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Flagler Beach City Manager Search Launches Over Fault Lines

| May 13, 2010

It looked that way inside Flagler Beach\’s city hall, too. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler Beach City Commission began its search for a new city manager on a fractured tone Thursday.

Commission Chairman John Feind and Commissioner Jane Mealey wanted one or more professional consultants to gather and pare down applications to the best few, at which point commissioners would pick up the interview process. Commissioners Ron Vath and Steve Settle wanted the commission to do the job  from start to finish — no head hunters, no consultants, no staff filtering resumes. “I would like to get deep down and dirty on this one. I would like the resumes to come to us,” Vath said.

Vath and Settle won the day, barely, when Commissioner Joy McGrew reluctantly threw her lot with them. She’d made a compromise proposal: enabling direct community involvement in the process by letting a citizen’s committee, rather than out-of-town consultants, have the first crack at paring down resumes, then turning over the remaining batch to commissioners. But McGrew’s colleagues rejected that approach.

In the end, commissioners agreed to let local applicants apply before the position is advertised in a national trade journal, posting a position with a salary range of between $70,000 and $90,000, with benefits. The split decision essentially launched the search from a fault-line likely to have repercussion as the search progresses.

“The split on the commission is unusual,” Mealy said after the meeting. “In my four years on the commission I’d say we disagree rarely. We come from different perspectives, but ultimately we’re good. This was a fractious issue, which made me think there was some politicking going on, because that discussion was unusual.”

There was: the split reflects disagreement on the commission over whether to hire from within the ranks of the city administration (or at least the city) or from without, even though most commissioners don’t oppose a national search. Two internal candidates have already made their intentions clear: Caryn Miller, who heads the city’s community redevelopment agency, and Bruce Campbell, a building maintenance worker with the city since 2007 and former president and manager of several companies. Campbell was at the meeting, and his five-page resume’s first line, below his name and address, states his objective outright: “Obtain position of city manager, Flagler Beach.”

Mayor Alice Baker

When Campbell and Mayor Alice Baker exchanged winks during a brief break after the 50-minute, occasionally heated discussion over which way to go, Baker said there was no significance to the wink — just a habit between friends, she said.

Under charter rules, Baker had no vote during the discussion, but she’d made clear that she was with Settle and Vath. “We should take a look at the local level. We might be overlooking somebody that is qualified,” she said, criticizing past hires of managers who treated Flagler Beach as a “stepping stone.”  “I’ve just seen enough to where I want some stabilization,” she said, eliciting applause.

Outgoing manager Bernie Murphy was just a spectator during the 50-minute debate over the road to his replacement. (© FlaglerLive)

Through it all, Bernie Murphy, the 69-year-old outgoing city manager, either sat in the audience or walked out of the meeting room. He was hired in September 2006 ostensibly as an interim manager. The “interim” part of his title became the commission’s formal end-run around the city’s charter, which requires the city manager to live in Flagler Beach. Murphy lives in Ormond Beach. His last day is officially scheduled for Oct. 9.

Vath, characteristically blunt, warned that a nationwide search in the current economic environment will increase the city’s chances of landing a candidate who might look at Flagler Beach as a lay-over. “The problem with this is going to be people looking for a place to hide,” Vath said. “The economy stinks. We’re going to have good, excellent candidates from out of the city coming here saying ho, hey, this is a great job, I love it, and hiding here for as long as it takes to find a better job.”

Making his voice heard behind the scene was Dick Kelton, the former, long-time Palm Coast city manager and the local representative of the Range Riders, the oddly named consulting program run by the Florida City and County Management Association — a chummy, networking group of former Florida county and city managers who help local governments in their administrative searches and help existing managers maneuver the politics of their jobs. Much of the Range Riders’ work is conducted outside Florida’s Sunshine, or open-meetings, requirements. (Not that any of the commissioners or the mayor mentioned familiarity with and respect for the state’s open-record and open-meeting laws as part of the requirements for their new manager.)

Libby Kania, the assistant to the city manager, initially asked Kelton to explain what services he might provide. He went further in an April 27 email, making two suggestions: that the minimum experience requirement be increased from five to 10 years, and that preference be given to managers credentialed by the ICMA, or International City/County Management Association. Both of those requirements would rule out Campbell and Miller on the first cut.

Kelton’s name came up several times during Thursday’s discussion. “My understanding is the Range Rovers (sic.) is a professional association,” Settle said, restating Kelton’s recommendations. “That’s all fine and good, but I think we need to look at running the business of the city rather than loaning it out to some professional association.”

Vath went further, suggesting that Kelton’s close association with Palm Coast and the Flagler League of Cities might put Flagler Beach’s interests in a subordinate position to those. “I don’t think we should depend on anybody,” Vath said. “I know Mr. Kelton is highly respected. But I’m not sure I agree with all his requisites, and you know, Flagler League of Cities, they have their own motives too. I’m not saying they’re bad, but some may not exactly dovetail with what we’re trying to do here, so as someone said before, we’re a little city, we have to make sure that whatever we do fits in best here.”

Mealy, who spent her career in the public sector, noted that no matter what city commissions do up-front in their search for a manager, the nature of the job is such that few to none stay in one place longer than a few years. But by then the commissioners’ positions were clear, with a 2-2 split, and only McGrew’s position not yet staked. Feind ended the discussion and asked McGrew to break the tie, which she did.

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