The Flagler County Commission on Monday amended the contracts of the only two employees it hires and fire–its two most expensive employees: County Administrator Craig Coffey and County Attorney Al Hadeed. The contracts were amended to cease a requirement that they be renewed every three years, leaving them now open-ended.
Both contracts would have otherwise expired in February 2019. The commission would have had to affirmatively renew them ahead of time. It no longer has to do so.
“The approval of the agreement doesn’t alter the compensation levels that are established by the agreements or that are addressed in your annual budgeting,” Hadeed told commissioners, “so essentially the net effect of it is, it takes out the rolling three-year periods and substitutes in its place literally an employment term that runs public meeting to public meeting.”
The elimination of the recurring renewal requirement means the contracts no longer appear on a commission’s agenda for affirmative action to renew, or potentially to end. It’s an added if small measure of security for the two employees. The meeting-to-meeting employment term as Hadeed explained it means that the commission can fire either Hadeed or Coffey at any given meeting, though that was true even before the commission approved the amendment.
All other provisions of the contracts are untouched.
Hadeed was hired in 2007 at a salary of $135,000 a year. Coffey was hired the same year at a base salary of $140,000 a year. The Hadeed contract included an automatic 3 percent annual raise absent different action by the commission, a provision not included in Coffey’s contract, so that by today, the base salary of the attorney has grown to $209, 643, or $50,000 a year more than Coffey’s current salary of $158,787.20. It also makes Hadeed the single-highest paid, in-house public employee in Flagler government by base pay. Coffey’s retirement contributions and other benefits, such as a nearly $5,000-a-year car allowance, lift his compensation package above the $200,000 mark.
Coffey’s original contract did not include an automatic raise. Rather, it called for an annual evaluation, based on which the commission would decide whether to give him a raise.
Both employees’ contracts include a standard severance package that would grant them 20 weeks’ pay with benefits if they are fired for any reason other than malfeasance or their own criminal behavior. The severance does not kick in if it’s a resignation.
Only one citizen, Jane Gentile-Youd, a frequent critic of county government–and now an announced candidate for the county commission election–spoke critically of the arrangement on two grounds: the severance package is too high, in her view, and the contracts hamstring future commissions–an incomplete interpretation of the contracts, as Hadeed clarified.
“Is the future commission obligated to the terms of the termination of this renewal if Mr. Coffey should be fired in January 2019?” she asked.
“The provisions for severance come out of state law,” Hadeed said, “and are a part of the agreement. Could a future commission amend the agreement to remove severance? You know, I haven’t thought that through. The bottom line is, if there’s a termination and it’s without a finding of malfeasance or a conviction, then the normal process would be to provide a severance and that 20 weeks is specified in state law. If the board acts today is a future commission bound by the terms? Yes, just as this commission today is bound by the last amendment, which I believe was made in 2012.”
When Hadeed and Coffey were first hired, before the Florida Legislature changed the law, their severance extended to a full year. The law changed in 2011 to limit all severance packages to 20 weeks, to eliminate golden-parachute-like severance packages that had become common for public executive employees. Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon’s contract, also first drafted in 2007, was never amended accordingly: his severance package remains at 52 weeks, netting him nearly a quarter million dollars should the Palm Coast City Council choose to fire him. It’s the reason the council has been reluctant to do so, even though it announced last summer that it was looking for a replacement.
Commissioners evaluated Coffey and Hadeed in writing in February, giving Hadeed a near-perfect evaluation (combining for 123 out of 125 possible “outstanding” ratings. The only exceptions were two “exceeds expectations” instead of “outstanding performance,” notched by Commissioner Dave Sullivan when it came to legal costs having been “effectively managed and controlled given the case load and work demand,” and understanding of the financial impact to the organization “of decisions made by the Board, administration and by the legal office” (a more amorphous category that to a large extent confuses the attorney’s responsibility with finances with that of the administrator). One commissioner called him “the most proficient attorney in Florida,” another called him “the ultimate county attorney.”
Coffey’s evaluations were also stellar, if a few touches less so, with many “very good” ratings rather than “outstanding” from Commissioner Don O’Brien, and several such “very good” from Sullivan even though in his written comments Sullivan lavished praise on the administrator for “far exceeding” his expectations and meeting the challenge of two hurricanes head-on, and successfully. Sullivan called him “outstanding.” Commissioner Greg Hansen’s evaluation of the administrator was near-perfect, Commissioner Nate McLaughlin barely less so, with several commissioners giving less-than-perfect scores for Coffey’s intergovernmental relations, his interpersonal skills and his communications skills–a complaint that has marred many an evaluation going back to Coffey’s earlier years in Flagler.
“We’ve both been here as your professionals in excess of 10 years,” Coffey told commissioners Monday, “I know some of the board members are newer, you’ve all had a chance to spend a year with us, you’ve all had a chance to evaluate us as new board members, in addition the members that have been on for a long time. As you can see we have a lot of issues that we deal with, and we’re both proud and honored to serve you and the citizens of Flagler County.”
It’s not clear what Coffey intended by the statement. Commissioners approved the amendments unanimously, without discussing either employee’s evaluations, and moved on.