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“Between Us Girls”: Jobs Council Hears Drones, Stunners and Enthusiasm in 7 CEO Interviews

| December 14, 2011

Members of Flagler's economic development council. huddled around a speaker phone, conducted seven interviews in four hours today for their CEO. (FlaglerLive)

Memo to job applicants for a CEO position in government: It’s not a good idea to preface your answer with lines like “between us girls.”

Particularly when you’re a man. Even more particularly when you’re talking to a conference-room full of seasoned executives turned public servants on a council chaired by a woman, with press and public in attendance. “I couldn’t believe he said that,” one of the interviewers said.

Click On:

Score one against Christopher Clifton, one of the seven candidates being interviewed this afternoon by the newly formed Flagler County Economic Development Council to be its chief executive. Clifton actually impressed the council with his contacts and experience through a paper company in Tennessee but impressed it less with the way he characterized his reasons for a career change (describing real estate as “in the tank” and wanting to return to the economic development arena).

So it generally went as the council went through a short-list of seven candidates in a first round of interviews. The candidates were interviewed by phone for about half an hour each by the nine members of the council, and with Joe Mayer, the county’s human resources director, leading with a half dozen set questions. The list was pared down to five in-person interviews on Jan. 5.

As usually happens after serial interviews, some candidates shone brighter than others, and some ideas appealed to the council more than others—especially the tantalizing possibility of an Amazon distribution center located in Flagler. The possibility of turning Flagler into a base for military drone manufacturing (Boeing contracts with labor in Poland for the job now, so why not bring those jobs stateside, one candidate suggested) was less appealing.

The questions, prepared by Mayer, were relatively straight-forward. No candidate who hadn’t done a meager amount of homework would have been caught off guard: Why are you pursuing the position? What are your top three responsibilities? What communications skills are important? What are some success stories you’re directly involved in? How did you prepare for the interview? What questions might you have for us?

The candidates interviewed, down from a list of 60-some applicants: Clarence Hulse, Robert Barnes, Helga van Eckert, Bruce Register, Peter Tokar III, Kevin Hurley and Chris Clifton. Lisa Collins had made the short list but withdrew herself before the phone interviews.

The five who made the cut for in-person interviews: Barnes, van Eckert, Register, Tokar and Clifton.

Council members appeared more interested with some than they were with others. Barnes excited them. Tokar and Clifton teased their imagination. Register got points for being as inquisitive of the council members as they were of him, though they wondered whether he would be the right fit in what would be his first executive job in economic development. Hurley appeared to bore them (and raise an occasional eyebrow when, for instance, he spoke of researching Flagler County on Wikipedia; other candidates’ sources were more sophisticated, at least in their answers) and was summed up as “a really good guy,” which is the job prospect’s equivalent of a date with a nice personality, particularly since “he didn’t really do his homework on Flagler County,” as one council member put it. And Hulse, the last candidate, had them nervous even before the interview, because the Belize native’s resume had “red flags,” as one council member put it, with short job stints and a question-raising history, including his most recent job, which Mayer said he left because of political changes.

The interviews started at 1 p.m. They were not scheduled to end until 5 p.m. Only after that would it become clear who the council would choose for interviews.

three of the candidates raised the issue of Enterprise Flagler’s dissolution. Enterprise Flagler was the public-private economic development partnership that the county and Palm Coast effectively dissolved this summer when they quit funding it. Candidates were wondering why it had to be dissolved only to be replaced with a county version. “I hate to term it as blatantly as I can, but it was a political issue,” Barbara Revels, who chairs the council, replied. Revels was also the county’s representative on Enterprise Flagler. No one would dispute Revels’s summary, but nor did the answer explain why and how the matter turned so political.

There was occasional humor, too. When Jim Ulsamer, one of the council members, likened Register’s verbal delivery and intonations to Rick Perry, one of the GOP’s presidential hopefuls, another council member said–without skipping a beat–“yes, but he remembered all his points.” In the same department, Barnes sounded, to Revels, “exactly like a Putnam County commissioner.”

And when Van Eckert was asked what sort of staff she has currently, she replied: “staff, what a wonderful word,” a reflection of what many people working in economic development have to deal with: small budgets. This council will be wielding about $400,000 in its first year. Perhaps half of that will go to salaries, including the CEO’s salary, which will be in the $100,000 range.

