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Flagler Commissioners Will Hold Open 1-on-1 Interviews With Administrator Candidates

| February 13, 2019

The five county commissioners meeting with the Public Safety Coordinating Council this morning in Bunnell. (© FlaglerLive)

The five county commissioners meeting with the Public Safety Coordinating Council this morning in Bunnell. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 1:53 p.m.

Four of the five Flagler County commissioners said they will have an open door when they interview candidates for the interim administrator post on Monday, allowing any member of the public to sit in and observe. The exception was Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, who said he’s conducted thousands of interviews in his career, all closed, though those interviews were conducted when he worked in the private sector.

But shortly after this story published, Ericksen said he had a look at a letter from the county attorney’s office that laid out its recommendation, and Ericksen c hanged his mind: he’d have open interviews as well. “I guess as long as it doesn’t turn into some sort of a show,” he said.

Commission Chairman Don O’Brien and Commissioner Joe Mullins were looking to have open interviews all along. Commissioners Dave Sullivan and Ericksen were leaning toward open interviews when asked on Feb. 4, after the commission’s last meeting, but weren’t sure of the legalities. Commissioner Greg Hansen was leaning toward closed interviews.

The county attorney’s office decided the matter after Assistant County Attorney Sean Moylan had a conversation with Pat Gleason of the Attorney General’s Office.

“Ms. Gleason is widely viewed by government lawyers as an authority on all things public records, Sunshine, and ethics.,” County Attorney Al Hadeed wrote the commissioners Tuesday afternoon. “Ms. Gleason strongly recommended that we keep the individual interviews open to the public.  As a general rule of thumb that she uses, anytime a Sunshine issue falls in a gray area, it is best to err on the side of openness.  From the public’s perspective, she believes if we were to close off the interviews, some would assume the worst, bad press coverage could result, and the interim administrator could begin his/her tenure with a cloud of suspicion.”

Strictly speaking, commissioners can choose to close their door: no law explicitly bars them from doing so. In 2012, when the Palm Coast City Council was seeking to fill one of its own seats by appointment, it held closed-door interviews with four candidates at the recommendation of its then-manager, Jim Landon, whose vest frayed from having so many things held close to it. Before he was fired last fall, Landon recommended that council members do the same with their interviews of another council replacement. Mayor Milissa Holland rejected the approach, and also rejected holding closed-door sessions with the city’s own manager candidates later this month or early the next.

The county administration initially planned for closed interviews of the interim candidates: there was no discussion about the method when the commission last met to discuss the hiring process. But in interviews with FlaglerLive, each commissioner spoke of his preference, and the county attorney’s office appeared to settle the matter.

Surprisingly, Ericksen, who’d formerly favored open sessions, wanted his closed when initially interviewed this morning. “What’s the purpose of sitting in there? I don’t want any distractions for the person I’m interviewing,” Ericksen said. “I’ve interviewed over a  thousand people, I’ve never had another person in the room to talk to.” When told that he’d conducted none of those interviews as a public, elected official, he asked: “Is that a different rule?” He said he thought Hadeed was getting a position on the matter, but had not seen it yet. Filled in on Hadeed’s conclusion, Ericksen persisted: “I want to hear what the candidate has to say, I want him or her to ask questions of me, and I just think it’ll be a lot easier one-on-one. I just as soon have very few distractions.”

“I was anyway but that helps reinforce things,” O’Brien said of the open interviews and the attorney’s email, “maybe everybody else will come around on that.”

By early afternoon, Ericksen had come around, saying he wouldn’t go against the state attorney’s advice.

O’Brien was uncomfortable with a scheduled lunch between commissioners, administrative staff and the three candidates, even though that lunch is open to the public. He can see a place for a community-interaction event once candidates for the permanent post are considered, but not until then.

Mullins went a step further with his candidate interviews. He sent out emails to media, chamber of commerce and other government officials, city officials especially, inviting them to sit in on his interviews. “With more eyes at the table you get better views,” Mullins said. “From what I have seen, one of the biggest problems that I had with the former county administrator is, he did not understand the dynamics of a city and a county working together. And I think that if you are going to bring a new person in, I want to clearly show them from the start that they need to respect the perception of the county, they need to understand the input of the county, and they work for the county, meaning the residents, not just us. We’re nothing but a catalyst.” Mullins, whose more brash style has rankled some commissioners, acknowledged that, being from the private sector, he’s not used to working with an administrator while commissioners are. “We’re trying to find a working relationship at this point, but I can tell you my style is not going to adjust much,” he said.

Commissioners are interviewing three candidates in one-on-one sessions Monday morning, before afternoon interview sessions conducted with all commissioners present. Commissioners are expected to vote on an interim following the interviews.  The candidates are 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.  Glenn Irby, formerly the Apopka city manager, was also shortlisted, but he withdrew.

Even with open interviews, the commissioners are unlikely to see droves of people take up the invitation to sit in. When the county’s economic development board members held similarly open interviews in 2012, for a potential economic development directors, only a handful of people, reporters included, dropped in. (Helga van Eckert was hired and remains in that position today.)

Those are not the interviews to fill the administrator’s post permanently. That process will start later this month and is expected to take several months. Commissioners are in a hurry to fill the interim post because ex-Administrator Craig Coffey’s resignation and that of his deputy, Sally Sherman, left the commission with no clear administrative leadership other than a finance director to sign checks.

The county administration provided the following spreadsheet reflecting the interview schedule and each commissioner’s location, on the third floor of the Government Services Building, Bunnell. Click on the image for larger view.

candidate interviews

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6 Responses for “Flagler Commissioners Will Hold Open 1-on-1 Interviews With Administrator Candidates”

  1. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Open interviews are the democratic way. We must demand and have a transparent BOCC.

  2. Fiscal says:

    On Presidents’ Day?

  3. B Pinion says:

    We are lucky to enjoy The Great American Past time Game,” Baseball,” here in Flagler County and have Beautiful fields at the fairground Park; with the usage coast being reasonable for players.
    However, I am very concerned of what I am hearing about a safety issue for Baseball players at the Ball Park at Flagler County Fairground due to the improperly setting of lights that shine into the batter’s face, causing the athlete inability to see the pitched balls. I am sure you are as concerned as I for the safety of our children, adults, and sport figures. I beg, for this safety issue be corrected before someone else is hurt or our county is sued and -or county insurance rates skyrocket. A ball player has already been hit in the face with a ball due to the placement of lights.
    I Thank you for addressing this Safety Issue,
    Concerned Citizen

  4. palmcoaster says:

    When is Ericksen term up? Because for sure I know that Hansen was just elected…I have no regrets as wisely didn’t vote fpr him.
    Kudos to Mr, Mullins for his excellent work so far as a new commissioner! Appreciation to Chair O’Brien for keeping the FCBOCC on the right path. Yes keep it open to the public as after all we are the ones footing the bills.

  5. ConstantlyAmazed says:

    How come there isn’t any further mention, protests or hearings about the Sheriff’s ops center ?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thousands of interviews? Give me a break , a little exaggeration here Charlie

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