On a day when the Volusia County Council voted to turn interim manager and long-time employee George Recktenwald into its permanent manager, similar winds appeared to be blowing over Palm Coast City Hall as Beau Falgout, a long-time employee and the interim manager since summer, emerged as the clear favorite to be the city’s third manager.
Falgout was the only candidate out of 54 applicants to get top scores from all four city council members drawing up a shortlist of candidates to be interviewed in March. (Council member Jack Howell, who is ill, was absent today.) He is one of 16 short-listed candidates, with several steps yet to go.
Two other candidates came close, garnering three top scores each: Jeffrey Oris of Coconut Creek, Fla., previously an economic development director in Miami, and before that the owner and operator of a planning consultancy. Last week he was interviewed for the city manager’s position in Dade City. Oris got top scores from council members Eddie Branquinho, Bob Cuff and Nick Klufas. Mayor Milissa Holland short-listed him too, but with a 2 instead of a 1. (lowest scores on a scale of 1 to 3 meant highest preference. See the four council members’ scoresheets here.)
Miami’s Ricardo Mendez also got three top scores, but Cuff scored him a 3. He was the chief financial officer in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2012 and 2013 (he does not list more recent employment in government), and previously briefly worked for the Seminole Tribe as chief administrative officer and for the Palm Beach County school district as director of program management.
The council chose about a dozen other candidates for its shortlist over the course of a three-hour special meeting today (not including breaks).
The council is searching for a manager to replace Jim Landon, whom it fired last summer after an 11-year tenure. Falgout was the deputy manager at the time. The council hired Texas-based Strategic Government Resources to conduct the search, with Doug Thomas, a former city manager in Lakeland, leading the search. The position was advertised over the holidays, which may have limited the response of initially 60-odd applicants. Several dropped out after sending in their applications. Thomas weeded out a few more.
He then presented their applications in brief sketches, one by one, occasionally eliciting reactions from council members, as two local applicants did. One is Douglas Bentley, a Hammock resident and former deputy district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a career Army officer. Council members liked his resume. They did not like his condition: he does not plan to move out of the Hammock. The Palm Coast charter requires a city manager to live in the city limits.
“The residency thing was very clear to me. I don’t know how we overcome that,” Holland said. “That to me is a non-starter.” Bentley is also applying to be the interim county administrator, where his residency in the Hammock would not be an issue.
(Holland herself has been the subject of social-media chatter alleging she’s not been living in the city, but in the Hammock. In fact, she’d been living at her Grand Haven residence until she moved to Tidelands–where she is a neighbor of Rep. Paul Renner’s–but had spent time at the home of Sara and Tim Hale, owners of Coastal Cloud, where Holland works, when the Hales were helping to care for Holland’s daughter, who’s been contending with serious health challenges. Holland referred to social media chatter implying otherwise as “disgusting.”)
A second candidate who elicited some discussion was Jim Manfre, the former Flagler County Sheriff. Holland said Manfre would not likely be a good fit. “We all are very aware of the fact that he does not have a very good working relationship with our current sheriff,” Holland said. “So when you made the decision to short-list them, it was based on?” Holland asked Thomas, referring to both Manfre and Bentley.
“What I’m looking at is skill set solely, about whether or not he has the skill to potentially be in this role, and based on running a sheriff’s department and that background, I think he does,” Thomas said. “Nothing in his background that I’m aware of, anything that I’ve seen in my search effort to date, that prevents him from being a qualified candidate. Ultimately it’s the commission’s decision whether you think he’s the best candidate relative to the other candidates.”
Bentley was eliminated. Only Branquinho gave Manfre a 2. The others gave him a disqualifying 3.
Once the council members individually ranked the candidates, 14 received rankings that short-listed them: Beau Falgout, Brent Moran, Claire Collins, David Strahl, Greg Young, Jim Drumm, Jeff Eder, Jeff Oris, Ken Kelly, Matt Morton, Mike McNees, Ricardo Mendez, Robin Hayes, and Sean Ratican. Charles Brown and Donald Kewley got a score of 1 from just Klufas, but on his and other council members’ request, they were short-listed as well.
That doesn’t mean they’ll survive the shortlist past a background check and other steps–“assignments,” Thomas called them–the candidates themselves have to go through: that includes a 20 to 25-question questionnaire, with questions particular about Palm Coast, pre-recorded taped interviews of the candidates, and media background searches through five years of articles about the candidates. That will be turned into a candidate briefing book for the council members, who’ll have a week to 10 days to go through the material.
If candidates themselves don’t self-select out of the process, the council members will narrow the field to those who will be invited for extensive in-person interviews. A proposed introduction breakfast was eliminated out of fear that it would compromise transparency.
The council again discussed whether to have one-on-one interviews with the candidates as part of the process, or to interview them all only in the open. Thomas proposed enabling one-on-one interviews on the first of two days of interviews.
“I am an advocate of transparency and having one-on-one council sessions,” Holland said. “If they’re not open to the public, or that type of setting, I’m not a fan of, because I want to hear as much input on how the questions are coming out of our council to these candidates.”
Cuff said that realistically, one-on-one interaction “is the nature of the job” to see how the candidates react in that setting. “They’ve got to be able to deal with us one-on-one,” he said. ‘That’s a huge part of their job and it’s a huge part of our job.” He was looking for 15 to 30-minute one-on-one interviews in addition to the more open process.
Holland conceded the point and agreed to go along with one-on-one interviews. But she said she would do what she had done in previous such situations: she’d keep her door open and welcome media looking to attend her segments of the interviews. Cuff, not wanting to look like he was hiding something if he did not invite the media, said an open door would defeat the purpose of one-on-one.
Holland said she wants to set the tone with the next city manager to understand that “this is a very public process, this is what they’re signing up for, it may be uncomfortable at times,” she said, without objecting to the sessions as long as they’re conducted the way each council member wants to conduct them.
There will also be a public meet-and-greet with the candidates. Those steps will take place likely in March, possibly in late February: dates are still being worked on.