It was the strangest of motions that sent a mixed message amidst an increasingly dismal search: keep the current shortlist of candidates for Palm Coast city manager, but hire a firm to start a new search. The council agreed in a 3-2 vote.
The timeline ahead is unclear, because selecting a search firm is itself an elaborate process, if it is to be conducted properly–a now-looming “if” in all things council-related–following which the firm’s own search will take time. Six months from start to finish is usually a minimum. Anything less rushes the process. By going for a search firm, the council has now pushed the selection process well into next year’s election season, knowing that two council members have already announced they would not be on the council past 2022–Victor Barbosa, who is running for a county commission seat, and Eddie Branquinho, who said this would be his only term, absent extraordinary circumstances. If quality and qualified candidates were reluctant to apply in the first round, as they clearly were, they may be even more reluctant to do so, knowing that the already deeply divided council that will hire them will turn over within months of their arrival.
Klufas, Branquinho and Mayor David Alfin voted to restart the process. Council members Ed Danko and Barbosa voted against. Klufas’s motion is to retain the candidates who have been short-listed in the first round and interview them along with whoever will make the shortlist in the round provided by the search firm. Going the route of a search firm will cost around $25,000 to $35,000.
Klufas’s motion was actually a reflection of Alfin’s position as stated weeks ago, even before the shortlisting, when he spoke of his disappointment in the applicants’ quality in an interview and suggested that he would call for a renewed process. He did not want to “settle” for a candidate. It was a surprise that he did not do so in the special meeting where the candidates were shortlisted.
“I don’t think we disregard the current candidate pool and the individuals that we had shortlisted,” Klufas said. “But I think it’s worth a discussion and having staff go out and see what an RFP would cost for a city manager search firm to conduct a search and the timeline that they would be able to return something to us. I think that if we had a secondary pool of candidates, potentially we don’t return any additional candidates, but this is a decision that is so important to us. And now all of us have dealt with the city manager.”
The motion was no less of a slap in the face of the three remaining candidates selected to be interviewed: you’re fine, but not good enough, was the message. It would be difficult to argue with that message.
“Don’t forget we still have one thing at heart. We’ve got to get what’s the best for the city,” Branquinho said. “I read through some of those and I cringed,” he said of the applicants in the first round. “When you have a mechanic applying to be a city manager, there’s a mistake there, somebody is not doing the right thing,.” He said he would not accept qualifications less than an MBA, a master’s of business administration. “I will not I think someone to run a city like this, to make $160,000, we deserve not just experience. We deserve an MBA.”
Out of 86 applicants who qualified as such, the council reduced the list to six on Nov. 17: Vince Akhimie, Anthony Carson, Shawn Henessee, Jim Manfre, Patrick Marsh and Scott Moye. Manfre, who served two non-consecutive terms as Flagler County sheriff, was the only one who’d not had experience as a county or city manager. (See the candidates each council member picked here.)
By Tuesday, three of the six had dropped out, an unusually high proportion from a shortlist and yet another sign–as was the poor quality of the applicants–that Palm Coast may still seem toxic to applicants, though Renina Fuller, the city’s human resources director, said two of the three who dropped out had gotten other positions. (Madeira Beach hired Carson as its city manager in late November).
That left only Akhimie, Manfre and Marsh: not a glowing list. Akhimie, who is not currently employed, had briefly been an assistant city manager in Lake City, with more experience as a utility director. He was among the applicants for city manager in Flagler Beach last year. He did not make that shortlist.
Marsh, too, is not employed in a capacity other than as a consultant, and had last held a city administrator’s post between 2015 and the beginning of 2021 in Fitrchburg, Wis., a town of 30,000, and where he had an unhappy end: he was charged with third-degree battery, public intoxication and disorderly conduct in a Myrtle Beach incident where someone was allegedly injured over a masking argument, Marsh was placed on administrative leave, the city conducted an internal investigation of his conduct, was forced to resign, then sued the city over missing belongings. It is safe to say that considering the Palm Coast council’s approximation of a World Wrestling Entertainment annex on too many occasions over the past year, the non-pugilist-minded council members will not be eager to hire a manager with a police record.
