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Stepping Over a Blurring Red Line, Palm Coast Councilman Klufas Wants To Hire a New Broadband Director

| March 19, 2019

donald kewley

Everyone wants Donald Kewley? (© FlaglerLive)

Who gets to hire whom in Palm Coast government just got a bit more complicated. Some council members want to see a new face in charge of the city’s broadband network, or FiberNet. But it’s not their call. One of them tried to make it so today. There was push-back from other council members and a debate over lines of authority. Just as clearly, there was also support. It adds up to a sharp message to the incoming manager: this council interprets deference to administrative autonomy very differently from its predecessors.

By the time Donald Kewley made it among the four finalists for Palm Coast city manager, his big draw was not his experience as a manager–he had none–but as a broadband operations manager, the job he’s held in Ashland, Ore., for the past two years. “But I feel undervalued in my current role,” he said in his application to Palm Coast.

Palm Coast City Council member Nick Klufas values him, and wants him in Palm Coast. Klufas thinks the city’s FibernNet system is a potential gold mine, that it could be run as a profitable utility, but that it’s dormant for now. He sees Kewley as its savior. Kewley did not score high as a potential manager with the council. But he scored high for what he does. But the city already has an IT director: Chuck Burkhart, whom Interim Manager Beau Falgout hired in late October at a salary of $107,000, to replace Steve Viscardi. (Falgout was one of the finalists for city manager.)

Burkhart is now in the strange position of wondering whether his job possibly in jeopardy and watching a council member openly lobby for Kewley, though the city could just as possibly hire Kewley separately to focus exclusively on FiberNet in place of Magellan Advisors, the broadband consultant the city hired almost a year ago to develop a new FiberNet business plan.

Last week when the council voted to hire Matt Morton as its next manager, several council members lavished praise on Kewley as a technology maven, especially Nick Klufas. Klufas went further, saying that one of the reasons he was not in favor of hiring Falgout as the permanent manager was because Falgout had not searched out Kewley when hunting for someone to take charge of the city’s broadband system, even though Kewley was dissatisfied with his current position. Today Klufas went further.

Just as the council had just voted to approve Morton’s contract, Klufas brought up Kewley’s name again, this time to make a direct pitch for the city to hire Kewley in order to run Palm Coast’s broadband network as a city utility. “Exactly what Mr. Kewley has done in Ashland, Oregon, is where the City of Palm Coast is today when he came on board there,” Klufas said, “and he was able to provide direct results and very clear data that enumerated out his successes and the enormity of the impact that it had on its community.”

Given the importance of technology to the city’s goals, Klufas put it more explicitly than any council member had before regarding the hire of an employee other than a manager or an attorney: “I want to discuss with this council how viable it would be to make an offer to Mr. Kewley or instruct Mr. Morton to pursue Mr. Kewley to be able to come to our city in the role of chief innovation officer. His responsibilities would not only include that of our FiberNet utility, but also that of landing other technology initiatives and leading those as well.”

Since Palm Coast made its choice for manager Morton has, in fact, been in contact with Kewley to feel him out toward just such ends in IT, going as far as trying to meet with Kewley on his own grounds on the West Coast (Morton’s town of Duvall is almost 500 miles north of Ashland, but Morton is not currently employed.)

Palm Coast Council member Nick Klufas. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast Council member Nick Klufas. (© FlaglerLive)

Morton’s efforts are beside the point. Elected officials on county and city boards are forbidden by law to interfere in the management of their government, beyond giving their manager or administrator direction. This very council, with Klufas on it, bristled just a few years ago when former council member Steven Nobile would suggest that members should have a greater say in administrative issues or intimated that the charter should be changed to enable such ends. (At the time Nobile was at loggerheads with Landon.) The hiring and firing of directors is exclusively the purview of the manager. The Palm Coast council doesn’t even get to ratify the choices (as, say, the Bunnell commission does, though even there the current, new manager stood firm a few weeks ago when commission members tried to overrule one of his choices for a director). The administrative independence is by design, to prevent nepotism and politics from tainting the organization.

