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Palm Coast Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2019 1 week ago

Divided Palm Coast City Council chooses Matthew Morton as its new city manager

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The council selected Morton in a 3-2 vote.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

After about an hour and a half of debate during a special meeting to select Palm Coast's new city manager, the City Council rejected its internal candidate, interim City Manager Beau Falgout, and chose as its manager Matthew Morton, who was most recently the city administrator of Duvall, Washington.

Mayor Milissa Holland said during the meeting that she had been very impressed with Morton, and wanted the new sort of approach that an outsider might bring.

Councilman Nick Klufas was most interested in Donald Kewley, who is operations manager for the city of Ashland, Oregon, and previously was a senior project manager for Pacific Gas and Electric. 

Councilman Jack Howell thought Kewley "lacked force"; he wanted to select Beau Falgout, the city's interim city manager and the former assistant city manager under former manager Jim Landon.

"Matt [Morton], without a doubt, has a lot of talent, but he doesn’t have the experience that we need for a city of our size," Howell said. "With Beau, he’s been here for nine years, he knows our system and he has been smart enough to distance himself from anything that Mr. Landon had imposed. ... I'd rather work with a known entity and give him a shot."

Klufas didn't disagree with Howell's remarks about Kewley lacking force, but said that he thought that description applied to Falgout, as well. 

Klufas challenged Howell: "You didn’t sit down with these individuals one on one," Klufas said. 

"I didn’t have to," Howell said. "Didn't have to, son." Howell had spoken openly in the past in favor of Falgout.

Councilman Eddie Branquinho, like Holland, was leaning toward Morton, but was also interested in Falgout. 

Councilman Bob Cuff didn't think Kewley had a broad enough background to be city manager. He liked Morton's enthusiasm, but was put off by Morton's use of jargon in his interviews and didn't think Morton's had as much relevant experience as Falgout.

"To lose Beau because we want to get somebody who's new and flashy and shiny would be a mistake," Cuff said. 

Cuff also liked candidate Robin Hayes —  the city manager of Mount Dora, Florida, and former city manager of Oviedo, Florida — but didn't know that she would "get us anything that we don't already have," he said. 

With Falgout, Cuff said, "I see a person in the prime of his career who is committed to the community ... and has something invested here in Palm Coast as a place and as city, not just as another line on their resume." With three strong candidates, Cuff said, "I'm going to go with the one that I think has demonstrated their commitment to Palm Coast, not just as a paycheck but as a place to live." 

The debate soon became Falgout versus Morton. 

Holland, responding to Howell's remarks about Falgout, said she felt that Falgout had learned from one individual — Landon — "and he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know," she said. 

She mentioned some frustrations she'd had with Falgout, largely concerning what she saw as the city government's inefficiency and lack of responsiveness to the public: Shortly after becoming interim manager, he'd taken a long time, she said, to create an interlocal agreement over tree issues with the Grand Haven community, frustrating Grand Haven's leadership. She also had not been impressed with Falgout's handling of the permitting process for the Tuscan Gardens assisted living facility. 

"I don’t think we are going to become business friendly, or perceived business friendly, overnight, but I do think it is going to take a new approach to do that," she said. "I have not seen anything that would provide me comfort that Beau would offer a different  approach than Jim Landon provided as a manager."

Cuff said he'd liked Morotn's answers to a lot of questions, but, he said, "I can't help but think if he'd been here 180 days innovating,  we wouldn't be any further along."

"I don't see a fundamental skill set in Matt that's as good as Beau's" Cuff said. "I don’t see him as the game changer, I guess. ... In my mind, go with somebody who's demonstrated their investment in Palm Coast." And, he said, "the cities he's managed in Washington state are far smaller than Palm Coast. ... I don't see what we're getting other than that new-car smell by hiring somebody from out of town."

Klufas again made a pitch for Kewley, saying Kewley stood out from the other candidates and could be an innovator. But when Klufas made a motion to select Kewley as city manager, no other council members agreed with him.

With the council divided between Falgout and Morton, Klufas backed Morton. Only a few members of the public spoke during the meeting's public comment period. The council voted 3-2 to select Morton, with Howell and Cuff dissenting. Both said afterward that they would fully support Morton in his role as city manager. 

The four candidates — Falgout, Morton, Kewley and Hayes — had been shortlisted by the council, then interviewed by council members at length March 7-8.

The council began searching for a new manager, using the assistance of recruiting firm Strategic Government Resources, after it voted unanimously to fire Landon in September 2018. Falgout served as interim city manager since Landon's firing.

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