When he was in the Army reserves, Craig Coffey learned an important lesson about leadership.
“Even during a disaster,” he said, “it’s leadership by example. In the Army, the officers eat last. … If the troops are sleeping in the mud, you’re sleeping in the mud.”
Coffey was a platoon commander in the first Gulf War, serving in Saudi Arabi, Kuwait and Iraq. He retired from the military in 2000 after 16 years of duty and went on to earn a masters in public administration from the University of Central Florida.
Now in his 10th year as Flagler County administrator, Coffey said he has applied that leadership style with his staff. For example, while the county was being threatened by Hurricane Matthew, Coffey asked a lot from his staff, but, “I was right there with them. I was working 18-hour days, sleeping in my office.”
Coffey will need to muster that kind of energy in 2017, as well, as he faces a difficult battle ahead: securing funding to restore the dunes that were washed away by Matthew. To do that, he’ll have to coordinate the efforts of several government agencies, some on the federal level, some on the state level — and none of them seem to agree with each other.
Instead of taking a vacation after Christmas, Coffey met with a representative with the Federal Emergency Management Agency because that was the best time for FEMA.
“It’s my job to try,” he said.
Charlie Ericksen, who is entering his second term as a County Commissioner and works closely with Coffey, said the beach funding is going to be a “balancing act.” But, Ericksen said, “He’s always shown he puts in the necessary hours to get the job done and also to be on call. He’s johnny-on-the-spot.”
Coffey prides himself in fighting for his “troops,” which in his current role are the staff members. He defends his staff at County Commission meetings and takes responsibility for everything staff does. “If I’ve OK’d something or let something go, leadership stops with me,” he said.
The support he has in the office got him into an uncomfortable situation in 2014, when he requested a 10% raise at a time when the staff was getting a 1% raise. He said he was encouraged to do so by loyal staff members who felt he should have a salary that was closer to the county attorney’s salary.
“I should have stopped it in hindsight,” Coffey said in a Dec. 19 interview. “You can never win those public arguments.”
The commission denied his request and gave him a 4% raise instead.
Still, it was an indication of the support he has among staff, he said. “I’m friendly with them all. … Even as a platoon leader or a company commander, there was nothing I could accomplish on my own. I had to surround myself with good people, and retain those people.”