Fellow-council members did not disagree with Klufas’s assessment of Kewley. But Holland to some extent and Cuff to a much greater extent were quick to temper Klufas’s approach.

“Our form of government does not allow us as a council to offer direct compensation to someone being hired. The city manager does that, and we look to them to do that,” Holland said. “We’ve all voiced last meeting how we would really like to see that outcome and to bring someone that could be very transformative in our city into our city and lead an initiative that’s very important to us moving forward. So I’m very supportive of making that even clearer to Mr. Morton, that this is the council’s wishes for us to see him and immediately begin that process. But again, we need to be very clear that there’s a line there I’m not comfortable crossing.” Holland said she’s had conversations with Morton in that regard “where my intent is what you just stated,” and to make it clear to the new manager that “this is something that is very, very, very much a top priority for this council.”

“What does your IT guy, think about this, our IT guy, is he in agreement with this?” Council member Jack Howell asked Klufas.

“Mr. Chuck totally is in the understanding that this is a niche type of industry even though it is in technology,” Klufas said.

“I know you’re on a roll and I appreciate that,” Cuff said, “but I can’t decide whether to sound like a lawyer or a council member but I want to very strongly echo the mayor’s concerns here. We have absolutely no business identifying an individual and telling our city manager whether it’s Beau at this instant or Matt Morton when he accepts the contract we’ve just countered with, ‘Hire this guy.'” Cuff said Kewley had a lot to offer, “but I am very, very uncomfortable about us or anybody else settling on Donald Kewley as the white knight who’s going to save Palm Coast and make us a gazillion dollars.” For all of Kewley’s quality, Cuff said he couldn’t imagine that he’d be the only person capable of answering Palm Coast’s needs.

“I was under the impression that Magellan was doing a good job,” Council member Eddie Branquinho said.

There was also Howell’s point that a new position to head up FiberNet should be created and budgeted for, though that, too, would be the manager’s prerogative, not the council’s. In the end, the council left it up to Morton, should he accept his contract, to provide his own recommendations–with the mayor’s rather clear caveat that underscored her emphasis on a clear break with the Landon years.

“I do think historically we’ve missed opportunities, and I don’t want to miss opportunities in the future,” Holland said. “I can’t speak to why it went awry historically. I don’t know. But there is an issue there that we need to make sure doesn’t happen in the future, and I think that’s why we made the change we did, and we’re moving forward in the direction we’re moving forward in.” She, too, is not enthused with Magellan.

“If we don’t act we’re going to be left behind,” Klufas said.

“And I concur in suggesting we act,” Holland said.

14 Responses for “Stepping Over a Blurring Red Line, Palm Coast Councilman Klufas Wants To Hire a New Broadband Director”

  1. JimB says:

    Mr Klufus should answer emails he has already received to prove out the FiberNet project first before stating its a gold mine. I have emailed with questions about monies already spent on FiberNet and the amount they want to dump in it going forward with no basic business plan other than from the person who spent the first millions on this Magellan (Courtney Violet)
    The Magellan plan has a lot of nice pictures and words but reality is not included. What happened to the original plan for all that fiber the city laid? Where are all the business jumping on board for their service now? Wasn’t that the plan in the first place?

    They want to build a carrier class network when there are plenty of others, professionals, that can provide the service today for businesses. Ones that can provide business class SLA’s required to run a good size business in the county.

    This was a farce years ago when they started this (other than the city using internally)

    Prove to me that financially that this is a good thing for Palm Coast to get into? Prove to me that it will pay for itself and create this GOLD mine Nick speaks of. Like the tennis Center? Like the Golf course?

    Put up some more lights, sidewalks, fix the Facilities building etc. first.
    Don’t forget Nick, provide that info requested.


