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Landon-Shy, Palm Coast Readies to Approve City Manager Contract at Base Pay of $145,000

| March 18, 2019

Matt Morton and Palm Coast are preparing to tie the knot. (© FlaglerLive)

Matt Morton and Palm Coast are preparing to tie the knot. (© FlaglerLive)

The Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday is set to approve a contract with Matthew Morton, its new manager. Morton would have a base salary of $145,000 a year, or $30,000 less than the previous manager’s annual salary. But the contract also ensures that he would receive annual raises equivalent to whatever raise is awarded employees across the board–and that he would decide what those raises would be.

Morton, 44, would begin on April 8. The contract, still in draft form and subject to council members’ changes, is open-ended.

The council voted 3-2 at a special meeting last week to hire Morton. It then assigned Council member Bob Cuff, an attorney, to negotiate the contract with Morton, along with City Clerk Virginia Smith and City Attorney Bill Reischmann, negotiations done by phone and email. There was an invisible elephant in the negotiations, too: the memory of Jim Landon, the former city manager, whose negotiations with the 2007 council (whose members have long departed) set a new bar for excessive compensation for a local government official, and for a golden parachute: firing Landon last summer cost the council the equivalent of a year’s salary–and the substantial salary of $175,000, not including additional compensation. This council was intent on not repeating the give-away of the 2007 council, though it had help from state law, which has since restricted the breadth of severance packages.

Morton’s contract seemingly reflects the more cautious approach. But Morton is gaining a possibly lucrative advantage Landon did not have: “Annual adjustments provided to all other employees as part of the budget process that are not merit based shall be provided at the same percentage as all other employees of City Manager’s base salary,” his proposed contract reads. In plainer English, that means potentially yearly raises which, starting on an already considerable salary, would swell that salary far more rapidly than would those of rank-and-file employees, only a few of whom are in the six-figure range.

Landon’s raises were dependent on a council vote every time (“in its sole discretion,” as his contract read), which forced the council to justify the raises while also forcing the city manager to bring his request publicly to the council’s attention. The council is now sparing itself and Morton that responsibility, diminishing either the council’s or the manager’s public accountability for the raises.

The contract also sets up a conflict of interest, making the manager’s raises in part dependent on what the manager chooses to award himself: the manager, not the council, decides what annual raise to award employees, “as part of the budget process.” That means that under the current arrangement he will be responsible for deciding what raise he himself will receive, even though he is one of two council employees (the city attorney is the other. The attorney does not have that automatic-raise arrangement in his contract.)

The arrangement veils the manager’s fortunes behind those of the rank-and-file, employees hired under significantly different terms. The difference alone between a 2 percent raise and a 3 percent raise for a rank-and-file employee making $30,000 is $300. The difference for Morton will be $1,450, thus creating an incentive for larger raises. (A 2 percent raise would net $2,900 on a base salary of $145,000, a 3 percent raise would net $4,350. The following year, the raise would be based on the new salary, compounding each year.) Of course the council can knock down a proposed across-the-board raise for employees, but then it’s the council, not the manager, that’s made to look like the enforcer. By ensuring that the council alone awards the manager’s raises, as has been the case until now–as had been the case in the county until 2014, when then-manager Craig Coffey changed his contract’s terms to ensure yearly increases in line with the rank-and-file) the manager remains in whole a council employee.

Landon started at $155,000 a year, was quickly bumped to $164,000, and by February 2009 was at $169,000, where he remained until he got a raise to $175,600 in 2017, plus the promise of a 1 percent automatic annual raise, whatever the rank-and-file got. That made him the second-highest-paid public employee in the county (after County Attorney Al Hadeed). Landon was paid more than circuit court judges and state attorneys, $45,000 more than the governor, and $50,000 more than most local constitutional officers. That was before his additional compensation.

Landon had negotiated an additional annual contribution from the city to his retirement equivalent to 20 percent of his salary. Morton is getting a 13 percent contribution. Landon had negotiated a 5 percent contribution by the city to his deferred compensation plan. In Morton’s case, the city is providing a a 2 percent match, provided Morton puts in a minimum of 2 percent of his salary. Landon used to get $600 a month as an “automobile allowance.” Morton is getting $400. He’s also getting a $35 a month allowance for his cell phone, and $200 a year in equipment allowance. (Council members and Landon also got an electronics allowance.)

Morton gets the same health benefits that other employees do, though unlike other employees, all his premiums, including those of his dependents, will be paid for by the city. Landon participated in the same employee health plan and had all his premiums paid as well, but had a substantial additional benefit: participation in the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program in Jacksonville, with the city paying all bills, which was not available to the rank-and-file.

