The Flagler County Commission this evening appointed Heidi Petito interim manager for at least the next three months, or long enough to shepherd the county through budget season, but likely for much longer, the commission being uninterested in laboring over a successor. It was a surprise: Jorge Salinas, brought on as chief of staff in January, was widely expected to be named interim. Instead, he now says he is no longer interested in the top job.
Petito, the county’s long-time facilities director and its co-chief of staff since January, has also been considered by the administration and the commission a potential administrator, pre-dating Salinas. While Salinas was chosen with the understanding, between outgoing Administrator Jerry Cameron and the commission, that he could be the next administrator, today’s appointment was a nod toward the county’s need for a degree of continuity and institutional history as it navigates the budget process, which can be arcane and challenging to someone who hasn’t gone through it year after year, as Petito has.
A little history, too: Petito is the first woman to lead the county administration in a county where only the school board and Flagler Beach have previously had women as top executives. Palm Coast and Bunnell are still waiting.
Petito has always had Cameron’s trust. She had former Administrator Craig Coffey’s trust too, rising to facilities director the year of his arrival in 2007 after she’d been a public works accountant. She’d worked as a civilian in police administrations previously. She takes the top job with none of Coffey’s insecurities and none of Cameron’s ego, and where both men could be truculent or petty in their antagonisms, Petito has built a reputation as a less abrasive, more collegial director: if sarcasm was a Coffey specialty and pomposity a Cameron one, Petito is the more recognizable Everywoman, unaffected and tempered. Her husband, Don Petito, was the long-time county fire chief edged out of his job last year in an arrangement that would ease Heidi Petito’s way up in the administration. Yet she had not been among the 16 applicants for the interim post two and a half years ago, when Cameron was.
Petito has no four-year college degree, but then neither did Cameron, a University of South Carolina drop-out who nevertheless let people refer to him as “professor Cameron.” The commission recognized Cameron’s two-and-a-half-year service as interim with a farewell proclamation earlier in the meeting, fawning even for a commission with hands impressively callused from back-patting.
“We have two people that are ready, and could take over any organization this size tomorrow and do a great job,” Cameron said this evening. “We have been in a transition period. And during that transition period, we have discussed with core leadership and we discussed with Heidi Petito and Jorge Salinas, and we believe that Jorge was really qualified to take over this on an interim basis. And the closer we got, the more that Jorge believed that he was correctly situated as a number two. He developed a great admiration for the abilities of Heidi Petito. I agree with him that Heidi has a long standing record of accomplishment here. She has grown up from the ranks. She understands every portion of what we do here. And she is willing to step in as the interim administrator for you. My recommendation would be that you would appoint her as a three month interim, until the end of September, which is when our budget will be in place. Both Heidi and Jorge are familiar and involved with the budgeting process.”
Cameron described the next period as a three-month interview, giving the commission and Petito a chance to evaluate whether she should stay on, presumably as the permanent administrator, or whether the commission will decide to conduct a search, now that Salinas has pulled himself out of the running.
Commissioners had no objections. Commissioner Dave Sullivan invited Petito to speak to the commission directly about the choice.
“I am extremely honored that you guys have the confidence in me to move the organization forward,” Petito said. “Under the direction and the path that Mr Cameron has set forward I think that we’ve got a great team, an extraordinary team, and I look forward to continuing moving the organization in that direction, even if it is on just an interim basis at the pleasure of the board, and will serve any capacity necessary for Flagler County.”
Commissioner Andy Dance, the only commissioner among the five who has had any interest in a more deliberative process in choosing the next administrator, interim or otherwise, said of Petito that there are “few that have your institutional knowledge and history of the county, so that is definitely going to continue to help us moving forward.” Dance, a former school board member for a dozen years, is also the only one of the five who has taken the task of finding a top executive, doing so several times during his tenure at the school board. It was not a surprise this evening that he again reminded a commission that has been inexplicably indifferent on that score of preferable steps ahead.
“If we can continue to work in the background to prepare a potential search parameters to take the instance to where at the end of three months, that’s how we go, we’re not starting three months down the road but we can start the planning process now, and even if we don’t use it, it’s there in our back pocket ready to go.”
