Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey is asking for a 10 percent raise which, if granted, would raise his base salary from $146,383 to $161,000, making him the second-highest paid public employee in the county after Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon, whose base salary is a few thousand dollars higher. The raise would be the steepest granted any local government executive since the Great Recession.
An amendment to Coffey’s contract would also make a 3 percent annual merit increase to Coffey’s salary automatic unless the commission affirmatively decides to give a different amount. That would make Coffey’s contract terms the most generous of all local government executives’.
Coffey’s raise would be in addition to the raises he’s received in the past two years, as his contract calls for him being automatically awarded the same percentage increases that county employees receive. Since July 2012, for example, when the county commission agreed to Coffey’s request that his contract be extended to 2016, his salary has increased $5,000, or 3.5 percent. He also receives a $4,800 car allowance plus mileage and expenses.
Coffey’s contract will automatically renew through 2019 if the county commission does not communicate to him in writing, by Oct. 23, 2015, that it does not choose to renew.
County commissioners were mulling the proposal on Friday when interviewed separately, with Frank Meeker speaking most favorably of it, Barbara Revels and Nate McLaughlin speaking favorably but reserving judgment until the commission discussion, and Charlie Ericksen saying it should make for an interesting discussion.
“I like the job Craig Coffey is doing. He’s been here seven years, maybe eight years, I think he’s got what 2 percent, one and a half percent and one and a half percent, that’s about it,” Meeker said.
George Hanns was more skeptical, citing the 1 percent raise all other employees got in comparison, and calling the 1 percent “pathetic.”
“This is something that I have to really delve into my conscience to come up with a logical explanation, not that he doesn’t deserve it, but there’s hundreds of others who also deserve it. It’s not going to be cut and dried,” Hanns said. “I have a history of treating everyone the same and fairly, and not putting someone on a pedestal and saying you’re doing so much better, when the people under him are getting just 1 percent.”
Coffey’s salary increase request is one of several personnel items that would significantly increase county administrative staff costs. Coffey is asking that Helga van Eckert, hired two years ago at a salary of $110,700, be reclassified into the Senior Management Service Class, which would considerably increase her retirement benefits—and the county’s costs to contribute to that benefit. That cost would add a $15,778 charge to van Eckert’s salary and benefits, which Coffey proposes to take out of the Department of Economic Opportunity’s budget.
That three-person department saw its budget quietly increase this year from $898,000 to $1.3 million. The county administration clarified later this afternoon that while the line budget shows the $1.3 million, the amount reflects the grants that are included in the department’s budget. The department’s administrative budget, Carl Laundrie, the county’s communications manager said, remains $400,000. Among the grants, $500,000 is from Enterprise Florida, the economic development agency, and may only be used as incentives for business, not for administrative expenses. The rest is a brownfields clean-up grant channeled through the department. See the department’s full budget breakdown here.
Eight directors are in the senior classification—the county administrator and his deputy, the county attorney and his deputy, the financial services director, the county engineer, the general services director and the community services director. Several other top positions, including the emergency services director and the communications manager, are not on the list. (The county fire chief isn’t on it because he’s classified in a job category considered high risk, which actually gets an even higher retirement benefit than senior executives.)
A third item on Monday’s meeting agenda concerns the communications position, held by Carl Laundrie since 2003. Coffey is looking to end that position and replace it with two new ones: a public information officer and a public relations and marketing specialist. Each position would have a salary of between $33,000 and $38,000 with salary and benefit costs totaling $46,500 for each, compared to Laundrie’s current salary of $62,500 (83,500 with benefits), thus raising the county’s PR budget by about $10,000. Coffey is proposing drawing from reserves to cover the difference when Laundrie retires in February and the two new positions kick in.
The marketer would “implement public relations campaigns with the goal of enriching the county’s position within the public eye,” the administrator’s memo to the commission states. The PIO position would be devoted to writing news releases, respond to public record requests, help plan special events, and “use judgment and discretion in disseminating information,” according to the job description.
All three items–none of which were discussed in numerous budget workshops leading up to the new fiscal year–appear on the “consent” section of the agenda. The consent agenda includes, or is intended to include, all routine items that do not get discussed individually, and get approved with one vote at the beginning of the meeting. But the public and commissioners have the right to ask that items be pulled off the consent agenda for discussion, and commissioners routinely do so, especially with items of public interest.
Regarding Coffey’s raise, the cover memo to commissioners was ostensibly written by Joe Mayer, the community services and human resources director. “Each year,” Mayer wrote, “Mr. Coffey has opted to only receive increases that all other employees receive, which speaks highly of his character. However, staff believes that it is time to properly compensate Mr. Coffey for all of the outstanding work he has accomplished throughout his seven years of employment.”
The memo states that the proposed raise is a staff recommendation (though clearly Coffey is behind the request: nothing makes it on the agenda without his approval), and that the $161,000 salary would bring Coffey closer to his peers in pay in surrounding counties. Clay and St. Johns’ county executives, who govern counties with nearly twice the population of Flagler’s, have salaries of $192,000 and $196,000, according to the back-up material furnished with Coffey’s request, while Volusia’s county executive has a base salary of $222,000, but a population of half a million. The list also includes Landon’s salary, which has not changed since the recession.
Revels and McLaughlin insisted that the proposal was being driven by staff rather than by Coffey. “This was not Craig’s idea, this was totally brought forward by others, not him, and that he had no knowledge of it,” Revels said.
Coffey included a memo of his own to commissioners listing his accomplishments in six pages of single-spaced bullet points, but no performance evaluation.