In his 13 years on the Flagler County School Board, Andy Dance was big on what he calls “process.” He liked issues to be discussed deliberately, carefully and with time on his and the board’s side, to avoid being blindsided or to stumble into half-baked decisions the board would later regret.
His colleagues may not have always been as process-oriented as he was, but they thrived on his approach, as did the board, which for those dozen-years plus enjoyed remarkable stability and consensus even as it contended with five different superintendents. Dance was involved in hiring four of them in that span. With the last three especially, the board itself was big on “process” even when it knew–as was the case with Jacob Oliva–that a particular appointment was almost certain: he’d become the interim superintendent after a stroke cut short the tenure of his predecessor, Janet Valentine. Valentine had lined him up as his successor, with the board’s approval. But the board still went through a formal if hurried hiring process.
It did so again, taking six months in one case and almost a year in the last, in the hiring of Jim Tager then Cathy Mittelstadt. In every case going back to Bill Delbrugge, the board’s approach paid dividends, its superintendents complementing the board’s approach and often reflecting Dance’s premium on process.
Dance resigned his school board seat last November after his election to the County Commission. At the commission’s last meeting last month, Interim Administrator Jerry Cameron circulated a hard-copy letter to the five commissioner announcing he would resign by June. “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,” he wrote. Cameron, who reflexively takes pride and credit for honing successors he describes in extravagant nicespeak, suggested his position could be filled by “several” other members of the administrative staff. He said they could “easily fill the interim position while you determine to proceed with selecting a permanent administrator.”
Cameron’s letter gave commissioners just four months’ warning that they should make that determination–about two months short of the average time it takes for local governments to debate what they want in their next executive, hire a search firm that may help drawing up a job description after soliciting public input, as both Palm Coast and the school board did before hiring their latest executives, broadly advertise the position for several weeks, cull through the applicants, short-listing them, drawing down the list to candidates worth interviewing, holding the interviews, again involving the public, and finally making a choice.
To all that, the Flagler County Commission today said, in effect: Not interested.
Dance apparently reacting to the Cameron letter at the end of today’s commission meeting, brought up the matter of a mere “timeline” for the next administrator.
“Are we working on a timeline for discussing the replacement process for the administrator?” he asked Donald O’Brien, the commission chairman.
“No,” O’Brien said simply. No additional explanation.
“OK. So no discussion about the process?” Dance asked.
“No,” O’Brien said with the same bluntness.
“What’s the process, then?” Dance asked.
“Don’t have a process at this point,” O’Brien said. Other than an abbreviated search for an interim after former Administrator Craig Coffey at the beginning of 2019, neither O’Brien nor any of the current commission members, with Dance’s exception, have been involved in the hiring of a top executive or a county attorney–the only two positions they are responsible for. But O’Brien keeps himself informed, attends other local governments’ meetings, and is well aware of their methods and examples, making his odd stance today that much more surprising–unless commissioners already have choice and expect only to go through the formality of a search before they settle on that choice. Cameron in his hiring of deputy Administrator Jorge Salinas saw whoever filled that position as his successor, and went as far as involving commissioners in the job interviews for that position, with that eventuality in mind. That search never involved the public and was conducted for the most part out of view.
“We don’t have a resignation,” O’Brien continued. “We have a letter from Mr. Cameron giving us an outline of what his thoughts were, but we don’t have a resignation, so we don’t have anything specific to react to, in my mind, as of today.”
Dance was audibly startled. “So we’re waiting for the 90–the official 90-day notice?” he asked.
“I don’t really have any desire to talk about it until we have something on the board,” O’Brien said. “But I mean, whatever the pleasure is of all the other commissioners.”
The other commissioners were not interested in moving forward. One of them put the commission’s proclivity for doing nothing–a proclivity that has landed the commission in innumerable morasses and fiascos–in explicit terms: “I don’t think we need to do anything,” Hansen said.
“I’m not being a smart aleck, I’m just answering your question,” O’Brien told Dance.
“OK, no, I get it,” Dance said, off balance. He’s been little used to that kind of nonchalance from board members he serves with. “I’m just still–I’ll have to process. Because I would like to at least in my mind having a timeline would be appropriate. But…”
Dance paused. He sighed. He went on to a different topic. So did the commission.