As has been the case every time Dance has made similar suggestions on at least two occasions before, his fellow commissioners ignored his suggestion as Commissioner Greg Hansen moved directly to naming Petito. Only one member of the public spoke–Jane Gentile-Youd, the often acerbic Plantation Bay resident and current commission candidate in whose eyes there are only heroes and horrors. Petito this evening was among her heroes (as was Cameron, whom she’d hugged earlier).
Sheriff Rick Staly, who was in the audience, is the constitutional officer who has worked the most with Petito because of her responsibilities with facilities. Those responsibilities have frequently intersected with the sheriff’s spaces, since the county is the sheriff’s landlord, not always happily: Petito’s institutional history includes the entirety of the history of the former, and eventually doomed, Sheriff’s Operations Center off State Road 100, going back to the building’s purchase in 2013 and its transformation from a hospital to an administrative building.
The sheriff had to evacuate it in June 2018 after dozens of employees complained of sick-building-syndrome-like illnesses. The sheriff has been working with Petito and others in the administration on plans for the next operation center, now that the commission has finally settled on a location, an architect and a contractor. But today the administration revealed that a project already plagued by innumerable delays will be delayed yet again, with a move-in date now not to happen before late summer of 2022. In other words, the sheriff will have spent more than a full term out of his headquarters.
Staly was gracious about Petito’s appointment. “I look forward to working with Heidi, I congratulate her,” he said this evening. “I was a little surprised, because probably like everybody, everybody thought Jorge Salinas was the heir apparent. But obviously something changed.”
Gina Weiss says
Great choice, finally a woman is chosen in such an integral part of the FCBOCC. Heidi Petito has the expertise, knowledge, professionalism and most of all she is a wonderful, caring, down to earth person. Congratulations Heidi Petito, we can rest assured that our county is in great hands with you on board.
Concerned Citizen says
If something changed it was because this County was scared to let an outsider “Salinas” into the inner sanctum.
So here we go with the wink wink nudge nudge Interim County Administrator crap. This BOCC and Administrators continue to think this county is stupid and ignorant. That they continue to pull fast ones and go unchecked and balanced.
Everyone knew what the County has been up to but they put on a big show. And now another Petito sits at the helm. And an outsider doesnt stand a chance of getting in there. And making a difference. Salinas will soon be gone as well. Because he is a threat to the Petito dynasty as an outsider.
This person is finally a good choice. She can follow a budget, manage staff and get things done around here.
Hey County Commission don’t screw this chance to at least one thing right.
Good luck Heidi….
Best Choice! says
Hands down the best choice for Flagler County, and I am very excited to see her as the new Interim Administrator. Heidi exceeds in everything she does and she will be an excellent leader. We can rest knowing our County is in good hands. Congratulations Heidi!
3 months day to day is a long time, but 3 months is the end of September 2021 and it’ll be here before we realize it. “Kicking the can down the road” as the saying goes.
Peter Dressling says
I wonder if Jane Gentile-You’d will be taking credit for the appointment of Heidi Petito ?
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Why does FlaglerLive print such off the wall vicious venom such as commented by Peter Dressling?
Gina Weiss says
Jane: I agree with you, people should clean up their own acts first before casting stones.
Shelby Fears says
I think Mr ! Dressling has a valid point. In researching past Flagler County government stories in Flaglerlive , it seems to me whenever there’s a governmental success story Ms. Gentile-Youd almost instinctively and consistently post a comment taking some if not all credit for the achievements of others.
Gina Weiss says
Why the attacks on Jane Gentile Youd? From what I read from what Jane comments on here are her own opinions and congratulations to people, appears some think that on here this is their own facebook page and some of those facebook comments got an individuals into a lot of trouble.
Tim Atragrade says
Is she that woman who show up at every commissioners meeting and goes off in an hysterical rant then announces she running for Commissioner ?
Gina Weiss says
I never saw Jane hysterical, she may raise her voice to make a point, better that than making stupid threatening comments to people on facebook. She is at almost every BOCC meeting speaking up for us citizens.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Yes I did get very emotional at the June 7, 2021 meeting you bet: Hotel on old Dixie a dump for over 8 years – tree limbs in the road – drug needles in the broken glass windows, unsecured pool . County ignored e-mails from 2013 until Department of Health came out the day after I called them and Bingo they got the hotel fined over $45,000! County was going to demolish the place until out of nowhere came BUYERS ( who we still don’t know their human names) who scooped up the 7 acre place for less than a house around the corner sold. Just $650,000 is all that was paid – never advertised it was for sale. Now the unknown buyers are getting $1.5 million of federal funds: American Rescue Plan Act ( ARPA) to hook up water to our water system which former owners could not get…
After 8 years of phone calls and e-mails and not a dime for the county ( the lawyers Al Hadeed hired have already been paid $10,000 which is what the county fines amounted to). How would you feel if a 7 acre – 8 year dump abandoned hotel site was sold to unknown buyers for less than your house can be sold for which unknown buyers are getting $1.5 million federal benefit to open and operate.
