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County Administrator’s and Attorney’s Contracts May Renew Through 2019 Without Discussion

| October 19, 2015

craig coffey manager contract

Referring to Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey, above, County Commission Chairman Frank Meeker said he had never known a government executive not to be a micro-manager. Coffey’s contract is up for renewal, but may renew automatically this evening absent a commissioner raising the issue. (© FlaglerLive)

The last time the contracts for County Manager Craig Coffey and County Attorney Al Hadeed were up for renewal, back in 2012, they were placed on the “consent” portion of the agenda–that portion where numerous items are approved in one swoop, without discussion by county commissioners, unless one of them chooses to pull an item for debate.

This time, the two contracts are headed for another three-year renewal without even appearing on the commission’s agenda. The administrator and the attorney are the only employees in county government that county commissioners hire, evaluate and fire. Evaluations are conducted in November. If none of the commissioners mention the contracts at tonight’s meeting, they will automatically renew, as stated in a clause in each contract. The commission is required to inform Hadeed and Coffey by Oct. 23, in writing, if it were to choose not to renew or alter the terms of the contract. Since commissioners cannot act unilaterally or outside of a public meeting, the effective deadline for any changes to the contracts is tonight’s meeting.

The commission hired both men in 2007, though it was an entirely different commission then but for one member: George Hanns. Jim O’Connell, Milissa Holland, Jim Darby and Bob Abbott were on the commission at the time and have since been replaced. Current commissioners have voiced little displeasure with either employee. In Coffey’s last evaluation, he drew an average score of 4.7 out of 5, with two commissioners giving him straight 5’s and a third close to that. (Hadded’s was even more positive.)

Four of five commissioners interviewed today said they had no issue with the contract renewal, though Commissioner Charlie Ericksen said he found the sequence of a contract renewal preceding the evaluation of the employee problematic. (A fifth commissioner, George Hanns, did not return calls.)

“I haven’t seen anybody suggest changes,” Ericksen said. “I told Mr. Coffey I’d like to see more workshops like the city of Palm Coast does to talk about subjects before they come up, and get stuff off the consent agenda.”

Update: Ericksen at the end of this evening’s meeting brought up the contract issue and made a motion to delay its extension until the administrator’s evaluations were completed in November. But each commissioner in turn then spoke in defense of Coffey and against delaying the renewal. One commissioner–Barbara Revels–suggested to Coffey that if there is dissent in the ranks, he should find ways to work it out. “My motion was not to bash the county administrator, because I too share some of the comments that some made right here on the board,” Ericksen said. “I just wanted to make sure we’re doing what we should. As far as that appraisal form and those questions, it’s very hard to get any objective measurements out of those.” Revels and Commissioner Frank Meeker agreed with the description of the evaluation form, but suggested that the form be a separate issue. The commission took no action on Ericksen’s motion, which died.

Commissioner Nate McLaughlin then moved to renew the contract, which drew rebukes from members of the public over the fact that the contract was not added to the agenda. “I have never heard of contract renewal where it was not listed on the public agenda,” one resident said. The motion passed unanimously.

Coffey was asked in a brief interview this afternoon why his contract was not appearing on the agenda at this evening’s commission meeting: “I don’t know why” it would, he said, “none of them have indicated their displeasure with trying to terminate me.” He pointed to his consistently high evaluations over the years, and noted that in some governments, as with Jim Landon, the Palm Coast city manager, contract renewals never come up for discussion. In Landon’s case, Coffey said, “he’s manager for life until he resigns or they fire him. Actually a lot of them are that way.” (Landon’s contract states that it is in effect “until terminated,” which means it never expires until then.)

Coffey said his contractual arrangement is no different than Hadeed’s, and he was critical of reporting that in the past singled out his own contract’s renewal while Hadeed’s “just floats through.” The last time the two contracts were on a commission agenda, in 2012, was to comply with a new state requirement that severance pay not exceed six months.

The contract renewals will be automatic unless a commissioner brings them out for discussion.

Coffey’s tenure has been relatively stable since he was hired in 2007, with one exception, when in a surprise move at a meeting in 2010 Holland attempted to fire him. She only got two votes. Coffey hasn’t come close to any such public displays of doubt about his work, though privately commissioners let him know when they’re displeased–as they did during the debacle over the Princess Place Preserve being potentially handed over to an extreme sports company earlier this summer, for an event coordinated by the county’s tourism office. Coffey swiftly scrapped the plan when the political fallout became untenable.