    Why? are we so inclined to hire people at $100,000.00 plus salaries when, on our present payroll, we have SEVERAL of this same category who are under-performing ???? When we look at our “lousey” traffic flow, and the inability to synchronize the lights, and then there are the swales which have been neglected even though $$ are budgeted to address !!
    I think our new city manager should FIRST address the “good ole boy” system that got us here, and attack it as a major issue——-mayor and city council included. Reign it in. Start fresh from where Canfield led us.

  3. Callthemasiseethem says:

    Stepping over blurring red lines? What lines? You surely must be joking. Do any lines still exist with this council?

  4. Mike says:

    Maybe we shouldn’t jump so fast to beat up on Klufas for trying to get something done. Sounds like an honest mistake any junior politician would make.

    With that said….

    I came to this itty bitty little town with a hard focus on providing services on that Fibernet. Did a dog and pony show with Falgout and Van Eckerd and others from that useless Small Business Assistance Center. Apparently it all flew right over their heads back in 2014. I might as well have been speaking Swaheelie. Goose eggs from that SBAC. I mean, literally nothing. I can’t fathom what it is they do there other than collect checks from the taxpayers to pay for copy paper and staples I guess.

    I dropped thousands of dollars to get things in place to use the Fibernet, including surveys, carrier relations, marketing materials, and actual networking equipment. If you’re on the Fibernet as a private company right now, you’re on equipment I paid for. A little local computer shop is selling internet that is a palsy 100mb shared around the city by about 25 companies. Wrap your brain around that for a second. 100mb. 25 companies. Think of the 100mb you currently have in your house right now. And it’s being shared among maybe 200 people. It’s absolute garbage.

    To get anything that is remotely of value, remotely able to compete with the AT&T’s and Spectrums out there with their own fiber running all over town, you have to provide a comparable service at a competitive price, and figure out how to do that and actually make a profit out of it. That costs TENS OF THOUSANDS a month to supply.

    The city hired the same “consultant”, who just so happened to be the same person that initially built up the Fibernet way back when. So the city literally paid $76,000 to get the exact same answers that they already had from 8 years prior. That consultant claims in their survey that the little ole mom and pops all over town would be willing to pay upwards of $500/mo for internet service. Meanwhile, AT&T offers fiber in select areas at a fraction of that cost, and Spectrum offers upwards of near a gigabit of fiber to coax service all over town for less than $250/mo. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind pay twice as much to be on the local government’s fiber optic network? The bigger employers in this town go straight to multi-billion dollar conglomerates AT&T, CenturyLink, Spectrum, etc.. They’re not dealing with the “local guy”, and certainly aren’t willing to be entangled with local government. That leaves the mom and pops to nip at the Fibernet, and that means it’s gotta be cheap. And oh by the way, they’re not exactly thrilled with the idea of the local government eyeballing their internet either!

    So, I’m not opposed to the hiring of a Fibernet manager. I’ve always said there needs to be an intermediary, a go-between with private and public partnerships. But it will be another colossal waste of money if they don’t have an actual plan to keep the costs of providing the services on the Fibernet low, and to have some sort of plan to get the fiber into the buildings around town (fiber is nothing if it can’t get from the road into someone’s office). I will tell you now… Ain’t nobody willing to pay for that. That will cost MILLIONS, and the unicorns zip right on by on I-95.

    I moved my tech company out of Palm Coast to Ormond Beach, in a building downtown with BOTH AT&T fiber and Spectrum gigabit service, and together they cost less than $500/mo. Palm Coast hem and hawed around for over a decade, while the rest of the tech world has passed them right on by. It is not a gold mine Klufas. Probably more attuned to a coal mine now with a definite and clear demise. Future internet (by year end) will be coming from the sky via low earth orbit satellites and 5G distribution, not from the cold cold ground.

  5. Mark says:

    Since when is our government tasked with running a for profit entity? Red Flag!

