Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron told county commissioners by letter earlier this month that he is preparing to leave the job “by the end of June,” ending what was to be an interim stint of half a year. The stint was to give commissioners time to find a permanent replacement. The commission has not searched for a replacement since, nor has discussed doing so in recent weeks.
Cameron, 75, left the door open to stay longer but is pushing for a successor from within county staff, where he’s cultivated fealty among managers through his “Leadership Academy.” He said he’d be willing to stay on as the permanent administrator, but that would mean having to leave his home in St. Johns County–a mortgage he satisfied in 2019–and moving to Flagler, as required by county regulations for the commission’s manager.
The “interim” designation is intended to get around the legal requirement. (Last decade, a Flagler Beach interim manager applied that designation for five straight years, enabling him to continue to live in Ormond Beach the whole time.)
The commission hired Cameron in February 2019 at a $160,000 salary and a total compensation package of $237,000, to replace Craig Coffey, who’d been forced to resign after an 11-year tenure. Cameron got a $1,000-a-month car allowance to accommodate his daily commute. (Coffey’s had been $400.)
Cameron made his intentions known in a Feb. 12 hard-copy letter he distributed to commissioners at a meeting last week, keeping it out of the meeting’s record. Neither he nor commissioners discussed the letter, though he called the choice of a next administrator “quite possibly the most important decision you will make as elected officials.” It took two days of wrangling with county officials to obtain the letter, suggesting that, as with Cameron’s mostly covert process of hiring a deputy county administrator, his role in hiring his successor would not be more transparent, assuming the commission doesn’t assert its responsibility more openly.
Cameron’s departure leaves commissioners with little time for a deliberate search. When Palm Coast and the school board conducted their searches for a top executive in the past two years, they each began the discussion about a year ahead of time giving themselves, their staff and their consultants ample room to go through the steps of a thorough, national search. Even Flagler Beach, faced with the unexpected death of City Manager Larry Newsom in August, devoted six months to its search before settling on a candidate last week. All three governments ended with solid choices.
Whether by design or by default, the county commission may end up replacing its interim with an interim, foregoing a search. Cameron devoted some of his letter positioning the choice as an internal one. “The Board of County Commissioners would not have had to go outside for an interim administrator had your core leadership team been in place two years ago,” he wrote, taking credit for enabling all the change that followed. “All of the successes realized, all of the serious challenges met since I first came on board, are attributable to the energy and creativity of empowered staff.”
“My contract with the BoCC requires a 90-day notice,” he wrote, using the acronym for the Board of County Commissioners, “but I feel that this board deserves to know what my plans are. It is my intent to try and complete several outstanding items by the end of June, which would allow me to leave at that time. Should those tasks be completed sooner – or later – than the end of June I will adjust my schedule accordingly. Fortunately you have several members of your Leadership Team than can easily fill the interim position while you determine how to proceed with selecting a permanent administrator.”
The leading candidates for the post are Heidi Petito and Jorge Salinas, who are currently sharing the responsibilities of deputy administrator, a position Cameron prefers to call “chief of staff”. (“They’re both kind of acting chief of staff, Chief of Staff 1, Chief of Staff 2,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said.)
Cameron’s hiring of Salinas was part of a process intended to position him in line for county administrator. Unusually for an administrative position other than county administrator or attorney, the hiring process included closed-door interviews between the candidates for the deputy position and each of the county commissioners (the interviews were not publicly announced, nor was the process).
Five candidates made it to the final round that included interviews with the commissioners–the same five candidates who may again vie for the top job, if the commission doesn’t name another interim by way of a try-out: John Brower, the county’s finance director; Petito, who’d been the county’s general services director; Jarrod Shupe, IT director for the county, the sheriff’s Office and Flagler Beach; Joe Saviak, formerly the executive director of the Sheriff’s Office’s director of leadership (he is unlikely to reapply, though he’s still running the county’s leadership academy), and Salinas, who’d been a deputy city manager in Albany, Oregon, and who specializes in IT.
Much of Cameron’s letter to commissioners is an earnestly patronizing lecture about leadership mixed with effusions of flattery, not unusual for Cameron, about the commission, his staff and himself. He addresses commissioners as if none of them had been through the process of hiring an executive, though most have either done so (repeatedly, in the case of Andy Dance) or had executive leadership experience themselves. Cameron then assigns the commissioners a chapter from John C. Maxwell’s relatively recent The Leader’s Greatest Return (HarperCollins Leadership).
“I don’t expect you to read the whole volume,” Cameron tells commissioners (the book is 250 pages long), “but the 19 pages of Chapter 1, ‘Identifying Leaders’, contain some of the best advice available today for hiring true leaders. It is a great review, even for those with ample experience with leadership. Maxwell emphasizes the importance of a healthy organizational culture, without which there can be no excellence. ”
Cameron had been a self-employed government contractor for three years before Sullivan drafted him to be interim administrator. He’d been an assistant county administrator in St. Johns County from 2006 to 2015. He’d also been a city manager and the police chief in Irmo, S.C., and Fernandina Beach, plus private sector stints that included running a marina and a Honda shop. His departure from Flagler, if it takes place, may not be final. He has previously made consulting arrangements, as in St. Johns County.