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Resignations of Key Loyalists Give Administrator Coffey ‘Pause’ About His Plan to Resign

| January 9, 2019

Craig Coffey, center, blames newly elected Commissioner Joe Mullins, right, for a climate of attacks that's leading to his offer to resign. (© FlaglerLive)

Craig Coffey, center, blames newly elected Commissioner Joe Mullins, right, for a climate of attacks that’s leading to his offer to resign. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 11:33 a.m.

Soon after Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey told his executive staff Tuesday afternoon that he was resigning, his deputy, Sally Sherman, tendered her resignation, as did Joe Mayer, director of human resources, effective Jan. 31.

Sherman’s resignation was not a surprise: she is closely allied–and identified–with Coffey, who said he doubted she would stay on much longer once he’d leave anyway. But he said he was not expecting it to be so swift. He said she was resigning because she feared that without Coffey there, she would be more vulnerable to attacks from commissioners.

“Once one target is gone, new targets will emerge, and there’s a lot of fear in the approach taking the organization by commissioners against staff,” Coffey said by phone this morning.

Mayer has also long been close to Coffey (it was Mayer who led the campaign to give Coffey a big raise a few years ago), but he’s been wanting to retire, and the timing of Coffey’s resignation only triggered that desire again.

The resignation appeared to throw a wrench in Coffey’s plan to work out an orderly exit for himself with county commissioners, a plan he was presenting and discussing with the commission at a special meeting scheduled for 5:30 this evening. At least that’s how Coffey presented it to reporters and the commission this morning: The resignations may give commissioners who want to keep him on an opening to press their case and stave off Coffey’s departure. By the same token, the effect of the resignations allow Coffey to imply a road-map against his departure. He made that explicit.

Audio: Coffey’s Full 45-mn. Phone Conference With Reporters

“These resignations and the continued attacks by Commissioner Mullins give me pause,” Coffey wrote commissioners in a 9 a.m. email today, referring to Joe Mullins, his harshest critic, “as without these other key individuals to transition the County government many problems may arise. This presents a new dilemma for you as Commissioners and the professional responsibility I feel as your Administrator. More for consideration tonight as you contemplate these issues.”

He continued: “Today the attacks by Commissioners Mullins continue on Facebook as he has encouraged everyone to show up in Tshirts tonight. That coupled with his recent radio show this weekend it appears he is in pursuit of a course of personal destruction. I believe this issue is weighing heavily in these personal decisions by these key individuals and others.”

There is no doubt that Coffey is very much still in the game, or at least working hard to shape the issue his way. The email went out to commissioners just as he began speaking by phone with several local reporters, a conference arranged the previous evening so he could address all questions wholesale–and control the message as much as possible. In a wide-ranging, 45-minute conference, Coffey spoke as if perched on a having-it-both-ways wishbone: on one hand he spoke as if the resignation was all but formalized. On the other, he qualified his proposal as a plan, if not an opportunity, for the commission to protect the county’s reputation, and of course his own.

“I don’t think anything [sic.]–plans to resign, but I’d rather present it on a positive terms for the county, for my staff and for myself and my family,” he said. “If there is a separation, I’d rather it occur in a positive manner for everybody involved.” He added: “If the commissioners decide this is not the course they want, I’ll have to rethink whether I’ll step down. This is an amendment to the contract to allow me to resign, if that’s the majority of the board. It’s not my resignation, it’s not a settlement agreement or anything like that.”

While he repeatedly spoke of wanting a professional and civil transition, he also left no doubt that he was leaving because of “attacks” from two commissioners (Mullins and O’Brien) and disparagement he said was fomented by a “the negative minority that comes at you.” He was unwilling to acknowledge broader dissatisfaction, or connect his departure to the controversy over the Sheriff’s Operations Center.

“I’m not being forced to do this and I’m not sure it’s a sick building, we still have more testing to do. I think the jury is still out,” he said. “I’m under personal attack by a couple of commissioners so I’m putting forth a proposal for consideration by the entire board on how they would like the transition to occur or if they would even like that transition to occur. We have three other commissioners–I think the majority of the board do not want me to go anywhere, but they understand the dogma [sic.] and the type of personal attacks that they may experience in the future too.”

Coffey confirmed that his intention was to present a contract amendment that would allow him to resign and keep his health benefits for 20 weeks, along with 20 weeks’ severance pay. He had initially proposed to commissioners to have a two to six month transition window, remaining here for a guaranteed two months and leaving the next four dependent on his ability to find his next job. But he said Mullins and O’Brien are looking for an immediate exit.

