A year and a half ago Don Kewley was one of four finalists for the job of Palm Coast city manager, along with Beau Falgout, the interim manager at the time, Matt Morton and Robin Hayes. They’d been short-listed from a pool of 56 applicants. Morton got the job by one council vote over Falgout, who resigned seven months later without another job lined up, one of innumerable resignations or firings that followed Morton’s arrival following predecessor Jim Landon’s 11-year tenure.
Kewley wasn’t exactly out of the running, at least for a city job. There’d been maneuverings in the background, with Council member Nick Klufas pushing to have Kewley hired as the city’s Chief Innovation Officer so he could take over management of the city’s FiberNet. That’s the network of broadband fiber across the city’s main arteries, serving a few businesses and governments but not residential neighborhoods. It’s fallen short of a potential the city hasn’t stopped touting for over a decade. Kewley’s command of IT and FiberNet questions was evident in his interviews for city manager with council members, his command of other issues much less so.
Klufas’s role in pushing Kewley was unusual. Council members aren’t supposed to meddle in administrative matters. But the push became public. The week after the council voted to hire Morton, Klufas made the pitch for Kewley, who was then an IT director in Ashland, Ore.: “Exactly what Mr. Kewley has done in Ashland, Oregon, is where the City of Palm Coast is today when he came on board there,” Klufas said at a council meeting, “and he was able to provide direct results and very clear data that enumerated out his successes and the enormity of the impact that it had on its community.” Klufas’s usual allies, Mayor Milissa Holland and Council member Bob Cuff, reined him in. “We have absolutely no business identifying an individual” for hire by the administration, Cuff told Klufas. But the message was sent.
When Morton hired Kewley, he was mordant about it: “I told Beau, I said this is a Pyrrhic win, I’m really excited, he’s the guy, but it’s Pyrrhic because I knew it carried some baggage.” Clearly, the hire hadn’t entirely been Morton’s idea. Just as clearly in subsequent months, the relationship between Kewley and Morton didn’t quite click.
On Aug. 26, a Thursday, Kewley wrote Morton that he was resigning. He did not offer an explanation, and said he appreciated “the opportunity to work for the City of Palm Coast and serve the citizens of this great community.”
Morton said in an interview today that he had intended to have a conversation with Kewley that Friday to inform him that the separate department Kewley was leading was being shut down, and FiberNet being folded back under Doug Aikins’s IT department. Morton said Kewley never lived up to his billing, producing no business plan, developing no private-public partnership to extend FiberNet to residences, sowing confusion with contractors and taking on what Morton called “a victim mentality about seven months ago,” when Kewley supposedly began fearing for his job.
In remarkably harsh words for an individual who’s just resigned–and who was his own hire–Morton said “Don was such a spectacular failure, I think he was a fraud, candidly”–a fraud neither the consultant that the city hired to cull through the city manager applicants a year and a half ago nor the city council itself detected when short-listing and interviewing him. Before Palm Coast, he had spent just over two years developing a FiberNet-like network in Ashland, but sought the Palm Coast job, he said at the time, because he wasn;t feeling appreciated in Oregon.
Asked how the Kewley hire reflected on Morton’s own judgment, Morton said: “It absolutely does, I’m not going to escape that. I brought the guy in through the SGR process, he was vetted and evaluated,” he said, referring to Texas-based Strategic Government Resources, the consultancy the city hired last year. As time went on, Morton said, Kewley did not rise to “the level of executive he claimed to be.”
Kewley did not respond to a message on his cell, a text or an email. But in comments to the News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez, who first reported on the resignation, Kewley attributed Morton’s decision to Kewley not being on board with the city’s association with Salesforce platform. The city in the past two years had focused public attention on Palm Coast Connect, a $100,000-a-year online customer service system. The backbone to the system was initially developed at no cost by Coastal Cloud, the company that employs Holland, a connection that’s drawn scrutiny and criticism by former city employees and the public, in part spurring the candidacy of one of the mayoral candidates against Holland–Michael Schottey, himself a Morton hire whose tenure ended between a resignation and an impending firing six months in. Schottey did not make it past the primary.
