“Look no further! I’m ready to be Flagler Beach’s next City Manager.” It’s not the sort of opening line elected officials expect to see in a cover letter when recruiting for their next executive, though it states more explicitly what every applicant by definition believes when applying.
Kathy Laur, the town administrator in Tonka Bay, a lakeside community of 1,500 people in the outer suburbs of Minneapolis, is the author of that opening line. She’s been the administrator for barely a year, but she’s ready to leave. She was among the 57 candidates who applied to replace the late Larry Newsom, who died in August after giving the city five years of relative stability and solid executive leadership. Laur didn’t make the recommended cut to seven candidates, though nothing stops city commissioners from choosing their own candidates to short-list when they meet this evening and discuss the applicant pool for the first time.
In 2010, the city drew 140 applicants when it advertised the job, eventually opting for Bruce Campbell, who was one of the city’s building maintenance employee, in a long and fractious process that turned the Campbell candidacy into a popularity contest, and possibly damaged the commission’s reputation in the process: when it next advertised for the city manager’s job, in 2015, it drew just 23 applicants, though the large number of applicants in 2010 may have had something to do with the nation still in recovery mode from the Great Recession. Still, the city settled on Newsom, and never regretted it.
The pool is larger this time, with 16 applicants from Florida. Ken Parker, the former Port Orange city manager whom Flagler Beach drafted to head a committee of three retired managers and cull through the applicants, told commissioners in a memo on Wednesday that they had “a strong applicant pool and a large number of applicants.” Parker’s second clause was a bit closer to the truth than the first: numerous applicants seemed on a distant periphery of the job’s requirements, based on their current employment–a self-employed real estate investor, a jury coordinator, a health department supervisor, an adjunct professor, an office manager for a small company, a police officer and union president, a graduate research assistant, a customer service supervisor, and several “consultants,” the catch-all job description for many who’ve lost work but still seek it. One of them made the recommended short-list.
Still, the pool also produced numerous individuals with city management experience, albeit most of them for towns and villages smaller than Flagler Beach, which has a population of around 5,000.
Parker’s committee was made up of himself, Jim Hanson and George Forbes, all three retired managers associated with the the Florida City and County Association Senior Advisor Program, what used to be known as the “Range Riders.” The program helps cities and counties recruit new leadership. The pros of the program are that it’s provided free to local governments, by professionals in the field familiar with the process and, often, with many of the candidates. The con: that familiarity compromises objectivity, as colleagues tend to help colleagues, using criteria that may be less rigorous than, say, recruiting firms (such as the one Palm Coast used to hire its manager two years ago). Previously, the Flagler Beach City Commission’s members themselves studied every application, short-listed them and moved on from there.
The advisory trio met on Wednesday at City Hall, with several commissioners in attendance. It drew the pool down to 15, and from that list cut it down to seven.
Lee Evett was the city manager of Frostproof in Polk County (pop. 3,000) from 2017 to the end of 2019, supervising 54 employees and a budget of $8.5 million. A unanimous city council fired him for the sort of style that would give Flagler Beach commissioners pause. The Ledger in Lakeland reported on his tenure’s end: “Council members told The Ledger that Evett had been increasingly working off the reservation, undertaking initiatives without informing the mayor or council or seeking their authority. Vice Mayor Jon Albert did not attend Monday’s regular meeting but was present for Thursday evening’s special council meeting to consider procedures for seeking a new city manager,” the paper reported shortly after Evett was ousted. “He got results for the city, but he burned a lot of bridges,” Mayor Martin Sullivan told the paper. “Lee was not forthright and did things on his own in his bull-headed and headstrong ways.”
“He was not working with the council. He was beginning to work for himself,” another council member–who’d been Evett’s early supporter–said.
In his application Evett says he was fired because “I refused to hire a councilperson’s husband as [public works] director. He was not the most qualified candidate.” But trouble began for Evett soon after his hiring: he’d left town during Hurricane Irma to take care of his mother, which barreled through Frostproof, but didn’t return to the city for days afterward. Residents called for his firing. The mayor criticized his lack of communications with emergency services, according to The Ledger’s Kevin Bouffard. Other problems ensued, from difficulties with the sheriff’s office to caustic relations with staff.