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7 Responses for ““Between Us Girls”: Jobs Council Hears Drones, Stunners and Enthusiasm in 7 CEO Interviews”

  1. roco says:

    The picture showed the people around the table were realy not interested.. They looked like they were bored or sleeping.. It looked a total waste of time. I hope they don’t get PAID FOR THIS..

    • FlaglerLive says:

      With the exception of the chairman of the council, who’s paid through her county commission job (but nothing additional for council assignments), and the director of human resources, who’s a county administration staffer, all the people around the table are volunteers down to the gas they expend to and from council business. Sitting still and listening to a faceless speaker phone would make anyone look bored, but they were not, in fact, at all bored except in brief spells here and there (who wouldn’t be, sitting in four hours of interviews), and judging from their questions and a lot of the answers they got, they were quite engaged and, from time to time, engaging.

  2. Gia says:

    These yo yo’s are just a bunch of dreamers with no common sense. They should go back to their playground & play with their toys as usual.

  3. Clueless in Flagler says:

    Clueless …..

    Am I reading this right, the board has selected as their final canadidates, the new CEO or our community, a person with no executive experience, a person from a community no bigger than Bunnell and the starting pay is a $100,000.

    The job needs to be reposted

    By when they finally do select a “CEO”, this CEO is going to have it made. This board is clueless. The board loved the amazon distribution center idea, a company that pays their workers $8 a hour but they didn’t like the defense company idea, a job that probably pays $30 a hour?

    The new CEO can hang out a crazy idea like a shinny piece tinsel and this board will buy it. “let’s be the medical research capital of the world” Or “let’s recruit apple or google and become a silicon beach”

    This board is going rabbit chasing and it is on the tax payer dime. Chasing all kinds of crazy ideals

  4. Richard says:

    I feel so sorry for this Council. they are mainly well meaning and concerned citizens with a thankless task. Any decision will be second guessed and probably overridden by our city and county administrations.

    My take-away from your picture was that hardly anyone was using any modern technology. I think i could see one I-Pad, amongst all the paper and the books. The speaker phone was like one I used before I retired over 10 years ago. Couldn’t they use Skype or something similar to see the candidates they were interviewing? They might have been more involved that way. And certainly any executive they hire has to be very familiar with technology rather than the wine and dine mentality of the old council.

    I didn’t fully understand why they ridiculed the guy that used Wikipedia to research Flagler County. Wikipedia is a great starting point for any research as long as you understand its limitations. In the case of Flagler County its main limitation is that the County and people here seem to have ignored it and not posted much of the great stuff about life here. But that is our own fault, not his. Instead the County and Tourist Council has spent its money on its own website and on other media. I think it would be a great project for High School Students to go make “Flagler County” one of the best most read entries on Wikipedia.

    I think Apple or Google would be quite happy to set up an east coast office here – nice beach, great weather, great outdoors activities, surfing – just 2 big problems. we dont invest enough in educating students to feed their needs and we have no social life for 20-40 year olds. So its not going to happen unless we can convert the DSC campus here into a true university.

    An amazon distribution center is a pipe dream. Technology is eliminating distribution centers for that type of business. A produce distribution center for supermarkets might be feasible, but we already have one in Flagler that noone seems to know about.

    Producing drones? that might actually be a good idea. Civilian uses of drones is going to be a very high growth business. Law Enforcement is going to deploy them everywhere unless the Supreme Court stops it (unlikely).

  5. Nancy N. says:

    Holy crap, RIchard is right! Where is the technology in that room? Welcome to the 21st century? If I’d have been in a meeting like that I’d have had my laptop and my phone (on vibrate) on the table.

    Also, where’s the diversity? 10 people on that council and the most diversity we’ve got is two women? There’s no ethnic or age diversity (and I’d wager no income diversity either). I wonder how educationally diverse the council is – how many are MBA’s? Maybe if we had a bigger variety of perspectives providing input, we wouldn’t be stuck in such a rut?

  6. Larry says:

    Good Point, Nancy N. The lack of ethnic and age diversity is very apparent from the photo.

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