“I don’t feel like I did anything wrong,” Kewley told the News-Journal, saying he’d been tipped off about his impending firing. “I was working in the best interests of the city, but because I didn’t wear a Salesforce banner on my back I was forced out.” The comment echoes that of other former employees who have resigned or been fired.
Morton says Salesforce had nothing to do with Kewley’s job. “It’s been 10 months of false allegations and allegations and credibility questions, every time I turn around, ‘corruption,’ and on and on,” Morton said. “This was not a retaliatory dismissal, there is no corruption happening, there’s no conspiracy, just because a small number of people continue to rattle the fences.” He was also explaining why he took another unusual step–countering criticism about the Kewley firing on Facebook, on a local resident’s page. (The city’s own personnel policy prohibits employees “from conducting official City business through social media, unless specifically authorized by the City Manager.” An earlier version of this story noted that Morton being the city manager, he he was essentially granting himself permission to respond. In fact, the social media policy does not apply to the manager, the mayor and members of the council and members of city boards.)
“I shouldn’t have done that,” Morton said today when asked about the posts before defending them as fighting misinformation. A communications director might have discouraged or stopped him from making the postings, but the city hasn’t had one since Schottey left, leaving the responsibilities to an interim.
That’s about to change. The city is hiring Brad West, the USTA Florida’s digital media coordinator, to the position (termed Communications Officer). The hire is somewhat of a surprise: West is frequently engaged in city issues, at times as a critic and times as a defender–a piece he wrote subsequent to his original application for the position and after he’d been passed over for Schottey, one of the people implicitly criticized in that piece for making some unsubstantiated accusations. Morton did not reopen the application process for the hire, returning to the batch of original applicants and picking West out.
West today acknowledged his past involvements in city issues in an interview today. “It brings a unique perspective in my opinion because I have lived here, I have had some experiences, I can bring that personal perspective to the things that we may be doing, and things we’re communicating out. I do appreciate and understand that that changes things for me personally.”
He said his decision to take the job was difficult, since he likes the job he’s doing now–and is fully aware of the fractious nature of certain public-sector jobs these days, not least of them at a city that’s seen its share of turmoil–but he’s been commuting to Orlando for three years and is looking to work closer to home in a city that’s mattered to him and his family for years. “My goal is to improve communications with the residents here not only to keep them informed, but help make it easier to get information that’s important to them,” he said.
He’s previously worked in retail for 23 years, 17 of those years in management (Strawberries Music and Video, Circuit City, Barnes and Noble), as a store or operations manager. He starts Oct. 5.
“We can look at Brad’s history with the city, he’s not some superfan,” Morton said. “I need someone who can honestly analyze things and tell us and the community what we’re doing right and tell us and the community what we’re doing wrong.”
Where do they keep getting these knuckleheads from? One would think some one would have learned a lesson by now.
It cannot be that difficult to get a fiber network in Palm Coast and do away with the radiation killing towers we now behold at the health expense of the citizens. There is a fiber optics manufacturing firm in Daytona Beach…just follow through with a company that installs and contracts service.
Disappointed in Palm Coast says
This is truly unbelievable. Not only does Council direct a city hire… against our own Charter… but then our wonderful City Manager calls him a fraud after he resigns. Every day the levels to which Matt Morton and Milissa Holland will go to harm the employees and residents of this City are mind numbing. Furthermore in relation to the Brad West hire – as posted on the FIRST page of the cities jobs page – quote:
The City of Palm Coast will :
-Advertise all open positions on this website and on the bulletin board in the Reception Area at City Hall.
-Only accept applications for currently open positions.
-Only accept applications that are received by the stated deadline.
