acceptance, which would be Wednesday. Coffey is seeking 20 weeks’ severance and health benefits.

Coffey himself told top staff members Tuesday afternoon that he was resigning.

Although a majority of commissioners is now ready to fire Coffey or accept his resignation, there is some disagreement about whether to end the contract immediately or to do so withing a few months, and whether to offer severance. Coffey’s offer to resign is contingent on some severance: if he were to be fired outright, he’d be eligible by contract for 20 weeks’ severance. Commission Chairman Don O’Brien and Commissioner Joe Mullins favor an immediate end. Commissioner Dave Sullivan, the key third vote, is willing to take a less radical approach. (A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the severance allowance as six months, rather than five.)

Coffey has been in talks with commissioners for the past several weeks, possibly looking for an exit strategy and hoping to avoid a public-circus showdown at the Jan. 14 meeting. He was at one point hoping to get an extension of about six months on the job, giving him time to line up something else and to transition current issues. Commissioners voted last December to talk about Coffey’s fate at that meeting, which is expected to draw a large crowd and risks devolving into the sort of public flogging that led to the firing of Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen last June. So far, the drive to fire Coffey has dovetailed the same template as in Volusia, with Flagler’s sheriff, its public-sector unions and a social-media campaign all pushing for Coffey’s dismissal.

By setting a special meeting before Jan. 14, Coffey may be better able to control the tenor of the public discussion. There was urgency to set the meeting on Wednesday for two reasons: an emergency meeting is required to be announced with at least 24 hours’ notice. And it could not be set for Thursday or Friday, when some of the commissioners are scheduled to be in Gainesville for commissioner training. Just before 4:30 this afternoon, the county posted a notice of the special meeting on its website. The agenda: “Consideration of an Amendment to the County Administrator’s Contract.” One of the only relevant amendments feasible in the context of the last few weeks is to enable Coffey to resign and still be eligible for severance and health benefits.

Coffey did not immediately respond to a text, and his cell phone’s mailbox was “full.”

Coffey's relationship with Sheriff Rick Staly broke down in 2018. Staly could bank on his popularity. Coffey could not. (© FlaglerLive)

Coffey’s relationship with Sheriff Rick Staly broke down in 2018. Staly could bank on his popularity. Coffey could not.
(© FlaglerLive)

For Coffey, the end starting late last year increasingly became a matter of when, not if. He shepherded the county through two hurricanes in 2016 and 2017, but late in 2017 reports of sick employees at the Sheriff’s Operations Center surfaced. Employees connected their sicknesses to the building. In 2018 almost half the 65-odd employees working in that building filed workers’ compensation claims related to sick-building symptoms, and the sheriff evacuated the operations center in June. Sheriff’s employees perceived Coffey’s response to the crisis as dismissive and callous. Commission Chairman Don O’Brien was “appalled,” in his words, at Coffey claiming some employees were faking their illnesses. Relations between the sheriff and Coffey broke down.

But it wasn’t just the Sheriff’s Operations Center. For Coffey, 2018 would prove to be a year of crises, but crises of his own making as his penchant for poor transparency, political misjudgments and deal-making that appeared to marginalize the commission caught up with him.

In February there was his re-hiring of Deputy County Administrator Sally Sherman a day after she “retired,” a ploy around state law requiring government employees to stay off their former job for at least six months when they choose that particular retirement route. Until FlaglerLive reported it, commissioners were not aware that Sherman was being rehired at greater cost to the county than when she was an employee. They did not reverse the decision, and six months later, Sherman was re-hired as a county employee, her six-month stint having cost $99,000. She may yet be commissioners’ pick as the interim administrator.

In summer O’Brien was displeased with Coffey’s approach on the budget, which reversed some commissioners’ directive to start with a baseline that did not assume a tax increase. The county tax rate is now the highest of any government in Flagler except Marineland, overtaking Bunnell, which managed to lower its rate this year. Instead, the budget started with Coffey’s baseline of wish lists, moving backward, and ended with a tax increase anyway.

Milissa Holland, now Palm Coast's mayor, opposed hiring Coffey when she was a county commissioner in 2007, tried to fire him in 2010, and was involved in talks with unions last month before union votes calling for Coffey's firing. (© FlaglerLive)

Milissa Holland, now Palm Coast’s mayor, opposed hiring Coffey when she was a county commissioner in 2007, tried to fire him in 2010, and was involved in talks with unions last month before union votes calling for Coffey’s firing. (© FlaglerLive)

Between summer and fall a combination of action and lack of action on the Sheriff’s Operations Center (some of it compelled by a judge’s order forbidding structural work on the building) severely soured relations between the sheriff and Coffey. But relations also soured between Clerk of Court Tom Bexley and Coffey over a multi-million and major planned revamp of the county’s accounting software. Bexley was displeased with Coffey imposing the software on the clerk’s office rather than negotiating its application. Commissioners ordered Coffey to resolve the matter while putting approval of the revamp contract on hold.

