Nine days after Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland resigned, City Manager Matt Morton today announced his resignation. The resignation deepens turmoil in a city government already reeling from instability, uncertainty within city ranks and severe tensions at recent meetings.
The resignation would, once effective, leave the city in the hands of two newly appointed chiefs of staff, Lauren Johnston and Denise Bevan.
The resignation is not entirely surprising: Morton was essentially a Holland protege, and without her on the council, he’d lost his support’s cornerstone. But the resignation adds at least some credence to rampant speculation that Holland’s resignation was not prompted only by concerns over her daughter’s health, and that the two resignations are connected.
Morton, who did not answer his phone or return a text, had the council majority’s confidence. He just marked his second anniversary with the city and was awarded a $9,000 raise by the council earlier this month, in what proved to be Holland’s last business meeting.
He tendered his 30-day notice to the acting mayor and city staff by email, and cited, without detail or explanation, a tenet from the International City/County Management Association’s Code of Ethics: “Resist any encroachment on professional responsibilities, believing the member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.”
Just weeks ago Council member Victor Barbosa had called for Morton’s resignation, citing sketchy claims of “corruption” and drawing no support from other council members. Members have since reasserted their support for Morton.
“There have been misses and failures, which is not only human but happens in every organization around the globe,” he wrote Eddie Brabnquinho, the acting mayor–who is in Portugal on vacation– “but from those my aim was always to do better, to be better, while not making excuses nor assigning blame.
Brittany Kershaw, herself brought on by Morton just days ago to lead the city’s public relations office, issued a three-paragraph release moments after noon, announcing the resignation. The release, like Morton’s email, did not clarify a reason.
By charter, the council must begin filling the manager’s position within 90 days of a vacancy. An acting city manager may be appointed by the council. But the charter notes that the manager “shall be appointed by a majority vote of the full Council,” which implies that a three-vote majority would be required.
“If we don’t have three votes we don’t have an interim manager,” Council member Ed Danko said. “But I’m confident we’ll come together, make that decision and do what’s right for the city of Palm Coast.”
Danko said he was surprised by the manager’s decision, having met Morton only yesterday to let him know he’d be making a motion to “destroy” what came to light this week as a “difficult citizens” list the city has kept since 2016, naming names and addresses of residents who’d been judged inappropriate or aggressive toward city staff. The list, first revealed by the News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez on Tuesday, was made available as a public record but had never been disclosed by the city before, essentially making it all but a secret document. Those named on it had no avenue of disputing being on it. “He seemed perfectly fine yesterday,” Danko said of his meeting with Morton on Wednesday, when they discussed the list.
“Moving forward with the budget coming up, this is not the best time for something like that to happen,” Danko said of the manager’s resignation.
Holland’s resignation prompted the charter-required special election, now set for July 27, to fill the mayor’s seat. That race has drawn several candidates and was already shaping up into a referendum on the city’s future. As Morton was preparing the timeline of the election, he stressed that he was hoping for the position to be filled ahead of the beginning of budget season, signaling that he was himself committed to that process. His resignation, which becomes effective on June 26, now creates an administrative and political challenge for the city.
The council is now the most inexperienced local government board in Flagler County, with Nick Klufas a senior member with just five years’ service. Danko and Barbosa were elected last November with no prior electoral experience or government budgeting experience. Branquinho was elected just over two years ago. The city administration itself saw much turmoil after Morton’s arrival, with most of the top positions changing hands, though the city’s finance department has been quite stable and firmly in hands, under Helena Alves.