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Palm Coast Thursday, Apr. 18, 2019 3 years ago

Palm Coast gets aggressive on tech, will add new director position

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With Nick Klufas' persistence and Matt Morton's approval, the city will hire a chief innovation officer.
by: Brian McMillan Contributing Writer

With a little help from new City Manager Matt Morton, Nick Klufas was finally able to move beyond a consensus of “grunts” from his fellow City Council members and get a commitment for an aggressive strategy to move the city of Palm Coast into the next stage of becoming a “smart city.”

That next stage will begin with the hiring of a chief innovation officer, and it should happen quickly — in 45 days, Morton said in a phone interview on April 11.

From Washington state, Morton had been listening to Klufas’ comments during the last few City Council meetings in March. Off the agenda, Klufas had pressed for the hiring of one or two people to market to outside businesses the city’s underused FiberNet capacity and also to implement smart city initiatives, but Klufas had been met with resistance from council members, particularly Bob Cuff. (Mayor Milissa Holland has been supportive of Klufas’ preference of a faster pace.)

Cuff felt that Klufas’ enthusiasm had led him into gray areas with the city’s charter, which places the hiring and firing of staff in the purview not of the City Council but of the city manager. Cuff also noted that it was a particularly awkward time to be talking about staff changes because Morton had not even started work yet.

In Morton’s first meeting, a workshop on April 9, Klufas again asked the council for a commitment to forge ahead on technology.

“I know we had at least three out of five in consensus, but it was more along the lines of grunts and groans,” Klufas said. He wanted a more firm commitment.

Cuff agreed that he had only committed with “grunts” so far, because he was ignorant of the scope of Palm Coast’s opportunities and threats with regard to technology. Meanwhile, Klufas, a senior development engineer for a tech firm called ACI, in Town Center, is fluent in tech jargon and at times leaves Cuff and Councilmen Eddie Branquinho and Jack Howell in a state of bewilderment. (To be fair, Klufas acknowledged to Cuff, who is a lawyer by trade, “My legal knowledge is zero.”)

Cuff wanted Klufas to slow down and asked for a workshop to explore strategies.

“More feasibility reports?” Klufas responded. In a past meeting, he refused to wait any longer and predicted that Palm Coast will be left behind if it doesn’t act quickly.

As opposed to the previous meetings in March, this time Morton was in the room, so Cuff asked for Morton’s opinion. The city manager is the ultimate decision maker on hiring, with the objective to carry out the City Council’s priorities most effectively.

Morton was prepared to commit immediately. Hiring someone in the role of chief innovation officer is “an excellent first step” and “absolutely critical for success,” he said.

After hearing Morton’s comments, the four council members in attendance (Howell was absent) gave their verbal approval that they did want to move forward, and the decision was made.

Hiring a CIO, which Morton envisions as a senior staff position with a salary of $92,000 to $142,000, requires no further City Council action or input. Morton posted a job description on April 12, which reads, in part: "The CIO advises the City Manager on all Smart City IT and external IT-related programs and projects issues."

In an April 11 phone interview, Morton echoed Klufas’ concerns about being left behind.

“I heard a quote a while back: ‘Cities that do not embrace ‘smart city’ will be the Rust Belt of today in 20 years,’” Morton said. “That’s where investment is going. I believe this is a great need and … a really exciting time.”

Brian McMillan was editor of the Palm Coast Observer from 2010 to 2022. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children....

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