This job was never re-advertised, there was no open process and no interview process. For a City Manager who runs around talking about transparency, this sure did take place in the shade. Again, why not have an open hiring process? Why give an outright and extremely vocal defender of the Mayor a free crack at a job he didn’t earn? I think we all know the answer to that.
Been There says
Brad West is the WORST person for the City to hire, Citizens. Don’t forget that he is the one who wrote the article about McCarthyism and is 100% pro Holland no matter what unethical dealings she gets up to. According to him, there is no fire where there is smoke. Of COURSE they would want him in Kewley’s place. Wait until he sees what is really going on or maybe he just doesn’t care.
Nice to see Morton taking a lesson from Cameron 101, disparage employees publicly with lies so that if the person tries to speak out regarding the goings on behind the scenes people assume he is just another disgruntled employee.
Let me be VERY clear, there are a LOT of people who are being played out in the media as “disgruntled” employees so that the public sector officials can keep blowing smoke in the eyes of the citizens. Having come from the inside I can assure you, where there is smoke there is fire and the people in office and in administration at the City and the County are doing everything then can to gaslight you. You should be offended as a citizen of Flagler County or resident of Palm Coast.
There is a reason they make employees who are terminated and receiving compensation sign documents stating they won’t take any action. “Here’s your hush money and sign here.” Only those who resign willingly have any power to pull back the curtain. People should be listening to them.
Seriously, there are an awful lot of discredited disgruntled employees in the wake of Cameron, Morton, Holland, Sullivan, O’Brien etc. They should all get together and file copious amounts of ethics complaints. People are scared. Why is that?
“The city is hiring Brad West, the USTA Florida’s digital media coordinator, to the position (termed Communications Officer).”
“He’s previously worked in retail for 23 years, 17 of those years in management (Strawberries Music and Video, Circuit City, Barnes and Noble), as a store or operations manager. He starts Oct. 5.”
Makes sense to me, Kewley knows FiberNet Technology, enough to fool everyone to land the job, Morton fires him to select a Retail & Tennis social media expert to replace Kewley with ? Can’t wait to see how this turns out ? I guess the restructure handles the FiberNet issue, so why the new hire ?
Kewley’s department was shut down, according to the manager. West is being hired to fill the communications officer position previously held by Michael Schottey. The two positions are unrelated.
Brad W says
Thank you for sharing the link to my LinkedIn profile. I agree my previous retail management background alone would not qualify my to lead the Communications for the City or our community. My experience as a Digital Media Coordinator over the past 7+ years has included:
– Aligning the organizations online various online channels to be able to leverage them to better serve our Members, players, and community partners across the State.
– Developed the organization’s digital strategy which I have been involved with continually reviewing and refining as various things change.
– I have experience with video production and editing, podcasting, online live streaming, live posting at events to enhance the experience for attendees and their friends and family, and more.
– Lead the projects, and was hands on with the design and builds, of two iterations of the organization’s website.
– Put in place a basic mobile apps which has helped us to better connect with customers to keep them better informed especially during tournaments and events. I’ve been leading a project recently to improve that as well.
– On top of that when we moved our office from Daytona Beach to Lake Nona we had to create our IT infrastructure from the ground up since we had been on the City of Daytona Beach’s network. I lead and delivered on that project which moved the organization to a cloud infrastructure and allowed our staff to work efficiently and effectively from pretty much anywhere continuing operations and delivering the best levels of service.
– I work on various other communications projects as well including a recent development of a system that allowed us to provide virtual tournament desk operations to conduct a tournament safely this past weekend for 17 teams and over 150 players.
I view communications as a means to improve and enhance service. It was my retail experience, and leading service teams, that everything I and my team did is about the customer. I approach communications similarly. I hope that helps explain things better and I hope my experience and ability helps to serve you and all of our community. Thanks. You have my LinkedIn profile address. Feel free to reach out to me there.
The hire of Brad West must make Morton and Holland so elated!! Their biggest cheerleader is now on board!
