Despite challenges, planner was 'proud' for what the Hackathon did for the city.
Updated 9:39 p.m. Aug. 3
As the city of Palm Coast begins discussions for its second Tech Beach Hackathon, two former city staff members and one current staff member said they felt the first event, while a success for the city, was "complicated" due to the relationship between Mayor Milissa Holland and her private employer, Coastal Cloud.
Holland and Coastal Cloud Managing Partner Tim Hale maintain they had no inappropriate influence on the Hackathon, a 24-hour computer-programming contest hosted by the city. On the contrary, they said, the event was a tremendous collaboration with many partners.
Wynn Newingham was the city's head of innovation and economic growth in 2019; she acted as a scribe for the Innovation District Advisory Council meetings that planned the Hackathon for several months before the actual event on Jan. 17, 2020.
Throughout the planning process, she recalled, the vision evolved from one that would be open to any programming language and would draw mostly local students, to one that would allow only Salesforce as the platform and would draw programming teams from around the country.
Many of the organizations represented on the Advisory Council — including AdventHealth Palm Coast, Intracoastal Bank, ACI and Flagler Schools — also used Salesforce and supported the switch, Holland said in an Aug. 3 phone interview with the Palm Coast Observer.
But the fact that 1) Coastal Cloud is a Salesforce partner, 2) Holland works for Coastal Cloud, and 3) the Hales were members of the Advisory Council, made things “complicated,” Newingham told the Palm Coast Observer.
During the Hackathon planning, sometimes she received feedback one-on-one from Holland, sometimes from the Advisory Council. But her job description said she answered only to City Manager Matt Morton.
To clarify legal concerns, Newingham met with city Attorney Bill Reischmann and Morton several times, including on Sept. 25, 2019. She declined to tell the Observer how the meeting went, but, she said, “I resigned two weeks later.”
In her resignation letter, she wished the city well on its “new direction.”
An 'awkward' meeting
Afterward, Don Kewley took the lead of the project. He had been hired recently as chief innovation officer, and he also experienced some of the complicated nature of the Hackathon, as Newingham had.
Two or three weeks after taking the lead, Kewley was asked to present his plans for the Hackathon, privately, to the Hales, on a Saturday morning, at the Coastal Cloud office.
Kewley said the meeting was "awkward" because the discussion wasn't in a public forum.
"In my time in public service, I’ve never dealt with anything like that, so it was awkward," he said in an Aug. 3 phone interview with the Palm Coast Observer. "It was a closed door meeting, instead of being open and public and transparent."
Still, Kewley said the event was a major success for the city.
"I think it was amazing," Kewley said. "I'm super proud to have been part of it."
'Like a wedding'
A second former staff member, Michael Schottey, was the communications manager during the first Hackathon and is now a candidate for Palm Coast mayor. He was asked to resigned 11 days after the Hackathon, on Jan. 28, 2020, though Morton said the resignation and the event were not related.
In the days leading up to the reception, in January 2020, Holland texted Schottey to tell him to have the staff run a rehearsal, saying the event should be considered “like a wedding.” She told him to keep everything classy and not to have pens as giveaways. He felt it was too much direction for a mayor to give to a staff member who, according to the City Charter, answers only to the city manager, not the mayor.
In response to Schottey’s allegation, Morton wrote in a press release that “staff was never inappropriately directed by Mayor Holland nor any Council member.” Instead, Holland only offered “ideas and suggestions,” he said.
Holland said in an Aug. 3 phone call that Morton asked her to help plan the reception because she knew the VIPs and had personally invited them. She added that much of the guidance she gave to Schottey was in response to his questions, asking for the guidance. She said Schottey's accusations were politically motivated.
The city and Advisory Council worked together to make the event a success, Holland said. "It was unbelievably collaborative."