In a stunner, former two-time Sheriff Jim Manfre was the top vote-getter in the short-listing of possible candidates for Palm Coast City Manager as the council this evening picked six candidates to back-ground check and possibly interview in January.
A stunner, because in previous attempts at the city manager’s jobs, both in Palm Coast and Flagler Beach, Manfre had not been so much as short-listed, let alone interviewed. He also applied to be an appointed county judge in Flagler in 2019. He was interviewed, but not short-listed, and Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Andrea Totten.
Council members Victor Barbosa, Ed Danko and Nick Klufas included Manfre on their lists. Mayor David Alfin did not, nor did Eddie Branquinho, who said Manfre made his final 10, but not his final five. Ironically, the two staunchest Republicans on the panel chose one of the political figures most closely associated with the Democratic Party in the county. His wife Cornelia Manfre ran against Klufas in 2020 and was among the candidates in the special election for mayor last July, falling second to Alfin in a field of six.
Council members did not discuss their choices in a relatively brief meeting barely attended by the public: just four people showed up. Two spoke–one in favor of Manfre (before the tallies), one to thank the city for the clean-up of trash in two parcels in Town Center.
“I am honored,” Manfre said when reached by phone shortly after the council meeting. “The only thing I can surmise is that they’re looking for a local candidate.” Manfre said in his experience in the county and the city, going back over two decades, the better county managers and city managers were local products.
Neither Denise Bevan, the interim city manager, nor Jerry Forte, the forte chief and interim deputy manager, applied, though either would likely have had the votes to be the council’s choice.
The council reviewed 86 resumes. Each council member turned in up to five names from that list. The names were tallied, resulting in just six candidates who had two votes or more. Manfre was the only one who got three.
The six others that got two votes each, all men, are Vince Akhimie, Anthony Carson, Shawn Henessee, Patrick Marsh and Scott Moye. Klufas noted the list’s lack of diversity. (See the candidates each council member picked here.)
Every city manager candidate brings baggage. The city’s human resource department will be uncovering much of that in its background checks, though Manfre’s many years in local politics, including a few contentious years as sheriff, make his local past an open and copiously documented book.
“You call it baggage, I call it lessons,” Manfre said. “Politics is a tough game. You make friends, and you make people who don’t agree with you.” He described his talent as “the ability to get along with different people.” He said the position is “not political,” and that he was looking for an operational position at this point in his career.
The council had decided to conduct the search itself, delegating the early steps to Renina Fuller, the director of human resources, and her staff. This evening she summarized the steps taken so far, took the council members’ short lists, and laid out the next few week’s schedule: the council won’t meet again on the subject until January, when it will review the background check and decide who will be interviewed.
“I look forward to being able to discuss with city council our criteria,” Alfin said. “In other words, how we are looking at the finalists, because the goal would be to take our criteria and match it as closely as we can to candidate in the hopes of identifying a single candidate.” The council did not discuss criteria ahead of time. Alfin said that was not necessarily a drawback.
“It may seem customary to do it the other way. But I’m not sure that that is necessarily a better way,” Alfin said. “Now that we have a list to work from, now, we can share our criteria and come up with a common set of criteria from which to match the the candidates to the agreed upon criteria.
Alfin is insistent on finding a candidate who will win the council’s unanimity–a steep challenge on a divided council.
“The success of a future city manager is highly dependent on the support of all five city council members,” he said. “I don’t know whether or not we will achieve that or not.”
Alfin also said he was not interested in “settling” for a candidate, even if it means ending the search and re-starting it differently: “It’s not set in stone, but we also have an option, we have an option of suspending the search and hiring a third party search firm,” the mayor said. “So because I’ve said before, I’m not yet convinced that we will settle for that until we have identified all of the most capable, capable applicants out there.”