“You’re killing my husband,” Becky Whitson, wife to William Whitson, the Flagler Beach city manager, told the city commission Thursday evening, also accusing them of being the ones who “torment him.” It was one of the most startling public comments, if not accusations, the city commission–or any local government board–has heard about its own executive in recent memory.
Other than the day a new city manager, county administrator or school superintendent is introduced to the community, a public agency chief executive’s spouses locally has never attended meetings, let alone addressed or accused a spouse’s bosses publicly, with the spouse sitting a few feet away.
Whitson, on the job a little over a year and a half, has been embattled on and off since last summer. Short of getting fired, he was placed on probation, got middling evaluations, and seemed to be on a reset through the late summer and early fall’s storms, only to face a commission persistently divided over his fate, and further onslaughts of public criticism complaining of poor and conflicting communications from his office.
Commissioners have echoed the complaints, and scheduled tonight’s workshop to address that very subject, which kept getting held over from meeting to meeting over the past month.
The workshop took on numerous issues revolving around communications, then veered to a list of 50 to 60 “priorities” Whitson has been toggling on the commission’s behalf. The list has caused problems of its own, because commissioners themselves have split over their own ranking of those priorities, the public has its own, and has made them clear in barrages of public comments, demanding answers then and there. That’s left Whitson whack-a-moling his way through cascading projects, not always to commissioners’ satisfaction. His habit of taking things to heart, making him seem thin-skinned at times, hasn’t helped.
Drew Smith, the city attorney, had himself opened the door to the unusual almost two hours and 45 minutes into the workshop when he addressed the commission–not as its attorney, but more like a family counselor, explaining to the commissioners to what extent Whitson could feel overwhelmed by the barrages of questions in real time, at meetings, when he couldn’t possibly have the answer to every question every time. “There’s lots of room, lots of avenues to go there, if you give him the ability and the time to do it,” Smith said.
It was at that point when Becky Whitson walked up to the podium. She did not identity herself for the record. Ken Bryan, the chairman of the commission, did not ask her to identify herself, as he usually does, even when the speaker is a well-known official.
“Is it okay to talk?” she asked.
“Sure,” Bryan told her.
“I’ve been in places where people feel like I shouldn’t speak at all, and I don’t know city business as well as you guys do,” Becky Whitson said, in a tone of controlled fury. “But I do know my husband, and he is responding to being burned because he didn’t know what your priorities were. That is why he’s trying to determine what is important to you. Because you are the ones who torment him when he misses something.”
She paused. “If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. And you are killing my husband,” she said, her voice sharper as she punctuated certain words. “Please give him some direction. Allow him to not know everything and not get everything done when you want it done. Yes, a hurricane–call it a bump in the road if you want, but it consumes the time. It consumes his time. It consumes the staff’s time. It puts things in a different order. And things have to wait.”
Commissioner Eric Cooley–Whitson’s harshest critic since summer–immediately responded from the dais. “That’s why we do strategic planning,” he said immediately after the manager’s spouse returned to her seat. He addressed Whitson directly, but looked at his fellow-commissioners. “You are in charge of doing strategic planning, you build the framework. Then you take all of our input and you put it together and you go, okay, here’s our plan. These are kind of what is important, these are our marching orders and based off that, we built a budget. That budget is also the plan. So we’re not just sticking it to people.”
Cooley then took on Becky Whitson’s comment, without naming her: “The way it was worded is unfair to us, and I’m not okay with that.” He said he was not okay with items on the commission’s plan not getting done. “I think this gentleman is smart enough, and he’s high-paid enough, that he can and should be able to do that.” He added: “I’m not okay with comments saying that we are up here killing people and all that stuff. I mean, I’m going to be very transparent. This is a job that you signed up for. You’re not stuck with it. If there’s something going on at home, if it’s that bad, you know, this is optional.” He referred to another critic who’d accused the commission of wasting his time this evening. “If things are so bad, and what are you doing in the room?” Cooley said.
Whitson, responding to a text about Becky Whitson’s comment, said in a text: “My wife spoke on her own. I was not aware that she would say anything. She was speaking from her heart.”
During a recess at the two-hour-50-minute mark, Becky Whitson walked up to Cooley and told him she was “being emotional and regretted how it was worded,” in Cooley’s words.
Commissioners returned for another, brief segment and adjourned for the night.
Two hurricanes, a disappearing beach, crumbling pier and walkovers, residual problems from previous hurricanes with respect to A1A, and of course whipsawing on the fireworks debacle, he really kind of walked into a hornets nest. We got lots of chiefs but looks like he is the only Indian
Ray W. says
A valued friend from my years at the public defender’s office shared an article with me on the subject of “moral injury.” If I am properly or at least adequately interpreting the article’s focus, it dealt with individuals who possess empathic qualities. If those empathic individuals engage in careers that, at their best, help others thrive, there is a great sense of satisfaction gained from the effort. But what of the schoolteacher, the deputy, the physician, the lawyer, the city manager, each of whom entering a career with the desire to help others, but soon shocked when they learn to endure the venom of the parent, the victim, the patient, the client, the city commission? I quickly developed coping skills for the myriad different personalities exhibited by my clients and family members. I utilized my four rules to the practice of law to great effect. I had relatively few clashes with my clients, many of whom were facing the greatest challenges of their lives. The idea that I would never be the brunt of their venom was absurd to me, so client control became one of the great focuses of my career. Yet the concept of “moral injury” resonates with me. I once had to break up a physical altercation between another assistant public defender and a client as they argued outside the elevator in the DeLand Courthouse. I accepted assignment of cases that were taken from other assistants when the clients became abusive to those assistants. Public defender office staff have to learn how to fend off abusive clients, too, or leave for other brighter horizons.