Commissioner Dave Sullivan, however, has been willing to go with a longer transition, and Commissioners Charlie Ericksen and Greg Hansen have been opposed to firing Coffey. So Sullivan may yet again prove to be the swing and deciding vote on the matter. (Coffey appeared alongside Hansen at a town hall Tuesday evening, where Coffey said he felt “re-energized.”)

The contract amendment drafted in the last two days and made public this morning reads like a resignation letter designed for a separation effective Friday: Coffey “may resign at any time by sending a letter indicating such resignation to the Chair of the Board of Commissioners prior to midnight on January 11th, 2019. Upon resignation, the COUNTY agrees to pay/provide the same exact severance and all other benefits provided under Section 2. E. (ii). Lump sum severance amounts due shall be paid to EMPLOYEE no later than January 18, 2019. EMPLOYEE agrees to make himself reasonably available to answer questions from COUNTY staff now or in the future for a minimum of 60 days following any resignation to assist with any transition.” (See Coffey’s fuller contract here.)

Though on the verge of being emotional at times, Coffey came across in today’s conference with reporters still battling for his name and legacy but more hopeful than certain of this evening’s outcome, and still as defensive as he often has been over the past 11 years when faced with criticism or the possibility of a showdown: in emails and in today’s conference, he referred to the likelihood that his detractors were going to show up wearing t-shirts pressing for his firing. He said he respected free speech, but his recurring references to the opposition showed it was leaving its marks, referring at one point to social media’s “mountain of malicious chatter.”

But it was also clear that he was leaving wide open the possibility–the hope–that he could yet survive this evening’s meeting: though he was critical of commissioners and others going to the media with controversial issues such as the Operations Center, he was doing no less today regarding his own survival. On the other hand, Coffey has always made himself available to local media no matter the issue or controversy, and today’s conference could just as fairly be seen in the same light.

During the interview Coffey revealed that there’d been suggestions that Dick Kelton, the former and famously irascible Palm Coast City manager, has been discussed as a possible interim manager. Coffey said he would not recommend Kelton, but had no other suggestions from within his ranks, now that the names he might have suggested have written resignation letters. (An official familiar with Kelton’s Range Rider program, the statewide coalition of former managers and administrators who pinch-hit for local governments in need, said Kelton is almost fully retired and would not offer his services in that capacity.)

When a reporter asked him how he could repair relationships with commissioners and the public even if the commission opted to keep him on, he said he would remain the “consummate professional” even if he could not win certain people back. He said his relationship with both commissioners who oppose him has been professional. “I will stand my ground when I need to, and I’m not afraid of challenging a commissioner, even though they’re my supervisors, just as I ask my staff to challenge me when I’m not right,” Coffey said. And in the same breath, he continued: “If you have a situation where it’s a constant barrage of personal attacks, not always based on factual information, I think that’s going to be destructive if that trend and that process continues forward, regardless of me or anyone else, because I could see it continuing to happen over issues and agendas regardless of Craig Coffey. But repairing it, I will do my best to always be the consummate professional.” But, he said, “I will not take abuse, and I will stand up for myself and I will correct facts and lies wherever I see them, if that’s the case, if that’s the decision of the board.”

25 Responses for “Resignations of Key Loyalists Give Administrator Coffey ‘Pause’ About His Plan to Resign”

  1. Dave Preat says:

    Wow another Jim Landon scenario dictating how he’s going to leave. It’s long past due that Coffey needs to go, Sally as well. Joe is a surprise. Manger’s/Administrator’s don’t care about the workers when they fire them or there families, with regard’s of Health Insurance, Jobs, and such. Time to drain the Flagler County swamp. Either way this will cost the taxpayers, FIRE THE SOB, and move on.

  2. john dolan esq. says:

    Bon Voyage Coffee, Mayer and friend and good riddance.

  3. Laurie says:

    Good bye to Craig, Sally and Joe. You won’t be missed. You ARE replaceable!!

  4. Keep Flagler Beautiful says:

    And as usual, none of what’s going on has anything to do with what would be best for the taxpayers who are footing the bill for lavish six-figure salaries and massively overfunded retirements. It’s all about how to strategize what would be most lucrative for the little cabal. Keep on scratching each other’s backs. We know what you’re doing, now. The sucker taxpayers are watching.