In November, the Captain’s BBQ issue at Bing’s Landing exploded in commissioners’ faces, the virulence of the public backlash to a planned expansion of the restaurant again taking commissioners by surprise as Coffey had muscled through a lease amendment rather than prepared the political grounds to make the amendment more palatable to the public–and to commissioners. It was only Monday that Coffey, at commissioners’ urging, held an extensive workshop with commissioners on Captain’s BBQ. The workshop detailed options that, had they been presented months ago, would likely have largely neutralized opposition and prevented the beating that Captain’s BBQ’s reputation took along the way.

And there appears to be further issues in waiting, such as accounting problems with the county’s ambulance billing system, administered in part by the Tax Collector’s Office.

The accumulation of the past year’s problems made the commission look as if it was no longer in control of its administrator. It cost the election for one of those commissioners, Nate McLaughlin, an ardent supporter of Coffey, who was replaced by Joe Mullins. Mullins campaigned on a promise to fire Coffey. But the commission’s most vocal Coffey sycophant, Greg Hansen, was re-elected, facing weak opposition. Hansen has maintained his support of Coffey. “Despite everything that’s been said, I have not seen cause to terminate Mr. Coffey,” he said at a December meeting.

How Craig Coffey Defended Himself Agaisnt a Firing Attempt in 2010

The county commission in November 2007 selected Coffey as its administrator, replacing Doug Wright, who had resigned. But it was a divided vote: 3-2. Coffey was the DeSoto County administrator at the time. Then-Commissioner Milissa Holland, the current Palm Coast mayor, and fellow-commissioner Jim Darby tried to convince three other commissioners to pick Michael Wright, an assistant city manager in Tallahassee, instead. Holland never took to Coffey, tried to fire him in 2010, and last month was instrumental in meetings with local public sector unions that led to three unions’ no-confidence votes in Coffey. Those votes added to mounting pressure on the county commission to fire Coffey.

Coffey for his part issued various defenses of his management, sending an 8-page, single-spaced letter to commissioners on Dec. 20, posting his Dec. 28 appearance on WNZF radio on the county’s website (government executives at all levels–federal, state and local–routinely use their agency websites for PR), and soldiering on at workshops and meetings with county business. His method hasn’t changed: as in 2010, when he countered Holland’s attempt to fire him with a public statement, he acknowledges issues (if stopping just short of acknowledging missteps) then presents his own narrative of events that turns controversy into misunderstanding, and his own disputed actions as misperceptions. But the line between self-justifying explanations and condescending judgments of those who criticize him occasionally blurs.

craig coffey flagler administrator

(© FlaglerLive)

24 Responses for “Flagler Administrator Craig Coffey Offers to Resign; Special Meeting Set for Wednesday”

  1. Aboutime says:

    He doesn’t deserve a penny. – Fire his ass!

  2. can't believe it says:

    Don’t let the door hit him in the ass on his way out. Should have been done long ago. He has made fools of the commissioners, some of which have not been doing their jobs. Maybe now we can get back on track. Hadeed should be next, as he demonstrated his fear mongering support of Coffey, of lawsuits rather than having a true workshop Monday, which should have allowed information from all to be heard. Thank you Joe Mullins and Donald O’Brien for having the integrity and guts, to clean up our county government and trying to do what is right for the taxpayers.

  3. Concerned Citizen says:

    If the BOCC accepts a resignation with severance and health benefits then they are no better than Coffey.

    Coffey has repeatedly had poor performance and has landed the county in several tight spots. All avoidable if he had been HONEST.

    There doesn’t need to be any saving face. The BOCC should terminate Coffey with cause for not doing his JOB.

    If anyone of us had the performance issues and discussions as a county employee under Coffey we would have been gone long ago.

    Flagler BOCC please do the right thing for once. Terminate Coffey with cause and deny severance and benefits

    Take into consideration the Captains BBQ issue, The Sheriffs Office Operations Center and most importantly the numerous sick employees. They need that money more than Coffey does.

  4. Lou says:

    The length of employment contract for “Managers” should be no longer than for for elected officials.
    Better yet, get rid of this real bad Southern type system.
    What is the history behind this system.
    Does anybody know? Or willing to share that information?