I guess I am supposed to be nice and sweet about seeing another rotten deal for taxpayers be snuck through.
Sorry I found it too hard swallow so much crap, sneaky deals, misuse of tax dollars, oney going to an unknown group of people ( a more civilized word for corruption in my opinion) without regurgitating emotionally.
Maybe FlaglerLive knows who are the live human beings who bought the hotel for less than a single family home just sold for and have been granted $1.5million free money…
Well my hubby wants me to drop out next year’s commission race of trying to represent our district next year so you all might surely have 4 more years of Mullins.
Gina Weiss says
“All return to planet earth”, says a commissioner an official mocking a citizen at the podium, he should be ashamed of himself! In PC this little place on “planet earth” did you manage this county’s property and funds successfully, the building and maintenance of our roads, or the budgeting and appropriations of our funds?
Wow, you would think that a 4 year degree would be mandatory for this position. Case New Holland mandates a 4 year degree before a supervisor can be hired. I guess expectations are low in Flagler.
Vernon Jackson says
A four year degree isn’t necessary if the individual already has proven themselves. Also, the experience can be a trade off for that requirement. Heidi Petito is a great choice. I have known her for many years and she is certainly educated enough to be the County Administrator and not just the Interim! I hope you stay on Heidi!
How can the best choice for a County administrator be a person that lacks, at a minimum, a basic 4 year college degree? Doesn’t the job description require such a degree? How many jobs beneath this position require mandatory degrees?
Granted a college degree is not everything. And certainly a person can succeed in administrative positions without one, I just think it provides a well rounded base and should be the minimum required. Ideally, a County administrator should hold a Masters in Public Administration or an equivalent. My two cents.
Jack Howell says
What Heidi may lack with a 4-year undergraduate degree and MPA she has in real-world experience! I have had employees work for me with an advanced degree, but their performance was lacking. Therefore, Heidi is not only the most qualified, but she is also the best choice. Finally, the BOC got it right!
Roy Longo says
Congratulations Heidi! You have been the best person for the job for many years and deserve this job. Flagler County will finally have a true leader to ease through the ego ridden commissioners above and the department heads below. You carry the respect from us all.
Irwin M. Fletcher says
Why do we continue to backpedal in this county? We set the bar, then lower it. How can we expect to hire the best and brightest to stimulate our growth when we set low standards for the top job in the county? The majority of administrators at this level have a masters degree or at a minimum, a bachelors degree with a great pedigree. What message does this send to department heads and managers who have worked hard and earned degrees to further their careers? Come on let’s break the good ole’ boys stigma that has defined our county for so long and take a leap forward. Hiring administrative professionals should not be reduced to a popularity contest or the path of least resistance.
Helen Siegel says
“Petito has no four-year college degree, but then neither did Cameron, a University of South Carolina drop-out who nevertheless let people refer to him as “professor Cameron.” The commission recognized Cameron’s two-and-a-half-year service as interim with a farewell proclamation earlier in the meeting, fawning even for a commission with hands impressively callused from back-patting”.
Flagler County had no problem with Cameron and his lack of a degree. Seems that neither did St. John’s County. The question is what are the requirements for the position of County Administrator? Don’t blame Heidi. She is the most qualified for the job because she has done it and done it well and with integrity. If Flagler County wants to join the 21st Century, perhaps they should re-examine their job descriptions and revise them to include advanced degrees. Continuing education is not a new thing. Most advanced degrees can be earned online with credit for life experience and being employed in the area of question. This is no big deal. Only in Flagler County the most provincial county that I know of in Florida is this considered a travesty.
Gina Weiss says
Helen: Words well spoken, we can see what the rocket scientist people have already done to PC with their high academia advanced degrees.
Been There says
Although I agree 100% that Mrs. Petito can do the job, will do the job and will excel at the job; it is only fair that all degree requirements for jobs at the county now be sunset… to be fair.