Landon’s contract listed only personal leave. Morton’s lists vacation and sick leave separately. Landon was awarded 30 days of leave a year, and had to use a minimum of 10. Morton is awarded 27 combined days.

Part of the heavy cost of Landon’s golden parachute was the days of leave he’d accumulated, and that had to be paid as salary equivalent. He was eligible to accumulate up to 130 days, or half a year’s worth which, combined with his 26 weeks of severance pay, totaled a year’s pay. That heavy cost played a role in delaying the council’s decision to fire him, as several council members took a while to be willing to incur the cost.

State law since 2007 changed, limiting severance packages to 20 weeks of pay. That’s what Morton would get, if he were not fired for cause. The city would also pay him for up to 16 weeks of accrued vacation and sick leave, money it would still owe him if he resigned.

Morton’s contract calls for an annual evaluation. Landon’s did too, though he made it through most of his tenure in Palm Coast without an evaluation. On the other hand, Landon’s contract had tied his pay raises to those evaluations. Morton’s does not.

The city did not itself conduct a background check on Morton, leaving the job to Strategic Government Resources, the consultant it hired to conduct the search. FlaglerLive repeatedly requested SGR’s background checks through the city starting on March 13. It was provided the morning of March 19, minutes before Tuesday’s council meeting where Morton’s contract was to be approved. The background-check document, reflecting the city’s redactions of Morton’s addresses and birth date, is here.

Landon’s contract is available here. Morton’s proposed contract is below.

Matthew Morton Proposed Contract (2019):

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9 Responses for “Landon-Shy, Palm Coast Readies to Approve City Manager Contract at Base Pay of $145,000”

  1. Derrick Redder says:

    He better be worth the Extra 40K in Benefits
    No Bueno

  2. John R Brady says:

    To say I have misgivings concerning the appointment of Matt Morton as the new city Manager of Palm Coast is an understatement. I am not happy with the reported vetting is concerning.Let me provide some guidance to City Council

    Did you or anyone check with local police?
    Has been asked if he has ever been arrested FYI even if conviction is expunged arrest records are not
    What was he doing to support his family when he was “decompressing”
    Did he get UC? Actually if he did it would be a better sign than if he didn’t

    When I was hiring people to work at the PA State Child Abuse hotline his situation would be a yellow light and if green lights were available we would go with green light.

    I would suggest putting on the brakes and doing more research

  3. Shame on you says:

    This mans pay should still NEVER should be more than what the Governor is being paid. This salary is absurd and is a reflection that the council and mayor are out of touch! I really expected better out of Jack Howell, but guess he too is one of the same. These politicians are no businessmen/women and lack common sense!

  4. palmcoaster says:

    As usual these sumptous starting base pays for managers in a try out term that we do not even know if they will perform as expected plus the ridiculous annual increases to be given to the themselves by Mr. Morton approving increases to his subordinates annually. Coming from managing a city of 8,000 only to Palm Coast over 76,000 and such a base pay! We are still a small city with a big bureaucracy (a system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by state officials rather than by elected representatives) created by the very ones we elect to represent us.

  5. Patrick says:

    Why in the world does the city hire leadership at such an incredibly high salary? My early adult life was spent in towns about the size of Palm Coast. City managers as well as other leadership never made 6 figure salaries. These are public service jobs, not jobs to get rich. I love living here but ever since my first city council meeting (budget meeting) I’ve been disgusted at what department heads make.
    I’ve been told they’re so high because they want to retain talent. There is some amazing talent out there that could do just as good if not better. If these department heads did these jobs out of passion and not salary I’m sure the budget would be substantially less and there would be no fear of retaining good talent.

  6. JD says:

    I find it ridiculous that some government employees, such as the city manager get such allowances for vehicles, cell phones and “equipment.” Four hundred dollars a month for a car???? Does this guy need to drive a Mercedes around town? That’s nuts. Let’s pay people that matter like teachers, firemen and our deputies.

  7. kc says:

    Terrible job by our counsel. Raises should be merit-based.
    Since he will receive raises proportionate to those he gives employees, it’s to his advantage to give higher raises, which translate to more taxpayer expense.
    This seems to be a dereliction of their duties by our elected officials.

  8. James says:

    How about letting us vote as to whether this guy gets a raise or not!

    This is nonsense, just how dumb is the PCCC???… Or does the PCCC think we all are???


  9. Concerned Citizen says:

    Well obviously City and County manager positions are very lucrative in this county.

    Why did the Palm Coast City Council not demand an inhouse background check? Was Mr. Morton finger printed and was it sent to the Feds? There are numerous statement in this document saying records could not be found but might warrant further search. I know for my job as well as volunteering I go thru an annual with finger prints.

    I give it 6 months and we have another Landon.

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