Evett was also a public works director in Okeechobee, a city manager in Los Alamitos, Calif., where his resignation, after just eight months on the job, followed almost immediate differences with the city’s mayor and a council member.
Seth Lawless was the village manager of Islamorada, a town of 6,500 south of Key Largo, between 2016 and last August. He’s managed three other small towns since 1989. He resigned in August citing health reasons, after going on medical leave in early July–oddly paralleling Newsom’s last months, when he was often on medical leave. But he drew high marks from city officials, who did not want him gone. He’d supervised the cleanup of Islamorada after Hurruicane Irma blew through it shortly after he’d become manager.
Medical leaves are part of his history: he took a nearly three-month medical leave in his previous job, too, when he was town manager of Knightdale, North Carolina. Weeks after he returned, he suddenly resigned, saying he wanted to seek out other business opportunities–yet stunningly got a $114,000 parting gift of severance from the city, which raised questions about whether he’d been forced out. . That opportunity turned out to be the Islamorada job, where he became the sixth manager in 10 years.
Lawless’s is application–at least the application provided FlaglerLive on request–is a skimpy two pages, with a few bullet points highlighting the barest of essentials about previous jobs going back to 1994, his education and his involvement with Rotary and soccer.
Ben Newhouse referred to his desired city as “Hagler Beach” in his cover letter, suggesting perhaps an inattention to detail: it was not an error. He twice repeated the reference to “Hagler Beach” in his penultimate and closing paragraphs. (There is no such town as Hagler Beach anywhere except in Google’s occasionally dyslexic misreads). He served for a decade and a half as a city manager in Hurricane, W. Va., until 2019, a city of 6,500 halfway between Charleston, the state capital, and Huntington, the state’s second city.
By 2018 Newhouse was aching to leave: he applied for manager jobs including Vero Beach, Crestview, Indian River Shores and Sebastian, where he was short-listed in three of the four cities, but landed none of the jobs, ending up as a community development specialist in Huntington this year. “My background stems from community and economic development and I chose this profession based on the great reward to link individuals to programs and agencies that would provide direction and enrich lives,” he wrote in his cover letter.
David Strohl, an Illinois native, has been the village administrator in Forsyth, Ill., what he describes as “an upscale community” of 3,500, since 2014. He’d served as a business manager for a small town for 12 years and previously been an interim manager in a small Missouri town. In his years with Forsyth, he writes, “much of my attention has been on working to continuously improve the effectiveness and efficiency of operations and service delivery, positioning the Village to better pursue economic development, increasing the level of professionalism among staff, building capacity within the organization, and initiating, developing, and now implementing a detailed five-year strategic plan.
Stacy Tebo, a University of Central Florida graduate in public administration (1996 master’s), was the town manager in White Springs, whose population could fit in the 1,000-seat Flagler Auditorium, with about 250 seats to spare. Holding that job from 2015 to 2019, Tebo said she “wore many hats, with the building of a grants-funded community center, park improvements, a new boat ramp, paving and drainage improvements accounting for some of the accomplishments on her watch.
She does not say why she resigned, but her Oct. 8 resignation letter explains: “As evidenced by the appointment last night of a disgruntled former employee whom I terminated for theft, Anita Rivers, the current council does not have the best interest of the White Springs citizens at heart.” (“I always strive to do the right thing,” she wrote in her cover letter to Flagler Beach).
Before her years with White Springs, she was the city clerk for DeBarry for 10 years until she was fired, allegedly “for insubordination and disloyalty, among other things, as documented in a termination letter she received,” according to court papers. She sued, alleging gender discrimination and retaliation. A trial court sided with the city, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last October split its verdict: it found no gender discrimination but remanded the case to the lower court on the retaliation claim. (See the court’s opinion here.)
