The Flagler County Commission this morning approved a contract with Interim Administrator Jerry Cameron for an annualized salary of $160,000 and a total cost to taxpayers of $237,000.
The contract value is comparable to that of ex-Administrator Craig Coffey, whose compensation was $247,400. The $10,000 difference comes down to Cameron opting out of the county’s health insurance system, though in net monetary benefits, Cameron comes out ahead by about $8,500.
Cameron’s package includes more than double the $400-a-month car allowance Coffey received. Cameron’s allowance is $1,000 a month. He lives 30 miles north of Bunnell, in St. Johns County, and will remain there for the duration of his interim term, expected to stretch several months, until the commission names a permanent administrator. That search is in its infancy.
“It was actually suggested to me, I don’t know where it came from, in lieu of increased salary and so forth,” Cameron said, citing two reasons for the higher car allowance: the first is that he expects he’ll have to do a lot of driving on the job. The second is that since he won’t be relocating, he’ll have a lot of driving back and forth to and from work–and won’t be costing the county a relocation allowance.
Cameron is also getting 23 days of personal leave, also on an annualized basis. Each day’s value is $615, for a total value of $14,155. He will receive 4.45 percent of his salary in deferred compensation, or $7,120 if he stays a year.
The county is contributing $12,240 for his social security and Medicare costs, as it is legally required to as an employer, and an additional $31,282 to the Florida Retirement System. Since Cameron is not enrolled in FRS, he will not be accruing benefits in that regard, though the cost to taxpayers remains the same.
In sum, Cameron’s actual compensation package, excluding Social Security, medicare and FRS costs, totals $193,275, or $8,500 more than Coffey’s actual compensation package (but almost even when Coffey’s health benefit is included).
“I did ask staff to work on a little spreadsheet that basically goes line by line and compares this offer to what we were paying Mr. Coffey, our prior administrator,” Commission Chairman Don O’Brien said, “so that there’s complete transparency, there’s no question as to where all these numbers are coming from, how they were arrived at., and how they compare to what our commitment was in the past.”
Cameron worked on the contract with County Attorney Al Hadeed. Laurie Bailey Brown and Human Resources Director Pamela Wu also worked on the contract. “This follows the general template that has been used by the county for administrator contracts,” Hadeed said.
The $31,282 county payment to FRS is required by law, an amount “for which he receives absolutely no benefit,” Hadeed said. “It’s the FRS system of collecting some funds of everybody on our payroll regardless of whether they are eligible to participate in FRS.” In fact, Cameron is benefiting, since he is an FRS beneficiary: he was in the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, requiring him to retire from his previous county job in September 2015, when he could benefit from a large payout under DROP rules and subsequent retirement benefits that continue. The county’s contribution to FRS goes into the pool of dollars that helps pay for those benefits. On top of that, he is getting the $7,120 in deferred compensation from the county, which amounts to an additional retirement benefit.
“In dealing with Mr. Cameron I was very much cognizant of and integrated it into my work that he has 28 years of public service experience,” Hadeed said, citing his experience as city manager at Fernandina Beach, a deputy administrator for St. Johns County, an appointed sheriff in South Carolina and a police chief in Fernandina Beach, “all features of his professional career that I believe support the employment agreement.”
The contract makes him eligible for a raise equivalent in percentage to the inflation rate, or consumer price index (CPI) published on March 1. But that potential raise will not kick in until March 1, 2020, assuming Cameron is still in Flagler. “The CPI adjustment does not occur this coming March 1,” Hadeed said, “but rather a year from now.” The contract as previously drafted was not as clear on that account but was made clearer in the contract’s final form (see below).
Once Hadeed outlined the contract to the commissioners, they moved to adopt it and one of them wondered if Cameron wanted to weigh in. He’d been silent until then.
“If it were me and I already have a motion on the floor I wouldn’t say a word. Don’t talk yourself out of something,” O’Brien said with a laugh.
The commission approved the vote unanimously.
“I certainly am humbled by the reception that I’ve gotten in this county,” Cameron said, “and you are correct, Mr. Chairman, an old adage is, when the buyer buys, stop selling. But the interface that I’ve had with commissioners and the problems that we’ve had during pre-employment period that were introduced to me has been refreshing. I think there’s a genuine desire on the part of this board to get these problems behind us, and get them behind us in a way that best benefits this community, and the dialogue that I’ve had so far certainly indicates to me that that’s something that’s going to be forthcoming. I have had the opportunity to sit down with a number of staff people, not all of them, but I am impressed with the quality of your bench. I believe that if there is anything that I can add to it is to get them flying in formation.”
Cameron has already visited the Sheriff’s Operations Center, ground zero of his predecessor’s Hades. The sheriff evacuated the center in June following months of complaints by employees related to unexplained but unhealthy atmospheric conditions that largely resemble sick-building syndrome. One of Cameron’s first orders of business is to negotiate an interim solution for the one to three years’ exile of sheriff’s staff from the facility, until a new building is built or the old Operations Center is fixed. Right now, the sheriff and the Clerk of Court are at odds over space usage at the courthouse. Cameron visited the Operations Center with Sheriff Staly last Friday. He also visited the decrepit Plantation Bay utility, and was hoping to visit Bing’s Landing and Captain’s BBQ, the next urgent matter on the commission’s agenda, before Wednesday’s meeting on it.
Cameron singled out the HR director and Hadeed as “extraordinarily dedicated and competent in what they were doing” as he spoke to commissioners this morning. “Now I can officially sign documents.”
“Jerry, I’ve got several calls from people telling me how smart I am to have picked you, so you’ve got a lot of support out there,” Commissioner Greg Hansen told Cameron.
“I hope I don’t do anything to lower the perception of your IQ,” Cameron said.
Cameron was a GOP operative in St. Johns County, well known to Hansen and Commissioner Dave Sullivan. It was Sullivan who urged Cameron to apply, making him in essence Sullivan’s pick. Cameron was known in St. Johns as a fixer: much as Flagler County’s GOP splintered a few years ago between right-wing and ultra-right wing factions until some order was restored in 2017, St. Johns’ Republicans splintered, and Cameron is said to have restored order.
Cameron said if he was to get the job in Flagler he would immediately resign from the Republican Executive Committee in St. Johns, and from another Republican club, and described himself as bipartisan. “I cross those lines easily,” he said. “Some of my best friends are Democrat.”
“Politics for the county administrator have no place,” he added.
The county commission in Flagler is hoping he can be its fixer.