“I feel I give my input into Craig’s evaluation not necessarily once a year but on a daily basis,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said. Like Commissioners Frank Meeker and Nate McLaughlin, she said she has no intention of bringing up the contract matter this evening. (Ericksen was less clear after at first saying he, too, had no intention of doing so.) Revels acknowledged that Coffey at times may stumble, especially in the public eye. She cited the example of the recent issue over communication towers. The county wanted to locate three new towers in various locations, and got heavy criticism by residents along John Anderson Highway. That location was scrapped. But Coffey then went to work looking for an alternative, ensuring that it would appease residents and meet the needs of the county’s emergency communications. (The county is looking at a location on Old Kings Road, not far from the Palm Coast utility plant near the Woodlands.) “He’s been working very diligently on it,” Revels said. “He does a lot of things behind the scenes that people don’t hear about.”

Meeker, who chairs the commission, said whether the contract appears on the agenda or not makes no difference. “We can fire him at any time, right? It may renew for three years but nothing says someone couldn’t make the motion next month saying you know what, we’ve had it, he’s gone,” Meeker said. “I’ve been working with Craig for the last year pretty successfully, we had that minor blip with the city of Palm Coast, we went in and worked it out pretty successfully with a joint meeting, I’ve got no complaint.” (Palm Coast and the county, and particularly Landon and Coffey, were at odds over water issues at the county airport. That matter appears resolved.)

Click On:

All commissioners received at least one if not two anonymous emails last week from someone purporting to be a county employee, raising issues with Coffey’s administrative style. “Speaking for myself and those that have no voice in this administration,” the email from a “Flagler Resident,” sent from a Yahoo account, states, “the morale of the staff is at an all time low as a result of years of mismanagement, micromanagement and mishandling of funds. Those are strong allegations and come without specific examples for fear of retribution. I am certain if you were allowed to poll the staff and they were given anonymity you would find an overwhelming vote of no confidence in both Craig Coffey and Sally Sherman.” The email blames that management style for the loss of “many talented and dedicated employees,” and calls it “an insult” that Coffey got a 5 percent raise last year, when county employees got 1 percent. The email asks commissioners either not to renew the administrator’s contract or extend it for one year, enabling them to conduct their own investigation.

Commissioners were largely dismissive of the emails, saying they’d never been approached by disgruntled employees. Revels said she would take such allegations very seriously if she had conversations with employees, though she spoke cautiously about having such conversations. McLaughlin said simply: “I don’t do anonymous.” He added: “That could be anybody. I haven’t been approached by any employees about any complaints about Mr. Coffey.”

Meeker said in his experience all government executives are micromanagers and have to be, while Coffey cast some doubt on the authenticity of the email. “I have 350 employees, I deal with employee issues, some I make happy and some I’m sure not,” he said.

FlaglerLive, however, corroborated the substance of the email with three high-level, managerial employees who spoke in much the same terms (while asking for anonymity to protect themselves). One of them said that while problematic, the managerial style “gets things done,” which is what commissioners see.

Last year Sherman and Joe Mayer, the head of human resources, pitched a 10 percent raise for Coffey to the county commission, claiming the raise request was from county employees at large. That was not the case: no other county employee put his or her name to the proposal, other than Mayer and Sherman. The contract amendment would have also given Coffey an automatic 3 percent merit raise each year. A divided commission ended up giving Coffey a 4 percent raise (5 percent, when added to the 1 percent he’d already received, in line with what the rank and file had received), saying it would revisit the issue this year. That brought his salary to to $152,238 (just shy of Landon’s base salary), not counting his car allowance and benefits.

The commission has not revisited the matter.

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11 Responses for “County Administrator’s and Attorney’s Contracts May Renew Through 2019 Without Discussion”

  1. Weasel Patrol says:

    Time for a FBI investigation into the “finances” of this County Manager and the County Attorney. Seems a lot of money and deals have been mysteriously “OK’ed” by these two. I OBJECT with just letting these “weasels” have full run of the county for another 2 years .

