It’s probably not the way Joe Gerrity and Larry Newsom would describe themselves, least of all for the job they’re seeking: Flagler Beach city manager. But if they intend to work for the Flagler Beach City Commission, they might as well get used to it: In Commissioner Joy McGrew’s description, Gerrity is the “old shoe” the perfect, comfortable fit. Newsom is the “shiny new pair”–not as obvious a fit, but maybe just the sort of energetic jolt the city needs.
Both are very appealing to all five city commissioners. They’re the final two, after five interviews and a relatively brief search of less than two months that in no way compares to the prolonged and embarrassing process that shadowed the last manager’s search five years ago. Yet neither Newsom nor Gerrity was appealing enough to win all five commissioners’ votes. Not just yet.
Two such votes failed at a special meeting of the commission Friday to garner the super-majority necessary to hire a manager. Commissioners Jane Mealy and Steve Settle are ready to give Gerrity the nod. He’s the former city manager at Fernandina Beach, and he’s so intent on the Flagler Beach job–if not overly self-assured about it–that he’s already been looking for a house locally. Commissioners Kim Carney and Joy McGrew are leaning more toward Newsom, if barely, and only to not make the decision just yet. Newsom is an interim county administrator in Escambia County, where he’s been the assistant administrator for years.
The only thing commissioners agreed on Friday, beside declaring both candidates qualified for the job, is that they want their final vote to be unanimous. To get there, they’ve given each other–or whichever commissioners need it–the time to do their own further research, including having one-on-one (and non-public) conversations with each candidate. (Gerrity has already had his, at his own initiative, which seemed to raise a vaguely crimson flag in Carney’s mind, as she later explained to commissioners.) The rest of the meeting Friday was a set of position-taking by each commissioner on the candidates, who were not in the mostly-empty room.
“We had one candidate who was so well-matched for this, I’m fearful if we delay much longer we’re going to lose that guy, and if we have any sense we’re going to take advantage of an opportunity,” Settle said of Gerrity.
Gerrity, who’d attended the last regular meeting of the city commission, had actually told Shupe that he wanted to withdraw after watching what had been one of the commission’s occasionally garish shows of untrammeled and undisciplined discussions. But he then changed his mind.
Settle said he has no needs for a second interview. Mealy seconded that. “I really feel fortunate we’ve had the quality of people,” Settle said. “I’d feel comfortable with a couple of them, but as far as Mr. Gerrity, the distance was far enough for me that I don’t thnik I need to interview anyone else. I think I found the perfect candidate.”
Then Carney mentioned Gerrity’s calls. (Gerrity is an unusual candidate, in that he’s served as both an elected official and a manager in San Fernandina Beach, where his tenure ended when he lost the confidence of two commiissioners.)
“Was he somewhat negative to any of you?” Carney asked fellow-commissioners.
“No lobbying,” Settle said. He just wanted to say thanks for the interviews.
“He didn’t lobby me, he just had some poignant questions that I did openly answer,” Carney said. (She meant pointed questions.) “Didn’t understand why the process was taking so long, did I understand other applicants had the chance to review the questions ahead of time,” she said he told her.
“All they had to do was go online. We’re an open book,” Mealy said.
“That’s where I struggle, it didn’t seem like he understood the process or the fact that everything is public record,” Carney said.
“I said just that, I said I understand you being unhappy about that, but everything is online,” Mealy said.
“He should have enough experience because he was an elected official and a city official, to know how commissions work and how things play out sometimes, “ Mayor Linda Provencher said.
Shupe was “highly impressed” with Newsom, though Mealy called him “way too big city for me.” That gave McGrew her opening: she is the folksiest of the commissioners, and she did not hold back: “Real warm and fuzzy feeling with Garrity, just real good fit. The next day, Newsom kind of struck me like Matt Downey did when we interviewed him for police chief. We had a warm and fuzzy, we had an unknown, and we had another person.” Downey, she said, “turned my head around just like that. So did this guy Newsom. There’s a part of me that says he’s that new energy,” even though he comes from a bigger city. “He might be what we need to help us bridge a lot of gaps that we haven’t gotten through, but then again there’s Garrity, which I really like.” That’s when she described him as “an old, warm shoe,” and compared Newsome to a “shiny new pair” that’s not as smooth as a fit, “but yet somebody who could grow with us.”
McGrew voted for calling the two of them for a second interview to decide. Carney spoke of the same sense of being torn between the two, saying that despite Newsom being from the Panhandle wouldn’t make him unqualified for Flagler Beach. “I don’t believe that he would not do anything better than to represent Flagler Beach. Not that Garrity wouldn’t. I don’t have the exact hold on what it is, but he is my first choice at this time,” meaning Newsom. Later in the discussion, she called Newsom “phenomenal.”
Mealy had written down a few cautionary notes about Newsom, however. “One, he was kind of sarcastic, and not having met us before, I didn’t think that was a real cool thing to do. Once you get to know somebody better I think it’s OK to have sarcasm, I tend to do the same thing. But it just hit me as not right the first time you’re meeting people that you want to hire you. And he did have notes in front of him. He kept shifting the paper around like, I know in here somewhere is the answer to that question.”
“I must’ve missed that,” Shupe said.
“Dealing with the small town atmosphere and the small town that Flagler Beach is, I’m not sure that he is a good fit,” Mealy said.
When Settle made a motion to offer the job to Garrity, subject to a background check, Mealy seconded, but Carney immediately made it clear she would not approve, preferring Newsom. She dismissed any notion that he’s overqualified. “I’m so overqualified for my job, it would scare you, but I do a great job at it,” Carney said, hoping to counteract the opposition to Newsome based on his perceived over-qualifications.
In any case, the motion failed, 3-2, in the sense that while three commissioners did vote for Garrity (Mealy, McGrew and Settle), the hiring of a city manager needs a supermajority of at least four votes to pass. Settle then motioned for hiring Newsome. He got Carney’s vote, but Mealy and McGrew (with a nudge from Mealy) voted against, so the motion failed, too.
McGrew then suggested a meet and greet for the public, the way the city did for its police candidates. That didn’t fly. Others were more willing to have one-on-one conversations with the candidates to further their research.
“I would hate to see either one of them withdraw based on whether they just got four votes or they just got there votes up here,” Shupe said. “They’re both neck and neck, and we’re all up here stammering, trying to figure out how do we break this thing down.”
So whatever one-on-one conversations will take place before Nov. 12, date of the commission’s next meeting, which it will follow with a special meeting to discuss the outcome of interim conversations, and presumably make new motions to choose Newsom or Gerrity, assuming both are still in the running.