The Flagler Beach City Commission in a special meeting today appointed Police Chief Matt Doughney its interim manager for as long as the city takes to find a replacement for Larry Newsom, the city manager for the past four and a half years who died Sunday.
Doughney has been Flagler Beach’s police chief since 2013. He became acting manager on Sunday. Today the commission voted 5-0 to make him interim. The appointment incidentally makes Doughney the government executive with the longest experience in Flagler County (seven years) than any of the county’s three city managers, its county administrator or its superintendent, none of whom has been at his or her job even two years.
Police Captain Lance Blanchette will be the acting police chief while Doughney is manager. “It’s not a matter of whether Matt can do both jobs, it’s a dual office holding issue. Legally he can’t do both jobs,” Drew Smith, the city attorney, said. Doughney will not have police authority as long as he’s filling his civilian role at City Hall.
Doughney is leaving the door open to possibly becoming the permanent city manager. But he’s not decided whether to apply, and he urged the commission to go through the search and appointment process for a new manager.
“If I feel comfortable I would apply for the position, if it’s something that I wanted to do, but that’s something I’d have to make a personal choice,” Doughney said. “The citizens deserve the right to know that there’s a great candidate out there and we need to go through that process and find somebody. If ultimately it would be me, if I put in, that’s fine. But if there’s somebody out there that can come in here and lead this city, I’ll be here through whatever the process takes, four months, six months, a year.”
When Newsom instituted a succession plan earlier this year, Fire Chief Bobby Pace was first in line as acting manager, followed by Doughney. That changed last week.
“Myself and Mr. Newsom along with Chief Pace had a meeting about a week before Larry’s passing about enacting the succession chain,” Doughney said. “At that point it was determined that I would fill in if that need arose. Unfortunately it had to be enacted due to the sudden loss of Mr. Newsom. So I wanted each of you to know that I’ll be the acting city manager for as long as you want me to. I’ll do the best job that I can and help with leading this city through what is a trying time, not just with the death of Mr. Newsom. We’ve also lost Bruce Garrison and Angelo Cinelli, we’ve lost three city staff members in less than two months. With Covid-19, it’s been a storm of a year. My job right now is to settle the waters and move this city forward so we can put somebody in this chair.”
Cinelli was a Flagler Beach property owner and part-time employee at the bait shot by the pier.
The special meeting was also designed to lay out the commission’s plan on hiring the next permanent manager. Commissioner Ken Bryan sought to appoint a search committee, suggesting that the search “could be six months, it could be longer.” He envisioned an appointed committee of several members chosen by the commission, but Deborah Phillips aside, the idea didn’t appeal to a majority of other commissioners and the mayor. Phillips had suggested that the process could mirror that of the charter review commission, which was made up of a citizen’s committee.
“It would drag out this process longer than it probably would be,” Mayor Linda Provencher said. “Just in hiring in the past, I think we should go down the same road.” Since the resignation of Bernie Murphy in 2010 (who, as a cautionary tale to Doughney, had been interim manager for five years), the commission has hired just two managers, Bruce Campbell and Larry Newsom. The Campbell process was horrendously long, controversial, at times raucous and more in keeping with political campaigns than the hiring of an appointed position. But the hiring of Newsom was a more civil, deliberate process. Both times, however, the commission kept complete control of the process. It advertised the position, collected resumes, then each commissioners went through his or her own stack, narrowing the candidates to a short-list. The short-listed candidates were then interviewed.
That’s the approach the commission chose again.
“Citizens need to be involved, but I would not want all of the time to go into building the process and getting the stuff going to slow that down,” Commissioner Eric Cooley said. The difficulty is not to find candidates, but to find the best one. “As far as reinventing the wheel or anything that involves building something from the ground up, I just don’t think we have the time for it. I wish we did. I think what we need to focus on is borrowing something from cities that have recently done this,” such as Palm Coast and Bunnell.
Commission Chairman Jane Mealy said there’s been times in the past when the commission used an advisory panel, but she prefers using a direct process by commissioners. “We’re a unique town in lots of different ways, and to have somebody from, I don’t know, St. Augustine, which is a beach town, or a coastal town, but still very different from Flagler Beach, or even Palm Coast, they deal with different issues than we do. So I’m not willing to try to catch somebody up to this is what we’re looking for.” Mealy said commissioners have at their means easy ways to background candidates. “One year we were ready to hire a guy until we found out that his personal background wasn’t so good,” she said of a candidate who’d aced his interview, but turned out to have starred in a pornographic video called “The Councilman’s Wife.”
As Bryan pressed his case for a panel of citizens, Mealy pushed back: “We were elected by the people, and part of our job, as Linda just said, is to hire the city manager,” Mealy said. “I want to see all of the applications. If other people want to look at them too, that’s fine, but I want to see them all. And I take that job very seriously. I don’t want to pawn it off on somebody.”
The job will be advertised for five working days internally (from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4), giving the city’s employees a chance to apply first. It will then be advertised more broadly through trade government publications or message boards such as that of the the International City/County Management Association. The job requirements are similar to those used to hire Newsom, with a few changes, such as a focus on interdepartmental cooperation, grant-writing, and expertise in handling catastrophes, the latter a nod to Flagler Beach’s recent history of hurricanes and its future history of battling sea rise and other calamities associated with a warming planet. The applicants will be required to have at least a four-year college degree, no matter in what, and at least five years of successful management experience. The manager will have to live in the city.
The salary range will be from $104,000 to $156,000. The idea is that the manager should be paid more than the city’s next-highest-paid employee (Finance Director Kathleen Doyle), who will be making $101,500 a year. “Anywhere in this dynamic is what you could expect to be,” Cooley said.
Just two members of the public addressed the commission on the job description–Robin Polletta, representing Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek, the group established in opposition to the original development plans by The Gardens, the projected development along John Anderson Highway. “It is my hope that whoever fills this position does so with the understanding that major commitments made to outside groups must be vetted by the mayor and the city commission,” Polletta told the commission, a reference to administrative moves Newsom had taken, pledging city utilities to The Gardens’ initial development phases. (Mealy said that was already being addressed.)
Paul Harrington, who fell short last spring in a run for the city commission, also addressed the commission: “We’re a little island community, you’ve got wetland and beach you need to consider. We don’t need the Bunnell city manager, we don’t need a Midwest, farm city manager here, we need somebody that’s here, that’s aware of what’s going on, and that person that comes here may not be coming here for $150,000 a year, he may be coming here because he’s retired and he wants to do something in the latter part of his life, $80,000 bucks would make him real happy.” He added: “I’ve got a family member that has a master’s degree. I wouldn’t turn him loose in Chuck E Cheese. On the other hand I’ve got a friend I went to school with, he dropped out in 10th grade and runs a $20 million business, and he’s been doing it for the last 45 years. So there’s qualifications, there’s a right person for this job, and I think we’re going to find him. I think we’ve got somebody right here with us.”
Harrington appeared to be suggesting that Doughney was that person.
“He is the person that I would leave in charge, without a doubt,” Doughney said of Blanchette. “I have the utmost faith in his ability. I recruited him to the Daytona Beach Police Department 30 years ago, and I recruited him to come here.” Doughney also has teaching duties, which he will continue.