  5. Ben Hogarth says:

    Craig – While I am always thankful for the “opportunity” I was given to serve Flagler County 4 years ago, I have to call “foul” on the entirety of this discussion and your comments to the media and public at large.

    As a public administrator, you have a dual obligation to the County Commission and to the people of Flagler County – yet time after time, you refused to listen to reason and served political interests of specific commissioners during specific moments in order to prolong your tenure. The best interests of the people have NOT been served by your priorities and policy decisions. This is not to say that you have only done wrong by the public, but serving yourself always first is neither the mark of leadership, nor of an ethical manager. I was personally relieved to leave the County because of my hostile work environment experiences with your Deputy Administrator and even at times, with you. We could agree to disagree, but when it is a question of ethics and law – that is not something that can be reconciled.

    It was extremely disappointing to see other senior staff to either be forced out of their positions, or reserve themselves to complicity because they did not want to experience retaliation for disagreement with your decisions. Kevin Guthrie, I believe, was one of the best examples of this. Kevin is among one of the most ethical, competent, and honest professionals I have ever worked with and simply because he challenged your questionable decisions – you pushed him out. I suppose there can only ever be one “Commander,” but I’ve never known a leader who feared another’s qualities. It is no coincidence that Kevin and I left Flagler County the exact same time – our departure was but a momentary symptom of a destructive and toxic culture that your administration created over many years.

    On a professional level Craig, I will always be appreciative of the (albeit, short-lived) opportunity you gave me to work in administration and work on a few special projects including legislation. However, when the greater discussion of leadership is brought up – there is nothing I can say to qualify you (or your deputy) as such. Leaders do NOT throw their team members under the proverbial “bus” in order to make themselves look better. Leaders do NOT surround themselves with sycophants. Leaders do NOT blame shift when the onus of blame clearly rests on their shoulders. You may be a public administrator, but you have never emulated the qualities that I believe most leaders would qualify as “leadership material.”

    With all this said, I have to focus my comments to the concept of “personal (character) attacks” against you – stop playing victim. All too often in our society, we have suspects playing the role of victim, and then suspecting the actual victim(s). Comparing yourself and your situation to Tom Brady was more than laughable – it was actually sad. Tom doesn’t place blame on his teammates when he loses – he owns every defeat as a team. The public isn’t attacking you simply because of your length of tenure – it’s your own comments and actions that have sparked this recourse.

    You have failed the public and now cost the County millions of dollars with your poor decisions with the Sheriff’s Operation Center. This is but one of many “great blunders.” You still refuse to admit wrong-doing and completely disregard the health and welfare of those employees directly impacted. This is NOT a personal attack – the public is simply finally holding you accountable for your decisions and poor decisions. How you “take” those comments is entirely on you.

    And separating ourselves from all these issues, you spend the majority of the time focusing on your future and where you will “land.” No offense Craig – but nobody is trying to destroy your life or hurt your family or future job prospects. Flagler County should have moved on long ago and changed its course. You should be thankful that you have had as much time as you have been granted, sitting in your comfortable chair. While I personally don’t believe you have earned your severance, the best thing the Commission could do is immediately separate itself with you in the most amicable way. If that means paying you for 20 weeks as a consolidation, so be it. Keeping you on staff any longer, however, is NOT amicable for the people of Flagler County.

    Your decision to allow Sally Sherman to disregard State law and violate professional ethics by holding her position for 6 months was indicative of a long series of transgressions throughout both of your tenures. And those of us who moved on to “greener pastures” have long awaited the public and elected officials actually hold you to account. I don’t like to think of myself as a “casualty” along the way – but there is something to be said about all of the ethical professionals who either resigned or reserved themselves to remaining silent for years and years.

    To the Commissioners – who are now hanging on to every word the public says – I highly recommend immediately moving forward with establishing an interim manager and either accepting the Administrators resignation or terminating with cause. And the interim simply cannot be someone who is “on the inside.” Sycophants do not make good leaders – regardless of best transitional management practices. You may hear spin from Mr. Coffey that giving him more time to find another job and create a transition plan is the best available outcome – but it is not. Flagler County is experiencing an acute trauma with his tenure and the most productive and constructive approach would be to immediately terminate that relationship – one way or another.

    Commissioners, if you need consultants or advisers for a transitional period – I much like Kevin Guthrie and I am sure several other former employees, would absolutely volunteer our time to see the best possible outcome for the County. We may no longer be personally invested in County administration, we still have the best interests of the public in our professional hearts. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like to know more. FlaglerLive has my contact information.