Perhaps, a workshop for city commissioners on the subject of moral injury should be scheduled. They know not what they do, and none of us can see all ends.
Crusty Old Salt says
Very well said John X. If one has attended City Commission meetings and studied the agenda background packets, the most vocal critics of Mr. Whitson both in the Chambers and on the Dias are the one’s least prepared to discuss the agenda items.
A1A is a state problem. Residents are asking for our neighborhood issues to be solved.
Nancy N. says
The state doesn’t work on a local project like A1A in Flagler Beach without extensive consultation with local officials about what is the preferred solution to specific issues, approval of plans, and a myriad of other assistance from the city. The funding and contracting may be the state’s purview…but that doesn’t mean that the city is uninvolved.
Angelika Maynaed says
You go Becky Whitson. The City Manager walked in to a hornets nest 2 years ago. Prior city managers did nothing for our city and this man is playing catch up on things not done. You don’t like the way he speaks to you. Get over it. Walk in his shoes. Negative social media has to stop. Your moms would be disappointed in you! Help people don’t hurt them.
Suzie Johnston says
Kudos to Becky Whitson for productively talking it out with some elected officials during the break.
There’s always one that takes the hit with any employer. Ever notice the most unstable position in terms of continuity is a certain position that always has the highest turnover. That job in Flagler Beach is City Manager. The first performance appraisal wasn’t glowing, but it was still the honeymoon phase of the new hire, so there was hope that he could turn it around somehow. Nobody has lasted very long as City Manager of Flagler Beach. Same holds for Palm Coast & the rest of Flagler County. I mean how many 6months or 1 year hires have been chased out of the county. Yet the rest are gold & safe. He’s probably the only one of the bunch getting probation & crappy performance reviews. The coast line is sinking into the Atlantic Ocean & the only crappy employee in Flagler Beach is the City Manager. It’s Whitson vs “US” & Cooley’s response to BW’s comments is a glaring testimonial. “Killing him/my husband” is a figure of speech, but yeah, the man probably wakes up every AM to go into work everyday, knowing he’s going to be the “punching bag” for everything that ever went wrong. For anyone to ride him like that, when the experts themselves have no solutions for the beach erosion and anything else for that matter. Imagine being the guy getting a poor performance appraisal because grains of sand on the beach aren’t where the rest of them want them to be ? Feel for the Whitson’s, hang in there and continue to support each other. Eventually they may fire the City Manager, but that’s built into the turnover. To make it a year & a half in that position is like being the QB of the Cleveland Browns. Somebody has to hold the position, just a matter of how many hires they have to go thru. The job should be staffed thru a temp agency, contract last as long as a corporate maternity leave. Work long enough & at enough employers in this world and you’ll see it at every employer. It’s the position they never find the right fit for as a hire.
“Cooley then took on Becky Whitson’s comment, without naming her: “The way it was worded is unfair to us, and I’m not okay with that.”…”
tom dooley says
Great reply! QB of the Cleveland Browns (Bernie Kosar)I have been rooting for them for years. Loved watching them when I was a kid playing in the mud and snow etc. Real football!!! Still rooting for them every year and the Detroit Lions. Poor teams; just can’t seem to get it all together?
ENOUGH of the DRAMA!!!
The job of a city manager is very difficult. The pressure and stress is worse than most people can imagine. Just ask the spouse of any city manager and he or she will tell you horrible stories of stress to the point that many city managers are getting sick from the stress. No they don’t have thin skin, they have a dedication to their community and a level of pride that is compounded by maintaining a high level of integrity, morality and legally. If a city manager is not losing sleep at night they are not doing their job properly. On top of that, dealing with at least 5 different personalities on a council or commission is like corralling cats in a rain storm. That’s just how it is folks. I am certain Mr. Whitson was not aware of his wife’s plan to approach the commission at a meeting and should not be held responsible for her actions if they deem them inappropriate. One could argue that the commission should provide clear direction on their goals with achievable objectives and time frames. It is not for the commission to throw the spaghetti at the wall and the manager to line it up. It is the commissions responsibility to decide on the pasta and let the manager put it on the plate. If the commission can’t decide what to eat together then the manager doesn’t know what to serve. Managing a city is not a buffet or smorgasbord, it is a fine dining experience even with the smallest of pockets. It’s time the Flagler Commission governs itself accordingly.
If any of these chiefs think they can do better than stop with the words and go for it. Put yourself in his shoes. He seems to be a very calm man, if it was me I would have told you to stuff it.
