The next city manager will impact Palm Coast for the rest of the century.
By James Manfre
I have had the opportunity to work with both Palm Coast city managers, Dick Kelton and Jim Landon, as sheriff and a businessman, and they both had their strengths and weaknesses as all managers do.
I believe my experience working with both managers, as a city attorney for multiple cities and my experience as sheriff, allows me to offer a unique perspective on the qualities necessary in a new city manager.
I believe there are three important aspects of a good city manager, and I present them not in order of importance but as legs of a stool that create balance in an applicant.
First, they must have the experience and ability to run a large, complex organization. They must be able to select hardworking and professional department heads and hold them accountable without micromanaging. Palm Coast is unique in some respects in that it has a water utility but not a police department. The new manager has to be able to run departments as diverse as road and swale maintenance to economic development and planning, while properly budgeting for labor and capital expenditures.
Due to the age of our population and the dependence on the home property tax base because of our lack of commercial and industrial development, tax increases must be justified clearly if needed. Even though the city does not have a police department, oversight of the sheriff’s performance and spending is critical.
Second, the city manager must have outstanding communication skills to interact with the county and other city managers, federal state and local officials and equally as important the citizens, the business community both present and aspiring, civic clubs and religious institutions that are so prevalent in this city. It means proactively seeking opportunities to interact and listen while displaying understanding and problem solving skills utilizing direct contact, print and social media.
Last, the manager needs to involve the City Council and mayor regularly on both day-to-day and long-range policy decisions. Solutions, rather than being presented as unilateral, should be multilateral. Building consensus is the means to the best solution. It is impossible for elected officials to be conversant in all city matters, so each should be assigned an area of expertise so that they are proficient in that area on behalf of the council and public.
This is the most important decision the city will make in the next decade, and, because of the stage of city’s development, the decision will affect the city's character for the rest of the century. It is advisable that the City Council have as much input from all stakeholders on a new manager as possible.
James Manfre is an attorney in Palm Coast. He is a former sheriff of Flagler County.