Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron on Tuesday appointed Jorge Salinas, 53, an assistant city manager in an Oregon town for the past five years, as his “chief of staff,” a position similar to deputy county administrator, lining him up to replace the administrator when Cameron leaves next year.
Salinas has been with Albany, a city of 50,000 along the I-5 corridor, for 14 years. He’d been with Hewlett-Packard before that. He graduated college in Puerto Rico with a computer science degree and earned an MBA at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. He was passed over for manager in Albany in 2017 after making it to the final two, not long after winning plaudits for earning his city the attention of other cities and a tech magazine for his transparency initiatives. But the man who beat him out was among his references for the Flagler job. Ironically, he took part in an unusually secretive hiring process in Flagler. Salinas also made it to the final four in Lakeland last year but pulled out before the final choice was made.
Locally Salinas beat out Heidi Petito, the county’s long-time general services director, and John Brower, the finance director completing his first year in the county. The appointment was first reported by the Observer Tuesday evening after Cameron called the paper, which reported that Salinas will be paid $147,000, at least initially. It’s a little less than the $151,000 he was earning in Albany. His pay grade ranges up to $175,000. The position was last held by Sally Sherman under then-Administrator Craig Coffey’s administration.
In keeping with Cameron’s handling of the hiring process so far, the county has not issued a public announcement as yet. Neither Cameron nor the county commission discussed the position before or after it was advertised on Indeed.com, nor subsequently when its salary range was set or when the interviews with five short-listed candidates took place behind closed doors Friday. The two other candidates were Jarrod Shupe, the county’s IT director, and Joe Saviak, the sheriff’s leadership chief. The commission is expected to ratify the appointment at a meeting this month.
All five commissioners participated in the interviews and ranked the candidates, a ranking that played into the appointment. As such, the commissioners’ action appears to have violated the state’s sunshine law, since they took part in a process that led to a decision, all outside of a public meeting. The law prohibits any elected body’s actions to take place outside the public eye, with rare exceptions (such as strategy sessions ahead of union negotiations or legal proceedings). Cameron also prevented information about the scheduling of Friday’s interviews, and the identities of those conducting the interviews, from being released until after the sessions had been completed.
In the rankings, Salinas had edged out Petito, with Brower in third, Shupe fourth and Saviak fifth. Petito had been favored because of her long tenure in the county, but also had baggage, because of her husband–former Fire Chief Don Petito–whose last years two with the county, coinciding with Cameron’s first two, became tumultuous and punctuated by a public clash with Shupe. Cameron forced Petito to retire earlier this year. In the “leadership academy” he conducted for top administrative personnel, Cameron had told Shupe, Petito and Brower, among others, that one of them could be named his deputy and potential successor, then changed his mind, telling the three that the back-stabbing was hurting their prospects. He changed his mind again, as all three ended up on the short-list of five candidates for the deputy position.
Before becoming assistant city manager in 2015, Salinas was the city’s IT director for nine years, and held various managerial positions at Hewlett Packard from 1996 to 2006.
“Throughout the years, my skills and experiences have prepared me to leverage technology in order to serve others and enable processes that, in many cases, were meant for profit while in others, they were designed to enhance the lives and experiences of members of our community,” Salinas wrote in his cover letter. “I am committed to building and fostering successful relationships with the community, county commissioners, staff, customers, stakeholders, and vendors to ensure that we identify and address the needs of Flagler County.”
Salinas did not return a call before this article initially published.
“I think it’s probably an interesting but excellent choice,” Dave Sullivan, the commission chairman, said of the Salinas appointment this morning. He would not explain his use of the term “interesting,” nor say how he personally ranked the five finalists, or where Salinas ranked in his view. “I’m not going to say, because I don’t need to. It was Jerry’s choice,” Sullivan said. “It’s a good selection, it’s the first time I’ve ever met the person, from my 45 minutes with him I’m very happy with him. Seems like an intelligent guy with a lot of incentive to do a great job.”
As for not revealing his choices, Sullivan added: “It’s called a Republic, it’s not a total democracy. It’s a representative form of government and we’re representing the public. We don’t have to tell them everything we do. We hired a janitor too, big deal.”