Less than three years after he left the Palm Coast City Council at the end of a five-year term, Jason DeLorenzo is returning to the city–as its Chief Development Officer. For home-builders and developers, the appointment is a long-coveted victory that brings their interests inside the city’s gates.
City Manager Matt Morton says he intends for DeLorenzo’s appointment to change the perception of a department for years seen as anti-business and anti-development: DeLorenzo for 12 years was the government affairs director for the Flagler Homebuilders Association, and of course a strong advocate for development and a check on impact fees, and has long called for better customer service and less rigidity from the city’s development division. He will now get to implement some of his goals, heading a department that includes planning, zoning and building.
Planning Manager Ray Tyner, likely DeLorenzo’s strongest competition for the top job–Tyner has been with the city 15 years and was among the five finalists–was instead promoted to be DeLorenzo’s deputy.
The two appointments together are a further reflection of Morton’s nearly radical shift of City Hall toward a more customer- and resident-centered enterprise externally. Internally, they reflect Morton’s approach to management: he wants directors in his mold–energetic, transparent, comfortable facing down institutional dogmas–backed up by deputies or managers with solid experience and institutional history. “I think the two gentlemen together, Ray and Jason, form in my estimation a dynamic duo,” Morton said this afternoon. He cited Tyner’s deep technical knowledge and familiarity with city history, while citing DeLorenzo’s expected ability to “rebuild and rebrand our approach to citizen engagement and service in the development arena.”
“Ray is an excellent employee, good guy, and I look forward to working with him,” DeLorenzo said. “I have strong knowledge of the code but he’s in the code all the time. I have a different style than Ray but I think we’re going to work great as a team. I’m really a people person first, right? I try to build relationship, build trust.” Once that’s in place, he said, “we can solve any problem.”
DeLorenzo’s appointment is a very loud signal to the development community that Palm Coast intends to have its interests at heart, which raises a question posed to both Morton and DeLorenzo: how does Palm Coast not send the message that developers have a blank check at City Hall?
“I think you saw that in practice when I was on the city council,” DeLorenzo said. At the time, he was with the Homebuilders Association. “I was an actual employee that was provided direction, but the direction never influenced my decision-making on the city council, I always took the community’s best interest first, and that’s how I’m going to approach this as well.”
Morton said it’s up to the administration, including himself, “to ensure that we’re being fair to everyone that we’re being responsible and that we’re not favoring builders or development. I don’t believe that’s going to be a problem, but we’ll continue to manage that.” He cites Tyner’s role as, in effect, a balancing act between DeLorenzo’s rebranding and a still-valuable legacy of careful and green development to preserve. Palm Coast’s canopy, in other words, is not going to be lost.
Nevertheless, Morton wants the message to be clear that rigidity is out and flexibility is in. “We have to swing the pendulum here, there’s no doubt about that, we were too far to the other side,” he said. He was referring to the city’s code. “I think we had taken on this mantle that the code book was an excuse to not do the heavy lifting of community development work. From my perception from what I heard was that we were too heavy-handed with this code book, we were too recalcitrant, ‘no, no, no.’”
DeLorenzo takes over either at the beginning or the middle of July. He’ll be paid $104,000. Tyner is currently earning $101,000. The promotion carries a 5 percent raise. So he’ll be making more than his director–$106,000, at least at the beginning. (DeLorenzo said the difference doesn’t bother him.) DeLorenzo for the past 18 months filled two roles at Southern Title. He was director of sales for the builder-development division, and was a government affairs liaison. He credits the company for preparing him for his next job, citing its leadership program.
The Chief Development Officer position was previously known as Community Development Director when held by Steve Flanagan and, before him, Nestor Abreu. Abreu retired. Flanagan is returning to the utility department to continue what Morton describes as “his mentorship” under long-time director Richard Adams, who is flirting with retirement. Morton says he changed the name of the position to make it more accountable.
DeLorenzo will have to improve the department’s image in that regard: twice since November its employees have been the subject of internal investigations and disciplining that led to resignations and suspensions. In one case, the chief building inspector was found to have favored one company over others. In another, several building division employees accepted gifts from a particular developer at Christmas, what became known as Whiskygate.
DeLorenzo’s appointment will also affect the political dynamics of the coming county commission races. DeLorenzo in 2016 ran for the seat Charlie Ericksen defended. DeLorenzo was aiming to run again, absent his appointment to the city’s post. Now that’s not possible anymore: the city does not allow its directors to serve on political boards. DeLorenzo’s absence from the race will likely open it to still more candidates, now that a known entity is not in the mix.
To DeLorenzo, the choice came down to thinking about family and his 10-year-old daughter: “Politics can get really nasty, especially during campaign season,” he said. The county commission job–even his current job–would have entailed being away from the house on evenings and some weekends at a time when he would rather maximize his time with his daughter. But in the end, “the challenge of taking over the department is really why I leaned one way over the other.”