Just as its finance department was receiving its 10th consecutive annual award for budget preparation from a government association, Flagler County lost its prized finance director, Lorie Bailey-Brown, to another government–Seminole County, a significant step up for Bailey-Brown, whose imprint was on those winning budgets all 10 years. Her last day was Aug. 2.
Bunnell Finance Director Christopher Campbell also left around the same time, but not under the same glowing circumstances. Campbell was pushed out by City Manager Alvin jackson just weeks after Jackson had hired him.
“It really boiled down to values, he didn’t fully subscribe to the values of this organization, what my expectations were,” Jackson said of Campbell, whose hiring had been ratified by the Bunnell City Commission on May 7. Jackson spoke of Campbell’s 24 years’ experience in municipal finance as an asset.
By mid-July, Campbell had spent weeks evaluating the finance department, identifying “a number of deficiencies,” according to a city memo. He wanted finance department employees “to function as a strategic component within the City rather than just being a transactional and compliance oriented department.” He submitted a dozen goals, saying to accomplish them “the city needs staff with the appropriate skillsets and experience levels.”
The implication was that the finance division’s staff was not qualified. The commission agreed to change the title of three finance department positions.
Campbell had followed Stella Gurnee, who had once been a candidate for city manager in Bunnell but was passed over, and who got a job as finance director in Holly Hill in early May. “We couldn’t even compete, salary and benefit-wise,” Jackson said. “It was a great opportunity for her. We worked well together.”
Following Campbell’s arrival and proposals, he lost four staffers: Margaret Miller, Amanda Raslowsky, Kim Bennett, and Josh Chestnut. He was soon to follow, having just turned in the city’s annual financial statement that the commission will approve at its meeting next week.
“Sometimes individuals are loyal to someone and when that director leaves, they move on also, so it was the perfect storm,” Jackson said. The loyalty had been to Gurnee. The departures left Jackson scrambling–and appealing for help from county government, whose finance department has been something of a cavalry before: last year it sent help to Flagler County’s East Mosquito Control District after the district discovered severe irregularities in its books.
“They lost a number of their finance guys all at once,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron told his commissioners earlier this week, explaining why he’d lent some of his staffers to Bunnell. “As a result they were in a bit of a bad situation at being able to finish out that budget and payrolls and things of that nature. We just temporarily assigned a couple of employees out of our finance and a person who’d had previous experience over there to help them out.”
That’s Luci Dance, who used to work in Bunnell’s finance department before she joined the county as an executive assistant in Cameron’s office. Lauren Shank, a budget analyst, also went to Bunnell to help.
Cameron was more candid about the situation in Bunnell: “I just heard that the city manager had said that they had a couple people to leave, and the aftermath of them leaving he discovered some things that concerned him,” Cameron said, “so they gave the finance director his walking papers. So they ended up with essentially one or two people that were just tangentially associated with the finance department.”
Asked to elaborate, Cameron said of Jackson: “I have no idea, he just came in that morning, said he was in a jam, and we did what was necessary to help him. He really wasn’t specific with that. I didn’t pry, because sometimes you’re limited in what you can say, particularly if there’s something criminal involved, which I don’t know for a fact that there is.” County staffers “are still over there at the moment but we’ve got an exit strategy. We’re helping them to go ahead and hire a finance director, then we’re pulling back.”
Jackson said his prime candidate was Shanea Stankiewicz, 35 (until recently Shanea Jones), who retired as Nassau County Manager in July, after serving in that position almost two and a half years, and in Nassau government 14 years. She was also the Office of Management and Budget Director.
Jackson said both he and the county were competing for their next finance director.
Jackson sought to downplay the effect of the exodus from the finance department. “Basically we’re navigating, everyone’s kicked in, the staff, HR, city clerk, department director, police chief, infrastructure director, everyone’s kicked in and the people Jerry sent are very, very good,” Jackson said. “The lights are still on, we haven’t missed a beat. The folks are in great spirit. I’m very, very proud of the organization and the team, because it’s times like this that basically test the strength of an organization, and the mayor and the commission–no one has panicked, the wheels haven’t come off.”
Concerned Citizen says
Is this a case of a new manager “flexing his muscle and cleaning house”? Or is something else going on and this guy is just impossible to work for? Does he not like caucasian staffers working for him? Racism goes both ways. For such a small city Bunnell sure has it’s issues.
If Bunnell can’t manage it’s finances without County help then perhaps it’s time for the County to Anex Bunnell.
Flagler County government employment does not pay competitive salaries, most employees gain experience and move on to higher paying jobs in other counties. Until Flagler County starts paying a competitive wage this will continue to happen.
Haw Creek Girl says
I hope this City Manager realizes that Margaret Miller and Kim Bennett teamed up to make the Fincance Director look worse than he is, in reality.. As far as Kim Bennett, she has left before so please don’t make the mistake of rehiring her again. Good Riddance. And Lucy Dance is an asset anywhere she goes!!
Is a real shame that local perfectly qualified Flagler County residents with a Masters in Public Administration graduated Summa Cum Laude from a Florida University and several years of experience in the field have to commute to work 60 miles each way, because every time they try to present their applications the time to accept them “has expired” the day or few days before..? These openings for highly paid positions on local government administration when vacancies open should be duly and properly advertised publicly into our county and cities community in the local social media, newspapers, radio etc. That is the fair and proper way to use our taxpayers dollars to hire and help our own first! This is one more of several times that our county human resources shuts the doors to local professionals trying to apply for an administrative position by an excellent qualified with impeccable credentials friend of mine, trying to find work closer to home. This time just tried to apply for county Financial Director to replace Mrs Brown and found the door closed. The FCBOCC and cities government pledge and frivolously waste so much time and money telling us is to help the local economy to create jobs, then why they don’t start by creating jobs for our local resident professionals making it possible for them to present their applications and treating them fair when there is a vacancy and beyond politics? The supposed “job creating locally” is a big cartel only to use our taxes to be wasted in more red tape in inflating their local bureaucracy. Then they end up hiring outsiders that often proven disastrous over time, like a couple of former administrators. FCBOCC should set a real example of hire and buy local with our tax funds and stop speaking of both sides of its mouth. How many of your top administrators graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Masters in Public Administration of a FL university and years of experience in the field? Instead we see too much nepotism as well with hired relatives of elected officials or other departmental chiefs with zero credentials or masters degrees…
Concerned Citizen says
Haw Creek Girl,
No need for Margaret or Kim to make the finance director look bad. If the city manager and Human Resources would’ve done their jobs, they would’ve known he was crooked and stealing money from his last employer.
Not a City Girl says
@Haw Creek Girl: WOW sounds personal!!