It took almost a year since he was pushed out of the job he’d held for 11 years as county administrator in Flagler days into 2019, but on Nov. 5, the Okaloosa County Commission voted unanimously to confirm the appointment of Craig Coffey as deputy county administrator. He started work on Nov. 12.
Coffey will be paid almost $30,000 less than his ending salary of around $163,000 in Flagler, and he’ll have to answer to County Administrator John Hofstad. He was chosen out of 142 applicants after being turned down for a series of top government executive jobs including, Gainesville, Marco Island, Clay and Hernando counties.
He’d been dogged by controversies in his final year in Flagler and been the subject of a no-confidence vote by local public unions and blistering criticism from the sheriff over what became the burial ground of Coffey’s tenure: the Sheriff’s Operations Center he’d maneuvered successfully to buy–as an abandoned hospital–in 2013 and turn into a government building, only for sheriff’s employees to fall ill there. The sheriff abandoned the building in June 2018, though a consultant earlier this month concluded that the building is repairable.
In Okaloosa, a county in the far west panhandle of the state, Coffey will be replacing Greg Kisela, the current deputy administrator, who is retiring in December. His hiring appears related to Okaloosa’s interest in having an experienced hand in several issues that mirror Flagler’s. Okaloosa’s population is twice that of Flagler and it is twice as large by area, and, despite Flagler’s reddening state, it is far more conservative than Flagler, its population is younger and better off.
“Mr. Coffey has been an administrator for a number of years, almost 20 years,” Hofstad told his commission, “most recently in Flagler County here in Florida, a coastal county with issues very similar to Okaloosa County, where he was the county administrator for almost 12 years. Has a wealth of knowledge in beach renourishment related issues, he did the jail expansion while he was in Flagler County, as you know we’re dealing with that issue here in Okaloosa as well, and then the short-term rental issue, Craig led the charge for that for our managers’ group on the state level.”
The commission agreed to pay Coffey and its existing deputy administrator simultaneously for up to a month.
Coffey was in the audience with his wife, Ginger. They got a round of applause. The couple had been living at a house at 10 Trail Run in Flagler Beach since 2009, but at the end of August sold the house for $420,000.
Okaloosa Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel spoke words of sympathy for Ginger Coffey who, she said, “is having to make a move with her 16 year old all the way across this part of the state but I think you’re going to love our area.”