'It's your fault': Flagler Beach city manager fired

William Whitson was voted out on Thursday, Feb. 9, in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Jane Mealy dissenting.

City Manager William Whitson (left) was fired at the Feb. 9 City Commission meeting.
City Manager William Whitson (left) was fired at the Feb. 9 City Commission meeting.
Image from Flagler Beach City Commission live stream
  • Palm Coast Observer
  • News
  • Share

The Flagler Beach City Commission has voted to terminate its city manager at the Feb. 9 commission meeting.

The commission voted  4-1 to terminate Whitson’s contract on April 10, placing him on administrative leave effective immediately; Commissioner Jane Mealy was the only dissenting vote. Whitson’s contract allows for a 60-day phase out period when terminated without cause, with 20 weeks of severance beginning after that.

City Attorney Drew Smith said Whitson was willing to stay on until the next commission meeting, but the commission decided instead to ask Rick McFadden — Flagler Beach’s chief building official and the former interim city manager — to temporarily step up until an interim city manager is appointed.

The City Commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13, in a workshop to meet with potential interim city managers. Chair Ken Bryan suggested former Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron step in as interim city manager, but other commissioners weren’t ready to make that commitment without discussion.

“Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday,” Bryan said to McFadden. “With the understanding that by Tuesday we’ll have someone one way or the other.”

Whitson was hired on as city manager in February of 2021, the position having sat empty for almost a year. Since then, he has faced criticisms for dropping the ball on a large grant application, the city's first post-pandemic fire works display for the 2022 July 4 celebration and the delay of several projects and commission consensus items.

Over the previous summer, the commission held a performance review for Whitson, with him essentially meeting standards, but having room for improvement.

The commissioners and Mayor Suzie Johnston reviewed their initial evaluations of Whitson and most said they have seen some improvement from him. But, Johnston said, it doesn’t happen until his job is on the line.

“It takes the residents holding his feet to the fire and putting his job on the line to get that needle moved,” she said. “I can see an improvement, but I want to know why it takes so much clamor to get that done.”

Whitson's response, like many over previous meetings, referenced a lack of available staffing and an overabundance of projects on his plate.

I don’t want to hear the excuse ‘I don’t have staff.' It’s your fault. — Ken Bryan, Flagler Beach City Commission Chair

Johnston said that, despite being thoroughly discussed at a recent commission meeting, advertising for staffing is still not being done. The city’s website still only shows three positions hiring when every department is understaffed, Johnston said, and not one of those positions were advertised elsewhere, either.

Whitson faced particular criticism from Bryan. Bryan said he sees a lot of things around the city that are not getting done, from projects like the front of the commission building to the employee pay rate analysis and raise, calling the lack of progress “inexcusable.”

“I don’t want to hear the excuse ‘I don’t have staff,’” Bryan said. “It’s your fault.”

Bryan followed up Johnston’s comments, saying it was also inexcusable that job positions are not being filled or even advertised, especially in cases like City Planner Larry Torino whose retirement had been in the works for a long time.

Projects are going to get delayed without the staff to work on them, Bryan said.

“We need to do better,” Bryan said “I don't care whose responsibility it is at this point, but the bottom line is, Mr. Whitson, it’s yours.”

Commissioner Eric Cooley spoke of several items he said needed improvement, but he and Commissioner James Sherman both focused on the employee pay raise analysis delays.

The pay raises were prioritized by the commission over the summer, but the analysis for market-competitive rates is only set to finish at the end of February.

“That, I find to be egregious,” Cooley said.

Mealy, aside from supporting Whitson’s continued tenure, said she felt it would be a bad idea to remove the city manager amid all the work being done.

This is not a personal decision. This is just what I think is best for us to move forward. — James Sherman, Flagler Beach City Commissioner

“I think we would be doing more harm than good,” she said.

Several others, including members of the public, felt otherwise. Sherman said, along with the lack of progress, the city needed someone in the city manager position to be assertive. The city has given Whitson tools and resources, he said, but not seen results unless he is in the hot seat.

“This is not a personal decision,” Sherman said. “This is just what I think is best for us to move forward.”


Related Articles