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Downplaying Expectations, County Ratifies Offer to Jobs Council CEO, for $110,700

| January 17, 2012

Helga van Eckert. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey joked to his commission members this morning that when candidates were interviewed for the new executive post at the county’s economic development department, they were told they’d have three to four weeks to produce 200 jobs. The joke fell flat. Coffey rephrased and glided back on the words most of the commissioners would say as they prepared to give their unanimous approval to tendering a job offer to Helga van Eckert as Flagler’s latest economic development director, for $110,677, more than a quarter of the county’s economic development budget.

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“We’re going to try and set realistic goals, and I think we’re going to try and communicate all of that to our partners, public and private, and let everyone know what to expect out of us,” Coffey said. “You’re going to hear a lot more about that in March after this retreat and the director is on board.”

Eckert, who heads economic development for the city of Perth Amboy on the Jersey shore, was the final choice of the newly formed, nine-member county jobs council, chaired by Barbara Revels, the county commissioner. But she was chosen through a process that never defined expectations of the job and rejected bottom-line projections of creating so many jobs after so many months. Yet job creation is the unquestioned purpose of the economic development department. The department is operating on a $410,000 annual budget, entirely in tax dollars. No matter how much the administration or the commission attempt to define success differently, in the end, and with accumulating tax dollars in play, the council and the new economic development department will be judged overwhelmingly by the net new jobs that can be attributed to their existence. Everything else is what much of this county’s economic development story has been for years: more words than paychecks.

At least some of the 62 applicants to the executive job dropped out because they were worried they’d have to be held accountable to bottom-line job creation.

“I didn’t know if there was anything that was going to be brought ever about expectations of what this council would expect or this commission would expect,” Commissioner Milissa Holland said. “I don’t want the public to get the impression that within a year there’s going to be these jobs and it’s going to be this investment that necessarily is a tangible thing that they can touch and see and wrap their hands around rather than we’re making progress on building a foundation of a strategy moving forward. So I didn’t know what discussions took place in that arena and what the expectations were–not necessarily job creation this year, but perhaps setting us a course, a direction on where we’re going from here, and what’s expected of our new CEO in regards to just time being in the office, time being outside. What level of expectations have been stated to this candidate in regards to what our expectations are and what she can possibly deliver.”

So far: none.

If van Eckert is hired, she’d start around Feb. 20. The advisory council is planning a retreat with her in March, where those expectations would be set out. Holland cautioned against the council’s lack of direction “so they’re not going in 10 different directions, answering to 10 different people.”

Commissioner Alan Peterson also downplayed expectations of actual job creation, at least in the early goings. “It’s going to be very difficult to quantify what might be done within certain time periods,” Peterson said. “I mean, you can’t say, as you said, we’re going to have x number of jobs within 60 days or even six months, but I think if we keep the public fully involved as to what’s going on, what’s happening, the efforts that are being put forward, then everybody will see that the moneys and the time we have spent so far and that the economic council representatives will spend in the future, that it is all worthwhile, that we in fact are making as much progress as can reasonably be expected. So the monthly reports are going to be very, very important.”

To commissioner Nate McLaughlin, “the message is the key,” rather than immediate job creation. “It’s exciting for me because I’m looking at it from a, say, a marketing point of view. The message in fact even having this dialogue is sending out is really exciting. It’s basically telling the region, telling the country, telling the world that hey, we’re here, we have proximity to great things, we have great things here, and we’re open for business, come on in, and that’s the message that’s going out.”

george hanns flagler county commission member flaglerlive

George Hanns (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioner George Hanns thanked the previous economic development groups in the county (there’s been a few), and put his faith in revels and van Eckert: “For those of you who are from New Jersey, which I am not, it’s not an easy place to get things done, so she must be pretty good at what she’s going.” He, too, downplayed the notion of setting a standard for job creation, and urged the administration to “keep the public posted as much as possible because it’s easy for people to criticize, but when you do things and it’s little cloak and dagger, it’s even worse, so we need to keep it as open as possible.”

Revels assured her colleagues: “This is absolutely going to be transparent, open to the public, regular reporting. I hope that a lot of the other communities will join us and come to the meetings. If they don’t, we’ll go to them. Most importantly, Miss. Van Eckert, she’s strong, innovative, got a background from what I love was the private side, working for an engineering firm and then going to the public side, some people say from the dark side to the light side or back and forth, but it gave her great perspective on how hard it is when you are battling government to get things done, and when you’re a part of government how you can make things happen faster. She’s seen both sides.”

17 Responses for “Downplaying Expectations, County Ratifies Offer to Jobs Council CEO, for $110,700”

  1. palmcoaster says:

    Looks like George Hanns have occupied his seat a bit too long, given his comment regarding “is easy for people to criticize” which actually should be ” becomes easy for people to criticize when, “we the people” find wrong doing and abusive fraudulent waste of our hard earned taxes. Sometimes if there is nothing good to say, just say nothing. Don’t brush up the taxpayers of Flagler County with undeserving colors. We been enduring enough so far. Just in case that George is unaware, in our neighboring county the positive “peoples critique” and ensuing audits against frivolous spending, have resulted in some needed and extreme measures and something to learn from:

  2. Outsider says:

    They can shuffle paper and people around all they want to try to create jobs, but until they invest money in the Flagler Airport, you will never see a major company or corporation relocate here. The facility could be a focal point in attracting businesses and corporations, but instead it has languished for years, often looking like a county storage yard. I am ardently opposed to unnecessary taxation and spending, but I believe a modest investment in tax money in the airport would go a lot further in attracting businesses than multiple meetings of the minds to fret over the lack of jobs in Flagler County. The FBO, where aircraft fuel and passengers deplane and depart if woefully inadequate. The runways are too short to accommodate the types of aircraft a major company would want to utilize. I know many will scream “not in my backyard,” but if this county wants to get serious, a complete renovation is in order, otherwise, Palm Coast will continue to become a retirement community…….for more criminals.

