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Flagler Commission Narrows Interim Choices to 4, But Questions Remain About Interviews

| February 4, 2019

The five Flagler County commissioners decided on a shortlist of candidates for interim administrator without a staffer at the table. (© FlaglerLive)

The five Flagler County commissioners decided on a shortlist of candidates for interim administrator without a staffer at the table. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Commissioners today narrowed a list of two dozen applicants for interim county administrator to four, whom commissioners will interview on Feb. 18.


The four candidates are Glenn Irby, formerly the Apopka city manager, Ted Lakey, the former Jackson County administrator, Jerry Cameron, a consultant and formerly an assistant St. Johns County administrator for a decade, and Michael Esposito, a special projects coordinator in Flagler County government and one of two internal applicants.

Four commissioners shortlisted Irby and Lakey, three shortlisted Cameron and Esposito. Commissioners decided to call in those who got three or four votes only. (See the full list of applicants and their resumes, and commissioners’ choices, below.)

Commissioners met in special session early this afternoon at the county’s Emergency Operations Center (the venue is not necessarily reflective of the criticality of their meeting: it’s where they almost always meet in workshop, though today there was a sense of urgency) and drew up their shortlist in 15 minutes. The county administration took in applicants through the end of last month. The administration prepared binders of the applicants for each commissioner.

The commissioners studied the applications over the weekend (though Commissioner Charlie Ericksen had to confirm that they were picking an interim candidate only), and got to today’s meeting ready to offer up their choices. There was no discussion about the individual choices, whom commissioners referred to by numbers, not by name, until County Attorney Al Hadeed recommended reading the names into the record.

The commission wants to hire an interim administrator very soon because its former deputy administrator, Sally Sherman, put in her last day last week, announcing her resignation the same day that former administrator Craig Coffey tendered his–the passive-aggressive equivalent of a protest by Coffey’s protege since their days in DeSoto County. Sherman’s decision left the county scrambling for a fill-in and belied previous claims that she only had the county’s best interest at heart.

The result is the commission’s bifurcated urgency to search for both an interim administrator and a permanent administrator.

Sherman’s last act was to prepare a timeline for the commission’s interim hire. Over the next few days, the administration will run background checks on the shortlisted candidates and invite them to interview on Feb. 18.

That morning, commissioners will interview each candidate on a one-on-one basis. The commissioners today did not discuss whether those one-on-one meetings would be open to the public or not. In the past, that’s been left up to elected officials’ discretion: when she was a county commissioner, Milissa Holland insisted on keeping her door open, and in similar round-robin situations (as when the county hired its economic development director eight years ago), the doors to commissioners’ interview rooms were left open for anyone to drop in, fly-on-the-wall style, and observe, as long as no one interfered between the commissioner and the candidate. Holland, now the Palm Coast mayor, is adopting the same approach in her coming interviews with candidates for Palm Coast manager, though at least one of her colleagues there is preferring to hold the interviews with a closed door, to test the candidates’ ability to deal with him.

Interviewed individually about their approach, four of the five county commissioners said they would be fine with an open door, as long as it was legal (it is), and as long as it does not step on other commissioners’ desire to do it differently. The exception was Commissioner Greg Hansen,. Though he was not closed to the idea. “My initial gut reaction would be no, I wouldn’t want that, but I’ll have to think about it,” he said of an open door. Like other commissioners, he said he’d want to check with Hadeed.

“I never have any problem with people seeing me, but I’m not going to agree to anything the other people don’t agree with,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said.

Commissioner Joe Mullins was taking the Holland approach. Commission Chairman Don O’Brien said he preferred the open approach but would check on protocol. “I certainly would opt on the side of having anyone who’d want to sit in on mine, I’d be willing to do that,” O’Brien said. Eriksen said likewise, as long as whoever sat in was not disruptive.