Manfre’s record brings its own controversies, both in his first and second terms as sheriff, principally with a legal settlement over a public record issue in his first term and a substantial ethics commission fine–the highest fine ever assessed a Flagler County official–a public reprimand and censure stemming from his second. (A judge initially recommended a $19,000 fine. The commission eventually assessed a $6,200 fine, which Manfre did not appeal.) The response to his candidacy has been polarizing.
There was also the emerging risk of turning the city manager’s search into a political campaign. Because of Manfre’s past as sheriff, his long ties to the community and his political cunning–a cunningness he’s willing to exercise–his candidacy began to resemble the only other candidacy of its kind that took on the trappings or a campaign rather than that of an application for city manager: that of Bruce Campbell in 2011, a building maintenance worker at the time who was appointed manager in Flagler Beach only after an 18-month spectacle that included standing-room-only meetings, re-interviews, cheers and boos and ceaseless speeches indistinguishable from the political circuit. Jim Manfre had been among the applicants for the position. He did not make the shortlist for interviews.
Cornelia Manfre, who twice ran for council seats in the past two years, addressed the council at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, recommending to “stay the course” and interview the current candidates. She spoke of them, “one of whom I probably say is my husband.” She then, without naming the author, read a letter from a constituent that amounted to an endorsement of her husband and that referred to him as “attorney Manfre.” Dave Taylor and Mike Cocchiola also spoke on behalf of Manfre, the latter calling for Manfre’s immediate appointment and describing another nationwide search “a waste of time and money.” On the other hand, the more than a dozen additional people who spoke Tuesday evening during a 50-minute segment addressed various issues, from saltwater canals silting up to playing fields being shut down to the absence of a menorah in holiday displays or the lack of streetlights, suggesting that the manager’s search is of more isolated concern in the broader publicKlufas said it was his fault not to have spoken out at the previous selection meeting when he had noted the dearth of diversity in candidates but not spoken out more strongly for taking a different course. Had he done so, he would likely have had the support of at least two other council members (Branquinho and Mayor David Alfin) to restart the process. “My one regret is that I didn’t stand up more firm at the time, but better late than never and here we are.” He said that his approach would enable current short-listed candidates to “rise like a phoenix out of the candidate pool and be able to, you know, show that they definitely are the right one and I may be more drawn to a candidate that’s willing to embrace that role to go up against whoever whoever they are going to be put up against believe that they’re the best and that they’ll rise above.”
It is not likely that, Manfre aside, the other two candidates would still be in the pool by the time the council is ready to interview. And if they are, that may itself raise questions about their desirability, since no one else would have wanted them all these months. So the inclusion of that shortlist among the candidates eventually to be interviewed was little more than a diplomatic olive branch, the equivalent of an honorable mention in a process whose victor is all but assured to be someone else.
Danko, a Manfre supporter, was opposed to changing course, and while he agreed that “there were certainly some people there that should not have applied,” he thought the remaining finalists were qualified. He said only if the council was not satisfied after its interviews, it could then go a different direction. “I hate for people to perceive us as not being able to do our job,” Danko said, somewhat disingenuously: he is in large part the reason the council exudes toxicity. Danko again derided the search process that led to the hiring of Morton–whose retention and raise he had supported until he began smearing Morton’s tenure after his resignation: Morton had started an internal investigation of allegations of Danko’s misconduct toward employees. Klufas defended the previous search process, calling it “was very educational in the sense that the search firm came back to us and they provided a ton of details about the landscape of the city manager occupation at the time.”
“We’re backtracking instead of going forward,” Council member Victor Barbosa said. “Backtracking something that we already approved and voted on, it’s not the right way. We all voted on this. Everybody agreed. We’re here now. Let’s get it finished.”
Klufas said he’d compared the sort of applications received in this round with applications received in the previous search, conducted by a firm and resulting in the appointment of Matt Morton. “The pool of candidates provided had a much higher and substantial number of managers and assistant city managers that had dealt with a city our size and our budget,” Klufas said. Not this time. “That was something that I was really taken aback by with our choices, was the size of the municipalities that these people, that these applicants, were managing or co-managing at certain points in their career.” Only a minority of applicants had city or county manager experience, and those who did tended to be from cities of 10,000 or less.
Klufas commended Interim Manager Denise Bevan for her leadership, saying the “wheels won’t fall off the bus” as long as she’s in charge, giving the city room for prudence in broadening its search.