At what point will the public wake up and see what has really been going on at city hall for the past 3 years? Every employee that has quit or been fired was a problem of sort according to Morton & Holland. Since when are having values, ethics and morals a problem? Oh, I guess just is you don’t have any!
D W Ferguson says
Fibernet——An Economic Development Tool to attract High Tech, better wage Jobs , Or merely a service for Government /Scool system intra connectivity —or can it be Both ? -Please tell me
Fibernet–A bill of goods sold to the taxpayers of Palm Coast a decade ago as a modern high tech superhighway that will:
A. Provide connectivity to city service centers, schools, firehouses, etc.
B. Pay for itself through public-private partnerships to sell access to businesses around the city.
Both great ideas on paper. Unfortunately, the execution has been a dismal failure by highly unqualified participants. Behind the scenes no one at the city really wants anyone else on the network. There’s no real capacity nor guidelines anyways. Turns out that “B” was a fraud to get public buy-in and funding. Any private business that runs across that thing is doing their company a disservice versus the far superior, secure and cheaper alternatives from the likes of AT&T and Spectrum.
Jonathan J Dawkins says
The “Innovation Director” position was created by the council because, at the time, that was all the rage with cities around the country. They also needed to get that Coastal Cloud freight train into town, and this was just another means to an end. Well, the end is here, the train is in the station, and down goes yet another poor soul. This one just happened to move himself and his family clear across the country for this nonsense. I assure you – Morton’s next, sooner than later. His only lifeline is Holland getting reelected, and even then I don’t expect any level of gratitude or loyalty from her grand puppetmaster.
Understand folks that Palm Coast is now notorious nationwide for being the place to NOT be if you have any level of competence in governance. You avoid this place like the Covid; thus we, in the foreseeable future, will continue to be so unblessed with less than stellar talent.
The only way to start to clean up this stinky pile of poo is to vote out Holland (unfortunately the alternative is a large-type ass), and send Klulas packing.
Brad West. Eh. Zero government or public service experience. See my aforementioned “less than stellar” reference. Already, ALREADY, not even on the job yet, has chimed in on a news site’s comments section defending(?) himself. Get your boots on and spray some Febreeze into your Covid mask – The pile only gets higher and stinkier from here.
Disgusted in Palm Coast says
Our leaders in the City Council need to step in immediately. Matt Morton was hired by the Mayor and Council to be a leader and manage the city. I expected a few managers to leave after that hiring as Morton started to implement changes to his team to align it with his vision. But what we have seen instead is not the norm for such a transition with the City losing more key managers and employees then you would expect. And each time, whether they are disgruntled or not, Morton pointed fingers at those employees stating they were problematic or no good at their jobs. As a leader, you would expect the City manager to work with his employees to get the best out of them. It is the City manager’s job to keep moral high and do everything in their power to inspire others to follow the city manager’s vision. How do we expect our City’s employees to keep their moral high when all he does is disparage those leave in such a public manner. The City Council needs to stop this mockery. When they interviewed and hired Morton, they did so based on him having the skill set they felt was necessary to manage the city. But now we see that the one skill that Morton lacks is people management. This is not good for the city employees, government and ultimately the residents of Palm Coast.
In his latest rant, Matt Morton went after recently resigned Don Kewley, who had been the city’s chief innovations officer, on Mayoral candidate Alan Lowe’s social media page. This is outrageous and shows he has no restraint. He represents the city and this incident should be the last straw before he continues to drag our city’s reputation into the ground. How will the City attract future employees? Who would want to work for him knowing that their reputation is at stake if you get on his wrong side? And what does this do for our reputation if potential employers and residents think about relocating to Palm Coast see all of this.
If our elected officials do not step up to the plate and stop Morton now, the residents will need to make our voices heard on election day. We need leaders who will lead and set the right examples by accomplishing the city’s goals in a manner that is respectful and dignified. That is not the case in Palm Coast right now.