The one-on-one interviews would stretch from 9 a.m. to noon. Sherman’s plan had commissioners meet for lunch, together, with the four candidates and the county’s directors. O’Brien said he wasn’t sure about that approach, saying he’d be more comfortable with a mixer, chamber of commerce style, for the candidates who’ll be short-listed for the permanent position, but not so much for those applying for the interim spot. Palm Coast council members had been presented with a similar option–a breakfast with short-listed candidates and their directors, all together. But they killed the idea on advice of their attorney because of open-meeting implications.

The county’s four candidates would then each appear before the full commission, in open session, for another round of interviews, the afternoon of the 18th. Commissioners are expected to possibly choose an interim later that day.

Commissioners did not discuss whether the questions they would ask would be prepared ahead of time or whether they would all be the same to each candidate, as is sometimes the case on other government panels. The dearth of questions–or discussion–reflects the improvisational nature of an interim search that’s been more improvisational than systematic or clear-eyed had commissioners had a designated point person in the administration to do the job. As it was, it was relying on its purchasing director to shepherd it through the thornier aspects of the search, its human resources director having been in the job only a matter of days: the county’s administrative bench revealed itself to be thinner than Coffey had made it seem, and the voids at the top are much harder to hide or ignore.

Commissioners today also discussed the process for a permanent administrator. They leaned toward hiring an outside head-hunting firm, much as Palm Coast did for its ongoing search. None of the commissioners wanted to feel rushed for the permanent choice. They were willing to pay the cost of a broader search, which would range between $25,000 to $35,000, with the county issuing its own request for proposals (for a search firm), and doing that without undue time pressures.

The meeting drew no comments from the very few people, county staffers aside, who attended the meeting. It was over in half an hour.

Flagler County Applicants for Interim Administrator: Commissioners' Shortlists

ApplicantsCurrent or last jobLocationEricksenHansenSullivanMullinsO'BrienTotal
Holly AlbaneseFlagler County Library DirectorPalm Coast
1
1
Doug Bentley6th Congressional District CoordinatorPalm Coast
1
1
John Bettencourt [withdrew]Self-employed consultantPalm Coast
0
Todd BodemSand City, Calif., administrator (pop. 350)Monterey, Calif.
0
Lyndon BonnerCounty Administrator, Jackson County, for three weeks in March 2018Flagler Beach
1
1
Michael BrillhartPlanning consultantVero Beach, Fla.
1
1
2
Jerry CameronManaging partner, Community Consulting and ManagementSt. Augustine, Fla.
1
1
1
3
Jon CameronRegional Dirtector, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, to 2017Livingston, Texas
1
1
Pamela CataloneAttorney, Beacon Center (Domestic Abuse Council)Palm Coast
0
Mary Anne ConnorsDeputy Volusia County Manager, to Feb. 2016Ormond Beach
1
1
2
Steve DavisCounty Administrator, Effingham County, Ga. (pop. 52,000)Pooler, Ga.
1
1
2
Steve DavisGeneral Manager of a 1,096-unit condo associationCape Coral, Fla.
1
1
Michael EspositoSpecial Projects Coordinator, Flagler County governmentPalm Coast
1
1
1
3
Shawn FletcherAssistant County Administrator, Ford County, Kansas (pop. 34,000)Dodge City, Kansas
0
Brian HallOperations Director, R.E.B.T ConstructionUnion, Ky.
0
Ernest HochCOO, Jarrell Properties, Inc. (real estate development)Fredericksburg, Va.
1
1
2
Glenn IrbyApopka City Administrator (to July 2018) (pop. 52,000) Umatilla, Fla.
1
1
1
1
4
Julian JacksonCity Manager, Peachtree Corners, Ga. (pop. 43,000), to Nov. 2016Fernandina Beach, Fla.
0
Jill Benninghoven Keimach City Manager, Alamida, Calif. (pop. 79,000), to May 2018Truckee, Calif.
1
1
Steven LachnichtInterim Planning Director, PalatkaGainesville, Fla.
1
1
Ted LakeyTaylor County Administrator (pop. 23,000) (to Nov. 2018)Port Saint Joe, Fla.
1
1
1
1
4
Johnny Mobley IISocial Media ManagementPembroke Pines, Fla.
0
Hector RiveraAdjunct faculty member in sociology, at Indian River State CollegePalm City, Fla.
0
Justin StankiewiczNassau County Budget Officer, to 2018Ponte Vedra, Fla.
0
Stefen WynnTown Manager, Albion, Ind. (pop. 2,300)Albion, Ind.
1
1
Note: Click on each name to see the full application package. The chart will be updated as additional candidates apply.
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17 Responses for “Flagler Commission Narrows Interim Choices to 4, But Questions Remain About Interviews”

  1. Flabbergasted says:

    Why would we want another fired administrator ??

