Two more high-level resignations have struck Palm Coast government weeks after three directors and two managers left as more members of the previous administration are deciding City Manager Matt Morton’s new direction is not for them.
Ricky Lee, the highly regarded chief building official, and Jason Giraulo, whom Morton had appointed interim communications manager in place of Cindi Lane (who’d resigned in early June) tendered their resignations on June 28 and 21, respectively. Giraulo is leaving this week. Lee is leaving next week.
“He doesn’t see alignment in the vision of where we’re going with the new development officer,” Morton said of Lee, referring to just-hired Jason DeLorenzo, the former city council member, as head of the development office at the city, “which is the whole customer service vision of the city, essentially. He has got a very marketable skill, he is very highly qualified at what he does, he’s got more certifications–it’s a lot.” Lee’s four-line, undated letter described the past six years as “very rewarding,” and that the decision wasn’t easy.
Lee’s is the latest in a series of resignations in a department in upheaval: with the exception of the communications department, none other has seen the continuing changes at the department formerly known as community development. But it has also been the department most commonly associated with criticism and complaints in the development and Realtor communities, whose influence is ascending at City Hall.
Giraulo told city officials he intended to start his own business and spend more time with his young child, but also described his career as at an “impasse” and said in his resignation letter that there was “a fundamental inability for me to serve the capricious demands of the City Manager, the Mayor and the City Council.” He also cited a lack of “clear direction” and of becoming “castrated in my ability to effectively lead communications efforts.”
Of all the resignation letters tendered through the month’s exodus, Giraulo’s was the only one to explicitly–and fervently–go well beyond the pro forma thanks and regrets of the typical resignation letter. He penned those more flattering words, too, but just as explicitly reserved them to Beau Falgout, the deputy city manager to whom the letter was addressed. It was another clear signal of Giraulo’s loyalty. Lane had also addressed her letter to Falgout, to whom both managers reported. (Falgout applied to be city manager. A divided council passed him over. The council has been less divided since.)
In a final contrast with the criticism leveled at Morton, who is never named in the letter, Giraulo described Falgout as “an outstanding leader, mentor, advisor and friend and I wish you and your family the very best as you pursue your dreams. I will deeply miss our interactions and those with other City staff, of whom many I consider family.”
The contrast perhaps unwittingly articulates the cleaving effect Morton continues to have between ex-Manager Jim Landon’s Ancien Régime, an 11-year reign that saw Landon increasingly exercise hermetic, nearly cultish allegiance from his closer staff, and those willing to adapt to Morton’s no less exacting but unburdened approach, where breaking with the past has been more policy than rhetoric. But the break can be interpreted differently by those within.
Morton said he was struck by Giraulo’s decision to resign and wanted him to change his mind–then strongly disputed Giraulo’s “capricious” characterization, and to Giraulo telling him he didn’t have examples of the capriciousness. “He goes I wrote the letter at 2 in the morning, and that was his excuse for the harsh tone of the letter. I said OK, well, I shook his hand, I thanked him for the hard work, and I don’t understand what’s going on–I really don’t. So yes, he’s heading out the door.”
That, Morton said, after getting a sharply different response from Giraulo after appointing him interim communications manager. “He was coming to me every day, he was like, this is great, we’re doing this, this is how I’m leading the team, he was adopting some of the philosophies” from goals to strategies to communicating values, Morton said. Then, on June 21, he got a call from Falgout telling him of Giraulo’s resignation. Morton had just picked up his family at the airport: his wife and two teenage children were that very day making the move to Palm Coast from Washington State. “I dropped them off at home, ran to city hall, met with Jason,” Morton said. He asked him to wait until Monday, but Giraulo had already handed in his letter and did not change his mind Monday.
“Changing direction(s) on a project or augmenting workflow, when done as we did with support, encouragement and gratefulness towards all involved is anything but capricious,” Morton wrote Giraulo on June 24. Paraphrasing a conversation he’d had with Giraulo, Morton said he told him, “What I did ask you to do as a leader in the organization was to pivot when we get things wrong, and I’m sorry you couldn’t reconcile me just asking for a direct change in direction with being capricious. I don’t know how you made that leap. After he gave the letter he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.”
Giraulo, likely busy helping the city prepare for tonight’s celebration of Independence Day in Town Center, did not return a call today.
Holland, the only other individual singled out for criticism in Giraulo’s letter, responded this way when asked by FlaglerLive: “I was surprised to hear of Jason’s resignation and particularly the tone in which the letter was written. Change is hard, in particular in an organization that has been managed one way for 12 years. Matt brings a different management style and has different expectations for staff delivery and had relayed those very clearly to Jason after being moved into a leadership position. Our residents deserve the best in class services our teams are able to deliver and we need to move forward in a positive direction, and I support Matt’s approach.”
As for Giraulo (or Lane) addressing their letters to Falgout, Morton clearly saw the intention, but said “I have about as big of an ego as a snow pea, so for me I don’t care, I really don’t. People ask me that question, ‘don’t you see it as disrespectful, don’t you take it as a personal assault that they would choose to write that letter to Beau, not to you.’ My comment is, it doesn’t matter to me, I’m not ill-willed toward Cindi, I’m not ill-willed towards Jason, I really, truly, honestly, from the bottom of my heart wish them the best and I hope they find the happiest success they think they’re going to find in whatever they’re choosing to do–really. We’re not black-staining either one of them. If someone was to call here and ask for a reference or a recommendation, they both did good work for the city. That’s the end of the day.”
That leaves PR Associate Kimberly Norman and Tyler Jarnagin, a “digital media associate” who started the same day Morton did, four months ago, in the communications department. The city drew 68 applications for the communications manager’s position (so far). The short-listed applicants are to go through a rigorous process.
Still, while it’s become clear that most of the departures earlier this month were firings in the face-saving veil of resignation letters, Morton was not expecting the resignations of Lane or Giraulo. It’s not clear what category Lee’s departure falls, though this is: there was no push back from Morton.
Lee’s integrity was underscored by an internal investigation showing he was an exception to improprieties committed by several other building department employees who’d accepted whiskey and chocolate gift boxes from a developer with permits pending at the department. Lee had been incensed by the the gift-giving, according to the investigation. That investigation led to suspensions and resignations.
The city scrambled when it found out Lee was leaving, but he gave the city time to find a replacement. It’s a powerful position. Morton did not talk to Lee directly, but learned second hand that Lee wanted to market his skills elsewhere. “It is extraordinarily difficult to find a certified building official in Florida, it’s such a tight market,” Morton said.
Interviews are ongoing. Morton lavished Lee with praise while noting that the city’s focus was “how to get someone who holds a license so business doesn’t grind to a halt, so that’s been a big focus in the last 72 hours.” But, he said, “I don’t foresee any gap in service. We will have a solution one way or another because we have to. We’re going to solve this challenge and keep moving forward.”
Addressing the broader picture of ongoing changes, Morton was as candid as he’s usually been when discussing these or other matters. “Here’s something that I think is freaking people out a little bit in the organization, but I’m doing it,” he said. “At the end of the day if I’m going to make a choice, I believe especially where we have technical depth or we have textbook capacity, I want to hire for character and train for skill,” Morton said. “So the big thing we’re going to be looking at is people’s character, their attitude, and we try to dig in and really learn that, that’s why these [interview] processes are so elaborate. Because you can fake it on day one, you can fake it for an hour interview. We really try to understand people’s wiring, and do they have that humility, do they have the sense of this organization, the community.”