Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom, who was asked by the mayor to begin a week-long vacation early during a contentious commission meeting a week and a half ago, is taking a two-week medical leave in addition to his vacation and will not return to work until after July 4, commissioners were told late last week.
Newsom’s decision caused a workshop planned for Tuesday to be cancelled–or postponed, as Commission Chair Jane Mealy sees it–pending his return. The workshop was to focus on the conduct of people at public meetings, including that of Newsom. Mealy called for it after the parts of the June 11 commission meeting went awry as exchanges between Newsom and two members of the public on two separate occasions became contentious. In one case, a man in the audience claimed Newsom invited him to step outside. Newsom did not deny saying so, but said he was inviting the man to further discuss a matter, not to fight.
“I’m 56 years old, the last thing I want to do is get in a fistfight,” Newsom said Friday. “A, I probably wouldn’t win it, and b, it’s totally unprofessional.” But Newsom defended his actions, saying he would not take abuse from a member of the public, whether it’s directed at him or at a city staffer. “The public has no right to verbally attack me or anybody on my staff, and I’m not going to allow it,” he said.
Neither commissioners nor Newsom would discuss the nature of his medical leave. But Newsom said he would be back in town today, and would likely make appearances at the office, at most to read documents.
Notably, he said: “I wasn’t going to go to the workshop anyway. I think it’s ridiculous,” he said. “If they want to reschedule it, talk about my evaluation, things of that nature, I’d be happy to do that, it’s about that time of year anyway.”
Newsom had gone on sick leave for two weeks at the beginning of April. His erratic behavior at the time of his leave had worried commissioners, particularly over an email exchange with a rude constituent, toward whom Newsom responded in equal measure.
Mealy in an interview last week said she still intended to call for a special workshop or meeting to discuss “the appropriate behavior of everybody. We might even pick up our old behavior at meetings ordinance, or set of rules we have about how people behave at meetings.”
When he was last evaluated in September commissioners found Newsom’s performance just shy of stellar, with one outlying evaluation–that of Commissioner Rick Belhumeur–bringing him down a notch. Belhumeur’s dissatisfaction with Newsom has not improved since. The commission has two new members who have not yet evaluated him, though neither has shown public indications of dissatisfaction.
Asked if she had confidence in Newsom, Mealy said last week, after the workshop was cancelled: “So far yes. Depends on what happens when he comes back of course. But based on his prior history, prior to the last couple of months, yes, I do want him to continue. I think overall he has been very good for the city.” She said his performance ranks atop the list of the half dozen city managers she’s worked with in her tenure on the commission.
Newsom took over in Flagler Beach in January 2016. “I don’t think I’ve made any detrimental decisions that’s hurt the taxpayers of Flagler Beach. I just need to get better.” he said by phone from the Panhandle. “I’m not going to hold a grudge. I’m going to do my job, that’s what the taxpayers pay me to do,” whether he disagrees with a couple of commissioners or not, he said. “Any point in time I feel like this is not suitable for Larry Newsom, my contract says I can turn in a 30-day notice, the board can give me a 30-day notice. I just hope we don’t have to end up there.”
Over time residents have become more familiar with Newsom’s vulnerabilities and those that choose to do so can easily bait him. He acknowledges it, but said it’s also the board’s responsibility to maintain control of the room. As the contentious exchange between Newsom and a man in attendance at the June 11 meeting continued, less than an hour into the meeting, Mayor Linda Provencher asked for a brief recess, then spoke to Newsom in the presence of Fire Chief Bobby Pace and Police Chief Matt Doughney and City Attorney Drew Smith and urged him to begin his vacation immediately. He had been scheduled to start his vacation at the end of the week. Newsom left the meeting.
“The guy just wouldn’t let it go,” Newsom said of the person in the audience with whom he exchanged words at the last meeting–the first in-person meeting the commission held since the start of the coronavirus emergency. “Allowing me to be baited is also inappropriate, and I’m a little disappointed on that but we’ve worked together for four years. This is kind of a speed bump of where we’re at. I’m going to make some changes. I also expect the people I work for are going to step back and can expect things to be done differently. Being a city manager doesn’t make you a sitting duck.”
Flagler Beach Fire Chief Bobby Pace is the acting manager in Newsom’s absence. The commission is scheduled for a meeting Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. It’s a light agenda.
I guess this is the new great America. We have to tell adults how to behave at meetings.
Name (required) says
What a cozy place to earn a nice, fluffy paycheck Flagler county is. Man, I should’ve come here from just 30 minutes north years ago, I didn’t know that Mayberry, er, Flagler had such a relaxed atmosphere for overpaid “management” positions with such relaxed stipulation. It’s a literal dream job it would seem. What a coveted spot to cash in a totally unearned paycheck! Wow!
Concerned Citizen says
Respect is lacking on both sides lately.
The public feel they can talk to employees in general any old way they want. And that’s just not true. I was at DMV the other day and they were having computer issues. I watched a guy call the lady behind the desk the stupid B word and got all pissy because he had been waiting. So? I was waiting as well. And did not feel the need to be disrespectful. My parents raised me better than that. And besides some of these folks are dealing with the same issues we are.
On the same note we demand more professionalism from our officials. Appointed or Elected they serve the public and chose to do so. However that does not give us the right to abuse anyone.
I’ve seen a lot of hostility around besides the major tensions going on. And some of it is just unneccesary. We should be nice to each other. And help look out for one another. Instead of all this divisivness going on.
Sounds like Mr. Newsom might be on FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and if so, the city really can’t touch him.
Dottie's listening says
Leadership starts at the top, the tone was set by those in charge. Don’t be surprised by the outcome.
The current trajectory set by the manager and a few on the commission has been in a downward spiral the last 4 years. It’s finally surfacing, it’s the Flagler Beach citizens who are getting the dirty end of the stick.
Word on the street, it’s time for a new command, both legislative and administrative. Let’s hope the new commissioners have what it takes to get this mess cleaned up.
Jim Burns says
Well said….A good manager has the responsibility to protect and defend employees against any attacks..verbal ot physical..plain and simple…and just as importantly should take any crap from anyone directed st him or his staff….Jim B
Lance Carroll says
Like sands through the hourglass…