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Palm Coast Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 1 month ago

LETTER: Local leadership or another import for city manager?

Jim Manfre, resident of Palm Coast for 22 years, has applied for the position and makes his case here.
by: Guest Writer

by: Jim Manfre

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” — John Maxwell

There is a great deal of misunderstanding when it comes to the duties and authority of city and county managers. For most the idea of a strong county executive or mayor who runs the government and responds to the public is the norm. Not in Florida unless you are in the large cities. In Palm Coast and the county, the manager operates all governmental services such as hiring and firing, street paving, swale cleaning, water and sewer utilities, parks and recreation, environmental planning, economic development and budgeting to name a few. The mayor of Palm Coast and the chair of the County Commission are ceremonial positions in which they run board meetings and with the other elected officials provide oversight of the government’s operations. They do have legislative authority to enact ordinances and to approve site plans and rezoning applications and they approve the proposed budget of the managers. They also, among other duties, set long term policy guidelines.

In the 22 years I have been a resident of Palm Coast, there have been three city managers and four county managers. The first city manager of Palm Coast, and I believe the best, was Dick Kelton. Dick was recruited by local leaders due to his experience as an administrator in Volusia County and his local knowledge of managing a growing coastal Florida community. The next managers were Jim Landon who was from a small city in Texas and Matt Morton who was from an even smaller city in the state of Washington. Some have said that the learning curve Mr. Landon and Mr. Morton faced with their unfamiliarity with a rapidly growing Florida coastal community, their lack of knowledge of the local, state and federal officials and the politics involved in those personalities and preparing and managing weather related events peculiar to Florida Atlantic coast communities were a deficit neither could overcome. Both were selected by a national search.

Recently the county brought in a local county manager from St. Johns County, Jerry Cameron, to act as an interim county administrator. During his tenure, Mr. Cameron was able to calm the turbulence created by the former county administrator Craig Coffey who was from a much smaller county and was also selected through a national search. Mr. Cameron created the foundation for a much improved county government. Upon his retirement, the county decided to hire a longtime county department head, Heidi Petito, as their next county administrator. With her local knowledge and broad local experience, she has been able to continue the policies set in place by Mr. Cameron.

It was with these experiences in mind that the conversation turned to the attributes of a new city manager of Palm Coast after the short and tumultuous tenure of the previous manager. Many offered that a local candidate with business experience would be preferable as our commercial tax base is one-third of what it should be and has increased the pressure on our residential tax base that is more and more populated by seniors on fixed incomes.

Responding to this conversation and the encouragement of business and government leaders, I submitted my application. I believe I have the requisite business and municipal experience, local knowledge and familiarity with growth, budgetary, economic development and weather-related issues for this position or I would not have applied or continued in this process. I possess something no other applicant presently or in the future would possess which is a passion for the improvement of this community culturally and recreationally and ensuring taxes remain steady. I have grown my family and business here and have been a public servant for eight years gaining accreditation for the Sheriff’s Office in both of my terms while keeping my budget within the percentage of the growth of the population. Unlike other applicants, I chose to live here and will remain whether I am selected or not.

I understand why the City Council has requested a larger pool of applicants due to some errors in the publication of the position opening, However, I believe as many in the community do that a local candidate would be able to be a more effective city manager based on both the county and the city’s experience these last two decades. All communities are unique, but Palm Coast due to its history, unprecedented growth, Intracoastal waterfront,  beautiful open spaces and parks is more unique. It requires a special candidate with not only the right education and experience in government, but a recognition of and a desire to preserve Palm Coast’s way of life.

Jim Manfre was the sheriff of Flagler County for two terms, one after winning election in 2000, and one more after winning in 2012.

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