  5. Agkistrodon says:

    Well, BYE! Now he should be Prosecuted,along with his partners in crime. But I’d be willing to bet the State has already begun that.

  6. Justbenice says:

    Twenty weeks severance and health benefits?? What a nice long vacation.

  7. Shane says:

    Sally Sherman should not be allowed to be interim manager. She should be shown the door right with Coffey. She knew exactly what she was doing and is now double dipping being paid a retirement as well as a salary from the same job she left. So she disagreed with Coffey on this budget, she didn’t disagree with taking taxpayer money to gain a higher salary and with being the interim, she will get another raise as well? I don’t think so.
    Hey Craig, you put people’s lives at risk. Would you of moved your office e in there? You should get nothing. Don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya!

  8. Robjr says:

    Or get pushed.

  9. Donnie riddle says:

    Happy trails to you, until we don’t meet again!

  10. Just Gotta Say Something says:

    Dear Craig- how does it feel to have people tear your reputation to shreds? It has happened to many good people at the hands of Flagler County and you did nothing to stop it, so I apologize if I can’t feel too bad for you. Take your buddy Sally and move on.

  11. Concerned Citizen says:

    If the BOCC let’s Coffey go with severance I’m wondering the following.

    The Unions got together an voted No Confidence on Coffey. I’m wondering if the Unions can do it on the Commissioners who help Coffey with an easy out?

    The BOCC needs to remember that they are partly responsible for the mess this administrator and county are in.

    Lastly there seems to be a consensus that Coffey needs to be investigated for criminal wrong doing. If that’s so the BOCC needs to make sure that they don’t slip a no prosecute clause in when he goes.

    BOCC we are watching very closely on how you handle Coffey Gate.

  12. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Not one dime. A release for personal liability and immunity from criminal prosecution should be more than enough !
    Not a damn dime. Traitors don’t deserve monetarycompensation. I am sure ( no proof just a birdie whontold me) he has stashed a bundle ….

  13. DoubleGator says:

    The politics of a banana republic in full view…. more breaking news ranking tomorrow?

  14. Charlie says:

    The RATS are leaving the sinking ship !

  15. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Faith Al-Katib has saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars and is worth her weight in gold besides her qualifications as an engineer. FDOT officials love her. She gets blamed for Coffey’s deals – not fair – remember he was the top boss and has ( soon to be ‘had’) power to fire anyone – including Heidi Petito as well as Faith, Adam Mengel and anyone who didn’t do as he said… Sally shame on her – if she works free for one year then she can stay – otherwise she needs to go together with Coffey.

  16. Layla says:

    Tell me. please….how do you know you have the votes to remove Mr. Coffey. WHO has violated the Sunshine Laws? Do we need to subpoena you to find out? Seems to me that might be in order.

  17. Percy's mother says:

    Sally Sherman should also tender her resignation without any stipulation for severance. In other words, JUST GO.

    The county manager and Sally Sherman resigning should be a package deal. No one wants Sally Sherman to continue with her present employment for Flagler County.

    We don’t want her working for Flagler County government any longer than the present county manager.

  18. Rich says:

    Say goodbye to him and Sally Sherman too. We don’t need the fox guarding the hen house.

  19. woody says:

    staley next

  20. David S says:

    Get rid of this idiot. Flagler Co the laughing stock of Fla…..

  21. Let him go—-this is a stunt yo stay in position!! says:

    The rats are jumping ship!!! Sherman is incompetent. Mayer is entangled and sees the shot is going to hit the fan. Coffey can’t survive without them. He told staff he was resigning but never submitted a letter of resignation. This is all more manipulation by Coffey to make the BOCC think the county can’t survive with Out himself, Sherman and Mayer. Bottom line is—the county and tax payers are better off without all of them. In fact, Hadeed, Petito, Dixon and others need to go with them!!! Mayer has never done much of anything and has been getting big retirement and more than $100k a year! Sherman probably can’t do the job, never is seen doing much of anything and all Coffey could say in the Radio about her was how she’s out and about in the community. For what she’s being paid we are getting screwed. She’s as shady as Coffey to have schemed the come back plan with Coffey. Why is the local news not reporting any of this???

  22. Right says:

    @ Woody, I concur.

  23. Tom says:

    I say be gone and be done with him. As far as Health benefits, he is no better than anyone else who loses a job and his heath benefits. NO, Absolutely not to Health benefits. All he has done is schmooze the east side and has forgot there is a west side of Flagler County. That is to say the least.

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