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It’s Increasingly ‘The Beau Show’ as Palm Coast Council Strains To Project Fair Manager Interview Process

| February 20, 2019

'Of course I’m on the longest job interview known to man,' Palm Coast Interim Manager Beau Falgout told a Chamber audience three weeks ago. He's also been the clear favorite for the permanent job as the city council has strained to project to other candidates that they still have a shot at the job. Falgout was not at Tuesday's council meeting discussing the next round in the search. (© FlaglerLive)

‘Of course I’m on the longest job interview known to man,’ Palm Coast Interim Manager Beau Falgout told a Chamber audience three weeks ago. He’s also been the clear favorite for the permanent job as the city council has strained to project to other candidates that they still have a shot at the job. Falgout was not at Tuesday’s council meeting discussing the next round in the search. (© FlaglerLive)

As the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday narrowed its list of manager candidates to be interviewed to six (actually, five, but the council mistakenly included a sixth name), Interim Manager Beau Falgout kept coming out far ahead.

And every time a council member would try to say the choice wasn’t made yet, that council member would tip his or her hand further in Falgout’s direction. The council members were doing their best to reassure other candidates that the process will be fair, that the slate will be clean for each. But Tuesday evening’s discussion only reinforced the sense that, in Council member Bob Cuff’s words, “it’s the Falgout show” (he was trying to say that it shouldn’t be), that it’s Falgout’s game to lose, and that the five other candidates, assuming they all bother with the interviewing round, will be somewhere between sacrificial lambs and circus animals to Falgout’s gladiatorial interview marathon.

Harsh, but the judgment was made true even as the council’s Cicero tried to calm the premature enthusiasm for Falgout while himself revealing where he stood in Falgout’s favor. “There’s going to be a faction in this community that will always dismiss Beau as Jim Landon Lite,” Cuff said, referring to the previous manager, who was forced to resign last year. Falgout had been his protege and chosen successor. “We all, if you were breathing and reading the media back a year and a half ago when the move was made to fire Jim Landon, the press was talking about Jim picking his successor, and somehow sneaking him in under the radar, etc., etc. I didn’t see it that way. I certainly don’t think that of Beau. But we have to be realistic and if we just stop the process now and say let’s go with Beau, his tenure here at the city of Palm Coast, at least for the first few years, and I hope there’s several years to it, is going to be dogged by” whispers (as Cuff himself whispered some inaudible words.) “So I think if Beau winds up being the choice, we need to show publicly that we have done the homework and done the work that we’re paid to do.”

In other words, appearances matter, and the council will insist on going through the appearance of a complete and rigorous interview process. The message was to other candidates: please participate.

Bob Cuff

Bob Cuff. (© FlaglerLive)

The discussion took place after the council narrowed down its list to six candidates, who’ll come in for three days of their own presentations and interviews with council members, along with a meet-and-greet with the community, in March.

Calling out their choices orally, council members picked Falgout, Donald Kewley, James Drumm, Ken Kelly, Matthew Morton and Robin Hayes.

Only Falgout got five votes. Only Morton got four. Kewley, Hayes and Drumm got three votes each.

That’s where it should have stopped: all those who got two or one vote were dropped. But the council and its consultant, Doug Thomas of Texas-based Strategic Government Resources, made a mistake by including Ken Kelly, for whom only two council members had voted. Thomas, who was notching off votes by hand on a board as council members called them out, appears to have misheard Council member Jack Howell’s “Kewley” for “Kelly,” even though Howell clarified his choice later.

That’s despite the council members subsequently debating whether to cut their choices down to five as they imagined the interminable interviewing hours ahead. Cuff even proposed dropping Kelly, saying he was just “an IT guy” (and adding that he had nothing against IT guys, but “running a city isn’t running a fiberoptic network.”)  

“If we’ve got six and we’re trying to get to five we could argue all night,” Cuff said.

In fact, their own votes had narrowed the list to five, though they were unaware. But by the time Council member Nick Klufas called out the names to be invited, Kelly was on the list. (The city is working on a fix, likely scheduling a special meeting soon to correct the vote–and eliminate Kelly.)

The candidates’ obstacle course is far from over: they’ve already submitted to a lengthy questionnaire and video interviews. Now they have to prepare powerpoint presentations, write a “first-year game plan” and survive a criminal and media background check.

Palm Coast City Manager Applicants: The Short Shortlist

Milissa Holland
Eddie Branquinho
Bob Cuff
Nick Klufas
Jack Howell
Beau Falgout
Donald Kewley
James Drumm
Ken Kelly
Matthew Morton
Robin Hayes
Brent Moran
Jeff Oris
Greg Young
David Strahl
Michael McNees
Explanatory notes: Each council member read out his or her top candidates to be invited for interviews.

“So we may lose a candidate or two through this process,” Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said.