    In a split vote, Jackson County Commissioners voted Tuesday night to terminate Administrator Ted Lakey from his position after a dozen years on the job.

    To make the action official, however, the board must reaffirm that decision after a public hearing. It is set for 8 a.m. on Nov. 17.

    Voting on a motion made by Commissioner Eric Hill, the board split 3-2 on the decision. Commissioners Dr. Willie Spires and Chuck Lockey opposed the action, while Commissioners Clint Pate and Chairman Kenny Stephens sided with Hill.

  2. Concerned Citizen says:

    Why waste time hiring an interim?

    You hired an HR manager with a very shady process. Why not save time and money and do the same thing with your County Administrator?

    We all know you’re going to put in who you want anyways.

  3. Confused says:

    I don’t quite understand the county commissioners short list. From what I understand, there were four female applicants as well. Were none of them qualified? How much did Ms. Sherman taint the commissioners decisions? Even the newer commissioners have apparently been toxicated!
    Maybe your short list seems qualified but why aren’t they at their previous positions? If you consider Esposito qualified we definitely need to elect new blood at commissioner election time!!! He does not have the experience to be an Interim Administrator. The good ole’ boy days are still prevalent in Flagler County!!! How very sad.

  4. Flabbergasted says:

    Interim should be independent professional leader without a tarnished past and not seeking path to full- time.

    “In a split vote, Jackson County Commissioners voted Tuesday night to terminate Administrator Ted Lakey from his position after a dozen years on the job.

    To make the action official, however, the board must reaffirm that decision after a public hearing. It is set for 8 a.m. on Nov. 17. ( 2015 )

    Voting on a motion made by Commissioner Eric Hill, the board split 3-2 on the decision. Commissioners Dr. Willie Spires and Chuck Lockey opposed the action, while Commissioners Clint Pate and Chairman Kenny Stephens sided with Hill.

    In his motion, which was seconded by Pate, Hill styled the termination as being “without cause,” as allowed in the memorandum of understanding under which Lakey has worked for the county. He will be entitled to three months’ severance pay if the board ultimately reaffirms the decision.

    The issue was not on the agenda, with the motion made and voted on during the board’s traditional round-table check off that occurs after the agenda is finished to determine whether any commissioner has an additional issue he wants to bring to the table.”

  5. Concerned Flagler Voter says:

    Each candidate should confirm that no bankruptcies, liens or other financial issues exist in their background.

    If they cannot manage their own then they should not be entrusted to manage our finances.

    That confirmation should also apply to any ELECTED official or commission candidate.
    If it did, there might have been different outcomes.

  6. Fiscal says:

    Help me understand why the Commission would interview former police officers, candidates with no education and a current $54,000 per year employee for this job.

    I cannot believe that they were screened and accepted as potential finalists.
    These are the best out there???

  7. DoubleGator says:

    Potential applicants are not ignorant. They will evaluate Flagler County and the circumstances of Coffey’s departure and answer the question “why is this job open?”. To date I see no evidence that top tier talent has an interest in our petty local politics.

  8. Ben Hogarth says:

    Commissioner Sullivan voted for one woman as did Commissioner O’Brien and Commissioner Mullins voted for 2 of the women.

    No surprise here, but neither Commissioner Ericksen nor Commissioner Hansen voted for a single woman.