Upholding the judgment on discrimination, the court cited the city’s findings against her, that “Tebo was trying to undermine him to other employees, the mayor, and the city council; provided false and misleading statements concerning an internal investigation into allegations against another city employee; failed to obey certain directives given to her by a supervisor; and used an unauthorized email account to send and receive official communications. […] Tebo failed to rebut these reasons head-on with evidence that they were false or that the decision to terminate her was made solely because of her gender.”
Steven Wheeler, like his short-listed competitors for the job, has led several small towns as manager–Fayette, Ohio, Holden Beach, N.C., Lake Lure, N.C.–but since 2009 has been the “Safety-Service” director for Orrville, Ohio, a city of 8,500. He oversees all the city’s public safety agencies, parks, the city cemetery and its municipal pool, and is responsible for preparing the city’s budget. He’s also been eager to leave: he made the shortlist for the manager’s job in Huron, Ohio, in September.
“Throughout my career, I have strived for fiscal responsibility, economic prosperity, and customer service to our community–while inspiring and empowering our employees at the same time,” he wrote in his cover letter for the Flagler Beach job.
William Whitson is a self-employed government consultant since 2014, counting the Florida League of Cities among his clients–and Ken Parker, Flagler Beach’s chief adviser on the search, among his former bosses: Parker hired him as his assistant city manager in Port Orange, a position Whitson held for eight years, all under Parker (who was manager there for 28 years, until 2013).
Curiously, Parker went out of his way in his memo to Flagler Beach commissioners to note that he’d gotten a call from one of the candidates ” informing me that a friend of his who is also and acquaintance of a City Commission Member may have inadvertently mention in a Thanksgiving call that she knew the individual and spoke highly of the candidate. He wanted me to know that he did not know that the friend had mentioned him nor did he solicit her making contact with the Commission Member.” Parker did not mention the name of the candidate in his memo. He also did not mention that one of the seven candidates he short-listed had been his long-time employee (though he did so at the Wednesday committee meeting).
Whitson since the Port Orange job was city manager of Cairo, Ga. (pop. 9,500) for two years, the budget director for Panama City for two years, the city manager for East Ridge, Tenn., for two years, director of Panama City’s redevelopment agency for three years, city manager of Hapeville, Ga., for two years, and finally his current self-employment.
Flagler Beach City Commissioners will discuss the applications at their meeting this evening. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. It’ll be a very busy one: commissioners are also hearing an application for a special exception to build a new hotel in the heart of town, in place of what used to be the farmer’s market, next to Veterans Park. The full agenda and background materials are available here. The meeting will be accessible live by video here.
See the full list of applicants for city manager below, with the names linked to the application packages provided by the city. The city did not provide the full packages for each candidate.
|Lee Evett||City manager, Frostproof, Fla., pop. 3,000, until 2019|
|Seth Lawless||Islamorada village manager until August, pop. 6,300|
|Ben Newhouse||Community development specialist, Huntington, W.Va., starting this year|
|David Strohl||Village administrator, Forsyth, Ill., pop. 3,500|
|Stacy Tebo||Town manager, White Springs, Fla., pop. 767, until Nov. 2019|
|Steven Wheeler||Safety-service director, Orrville, Ohio|
|William Whitson||Self-employed local government consultant, Atlanta, Ga.|
|Vince Akhimie||Self-employed management consultant, Lakeland, Fla.|
|John Barkley||City manager, Winslow, Ariz., pop. 9,500|
|Barbara Bell||Customer service supervisor, Rochelle, Il.|
|Greg Blaize||Facilities maintenance director, Mobile, Ala.|
|Michael Boese||City Manager, Keene, Texas, pop. 7,000|
|Lyndon Bonner||County administrator, Jackson County, Fla., until March 2018|
