Palm Coast vice mayor's attempt to place former county administrator as acting city manager fails

Vice Mayor Ed Danko's motion for Jerry Cameron to take on the temporary position failed without a second.

Vice Mayor Ed Danko and former county administrator Jerry Cameron. File photos
Vice Mayor Ed Danko and former county administrator Jerry Cameron. File photos
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A motion to appoint the former county administrator Jerry Cameron as acting city manager failed without a second during the City Council’s April 2 meeting.

Vice Mayor Ed Danko made the motion, stating that Cameron has plenty of experience where Acting City Manager Lauren Johnston does not. He said that while Johnston did a great job in her role as assistant city manager, he didn’t believe she was ready to be acting city manager.

“We need to bring in somebody from the outside, somebody with a fresh perspective," Danko said. 

This is not the first time Cameron's name has returned to the scene of city management. In February 2023, former Flagler Beach Commission Chair Ken Bryan suggested Cameron step in as interim city manager after the commission had fired William Whitson as its city manager.

Cameron did make the short list of Flagler Beach's interim city manager applications, but lost out after news service FlaglerLive posted a story that Cameron had been lobbying for the city manager position with the assistance of the local Flagler Beach Business Bureau. 

Johnston was installed into the temporary position on March 19 after former City Manager Denise Bevan was abruptly fired from her position in a 3-2 vote. 

At the end of the meeting, council member Theresa Carli Pontieri made the motion to install Johnston in the role, explicitly stating Johnston could return to her assistant city manager position later on. Danko was absent from the vote as he had left the meeting early, immediately following Bevan’s firing, to campaign at the Palm Coast library.

At the April 2 meeting, the council adopted Johnston's acting city manager contract 3-2, with Pontieri, Mayor David Alfin and council member Nick Klufas voting for it and Danko and council member Cathy Heighter voting against. 

Pontieri did initially request the contract be altered to remove the ability to fire Johnston from the position without cause. She said her motion from the March 19 meeting explicitly stated that Johnston would hold the position and be able to return to her old one later on.

“We made a motion that Lauren Johnston remain acting city manager until we hire a permanent city manager," Pontieri said.

The contract, however, does account for the motion. City Attorney Anthony Garganese said the city charter grants the council the right to hire and fire a city manager, with or without cause. He said it did not make sense for the council to hamstring itself when the contract specifically outlines that Johnston would return to her role as assistant city manager if relieved of the acting position. 

"It's [the contract] all about not terminating her employment with the city, but relieving her of her duties as acting city manager at the discretion of the city council," Garganese said.

Danko said he did not think Johnston had the experience for the position, and did not want to see Johnston "fall into the same trap" that Bevan did and be hired on as the permanent city manager.

"Someday you will be highly highly qualified to be city manager," Danko said to Johnston. "That day is not today."

But the contract also covers that. Under Section 2 of the contract where it outlines Johnston’s employment and duties, subsection D writes that Johnston “acknowledges that her position as Acting City Manager is a temporary assignment and that the City Council is actively recruiting for the City Manager position.”

While the council could hire Johnston into the full time position, as it did with Bevan in 2022. Johnston's contract was ultimately approved without changes to the firing clause. 

Council member Nick Klufas said that, regardless of the with- or without- cause stipulations, he believed the council should workshop and discuss any future hirings or firings of city manager, instead of making decisions “on site.”

“I think it would probably be prudent for the city to act in a way where we have to have a discussion amongst our city council before we [take action]," Klufas said. 

Alfin said he is working with the Florida League of Cities on gathering a list of hiring firms for the council to use in its search for a new city manager. The list will be presented at an upcoming workshop.


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