    But once again Craig, stop playing victim. No one is trying to destroy your life. This is the form that accountability manifest itself when a tyrant refuses to concede. It’s unfortunately highly toxic and every day you remain in power, is another day the public and Flagler County Commission is put through turmoil.

    The best thing you could do is resign effective immediately, and allow the Commission to work with their constituents in identifying a way forward. The one humbling aspect of our profession is knowing that when we leave any position, the world carries on without us. I believe that is one truth you simply refuse to accept.

    It’s time to move on.

  6. can't believe it says:

    Coffey alone, is responsible for his conduct and performance which led us to this point. These other people resigning have nothing to do with it. They are his subordinates and followed his lead. Let them go, let him go and move on. He has cost The County untold amounts of money, and who knows what will be revealed when they are all gone. He has manipulated The Commissioners and made them look like puppets. It’s time for them to step up, earn back the respect of the taxpayers and voters.

  7. Notapolitician says:

    This seems to be gang bullying resignations until they get a puppet in place. The good that these people have done for our growing county is being overlooked by disagreements on a few issues. Coffey should stay as the politicians have motives for the move that we are missing.

  8. Agkistrodon says:

    Must be Worried Their secrets will get out…….

  9. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    I will use my precious 3 minutes this evening to tell the world what this man cost us personally with his lies and greed and unethical, illegal (my opinion) dealings and actions.

  10. tulip says:

    What a political sob story game this is. Hansen doesn’t want Coffey out because now there wouldn’t be a
    big boy” to “clique with”, and Erickson just goes along with the way the wind blows. Mr Sullivan wants to be in good favor with whomever has the most clout. Mr O’Brien has a mind of his own and stands by his opinion while Mr Mullins seems to be a go getter, researches issues and also forms his own thought out opinions. As a newcomer to the Board though, his performance and attitude will need to be watched for awhile.

    The worrisome thing is that Coffey will win this Hail Mary plot and nothing will change and the beat goes on.

  11. Lnzc says:

    Ben got it right
    Fire him no severance pay

  12. DoubleGator says:

    Mullins has successfully created a mess for the county and in only a few weeks.

  13. Just Gotta Say Something says:

    Thank you for sharing the County Administrators contract. Take a look at section 5-hours of work. Please notice it stated employee will often devote a great deal of time outside normal business hours …Nothing herein shall be construed to require the payment to employee of overtime or compensatory time. Anyone want to guess how much overtime pay he got paid for the hurricanes he guided the county through? Oh and Sally and Al and all of the other “Senior Management” staff too…

  14. palmcoaster says:

    Bings Landing Capt BBq looks just like the cherry topping the this county cake.
    Some others are jumping ship as well. Maybe further investigations should ensue regarding miss used hard earned tax payers funds paying high tkt Tallahassee former ethic commission member lawyer Herron to cover up and defend wrong doing and against constitutional officials and residents anti corruption watch dogs.

  15. Kathy says:

    How you do something is as important as what you’re doing. I couldn’t be more disgusted by the behaviors of our Sheriff, 2 Commissioners & Unions. Separate from the issues (as I support them with regard to issues) I can’t believe the behaviors of our FCSO and those who signed their names backing the behavior…again…issues aside.

    Class is something we can’t expect in Flagler County. We should start all new in all positions, maybe.

  16. Nothing new says:

    This is what employees and past employees have dealt with for years. So many professionals have moved on from these three. Hundreds of years of experience have been tossed out by these three. They do not care or appreciate good employees…never have. Past employees are driving to other counties. It’s about time the administration gets cleaned up.

  17. atilla says:

    The swamp is draining.. It’s about time. They don’t need any severance or benefits after all they screwed the county out of.

  18. Sameoldsameold says:

    None of the three seem interested in residents. Haven’t had responses or got run around from these and others. Who is listening to others and who’s scratching who’s back? Didn’t Joe get a promotion several years ago from Craig that put him in a much better place for retirement? And what organization is structured so the person who should hear confidential complaints is placed in charge of a large unrelated group of employees? And Sally – that story is out. Don’t prolong the mess.

  19. Concerned Citizen says:

    While I whole hardheartedly agree that it is time for a much needed house cleaning and change in our County leadership this is turning into a circus.

