Craig Coffey was gone, drama was gone, the audience was gone when the Flagler County Commission met in special session this morning to figure out who would be its interim administrator, and who would be its interim-interim while it searches for an interim.
Normally, its interim would be Sally Sherman, the deputy county administrator. But Sherman tendered her resignation, effective Jan. 31, last week, at the same time that Coffey, the county administrator, announced he would resign. Joe Mayer, the human resources director, is also leaving on Jan. 31. That eliminated Sherman as an interim possibility.
But the county is required to have an administrative executive regardless. Coffey appears to have taken care of that in his last act as administrator: he designated Sherman as having all his powers, without designating her interim manager. The commission this morning ratified the decision. It didn’t have much choice: only two people left in the administration, Sherman and Lori Bailey Brown, who heads the finance department, have the authority to sign official financial documents.
The commission also asked Sherman to start soliciting organizations such as the Range Riders and the Florida Association of Counties for an interim manager who could serve for several months until the commission chooses a permanent replacement for Coffey. The Range Riders is an association of retired county and city managers who are the equivalent of AAA, bailing out local governments with temporary leadership from their ranks.
Commission Chairman Don O’Brien said he would “coordinate” the search for an interim with fellow commissioners Greg Hansen and Dave Sullivan. “Some of that stuff we can do offline,” O’Brien said, though the commissioners did not make clear how they would do so outside of meetings: by law, they are not allowed to take part in coordinated work that would be part of an eventual decision by the commission, except in open meetings. That includes, for example, the short-listing of batches of resumes outside of a meeting. They have agreed to meet again on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 3 p.m., for an update.
Meanwhile, the commission wants to put out the word: it needs an interim. It is encouraging anyone interested in the position locally to apply through O’Brien, by email ([email protected]).
“We have some volunteers already,” Commissioner Greg Hansen said, but he did not name any. Nor did anyone else.
A couple of commissioners’ speeches aside, today’s half-hour meeting had none of the theatrics of recent commission meetings. The commissioners themselves, as if humbled by recent upheavals, opted not to sit on the dais, but rather around makeshift tables at the foot of the dais in the commission chamber, workshop-style, even though it was a special meeting. Sherman sat with them. The chamber was cavernously empty but for 17 people–six county staffers, four members of the clerk of court’s office, including Clerk of Court Tom Bexley, Sheriff Rick Staly and Chief Mark Strobridge, and five others, including former Sheriff Jim Manfre. Manfre recently applied to be city manager in Palm Coast. He is likely to apply for the interim post at the county.
Toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Charlie Ericksen delivered a brief speech comparing county government’s current path to that of Apollo 13, the manned mission to the moon that went awry and required much ingenuity and improvisation to return its crew of three to earth, safely. “The year is now 2019 and we need another Jim or Jane to step in,” Ericksen said, referring to Jim Lovell, the Apollo crew chief. Ericksen joked that he called Lovell, who is now 90, but “he wasn’t interested.”
The exaggerated comparison aside, Ericksen made two more significant points. One of them was that the commission should convince Sherman and Meyer to stay several more months, through the transition. The other is of broader consequence: he said the commission needs to work with others to “get the sheriff’s ops center concluded and get a new one built.” It was almost a throw-away line at the end of his speech, but it was the first time that Ericksen declared himself against considering re-entering the troubled Sheriff’s Operations Center, joining Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who declared last week that he was opposed to spending any more money on the structure, and wants a new one built.
Commissioners did not comment about Ericksen’s statement, though earlier O’Brien and Commissioner Joe Mullins spoke of the county’s staff as if to reassure staffers that there is no hit list.
“This team that was put in place is impressive,” Mullins said.
“I’m very confident this government will function on a day-to-day basis without a hitch,” O’Brien said.
No members of the public addressed the commission, though the Chamber of Commerce’s president Jorge Guttierez, had drafted a one-page memo to the commission echoing the nine-point outline the chamber had proposed to Palm Coast during its search for a new manager.