    I really don’t want to make this a discrimination issue, but if you have 2 Commissioners who refuse to find a single woman qualified, and choose to qualify an internal male candidate who is nowhere close to qualified for the position… there is a serious problem here. I don’t know Mr. Esposito and I can’t speak to his character, but I held the position he holds now and I know what the job does and doesn’t require. If I had worked under Craig Coffey for a couple more years like Mr. Esposito has, I would be nowhere near as qualified as I am to do a similar position as County Administrator. And there were female candidates who applied, who were far more qualified than I am (at least on paper).

    I did not apply. But I will certainly be vocal and express discontent over the fact that the process was tainted by a prior administration. There were at least 2 female candidates who were infinitely more experienced, educated, and credentialed over most of the other candidates, including even one or two of those chosen by the Commission.

    And to narrow down the choice to only 4 was a terrible decision. I strongly urge this Commission to rethink its proceedings otherwise you will have a series of short-stint administrators until the people choose to vote YOU out of office. I have seen it time and again in other counties – don’t make THEIR mistake.

  9. Percy's mother says:

    For “Confused”:

    Why does the male/female issue have to come into play ONCE AGAIN?

    I took a look at the 4 female applicants from a professional point of view. To me, none of the 4 female applicants is qualified for the job.

    Plain and simple issue. So do we always have to break everything down to male/female along with white vs other race these days? Why can’t an applicant be either qualified or not qualified?

  10. Ben Hogarth says:

    Percy’s mother – It’s absolutely asinine to make the statement that none of the female applicants were qualified for the job, particularly when at least one candidate has done a similar job in another county!!! How you can make such a remark is beyond my ability to reason. I’d also love to hear YOUR qualifications in determining who is “qualified” for this position. Have you ever even worked in the public sector, let alone managed a budget or personnel in any? I’d love to hear what you believe qualifies someone to fill this role.

    In any business or public service industry, we call this “business psychology.” This is a field of applied science that analyzes positions and organizational makeup to determine a more effective and efficient management process. From your comments both past and present, I’m inclined to believe you lack the sufficient expertise or even scholarly background to make such determinations. Sure, you are entitled to your opinion, but “qualifying” professionals in an industry of which you have little or no experience is BEYOND asinine. It would be the professional equivalent of putting you on a medical board of directors – I’m sure that would make all of us feel “warm and fuzzy” about future medical care in that (hypothetical) organization.

    Let me give a personal example. I was recently invited to apply to a Village / Town Manager position in the Miami area. About a year ago, I had applied for the position and was not even short-listed because of the lengthy qualifications of some of the managers applying. I admit, I was nowhere near qualified as managers twice my senior. That council hired a highly qualified manager for 5 months before asking that individual to resign without cause (with one full year severance estimated at $120k). And here they are, asking for me to apply again – I have not. They limited their choices to very few candidates, boxed themselves in, and ended up with a product that wasn’t to their liking at the end of the day. If you place such restrictive limits on your choices, you are only doing yourself a disservice. And it puts qualified, honest public servants in a position to no longer feel compelled to commit to the process.

    Once again Commissioners, I pray that you all see reason. Commissioner Sullivan, Mullins, and O’Brien should (for posture and sanity sake) form a permanent voting block if the others can’t be swayed. This is not a game and I don’t think Commissioners see it as one… but I’m sincerely concerned that the wrong people have steered you in the wrong direction.

    In fact, the process by which you are selecting an interim is (essentially) never used for that purpose, but rather in selecting a permanent. Typically, Commissioners immediately identify an interim administrator / manager from within the organization. I’m happy with the fact that the Commission did NOT choose an existing deputy to fill this role – but limiting your choice to 4 qualified and unqualified candidates from inside and outside the organization is a mistake. This is the first time the Commission has committed to this search process in more than a decade. Limiting your choice to so few is indicative of a prior administration who sought to prevent you from providing opportunity to other qualified candidates. If I were the general public, I would be seriously concerned.

    I know you want the best for the County. Many of us who used to work for Flagler wanted this as well. Prior Commissions failed to see this – you (3) succeeded where they failed. Don’t sabotage the progress you’ve made by making another mistake.

    If you have any questions, I’m happy to candidly respond – anytime.

  11. Fiscal says:

    Percy’s Mother
    Gender should not make a difference. Qualifications do!
    The County can also place ads with ICMA for candidates.