Alfin said the salary range for the position would have to be raised, as its current level is discouraging better-level candidates. He was also concerned about the timeline. The council would first have to select a search firm. That takes several weeks, if not months: Fuller did not specify a timeline on that. But the request for proposal for search firms would have to be advertised for at least two weeks if not more. The firms would then have to be interviewed by the council. Only then would the chosen firm start its work. Fuller said the firms like to advertise the manager’s position for 30 days. But that’s assuming the firm skips a key part of the process: learning from council members and the community what kind of manager it should be seeking. In the previous search, for example, the firm held a community meeting to solicit input from residents in addition to input from council. It was an extensive, deliberate process, tailored to Palm Coast’s wants.
Alfin alluded to that in the current search: “We did receive criticism from advisors within the League of Cities that we did not have a detailed or thorough list of qualifications in advance of our advertisement for the position,” he said. “What they told me was the best process, the most transparent process and the process that we will be most proud of is for us to agree on a finite set of qualities and characteristics and experience and designations and other elements, and then we will match those qualities to the candidate. The candidate that most closely matches that list would be the pick of choice. So I listened to that carefully and we basically have proceeded and done the process a bit backwards.” Just weeks ago, Alfin had defended the council’s “backwards” approach.
Nice, the dismal demanding better. It’s almost comical. I think word on the street is that Palm Coast City Manager job is a temp job. Abusive & toxic work environment. Come to think of it, a lot of the job postings for Palm Coast are internships of sorts. When the turnover rate is as high as it is, that’s a red flag. And interfacing with Flagler County, who wants to be a 6 month to 1 year city Manager and be threatened with workplace abuse & high potential for threats of violence ? Hey, how many in between 2018 & Morton ?
Keeping the current shortlist of candidates is a nice thing to do but its the wrong thing to do. If they were right for the job the council would move forward with them. This action is somewhat insulting to those candidates. The best thing to do is allow them to reapply to see if the get short listed again. At least this council is now trying to hire a professional manager. This city needs all the help it could get.
As citizens of Palm Coast, I think we need to seriously start looking at whom we elect to represent us. We have a joke of a commission now with Danko, & Barbosa making a mockery of things. Thank God Barbosa has indicated he’s wanting to challenge the even bigger douche bag on the county commission Mullins. Maybe we can get a double elimination of both these worthless candidates/ commissioners. As for restarting the process, as a voter, tax payer, citizen, I’m against spending more money, because the carelessness of the commission and whomever setup and conducted the search. As for the remaining candidates. IMHO none of them are even remotely desirable for the position. Manfre is nothing but future troubles, he wasn’t a good Sheriff to his team, and even worse lawyer. I worked indirectly under/had to deal with his administration in the county during his term. With the turnover of two seats, it’s time “WE the VOTERS” elect people who represent us, and not themselves. As for the commission, get your shit together, get off your ass, start the process over. Stop waffling, do what’s right.. Palm Coast/Flagler County has had a bad name/ rap, way before this BS, but your not helping improve, or discredit what smart people are seeing and or saying.
Dennis C Rathsam says
I to believe nobody wants to work in Palm Coast city hall. Way too much Bull….! Every time we make the news, its always bad news. From mayors past & present, & councilmen, this city is the laughing stock of Fl. With all the smart decent folks in Palm Coast we deserve better. Why do all the political weirdo,s come to our city? We need leaders with integrity, vison, who practice the art of self respect & common decentcy. We need men, not children. But the most important thing they should all practice RESPECT!!!!~!
I feel a tremendous sense of relief that Jim Manfre has been eliminated!
Jim Manfre has not been eliminated. If he chooses to remain in the pool he will be interviewed, along with any shortlisted candidate from the search firm’s results.
Funny, Palm Coast requires a Masters degree for the manager position when Flagler County chose a person with what level of education? Seems to me they need to search for a true and respected leader who is familiar with the true issues and requirements of the community they will serve. They may be missing all of the usual and expected education and experience requirements, but sometimes we need to look outside that box.
If the council would gather some decorum and behave properly at meetings, they wouldn’t end up in the news as an embarrassment. Palm Coast is such a beautiful place to live. It breaks my heart to see what politicians are doing to our reputation!