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Palm Coast Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 5 months ago

Coffey considering options as commission prepares for discussion on whether to fire him

Craig Coffey has been the county administrator since 2007.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Will Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey be willing to resign if the Board of County Commissioners, at a meeting scheduled for Jan. 14, tells him it wants him to leave, and agrees to certain terms — like providing his full severance and implementing a transition plan?

"I'm going through this deliberative process on my own," he said Jan. 3. "I may not know until it gets closer. I'm going to be thinking hard again this weekend." To consider it an option, he'd have to work out an agreement to receive severance equal to what he'd receive if he were fired, and there would have to be a transition period so that major county projects don't suffer, he said.

"I'm not looking forward to the 14th, going through that," he added. "I think it will be counterproductive."

If Coffey is fired by the board, he will receive his severance package worth 20 weeks' pay (his annual salary is $163,550) and benefits, plus the amount the county would have contributed to his pension for that period, but add the firing to his employment history; if he resigns without working out an agreement with the board, he would not get severance.

The county's five county commissioners decided that they will discuss the possibility of firing Coffey during a meeting Jan. 14 after newly-elected Commissioner Joe Mullins, in his first official meeting as a commissioner, proposed on Dec. 3 that the board fire Coffey. 

Another commissioner, Donald O'Brien, said during the Dec. 3 meeting that he's had a number of concerns with Coffey's decisions as administrator; Commissioner Davids Sullivan said he wouldn't have proposed Coffey's firing himself, but was willing to discuss the issue; Commissioner Greg Hansen said he'd also had some issues with Coffey but thought Coffey had addressed them; and Commissioner Charlie Ericksen was absent for the board meeting.

Ericksen is the longest-sitting commissioner on the board. The board decided to delay the vote until Ericksen's return rather than voting Dec. 3 without him.

Coffey has been the county's administrator since 2007. 

The commissioners who on Dec. 3 expressed objections to Coffey's performance questioned his decisions about a number of recent county issues. They objected to his handling of matters at the Sheriff's Operations Center, which the county remade from the former Memorial Hospital building and which FCSO employees say is a sick building; to the circumstances surrounding the retirement and rehiring of Deputy County Administrator Sally Sherman; and to his handling of a controversial proposal to relocate Captains 's BBQ within the county-owned Bings Landing park.

A lot of the criticism that's been leveled at him about those issues, Coffey said, "I feel is not fair, or not true."

And, he added, "[Commissioners] don't question my work ethic, or my honesty or my integrity."

Since the County Commission's decision Dec. 3 to discuss the possibility of firing Coffey, three public employee unions in the county — the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, the Flagler County Educators Association and the Flagler County Professional Fire Fighters Association IAFF Local 4337 — have each issued votes of no confidence in Coffey.

Coffey said he does not believe the union votes will affect his ability to work with employees in the future "at all, if they're professional and I'm professional." 

He said some of the allegations about him included in the unions' letters concerning their votes were inaccurate: For instance, he said, the Coastal Florida PBA's letter stated that Coffey had implied in a conversation with O'Brien that "that not one but over 30 employees are lying about their physical symptoms" in the matter of the Operations Center.

He noted that the PBA's letter was paraphrasing a statement by O'Brien, who had been paraphrasing Coffey. 

"I've never stated that there are 30 people faking it," Coffey said. "I have said that some of these illnesses are not related to the building." (For more detail on Coffey's position on the Operations Center, see the statement at left, which is also posted on the county government's website.)

And he noted that he doesn't work directly with teachers, who answer to the School Board and not the county administration; and also not much with Sheriff's Office deputies, who are responsible to Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, a constitutional employee, and not to Coffey.

Coffey is not looking to leave: He is in the midst of numerous projects he wants to see through, has his own future and family to consider, and feels he's assembled a good group of employees.

"And once you've got a good team, it's hard to walk away from a good team," he said. "And I have a great team."

He "may be willing to fight" the commission to remain administrator, he said. At the same time, he said, if the commissioners really do want him gone, he doesn't want "to be a hindrance" to the county.

He also doesn't know what the full board wants — he's heard from the two who stated Dec. 3 that they were not happy with his performance, but not from the other three — and he can't ask the others how they plan to vote on Jan. 14.

That would be "polling" the commission, and a violation of the state's open records laws that bar public officials from conducting certain public business in secret.

If the three who didn't speak against him during the Dec. 3 meeting don't support him, he said, the best thing might be a "planned exit" with a process for selecting his successor.

What would not be productive, he said, would be to handle the process in a way that would cause important county project to fall by the wayside or that would that would turn off potential candidates for the position.

"The thing I tell all commissioners is, if you want to scare away good candidates, even if you're looking to replace me, one way to do it is to have a lot of problems," he said. 

The Jan. 14 meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in the board chambers at the Government Services Building on State Road 100.




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