  3. Will says:

    I’m both elated and hopeful! Good luck Helga!

    I hope too that people in the community will support the new economic council and if they have a problem with something, that they’ll put it forward as a challenge to overcome rather than a complaint. We’ve had enough of those.

  4. says:

    110,677.00 a JOKE , can she walk on water? my neighbor who has worked for publix for 15 years got a pay raise the other day , 10 CENTS, this is really great news. this county is 14 plus unemployment rate , is she going to lower that ? i doubt it .

  5. Gia says:

    If anybody is dumb enough to believe that they are going to create jobs you’ve got to be more then stupid This is just another joke from these yoyos.

  6. Jojo says:


    Does New Jersey pay those salaries? I think it’s time to get a crowbar and remove persnickety George Hanns from a long held commissioner position Mr. Hanns has held too long. Time for new blood and ideas.

    If you don’t get industry coming to Flagler County I see no change except paying big salaries as the status quo. Perhaps these elected officials are panicking and Ms. van Eckert doesn’t know she is the scapegoat?

  7. palmcoaster says:

    I feel same as Lee Iacocca when he says in his book “Where Have All The Leaders Gone?”:
    Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane (for Katrina then), much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.” Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

  8. Frank Zedar says:

    Wow… We sure seem to have it backwards. Five out of six responses are negative in nature… lemonade back to lemons? She is a highly educated, successful woman, with a proven track record in community development, re-development, and job creation. The salary is average for such a position and the related responsibilities and risks.
    For the reporter of this piece to say “expectations=none” is not accurate. There are no specific “numbers,” yet attached to the position, but the expectations are many. The mandate is akin to raking leaves in a strong wind. When she gets here and starts working with the Advisory Council, expectations and goals will ramp up quickly. “Doing things right” is not quite the way to go. We need to “do the right things.”
    We MUST continue to strive for jobs creation and development, even in these demonic economic conditions. The crime would be to NOT do so…

  9. this is criminal says:

    I am stunned!! this person passes 5-0 no commissioner raised objections?? Where were you Alan? Mellissa?

    Helga didn’t even make the first cut! She was eliminated in the first round by the new economic board; it was with the insistence of the human resource person that the board add her back. They wanted a female to consider.

    The MAX pay of this position was $110,7000 dollar, guess what Helga asked for! NO Florida experience, no real economic development experience, she is a housing and CRA manager.

    This is blows my mind!, The new board discussed reposting the position because there wasn’t any strong candidates to choose from.

    And somehow we end up Helga at $110,700. Did anyone make a counter offer to Helga? Who is watching out for the Tax payers! Why not start out with something in the $80’s and once she PROVES herself than give her raises!

    She has no incentives to create jobs. She is on the Flagler County Gravy Train for the next couple of years.

  10. The Truth says:

    With no disrespect to this woman, this is far too much for our County to pay for someone in “economic development”. This position should have started much lower, around 70-80,000 per year and be incentive driven. If she performs, she gets increases each year. To start her off at this amount and then say that “we don’t expect much right away” is just ridiculous.

  11. No Expert says:

    Her main assignment will be to tell the public (PR Job) how well the elected officials are doing when it comes to having open arms for business. That’s why they want to take private sector businesses out of the mix. After all, now that everything is going to be transparent and there will be monthly reports, who wants their $110,700 employee criticizing policy that may be detrimental to the business community. Everything will be sunshine and roses and it will be the businesses fault why jobs are not created. The same thing happened and is happening in Palm Coast starting back when they hired Ira Corliss. Hopefully, that will not be the case but it is something that needs to be monitored.

  12. JL says:

    I say we vote everyone out of office next election. This is outragious. She’s getting paid a New Jersey salary, but guess what people? This ain’t Jersey. The cost of living is no where near Jersey. This may be “average” salary in NYC. Possibly Miami Beach. NOT Flagler County. Who came up with that? If this woman is brought in and hired, and hired at that salary, whoever ok’s it, gets voted out next election. How’s that? Its about time we take back our say in our town. We can’t afford to pay 6 figures to someone who MAY or MAY NOT bring jobs. It’s a gamble we can’t afford. We need to bring back ITT or some other agency who knows how to get people down to Flagler. ITT found a way back when Flagler was nothing but a few old hotels on the beach and Bunnell. We need people to want to retire there. To bring businesses there. I’m not convinced this Helga can do it. But she should NOT be paid so much.

  13. Geezer Butler says:

    Helga: Will you loan me a couple of dollars?

  14. Shame on Helga says:

    I think it takes some nerve to come into a job position and ask for the max with no florida experience, no real economic development experience. She should change her name to Helga Van Romney. She is a 1%er, Coffey, Landon and van Romney.

    May I have a few dollars to pay my electric bill?

  15. Anonymous says:

    As I am reading some of the post here I am weary of some of the comments. In order to get someone with excellent experience you do need to pay for it. Some of the topics are great suggestions, improving the airport, we could also become a working stop at the train station. We do not have a port however we could utilize our waterway in a better manner to create better jobs. I do have a feeling this women is coming here with some great ideas. Our problem will be the continued sarcasium which continues from some of our representatives. I do feel if Flagler would encourage improvement of our Daytona State College in our area we could also bring more jobs critisisum without a solution or suggestion will always be ignored. Try being part of the solution instead of a pessimist just complaining.

  16. palmcoaster says:

    @Anonymous and all supporting this costly and useless bureaucracy, regarding ED, I would advise you to closely look into how many jobs, “realistically and not hear say”, this over half a million dollars have created 12 months from now. Then lets talk about how high paid professionals benefit our economy.

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