“I rarely lose anybody” at this stage, Thomas said (Falgout factor notwithstanding).

If all six were invited, council members were looking at a 10-hour day of presentations and interviews. They agreed to stretch that over two days, bleeding into a Saturday, “especially,” as Cuff said, “if one of them is, you know, is the interview death march.”

Only then the Falgout fevers began. Last week, Howell penned a letter to the Observer where he proposed “that we terminate the search for the next city manager and hire Beau for this position.” He returned to the charge Tuesday.   

“My concern here is after you look at everybody you listed here,  and each one of us number one, and the only guy up there with all five of us, is Beau. Now, it’s no secret, I have strong feelings that Beau is our guy. He’s bright, he’s articulate, he’s done a fantastic job in filling in, he’s been in the city, he knows the stuff that goes on in the city, and obviously you feel that he’s a good, strong contender. Let’s just stop the crap and go right now and just say, Beau, you’re the guy.” As soon as clapping began in the meeting room Holland hammered the gavel and said: “We’re not doing that, thank you.” Her words were directed at the audience but meant just as much for Howell. Falgout was not in the room: in contrast with his predecessor, who not only attended every meeting that dealt with his succession but sought to direct the council’s decisions, Falgout chose not to attend that special meeting. He’s maintained a long distance with the council’s search process.

Howell continued, his praise of Falgout curdling into words more usually attributed to a principal discussing a young graduate: “Don’t get these people’s hopes up,” he said. “My feeling is he’s like a piece of clay and this is our opportunity to take a young man that’s grown up in this city as various departments, and we can mold him with the proper leadership to make him a fantastic manager, because what I’m afraid of is, he has opportunities out there. He’s got credentials now. He can move on. And we’re going to be at a loss. And I don’t want to see that happen.”

“Let’s just stop the crap and go right now and just say, Beau, you’re the guy.”

Holland and Thomas stressed that whenever an internal candidate is in the mix, that candidate usually gets a board’s nods. That doesn’t diminish the importance of the interviewing process.

“This is easy, picking a city manager,” Howell retorted, delving as he usually does into his military past to make a point. He acknowledged the value of the five other candidates. “But I’m afraid that, you know, we’re just going to be unfair because I feel in our heart of hearts that we know that Beau is the right fit,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity where we can do the right thing and make this kid stand out. That’s my piece, I’m not going to say anything more.” Thirty-six  seconds later, he said more, and didn’t stop.

Council member Eddie Branquinho tried to cool Howell’s heels but also tipped his own hand in the process: “We’ve got to tell the people of Palm Coast that we picked amongst the best. According to you and all of us, the best may be Beau, but at least what I’m saying is there’s a few people over there, at least another three in my opinion, that we ought to look at,” Branquinho said. “If Beau makes it, makes Beau look even better.”

Then it was Klufas’s turn to tip his hand: “A lot of the three council members that came in the previous administration on the basis of change,” he said, referring to himself, Holland and Cuff. “I think it’s going to be an easier position to defend if we end up going with Beau, that he endured the entire process and he rose above, and we can say that we chose the best candidate when we aligned them against everybody else that was chosen by our council as a whole, and he excelled and he was the top choice. Versus I have a harder time defending the position that we knew Beau was the best, so we told the rest of the guys that we didn’t want to talk to them–guys and gals.”

jack howell (© FlaglerLive)

Jack Howell. (© FlaglerLive)

And Holland: “I’ve thought about this process a lot, it’s been a lengthy process to get us here, and I was very intrigued by some of the candidates that had applied, and I was certainly intrigued by their background, and I really do feel strongly that we have to see this through and let Beau compete for this position. But let him do it in a fair, open process. I know he will give it everything he has. I just really want to make sure that we are vetting every single opportunity and making a thoughtful decision moving forward on what else could possibly be out there and what we’re looking at.” To Howell, she said: “So I really do respect your position and actually every single thing that you’ve said, and I thought a lot about it. But I really still feel very strongly we need to see this through.”

Howell seemed appeased–or was willing to appease his colleagues: “I’ll roll along with you here, you make sense,” Howell said. “I think we’re frustrated because we want to get this over. What I want is a full-time manager, let’s lock and load, move forward, and we’re kind of still chug and chug, we’ve got the reins on the boy, but we’re not letting him loose to do his true thing, and I know he can do his true thing. But I can go along with you. I’m easy.”

And the more council members spoke, the more Falgout’s star dimmed the other five in the cluster.

Cuff explained the perception problem Palm Coast was boxing itself in–not just with this particular search, but with subsequent searches, should Falgout be recruited elsewhere (an implicit concession to Falgout’s chances of getting the job). “I do think we owe something to these applicants that have invested the time to show them that we are serious, that it isn’t just the Beau show and we’re just bringing them in to provide covering fire for a decision that we’ve already made,” Cuff said.

