The Flagler Beach City Commission on Tuesday evening shuffled and narrowed its list of prospective city managers from seven to five. The commission is on pace to hire a new manager, replacing the late Larry Newsom, by February.
The city drafted a team of three retired managers to go through 57 initial applicants and recommend a short-list for the commissioners’ consideration. The trio recommended seven names, some of them perplexing choices: Lee Evett, Seth Lawless, Ben Newhouse, David Strohl, Stacy Tebo, Steven Wheeler and William Whitson.
Strohl, Wheeler and Dru Driscoll are alternates: if any of the five short-listed candidates drop out, one of those three would be substituted.
The next step is a background check on each candidate, conducted by the city’s police department. The candidates will then be invited to interview. Commissioners are considering preliminary interviews by Zoom, though the commissioners intend to have one-on-one interviews in addition to interviewing the candidates as a group.
Whitson, a self-employed government consultant since 2014, appeared to have broad interest from commissioners. It did not hurt that Whitson was for eight years the assistant city manager in Port Orange, answering to Ken Parker, counting the Florida League of Cities among his clients–and Ken Parker, one of the three retired managers who submitted the initial shortlist to the commissioners, and who managed Port Orange for nearly three decades. Parker was at the special meeting Tuesday.
Barkley has been the city manager of Winslow, Ariz., a city of 10,000, since 2018, and previously had been a county administrator and town administrator in Virginia for 15 years. “I would pledge to ‘live the job’ with a solid standing in my profession,” he wrote in his cover letter, “a sophisticated understanding of core leadership principles, and a life devoted to faith, family, hard work, discipline, humor, fellowship and service.” He clearly has the confidence of his current employers: he includes Winslow’s mayor and a city council member on his list of references.
Hawthorne, who, like Barkley, had not made the recommended list of the three retired city managers, was the assistant city manager in Fort Lauderdale from 2011 to 2019 when he sought “other business opportunities,” founding his own company. He was an applicant to be the Gadsden County administrator in September, made the shortlist, but didn’t get the job. Between 2005 and 2011, he’d been the assistant city manager in Lakeland. He referred to Flagler Beach’s unique “gifts of people, places and things” in his cover letter, and described himself as “empathetic and ethical” and an “appreciative and collaborative colleague.”
Commissioner Ken Bryan was concerned about Newhouse’s “job-hopping.” He is a community development specialist in Huntington, W.Va., after almost two decades managing the city of Hurricane in central West Virginia.
“I think he’s worth talking to,” Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said of the West Virginian, who was also on Commissioners Eric Cooley’s and Deborah Phillips’s list. “To me what was important with all of these was whether they had experience in a beach or coastal community, and he did not,” Jane Mealy, who chairs the commission, said, nor did he work “in a disaster area,” she said. Commissioners were also ticked about his referring to Flagler Beach repeatedly as “Hagler Beach.” But they kept his name. The signal was that he was in, but not with the greatest enthusiasm.
Evett had been the city manager in Frostproof for two years before his firing after a checkered tenure, where council members, speaking to a Ledger reporter in Lakeland, said he’d increasingly been “working off the reservation,” and not working with the council. Belhumeur wasn’t interested in Evett, having concerns–and because Evett accepted an interim position in Lake County in the interim. Mealy found his experience in beach towns notable (Cape Coral, Jupiter), and that he knows how to deal with a variety of municipal departments.
Wheeler has some coastal-community experience, including work on beach renourishment projects like the one Flagler Beach will see possibly next year (by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), and made a few commissioners’ lists. He made the cut initially, but not the final cut. Strohl made a few commissioners’ lists, his six last years in the same job–a village administrator in a small town in Illinois–drawing some reassurance, but Mealy didn’t see anything that stood out. Like Wheeler, he initially made the cut, but was subsequently dropped.
Tebo made it on two commissioners’ lists, until Mealy spoke: “I’m going to tell you that I spent an hour on the phone with a person who used to be an elected official in White Springs, and her word was, do not hire this one. I remembered her having some problems with this woman, and it isn’t just her, because she’s sort of a friend of mine, pretty easy going woman.” Mealy referred to a lawsuit Tebo was still involved in (she claimed retaliation after being fired from DeBary). “So much for Stacy,” Mealy said.
“What did you see in Seth Lawless that maybe we didn’t see?,” Phillips asked. He had experience in a coastal city and emergency management experience through a hurricane, Parker said. But he also had recurring medical issues, including just a few months ago. Parker said he’d had planned surgery, requiring him to be off for a long time. Rather than go on extended leave, he offered to resign. The explanations may have swayed the commission but for Lawless’s actual application: it was a scant, one-page resume that hardly provided more than bullet-point, one or two-line summaries of his work experience.
“I didn’t think it was complete,” Commissioner Ken Bryan said. Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said: “Somebody that hands in a resume of that sort for a job of that category you’d think would be a little more thorough. It makes me think he didn’t take it seriously as we’d hoped a candidate would.” Others agreed. His name was dropped.
Short-Listed Applicants for Flagler Beach City Manager
|Lee Evett||City manager, Frostproof, Fla., pop. 3,000, until 2019|
|Ben Newhouse||Community development specialist, Huntington, W.Va., starting this year|
|William Whitson||Self-employed local government consultant, Atlanta, Ga.|
|John Barkley||City manager, Winslow, Ariz., pop. 9,500|
|Stanley Hawthorne||Self-employed since 2019 after serving as Fort Lauderdale assistant city manager until 2019|