Palm Coast made history Tuesday evening. The city council ratified the contract of Denise Bevan, the first female city manager in Palm Coast’s 23 years, a few months after Flagler County got its first female chief executive in over 100 years. Moments later, as if to shift the limelight, Bevan–who is notoriously unassuming–announced the appointment of Lauren Johnston as the assistant city manager, giving the city an all-female administrative leadership in a sector still overwhelmingly dominated by men.
In contrast, both the city council and the county commission are all-men panels.
Both Bevan and Johnston had been promoted to co-chiefs of staff a year ago by then-City Manager Matt Morton, Bevan overseeing the Public Works, Utilities, the Stormwater and Community Development departments, Johnston overseeing Parks and Recreation, the communications division and the City Clerk’s office. Their salaries were set around $125,000 at the time. The council appointed Bevan interim manager after Morton’s resignation, and named her the permanent manager after two failed rounds of searching for an appointee beyond the city.
Tuesday, the council in a 5-0 vote approved Bevan’s open-ended contract, negotiated with Mayor David Alfin and the city attorney. Bevan will have a base salary of $175,000. As benefits, the city will contribute the equivalent of 17 percent of her salary, or $30,000 a year, to a defined contribution plan, plus a 2 percent match to a deferred compensation plan, and the health benefits provided other city employees. Bevan will also have $500 a month for a car allowance, and either a phone or a stipend for communications costs. Severance pay would be limited to the equivalent of 20 weeks’ pay, in accordance with Florida law.
The contract then differs from previous contracts at this point, and is not, as Mayor David Alfin put it, “consistent with the contracts for Prior city managers.” The base pay is pegged to annual cost of living increases equal to those awarded city employees, and Bevan “shall receive merit increases consistent with those approved by the City Council for City of Palm Coast employees generally,” blurring the line between Bevan’s role as a city manager who answers to the council and as a city employee who, in fact, sets merit pay amounts for all the employees who answer to the administration. It is a potential conflict of interest. Usually, city managers–who, like the city attorney, alone answer to the council–have their entire pay and subsequent raises set by the council, publicly and periodically. The contract clause now allows raises of an appointee to be less transparent. The contract calls for an annual performance review by the council.
The ratification drew comments neither from council members nor from the city manager. Bevan made the announcement about Johnston at the very end of the meeting.
“When I was appointed the interim city manager on June 1 of last year and Chief Forte was called to serve as interim assistant city manager,” Bevan said, reading from a statement, “I had confidence knowing that the organization already had a solid foundation through previous administrations’ leadership. The framework to ensure seamless continuum of processes and safeguards of operations was already in place and in the event that a key staff member was unavailable, those processes would be activated. With that said, I believe it is critically important to address ongoing need for succession planning.”
“It is with great pride that I am announcing the promotion of Chief of Staff Lauren Johnston to the position of assistant city manager. Over the last 10-plus years I’ve had the honor of watching Lauren, put others before herself, improve communication throughout the organization, set a clear vision for the future and mentor and develop members of the organization into leadership roles. She has the skills, talent and fortitude needed to help lead our city into the future.”
The council gave Johnston a standing ovation.
“I’m honored, privileged and very excited,” Johnston said, speaking from the podium. “It’s been a journey for me working for the city since I was 17 years old, I started in parks and recreation as a part time summer camp counselor, and I’m truly grateful for the investment that the city has put into me, and I’m happy to carry the torch with Ms. Bevan towards the future.” Johnston thanked Forte “for being my mentor as well.”
Palm Cast had a female assistant city manager before. Oel Wingo was the first to fill that role, starting in 2001, when Dick Kelton was city manager. She remained in the spot until 2009, when she briefly served as Holly Hill city manager. But until Bevan’s appointment a few weeks ago, the city’s top posts have otherwise been filled by men. ” While only one percent of chief administrative officers were women in the mid-1970s, the percentage increased to 20 percent in 2009 and has remained relatively stable since,” the Phelan US Center, an American branch of the London School of Economics, reported last week.
With a caveat: women tend to be hired when cities are on the verge of a budget cliff: “If women are more likely to be hired to lead struggling organizations, they are also more likely to be punished for failing to improve the organizational condition, a tall order given the problematic organizational circumstances,” the center reported.
No such cliff appears on Palm Coast’s short-term horizon, however. For Bevan, the cliffs are behind her: she scaled them as the city was going through months of turmoil, that turmoil calming down in recent months.
Other key top positions in the administration are headed by women, including human resources, communications, finance and the city clerk’s office.
Johnston, a city release stated, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from Flagler College. She has joined leaders in the 2022 Northeast Florida Regional Council Regional Leadership Academy, has served as a community pillar of excellence for 10 years, and has over a decade of institutional knowledge with the organization.
The city had not provided Johnston’s salary before this article initially published. As the last assistant city manager until he became interim manager in 2018, Beau Falgout was making $110,000 a year.
Johnston’s current salary was $132,612. A spokesperson said she did not get a pay increase. “That’s not changing any time soon, so that’s more of a title change,” with additional resources, the spokesperson said.
Over It says
You have got to be kidding with these salaries. Its time to dissolve this city. Palm Coast used to be a great place for retirees and at the same time affordable for families starting out raising children. Now the roads are overcrowded, the officials are overpaid, panhandlers on the major intersections. The city isnt looking to clean this up, but they are doing a good job of cleaning us out. Lets go back to the days of the Palm Coast Service District. We still paid extra for services, but didnt have all this bureaucratic BS.
No need for two governments.
How does dissolving the PC government get on the ballot?
How do the voters rescind the ridiculous salaries the so-called public servants awarded themselves.
Talk about feeding at the trough.
Is Palm Coast going in the direction that Bell California went?
Thanks for the heads-up… for whom the Bell tolls, it tolls for PC.
Way to go ladies! I knew you both when I worked for the City and have the utmost respect for you both. I know the City will flourish as you work together to accomplish your goals.
Why the obsession with the fact that they’re women? Are the qualified and experienced? If so, there’s your story. Don’t let this town be gobbled up with all of the virtue signal, woke equity garbage. Where will the common sense folks be able to flee?
Percy's mother says
First reaction to this comment . . . thumbs down.
Second reaction to this comment . . . What?
Third reaction to this comment . . . Yet another big sigh, and I’m still looking for another planet to live on.
Imagine being this mad that people are allowed to talk about being women. I’m sure you would’ve been a hit in the 70s.
Lil Bird says
Glad to know women’s accomplishments make headlines.
Meanwhile, sperm whales in this city make headlines for voting themselves 360%+ raises…
The dichotomy is real.