Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron today fired Matt Dunn, the county’s tourism director suspended six and a half months and $36,000 ago–the amount he’s been paid since he’s been on suspension–when he became the subject of a criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The inquiry started at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, which almost immediately turned it over to FDLE, citing a potential for “corruption.”
Cameron initially announced the firing in a 180-word press release that strained to describe the firing as more of a separation, saying the county “severed” Dunn’s employment, and did not do so for any disciplinary reasons. The announcement appears calibrated to avoid as much as possible any legal, retaliatory action on the part of Dunn, who’d made clear he was not interested in resigning and had retained an attorney to represent him. (Dunn sold his house in the Hammock on July 3, according to property appraiser records, days after it went on the market.)
“He had no interest in resigning,” Cameron said in an interview this afternoon. The county’s labor attorney contacted Dunn’s attorney and notified him by phone of the decision to fire Dunn. “If I’m not mistaken, he didn’t answer, we left him a message and we sent him a letter,” Cameron said.
A savvy sports events coordinator, the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce hired Dunn in 2014 when the county’s tourism bureau was still a wing of the chamber. The relationship soured as then-County Administrator Craig Coffey successfully maneuvered to swallow the tourism bureau into county government. Coffey gave Dunn a wide berth and generous raises and successfully pushed to increase the tourism tax at Dunn’s behest, substantially increasing tourism tax revenue to nearly $3 million in the last fiscal year, compared to $2 million when Dunn started.
Dunn methods, and Coffey’s turned eyes, had raised some questions of potential conflicts of interest a few years ago when FlaglerLive revealed that Dunn had maintained his own sports-event consulting firm even as he worked for Flagler County, even after getting a 17 percent raise. Coffey defended him, saying his company was just a “placeholder.”
Cameron didn’t hedge about the firing during the interview, though he qualified the decision somewhat. “Yes, we clearly told him that his relationship with the county would be terminated as of today,” Cameron said, when asked if he had, in fact, fired him. “We’re not firing for any kind of misconduct or malfeasance.”
Cameron had been privy to the reportedly copious documentation turned over to FDLE–much of it prepared by one or more tourism department employees–that had led to Dunn’s suspension. But he would not speak of that documentation today, saying he did not want to interfer with the state investigation. A few weeks ago, when asked where the Dunn matter stood, Cameron intimated that he was ready to fire him, but not before calling him in for a meeting at county offices. That meeting never took place.
“It did not because once I reviewed all the stuff for the conversation, I didn’t feel I needed to have that conversation,” Cameron said. “It was real simple in looking at it and looking at the direction the TDC is going now,” he continued, referring to the Tourist Development Council, the county advisory board that oversees the tourism bureau and the $3 million tourism tax revenue. “I didn’t feel like his history and his skill set matched up with the new direction. Nothing against him, it’s just that they’re looking for a completely different sort of direction than the strategic plan the agency is taking.”
That strategic plan, or goal-setting document, is turning away from Dunn’s focus on sports marketing. “He was primarily sports marketing, and that’s not the direction we are taking this, we’re taking this in the direction more of lifestyle, leisure, events, that are not sports events particularly, so it’s just a different skill set,” Cameron said. “Culture is going to be a big part of it too, we’re looking at some art stuff, craft stuff, leisure stuff. It’s nothing against Matt, I just don’t think he’s the best bet for that position.”
Amy Lukasik, who’d essentially been Dunn’s deputy, has been interim director of the tourism bureau. Cameron intends to name her director. “Yes, she is the one that brought in the strategic planning consultant, worked with him, he’s given her very high marks on how to best position Flagler with its existing resources to move forward.” Cameron said he’ll soon be recommending Lukasik for the permanent top job, but the county commission will have to ratify the decision. That’s usually a formality.
“Amy has proven herself to them, I see no reason why that would not be accepted,” Cameron said. “she’s done a terrific job while being one staff member short and a lot of things to do, particularly forming a strategic plan and those sorts of things.”
As for the criminal investigation, Cameron demurred, as he has previously. “I do not know, FDLE will not discuss it with me, I tried to get a timeline, they say it’s an open case under investigation and they won’t discuss it,” he said.
There was no severance package for Dunn. “He’s been on paid administrative leave for months, we consider that as sufficient,” Cameron said.