My Opinion says
I think Cooley overstepped with his comments. They are a small staff and because of Sunshine laws the Commissioners can’t possibly know the direction each other is giving to the manger behind closed doors. He may have a lot on his plate they are unaware of.
Too many conflicts on that board to begin with and no real consensus on what they want done. Conflicts for their businesses, friends and other desires keep small staff and manager from being able to focus on tasks and prioritizing. He ultimately may not be right for position, but using meetings to roast him every chance you get isn’t productive representation or leadership.
Commissioners are barred from giving the city manager policy direction behind closed doors that hasn’t been agreed upon by the full commission in public.
Flagler Live, we are all adults here and quite honestly if you believe that to be true, I have a bridge to sell you. Having worked in positions where I was privy to the back rooms of many units of local government I can attest that there are more directives given to city managers and department heads than Carter has pills. No it is not legal and we want to think better of our elected officials but it does happen all too often.
No disagreement. The statement was strictly about procedure and the law. As for reality, it would be foolish to think that more than a minority of officials, if that, abide by either behind the scenes. Florida’s sunshine law is a nice sheen, but most officials get their daily exercise by slithering their way around it.
Beach crazy says
Probably go ahead and start your executive recruitment procedures.
Flagler Beach can hire a firm, a legitimate recruiter, to work for the Board to find a qualified candidate. You can also use your own HR and post the position here http://www.floridaleagueofcities.com/research-resources/jobs
Finding a new city manager should be the board’s highest priority.
tom dooley says
And why should that be? You didn’t go into detail about why this should be such a HIGH priority (finding another cm)? You really think this is the highest priority that the city of fb has? (ask other residents). Apparently you haven’t done your homework. There are a lot of projects going on for this small town. Do you realize that’s how the city found him and the previous city manger (your website)? Apparently not. So what is YOUR highest priority? Or do you know what projects are going on? Please explain, so other residents will know? Are you running for commission this year? If they fire the cm will you apply for the job? Are you qualified? The cm stepped into a lot of projects and only 1 commissioner doesn’t like him because he didn’t get his fireworks last year. Boo Hoo!! Cry me some more tears because as they say at McDonald’s “I’m loving it”! Good luck fb love you guys!
Beach crazy says
Hiring a competent city manager is always the highest priority of a city council, that and setting the budget.
My interactions with Mr. Whitson have left me with the impression he is incompetent at his job. Mr. Whitson should be able to effectively communicate with the board members, without anyone having to defend him.
The problem is NOT the City Manager. It’s the wacky Commission, lead by Cooley and the Mayor. I don’t blame Bryan for leaving to enjoy life. Anybody with a brain knows Flagler Beach is in bad shape, and has yet to hit rock bottom. This is what you voted for, FB. What do you think is gonna happen if they fire Whitson and try to find a city manager during the pier and beach rebuild? Fumble after fumble I’m sure.
The good news is they don’t cross the bridge, so as long as the crazies are confined to their little fiefdom of nonsense, it’s ok for the other 95% of us.
Whitson is a good guy and works hard. Seen it with my own eyes. He cares. FB was Just pummeled by hurricanes and Whitson has to be an integral part of rebuilding the beach, and these folks show up with 50 “priorities.” The ONLY priority is to get as much help from Renner as possible to rebuild the beach. Short of a hostage situation, that’s all anybody over there should be thinking about for the next 150 days. Whitson knows, but he’s got all this over here to deal with. FB is really going to suffer economically if the next two years isn’t navigated exceptionally well. Businesses are already hurting. …SMH
Marcel J Robert says
We Currently have a Tribal goverment.. So my Resolve would be to eliminate the City Manager Position.. All Duties and Salary would go to Mayor.. Devide the City into four Section and One Comissioner from each… since we have five currently. what is now the CRA that 5th Comissioner would represent.. Each Comissioner and the Mayor would Vote on erach Issue..
Stop it, Frank, you’re killing him!
—Estelle Costanza from Seinfeld, the Festivus episode
Poor city manager, this has been happening in Flagler Beach for many, many decades. You have to be nuts to even apply if you look at past history of the position. The problem is the City Commission and it always has been.
The problem has been Cooley, his girlfriend the mayor, and their antics. Cooley now seems to have Sherman agreeing with anything he says. Just watch the meetings – when Cooley is pontificating about something, Sherman is right there like a bobblehead agreeing with the craziness. And to add to all that, Mayor Suzie now wants Belhuemer (who was previously on the board for 6 years and was voted out) back on the board because he will do as she says.
Lord help us all!
time to elect commissioners who can work with others and be on same team ,5 candidates -1 on panel now has done nothing / 1 was commissioner for 6 years now blames everyone but himself, that leaves Spadley -O’conner -Cunningham .I won’t want this job but good luck to you .We need change
If you cannot handle the job, RESIGN. Don’t have your wife boohoo on your behalf because you realized you actually had to do WORK for this city – especially for that insanely high 6 figure salary received for it.
Becky needs to BUTT OUT. So unprofessional. Whitson should’ve issued an apology for his wife’s behavior. A complete embarassment and a poor reflection on city leadership.