  2. graspingforair says:

    All of this talk about raises here and there; All I want is for just a FEW dollars to be spent for a one-man, one-day fix of these nasty 2 to 3 inch expansion knives sprouting up at at least five places along Mahogany Blvd. in the Daytona North Subdivision.
    I contacted Mr. McLaughlin via email about this and offered MY OWN services to remedy the situation. His response was predicable-too much liability on the county’s part.
    I spoke with the person who is the topic of this article on a downtown street a few months ago and he informed me that to the best of his memory nothing was planned for repair of that road for three to five years. Well! SOMETHING will be done before then!
    While you quibble about thousands of dollars in pay raises and at the same time ignore those of us who are only asking for SAFER ROADS, we are destroying our vehicles and chancing worse.
    Give them the money they want-but predicate that raise on their performance! There!

  3. Flagler Resident says:

    All the Commissioner’s did was weaken a county today!

  4. layla says:

    Flagler County, if you want transparent and honest government, you are going to have to show up on election day and vote these people out. That’s how that works. Those who don’t vote are screwing everybody else.

  5. SPH says:

    The fact that the commission waited until the last minute of the last day in order to create a sense of ugency to take action on the spot is a tactic. It is not only irresponsible and flies in the face of transparency and open disclosure, it is a very questionable practice which I have NEVER seen before.

    The fact the matter was held until the very end of the meeting is no coincidence either. Just my opinion, but if the item had been listed on the agenda as it should have been, when the agenda was posted, there probably would have been fewer empty seats and a waiting list for the microphone. So much for smoke and mirrors.

  6. Wishful Thinking says:

    It is a sorry day for Flagler County when $153,000+/- of our money can be handed to Mr. Coffey silver platter without a noticed public hearing – especially since hejust warned – in writing – to outspoken angry residents of Plantation Bay a few days ago that they could be held financially responsible for not taking his advice regarding critical water issues… but supports the taxpayers at large picking up the tab to clean up county property after a for profit corporation pockets money on idiotic mud races.
    The only transparent about Mr. Coffey is his lack of it…

  7. confidential says:

    Do not forget these commissioners that did not second Ericksen request to delay any contract renewal yet.
    Meeker, Revels, McLaughing when elections come around. Lots of damage has been done to the county tax funds collected from us by buying junk to benefit the few by current manager advise and so he keeps on raising our county taxes in a ludicrous way.

