Just as its finance department was receiving its 10th consecutive annual award for budget preparation from a government association, Flagler County lost its prized finance director, Lorie Bailey-Brown, to another government–Seminole County, a significant step up for Bailey-Brown, whose imprint was on those winning budgets all 10 years. Her last day was Aug. 2.
Bunnell Finance Director Christopher Campbell also left around the same time, but not under the same glowing circumstances. Campbell was pushed out by City Manager Alvin jackson just weeks after Jackson had hired him.
“It really boiled down to values, he didn’t fully subscribe to the values of this organization, what my expectations were,” Jackson said of Campbell, whose hiring had been ratified by the Bunnell City Commission on May 7. Jackson spoke of Campbell’s 24 years’ experience in municipal finance as an asset.
By mid-July, Campbell had spent weeks evaluating the finance department, identifying “a number of deficiencies,” according to a city memo. He wanted finance department employees “to function as a strategic component within the City rather than just being a transactional and compliance oriented department.” He submitted a dozen goals, saying to accomplish them “the city needs staff with the appropriate skillsets and experience levels.”
The implication was that the finance division’s staff was not qualified. The commission agreed to change the title of three finance department positions.
Campbell had followed Stella Gurnee, who had once been a candidate for city manager in Bunnell but was passed over, and who got a job as finance director in Holly Hill in early May. “We couldn’t even compete, salary and benefit-wise,” Jackson said. “It was a great opportunity for her. We worked well together.”
Following Campbell’s arrival and proposals, he lost four staffers: Margaret Miller, Amanda Raslowsky, Kim Bennett, and Josh Chestnut. He was soon to follow, having just turned in the city’s annual financial statement that the commission will approve at its meeting next week.
“Sometimes individuals are loyal to someone and when that director leaves, they move on also, so it was the perfect storm,” Jackson said. The loyalty had been to Gurnee. The departures left Jackson scrambling–and appealing for help from county government, whose finance department has been something of a cavalry before: last year it sent help to Flagler County’s East Mosquito Control District after the district discovered severe irregularities in its books.
“They lost a number of their finance guys all at once,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron told his commissioners earlier this week, explaining why he’d lent some of his staffers to Bunnell. “As a result they were in a bit of a bad situation at being able to finish out that budget and payrolls and things of that nature. We just temporarily assigned a couple of employees out of our finance and a person who’d had previous experience over there to help them out.”
That’s Luci Dance, who used to work in Bunnell’s finance department before she joined the county as an executive assistant in Cameron’s office. Lauren Shank, a budget analyst, also went to Bunnell to help.
Cameron was more candid about the situation in Bunnell: “I just heard that the city manager had said that they had a couple people to leave, and the aftermath of them leaving he discovered some things that concerned him,” Cameron said, “so they gave the finance director his walking papers. So they ended up with essentially one or two people that were just tangentially associated with the finance department.”
Asked to elaborate, Cameron said of Jackson: “I have no idea, he just came in that morning, said he was in a jam, and we did what was necessary to help him. He really wasn’t specific with that. I didn’t pry, because sometimes you’re limited in what you can say, particularly if there’s something criminal involved, which I don’t know for a fact that there is.” County staffers “are still over there at the moment but we’ve got an exit strategy. We’re helping them to go ahead and hire a finance director, then we’re pulling back.”
Jackson said his prime candidate was Shanea Stankiewicz, 35 (until recently Shanea Jones), who retired as Nassau County Manager in July, after serving in that position almost two and a half years, and in Nassau government 14 years. She was also the Office of Management and Budget Director.
Jackson said both he and the county were competing for their next finance director.
Jackson sought to downplay the effect of the exodus from the finance department. “Basically we’re navigating, everyone’s kicked in, the staff, HR, city clerk, department director, police chief, infrastructure director, everyone’s kicked in and the people Jerry sent are very, very good,” Jackson said. “The lights are still on, we haven’t missed a beat. The folks are in great spirit. I’m very, very proud of the organization and the team, because it’s times like this that basically test the strength of an organization, and the mayor and the commission–no one has panicked, the wheels haven’t come off.”