    I would also note that being fired as an Administrator is not always an indication of a bad Administrator.

    I have seen many situations where newly elected officials just a change or simply to hire their friends

  12. Concerned Flagler Voter says:

    Ben Hogarth
    I still stand behind the statement that any candidate that would manage taxpayer funds should be responsible to file a statement that there are NO financial issues, ie liens, BANKRUPTCIES, etc in their backgrounds.

    They should NOT be entrusted to oversee spending if they cannot oversee their own…period.
    That should apply to any manager that has to manage any budget matter….

    Understand?

  13. Flagler County Resident says:

    For “Percy’s Mother”

    You are correct it should simply be about qualifications. However, this will only work if there were no names attached to a resume/application and instead a number identified the applicants, forcing the employer to choose candidates based on qualifications alone. Unfortunately, names tend to be gender specific with a few exceptions. Not to mention with social media today even if you were unsure you could look them up on Facebook or LinkedIn. Again, this is not an absolute but if a candidate’s gender were important to you decision process, albeit it is illegal, then you would turn over every stone to find out.

    That being the case there will always be some bias when it comes to a particular gender in roles of authority and power. I think if you will check the Florida Association of Counties Directory for Administration, you will find that an overwhelming majority of people holding the position of County Administrator/Manager are men. I stopped counting at 37 men and 11 women. Our former Deputy County Administrator Sally Sherman also illustrated this exact bias when speaking with the Board referring to this person as he or him. All you have to do is look at our own County for this same bias. The City Manager for Palm Coast, Bunnell and Flagler Beach…men. The Clerk of Court, Sheriff, Property Appraiser…men. So there is no surprise here that the Commission short-listed four men and no women. The proverbial glass ceiling is still intact when it comes to gender equality for pay and title.

    So forgive me if I don’t agree with your assessment of the situation. If you will review all the applications again, I think you will find at least two of the females was not only qualified, but also more qualified than the internal candidate Michael Esposito. He is a “Coordinator” not a Director and supervises no one. Also if you actually read the requirements for the position you would have read that it required the candidate have “progressively responsible local government experience at the executive level of administrator, manager, assistant administrator, or deputy administrator for a county or municipality. Had you stated that you negated the two “qualified” females because of distance or retirement then I could maybe except your theory but based simply on what is stated in your post your theory does not hold water. I would suggest glasses might help you see things more clearly. In the future please qualify your statements with facts and if you make any disparaging remarks about a particular person be prepared to back that up with facts not just political rhetoric.

  14. Ben Hogarth says:

    Concerned Flagler Voter…

    You are going to have to explain yourself. First, I didn’t apply for the position so if your statements were targeting me in any way, you will have to better explain what you meant with that regard.

    Second, I never questioned your motivations for stating or believing that someone who manages taxpayer funds shouldn’t have financial hardships past or present – you’re free to have that opinion. So again, not sure why you are addressing me directly with this.

    Last, I still don’t understand your larger point here. Who applied that was selected as a potential short-listed candidate, that has such a conflicted financial background or history? And what does that have to do with my statements?

    Please explain

  15. Confused says:

    “Percy’s Mother”
    I reread your response, that you were speaking as “coming from a professional”. I find that highly unlikely because of your previous condescending comments in this article and others. Apparently, this media did not choose to post my first reply to you about me bringing up discrimination. If you are, highly professional, you would have understood that was not at all what I was referring to. I was trying to point out that there were two very qualified females who were not selected. However, when I reference the good ole’ boys network, I am most definitely am referring to gender or race! Percy’s Mother, my advice to you is not to speak about things that you haven’t any knowledge of!!!

  16. Concerned Flagler Voter says:

    Ben Hogarth

    I was merely applying a level of further qualifications to the process of selecting a candidate.

    Clearly, any municipality or county should add that to the criteria as experience and education are parts also.

  17. Concerned Flagler Voter says:

    Ben Hogarth

    After your lengthy posts re qualifications for a Manager, I was posting my straightforward idea.

    I do believe that I know a bit about the position.

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