  6. Mark says:

    Since when is our government tasked with running a for profit entity? Red Flag! Are they elected to make money or govern?

  7. palmcoaster says:

    I have to applaud Mike above as you put in words exactly what has been my concern as taxpayer resident in Palm Coast. This Fibernet -Broadband along with the Mayor Innovation Vision in our pockets has me very financially concerned. As much as was the famous failed Palm Coast desalinization plant in the early 2.000’s when they found out will cost half a billion to start…The current Magellan IT contract not cheap and meanwhile our city realistic material problems of heavy speeding traffic in narrow drives not built for that, lack of sufficient street lightning, blight and abandoned-vacant properties, old decaying drainage and sewer issues, the widening of old Kings road North in the back burner for years and the needed public works facility still NOT #1 priorities. Instead big displays and presentations and lobbying by mayor and Flukas of their number one pet project Fibernet Broadband and Innovation Vision that is costing us already hundreds of thousands overstepping the residents taxpayers needs. By the time they will be done plucking us for their project with the technology advances the installations will be obsolete and all our real priorities will still be waiting in line.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    By the way Mike, Mayor was upset also about the fact that the city lost the Advent Health former Flagler Hospital account on its account (figure Fiber) I say with ATT already installing its own fiber cable messing up Palm Coast right of ways lately and Spectrum competing maybe soon as well as they offer in PC the fastest Internet, us the taxpayer stand to loose it all to competitors for cheaper rates.
    Definitely media and taxpayers should request detailed info regarding this city Fibernet “investment in our pockets” and Mr. Flukas should provide the information requested by the residents. Even better should be made public to all. Too much stuff behind the scene!

  9. JimB says:

    Mike, I agree with most of what you written except the fact of continuing on with the project. We shouldn’t hire a person to handle the growth of fibernet, it should be left as is to handle city and school system Intranet service to internal facilities only.

    The City of Palm Coast is not and will never be a business level carrier even in its own town. Nor should it get into the business of doing so. They are so out of their league on this one. They can’t handle green grass at a golf course and we expect them to provide carrier grade services? Nick is way over his head and drinking the Magellan/Courtney cool aid. Holland acts like she know nothing about it. Bologna. She has been involved in the city for years. I have even emailed her about it.

    Think about what it would really actually take to build a carrier grade fiber network? The 24/7 support, maintenance, frequent equipment upgrades, and liability. Even if the city farms this out, the cost is significant. And we know how well the city handles third party vendors.

    Over the years the city has been approached by numerous carriers to provide access out/off the ring to be able to provide higher grade services. All to be set aside. Magellan said it sent surveys to businesses and asked them about Fibernet. I work for one of the largest employers and have never been ask what our needs or requirements are.

    They are pushing the same old same old when Courtney started this project years ago. That justification has never been achieved so why believe it now. Go away Courtney. There is no money here for you any longer.

    Don’t let them tell you we need it to bring business to the city. The services available today by carriers will more than meet any business needs.

    As I mentioned, stick to lights, sidewalks, swells, maintenance facility, etc.. When you master these we can look into other things.

    Leave the carrier business to the carrier professionals.
    Residents, please watch this space. Make them justify any dollars spent on this.

  10. really says:

    WHY is this guy giving us the BIRD in the photo. Coincidence I think not………

  11. Layla says:

    Politicans who don’t understand what their legal limits are or who believe they can be violated shouldn’t be running for office. They are expected to know better. These protections are in place for the citizens, not the politicians. The city has everything in place to deal with these issues. Use them, please.

  12. Robjr says:

    Sounds a lot like the golf course money pit.

  13. worried grandma says:

    Boss baby couldn’t have said it better…tired of them wasting my money, yours too.

  14. Concerned Citizen says:

    Does the city or county not have qualified internal applicants? They seem to be focused on out of towners with no clue as to what we need.

    And does Mr. Kewley honestly think he is clever with the whole middle finger thing? Shws a lack of professionalism.

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