  8. JLS says:

    Where to begin. Thank you, FL for bringing an awareness and a voice to an issue to those who outside of the attended commission meeting Monday night would have likely otherwise been completely unaware. Thank you, Charlie, for trying to start a salient conversation about a matter that should have otherwise been dealt with an attitude of business as usual- particularly among a group of elected officials who so regularly and deftly handle issues of major public impact and merit. As to the rather palpable awkwardness which ensued after Charlie’s statement/motion(?)… was I the only one visualizing the other members of the board reacting as if Ericksen’s comment grew horn and hooves and began to strut around and squawk like an out-of-turn inconvenient, disruptive commission meeting attendee? I digress.
    George- You’ve been through a lot with this county, having navigated and successfully maintained your rank through several administrations, administrators, and political climates. While I openly recognize the fact Flagler County government to this day still stands and marches on as an absolute testament to your legacy, please take a moment to explain how in spite of all of these changes local government continued or will continue to march on… even up to and including your own replacement? While your fingerprint, Coffey’s fingerprint (and many others) can be discerned here and there, do these prints preclude the rest of the finger, hand, arm, and body to which it is attached? There is no one person whose responsibility is so great it outweighs the whole. I argue Coffey could leave tomorrow or indefinitely and absolutely no services, contracts, projects, or day-to-day operations would cease or fail to carry on. Governmental structure is designed to bend, flex, wax and wane to absorb, express and still move forward despite such fluctuations.
    Nate- You don’t do anonymous. Ok. But what am I to say to the many people who’ve expressly said they have voiced their concerns in person, face to face with you about the current administration? Do they somehow not count in the context of this conversation? What about those employees who have expressly stated their fear of retribution? For example, after review of your county’s organizational structure, how is it the Human Resource Director is also the Department Head for other departments? How do those individuals who fall under him as direct reports have an unbiased advocate? Please explain to me how, if those people have issue with their Department Director who is also the Human Resource Director, who should they speak with? The county administrators? I’ve not once heard any of Coffey’s direct reports or county employees as a whole mention his “leadership style” practices to incorporate or encourage any ‘open door’ policy. Regardless they are telling you they feel they have no voice. I can imagine as a citizen of a community who also is employed by that community this has to be an immeasurably frustrating contention.
    Barbara- as a commissioner you are one of 5 individuals in which Coffey is directly accountable to. In Monday night’s meeting alone I lost count of how many times you brought up or asked very direct statements/questions in which Coffey interrupted, misinterpreted, misdirected, or otherwise went far off track from the information you very plainly sought. I commend you for being able bring him back to the task at hand and have your questions answered… but I would challenge you to place yourself in the shoes of individuals who are direct reports to Coffey… his mannerisms (and I’m not being critical, simply factual) are exactly the same- no different than the sampling we all witnessed in Monday’s meeting. How do they effectively keep him on point, topical issues, or particular concerns, presented to him when he habitually interrupts, misinterprets, and redirects/reprioritizes the conversation? While you do command his undivided attention, because of several factors, workload, office politics which, yes, does allude to his micro-management style (more on that bit in a moment) how easy do you think it is for those individuals to accomplish let alone sustain a meaningful two-way dialogue? How important do you feel it is for the leader of such an organization to share and demonstrate equal stock in commitment in communication?
    From my count at least 2 1/2 commissioners- sorry, Frank you count as the half because of your politicians’ proclivity for vacillation which only serves to numb the mind at this point- stated the 25 or so questionnaire used to evaluate your county administrator is woefully inadequate… never mind even remotely sufficient to ascribe or objectively validate salary increases and contract renewals.
    I take offense on behalf of the some 300 county employees you so quickly undermined in your epileptic combative disposition on these issues. To subvert the work of the majority by so quickly coming to the defense of a man, who himself did not publicly ask for you to do so, in such a rambling and confusing manner is not only patronizing but an insult to the talent and intelligence of your employee pool. If this were just an issue of people having a difference of opinion on management styles, i.e. micro-managing- the multipurpose tool descriptive used throughout the discussion- I wouldn’t invest my time to write this or attempt to draw your attention. With all due respect, the issues detailed in this article and reply regarding your organization is not some fodder for a water cooler debate on managerial predicate. It is however, a call to action and well past time for you hold to task and objectively measure what is at the end of the day only 1 individual. Stating it as such really shines light on the absurdity of the issue, don’t you think?
    After all, whether you choose to take action is also ultimately a reflection on your ability to perform your duties as stewards of the public will. Failure or inaction may very well likely result in the unexpected or shortened severance of contributions in your capacity as commissioner within county government. Your names appear on the ballot sooner rather than later. I have a feeling the Flagler demographic and unique citizenry of this community is not likely to withstand such dereliction of duty much longer.

  9. Jim O'Connell says:

    In my humble opinion Charlie Ericksen was right to suggest the 3 year extension should have been delayed until after his review.
    The sequence of current contract is out of order. Increase and extension should come after BoCC review. The workshop could have allowed for this to be brought into proper sequence.
    It would have been nice if the Board members were asked to provide many of the basics of the contract: base salary, perks such as car allowance and health benefits, and most importantly the cost of separating him BEFORE the end of his extended contract.

    As I heard the proposal Ericksen was not recommending separating Craig just proposing to review and perhaps “tweak” his contract. With some knowledge of the difficulty of the Administrators job I think Craig is doing a good job but a change in the sequence is in order.
    Franks Meeker’s comment, “If we don’t like what he is doing later we can fire him.” Doesn’t he recognize firing is more expensive than allowing the contract to expire?

    The county would have been better served with a one year extension than a three year extension.
    Charlie, thanks for trying to do the right thing.

    [Note: Jim O’Connell was a former member and chairman of the Flagler County Commission.–FL]

  10. SPH says:

    In response to JLS. Your comment ….spot on.

  11. Shame on the BoCC says:

    This board is not very transparent when they stand for contract renewal to be on the consent agenda one time and then not appear on the agenda at all the next time. Never should a Co tract automatically renew without discussion and a vote. Let us not forget, every single commissioner on the board and the county attorney are all facing ethics complaints, and commissioners Revels and McLaughlin have been fined for ethics complaints which were already investigated. It us apparent that none of these county commissioners work for the peoplead who elected them, they have their own personal agendas!

    When staff expresses they are fearful of speaking up, and good staff have left emoyment or may leave employment the board should be most concerned as experience is valuable and this county can’t run effeciently with out good valuable trained employees.

    It is sad day that these Commissioner’s praised these two men when issue after issue has been raised in recent months that prove the praise given is not warranted. In 2016 we will elect 3 new commissioners—commissioners who will work for us, the people!

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