    County officials really need to stop using Facebook as a means to achieve their goals. I have seen numerous posts by Joe Mullins against Coffey. Its starting to become unflattering.

    You never ever use social media to solve problems. It will almost always come back to bite you in the end.

    If I’m not mistaken the County has it’s employees sign usage forms in regards to social media. This should apply to the BOCC as well

  20. susquach says:

    Ben Hogart, very well written. Did Coffey, Sherman and Joe Meyer hatch this plan in order for Coffey to get a sweeter deal. Dismiss all three tonight, they have screwed the taxpayers long enough. Who knows what will transpire between tonight and their leaving.Get rid of them before anything else can be covered up. Commissioner Erickson and Sullivan, your terms will be up soon and the taxpayers will remember this. Hansen will always be a yes man and will not be whats best for the taxpayers, but what is best for himself, a certified member the Coffey Club.

  21. Gary Hiatt says:

    Mr. Hogarth

    Thank you for your comments. I too was an employee of Flagler County for about 10 years. I was the previous Building Official and warned Mr. Coffey of concerns that I had during the purchase of the old hospital. I was told “you are just covering your ass” by Mr. Coffey. Some of the concerns expressed were mold, potential radiation, asbestos and lead. During my tenure, Ms. Sherman was constantly interfering with and questioning code interpretations for various projects. One of which was the airport hanger project. I also was subjected to hostile work environment issues from Ms. Sherman, allowed by Mr. Coffey. At the time of my departure, I informed Joe Mayer that the final reason I was leaving was Ms. Sherman and her actions. Soon after I left, 6 other employees from the Growth Management Department also left due to the same work environment issues. Some of which were long term employees.

    Other employees received raises periodically outside of the normal raises because Mr. Coffey and Ms. Sherman deemed them essential. The rest of us were not essential or at least not liked and did not receive the same considerations. You can check with the Clerk of the Court (payroll) for the personal action forms. These raises have a long term affect due to the additional retirement and insurance costs. Talk about tax payer abuses.

    Ms. Sherman also stopped code enforcement actions at Holiday Travel park, aiding and abetting unlicensed contractor activity and furthering the unpermitted work that was ongoing. There was months of research, meetings and activity wasted due to her interference with resolving the issues. This interference did not take into consideration the health, safety and welfare of not only the occupants to the structures within Holiday Travel Park but any surrounding properties that may be harmed by issues from this site such as wind borne debris and fire.

    I could go on, however I think my point has been made.

    Thank you

  22. Palmcoaster says:

    @ Kati a circus is what we need to put up in this county and city meetings attending to ask/almost begging in 3 minutes only, for something we or them need done and then hear their denials based in lies and hidden agenda’s. We the taxpayers while seating for hours in “their” meeting having to endure often their useless blabber geared only to accent their personal grandiosity and with their goal in mind for higher taxes to be levied for one more nonsense waste. But all, sooner or later comes to an end (like maybe today) as in my long life of civic involvement I have seeing one after the other whether elected official or their administrator fall in disgrace and out the door for not being receptive to the constituents request. But the problem is that while they are in the position of power we elected them for, they become insensitive, omnipotent and narcissism rules taking advantage of the very few affected residents attending those meetings.They forget that we elect them to represent us …but sure we won’t forget. I remember when I respectfully asked few months ago (while enduring several hours of meeting) to our FCBOCC to ask Manager Coffey not to rehire his assistant Sally Sherman at more than double her original pay….at that time my plea was denied. Well looks like my denied plea finally worked.

  23. Deb says:

    @Concerned Citizen. I agree using social media like Facebook to air issues of a county administration, is pretty low rent, pretty much a cowards way of stabbing you in the back. While I agree with Coffey’s resignation, still, using social media is pretty much Trump move, and one learns to distrust those types of outburst. Commissioner Mullins had better do his freaking job by the book cause he will be watched by the voters.

  24. Flagler County Citizen says:

    Is this the best move, though? It feels a little like re-inventing the wheel rather than solving the problem and fixing it. Commissioners could be more proactive and vocal when the information isn’t or wasn’t available for a decision. I just wonder if changing course is always the best answer. Pieces are going to fall here, and it’s not going to be easy to expect how they fall.

    It takes a little elbow grease to get in and solve a problem. Far easier to just put the ax to something then to repair it, I suppose, though the former has unintended consequences.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Mullin stop using social media to write about what you disagree with. Do you have to follow Trump, with his immature tweets.

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