|Larry Collins||City manager, Louisville, Ohio, pop. 9,320|
|Stone Conley||Graduate research assistant, University of South Dakota|
|Lawrence Coppola||Executive director, Port of Allyn, Wash.|
|Timothy Davis||Police officer since 1998 and president of the Sacramento police union since 2015|
|Timothy Day||Community association manager, Florida|
|Dru Driscoll||Deputy city manager, Daytona Beach, since February 2019|
|Brenda Evans||City manager, Neoga, Ill., pop. 1,600|
|Suzanne Fisher||Assistant city manager, Delray Beach, Fla., pop. 69,000, until September 2020|
|Daniel Fitzpatrick||Government relations director for a water authority, Syracuse, N.Y.|
|Brenda Fox-Howard||Interim town manager, Gloucester, Maine, pop. 5,800|
|Jeremy Frazier||City manager, El Reno, Okla., pop. 20,000|
|Mark Giblin||Park manager, St. Augustine, Fla.|
|Adam Gitter||Town administrator, Buchanan, Wis., from June to September 2020, pop. 7,000|
|Phyllis Grover||Planning and economic development director, Aberdeen, Md., pop. 16,000|
|Joseph Hackney||City administrator, Valley Falls, Kansas, pop. 1,000|
|Stanley Hawthorne||Self-employed since 2019 after serving as Fort Lauderdale assistant city manager until 2019|
|Freddy Howell||Emergency services director, Bryan County, Ga.|
|Alan Lanning||City manager, Cordova, Alaska, pop. 2200, until Oct. 2019|
|Kathy Laur||City administrator, Tonka Bay, Minn., pop. 1,500|
|Jason Lawrence||Transportation finance administrator, Tallahassee government, since March|
|William Lawrence||City manager, Bowling Green, Fla., pop. 2,900, since April 2019,|
|Christopher Layton||Town manager and finance officer, Duck, N.C., pop. 581|
|W.R. Lonnee||Assistant planning director, Athens-Clarke County, Ga., pop. 209,000|
|Rodney Lucas||Bunnell community development director since 2018|
|Collin Mays||Economic development director, Center Line, Mich., pop. 8,200|
|Katie McGuire||Office manager of a lawn care company, Lincoln, Neb.|
|Jarvis Middleton||Self-employed consultant|
|James Molenaar||Senior legal counsel for the Collier County, Fla., Clerk of Court, until May 2020|
|Martin Moore||City manager, Batavia, NY, pop. 14,500, until this year|
|Martin Murphy||Assistant city manager, New Port Richey, Fla., pop. 16,500, until 2018|
|Raymond Palmer||Assistant township manager, Silver Spring, Pa., pop. 18,000|
|Brian Patrick||Adjunct professor, Terra State Community College, Fremont, Ohio|
|William Pitts||Health department supervisor (13 employees), Chatham County, Ga.|
|Scott Randall||General manager of a gated golfing community of 3,200 households, La Quinta, Calif.|
|Quinn Robertson||Town manager, Colonial Beach, Va., pop. 3,600|
|Christopher Rose||Management and budget director, City of Miami, Fla. ($1.17 billion budget)|
|John Rostash||Village administrator, Crestline, Ohio, pop. 4,600, until June 2020|
|Dana Shoening||Planning and development director, Sweetwater, Texas, pop. 10,500|
|Alan Shoemake||Mayor and interim city administrator, West Tawakoni, Texas, pop. 2,000.|
|William Ward||Vice chancellor, facilities operations, Pima County Community College District, Tucson, Ariz.|
|Brian Wells||General manager, Rocky Mountain Transit management, Estes Park, Colo.|
|Kristina Wright||Community development director, Neptune Beach, Fla.|
|Robert Zastany||Jury coordinator, Waukegan, Il.|
|George Zoukee||Self-employed real estate investor, various states.|
Really?! out of staters to manage a Flagler Beach? most of that short list aren’t even from coastal areas , let alone our coastal area, let alone our State! I hope our Commissioners think about what is learned or experienced opposed to whats heart and soul. you can learn one, not the other. Our area needs a local. Give our City jobs, jobs that involve us…..to us! Expand and look on the long list!
Wow, i’d like to know who created the short list. This is City Manager for a Fl beach community. I agree with what I am hearing from most……there needs to be a Floridian, from a coastal community, from a local coastal community to do this job. Hope the Commissioners go to the long list and consider local, coastal applicants that our area should have.
agreed, Florida, local coastal community applicant needs to be the primary consideration for this position.
Susanne Fisher has a reputation for getting things done. Who would want that?