Thomas cautioned the council that the candidates were likely watching and wondering if they’ll have a “fair shot.” The council members pledged it would be fair, and Holland in a brief interview this morning said “it’s not going to be a given that he’s going to be selected, that it will be a process of competition and vetting and time well spent.” Holland summed it up this way: “There is confidence in Beau but I’m not sold on Beau.”

10 Responses for “It’s Increasingly ‘The Beau Show’ as Palm Coast Council Strains To Project Fair Manager Interview Process”

  1. Dennis McDonald says:

    This is what happens when the “King makers” make an end run and fail to involve the residents. The Palm Coast referendum revision went the same way, did we expect different ?

    This process is contrary to good public policy like school boards use to hire a superintendent where they select members of the public for a screening committee to recommend candidates for final consideration of the board.

    I was surprised that Nick did not suggest to use artificial intelligence to make the choice, but wait maybe we are already there……..


    Why does our city government insist on wasting our money?? We all know it’s a done deal for Falgot; after all, he’s been a long time “good ‘ole boy”, and that’s all it takes in Palm Coast.

  3. KMedley says:

    OMG! This has been the “Beau Show” since Landon was ousted! Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod, now joined by Uncle Fester, have had their strings pulled by their puppet master LONG before the process started. Unfortunately, Palm Coast taxpayers are paying for this marionette show.

  4. Ben Hogarth says:

    I really think the Council needs to take a step back as some have suggested, and evaluate each applicant for more than just competency. I have no doubt that Beau, like many managers in our industry and field, can “do” the job. The questions is, does Beau have the experience and vision to set Palm Coast apart? What is his track record of problem solving and innovative solutions? Was he ever able to be innovative and self-managed under Jim Landon? I truly don’t know, but these are certainly concerns I would raise and see how those questions are answered. I’m not saying Beau is the wrong choice – I’m just inferring that no decision should be this concrete before going through the process.

    It’s equally a shame that so many “consulting” firms charge municipalities a $25k average tab for “head hunting” when a (proverbial) monkey could evaluate applicants for competency and being “highly qualified” simply by looking at years of like-experience. The REAL questions that need to be asked are qualitative in nature, and require a lengthy interview process. The Council needs to not only prioritize character and integrity with its candidates, but to also find a candidate that could propel Palm Coast with some proven innovative management ideas and style.

    I will use the Forbes-accepted philosophy on this “Hire slow, fire fast.”

    Take your time and find the right fit. Competency as a public administrator should be the baseline, not the defining line. Imagine how low we have come to place the bar there…

  5. Stretchem says:

    What does it say that a small coastal town in the sunshine state can’t seem to attract top notch talent in a supposed nationwide search? A big fish job in a tiny pond that’ll pay, what, million plus throughout the contract? Whole lotta grandstanding in this podunk wannabe town.

  6. Heidi Shipley says:

    Yes, Beau is a great guy and does his job as Jim Landon has trained him to do. I believe one of his first things out of the gate was to put a 21 million dollar utility building on the agenda. Are the lights up on Lakeview? Is the FOL path made safe yet as promised? Did he stop the Whiteview project with common sense it was not needed, is he moving forward with the plan to use shrubs and such as a buffer for Florida Park Drive? Liking Beau was never the problem, the same with Jim Landon, the reason if I remember and I can pull out all the minutes to old meetings, the reason we did not want Mr Landon was because we wanted a new direction, new ideas, someone that could get us like the smart cities or help make us more disireable to better, not so much big, business. If Jim Landon trained Beau and is the ONLY one who trained him then how is he going to do all we were looking for. When some council members asked why we were spending so much money on the firm to hire the new city manager and not just go through the Florida League of cities we were told because we wanted an exceptional person and this firm that also had to be chosen through a big show of interviews and presentations could provide that. So why now are we changing ? Do we no longer want the city to go in that direction because we know Beau doesn’t have that under his belt or are we just going with the likable, easy to talk to guy that does the job he was trained to do well. I’m sure it’s hard to chose someone else when you have to pass him in the hallways , I’m kinda dreading seeing him myself after saying this but it’s your job not mine councilmembers, be consistent with what you have said in the past.

  7. James M Day says:

    Beau is a good choice. I have worked with him on several occasions. He came prepared and asked intelligent questions. He was fair and helpful. He will do a good job. It’s easy to knock the guy, but I wish we had more people like him working for us at the city.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Like I said in a previous comment about this topic, if some one comes in from the outside than that person will see all the excess non necessary and overpaid positions in the city administration. Get Beau in there and everyone who is high up in salary and not really necessarily needed will be safe in their positions, it’s the DC SWAMP but located in Palm Coast , Florida

  9. RobJr says:

    Why all the procrastination and blather.
    They knew who they were going to select from the start.

  10. carol says:

    No he is NOT a good choice.
    We need fresh blood.

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