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Jerry Cameron Bids Farewell, Heidi Petito Appointed Interim Administrator at Commission Meeting

Jerry Cameron addresses the Board Chambers for the last time as County Administrator. ⓒ Stephen Helfrich
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Meeting Summary

It was a crowded turnout in the board chambers Monday evening, even as a thunderstorm went on outside. Once the County Commission and several government officials and members of the public poured inside and into the chambers, the Pledge of Allegiance was said and the meeting went underway.

In the announcements portion of the meeting, the Commission went over some upcoming events: the Freedom Fest will be taking place at the Flagler Executive Airport on July 3rd, much to the excitement of county legislature and staff. Also discussed was that the county offices will be closed on July 2nd and July 5th in observation of Independence Day. The next regular Commission meeting is scheduled for July 12th, at 9:00 am.

The graduating class of the Flagler County Leadership Academy celebrates their achievement alongside the County Commission. ⓒ Stephen Helfrich

Next up was the presentation and acceptance of the comprehensive annual finance report, moved from Item 8a to Item 3-prime on the agenda. Clerk Tom Bexley took the podium to introduce the auditors who’d prepared the report. The auditors identified one minor mistake made in the journals, but affirmed that they’d fixed it and that the county did not meet the definition of a financial emergency, or a state of deterioration. As observed by District 3 Commissioner David Sullivan, the report had only reached the commissioners less than an hour prior to the meeting, but all five commissioners generally agreed that the report was satisfactory.

The recognitions portion of the evening was one where exemplary members of Flagler County were praised for recent accomplishments. Firstly the graduating class of the Flagler County Leadership Academy was honored and given their diplomas before the Commission, introduced individually by outgoing County Administrator Jerry Cameron. Among the class: FPCHS baseball coach Jordan Butler and Flagler County Fire Chief Joe King.

“We have learned and reinforced the notion that to be successful, we must foster teamwork by building strong relationships within our team,” said Nealon Joseph, class valedictorian and Emergency Management Planner for the county. “We learned the answer to the question posed to us at the start of our program. To be as a leader, means to sacrifice. It means putting the needs of others, your organization and your community over your personal wants and needs.”

Nealon Joseph speaks about his time with the Flagler County Leadership County before County Commissioners (L-R) David Sullivan, Joe Mullins, and Donald O’Brien. ⓒ Stephen Helfrich

Next, Cameron himself was honored in what stands to be his final Commission meeting as County Administrator. Cameron received an emotional, glowing tribute at the podium from longtime friend Jane Gentile-Youd, formerly a Commission candidate herself. Jonathan Lord was the third and final honoree, having recently graduated the FEMA National Emergency Management Advanced Academy program in Maryland. Lord presently serves as Flagler County’s Emergency Management Director.

There were two public commenters in the portion allotted for non-agenda items. The first, a representative of Flagler County’s remote control can enthusiasts. The second: an impassioned advocate for mental health in Flagler County, asking the Commission to use its’ earmarked mental health funds from the American Rescue Plan to help those on Medicare and Medicaid in need of mental health services.

Later in the evening, the Commission heard from Heidi Petito, who was then appointed the interim County Administrator unanimously by the board. Petito received glowing remarks from those present, and makes history as the first woman to hold the position in Flagler County’s 104 year history. District 4 Commissioner Joe Mullins gave encouragement to Petito, telling her not to take any potential dishonest news reports to heart. Mullins also praised Petito when the Commission read ahead on the agenda earlier in the meeting.

Andy Dance, the most newly elected Commissioner, had positive remarks about his time with Jerry Cameron. ⓒ Stephen Helfrich

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Another item discussed around 6:30 drew a lot of discussion: the second reading and adoption of an ordinance creating a new planned affordable development section of the land development code and establishing incentives to increase the supply of affordable housing. The first public speaker, a returning Gentile-Youd, urged the Commission to strike it down. The next, an affordable housing activist, made the opposite point. The third speaker was Jan Reeger, a former Bunnell City Commissioner. Greg Blose was next up in support, speaking as the President & CEO of the Palm Coast Regional chamber. Two speakers later, public comment closed and the Commission went to deliberation.

District 1 Commissioner Andy Dance called the measure “a first step”. Commissioner Mullins submitted that developers are taking a loss on this kind of project. Commissioner Greg Hansen of District 2 submitted the motion to adopt the ordinance, Mullins seconded, and the motion passed unanimously.

At the close of the meeting, Jerry Cameron bid the Board of Commissioners a long farewell, knowing he would not be present as County Administrator at another meeting. “Gentlemen, you have a terribly bright future here. If you keep up what you’ve been doing for the last two years, staff will respond and you’ll be one of the best counties in the state of Florida.”

In the last public comments section Jane Gentile-Youd returned again to urge the Board to open a public workshop to review items and expenditures previously considered. The Board closed its community outreach portion without addressing Gentile-Youd’s request.

In the final comments section from the Commission, each Commissioner went around thanking Cameron for his service one last time.

Jane Gentile-Youd voices her concerns to the Flagler County Board of Commissioners. ⓒ Stephen Helfrich

Statements on Heidi Petito’s Appointment

Greg Hansen: “I support it 100%. I’ve already talked to her about it, she’s ready for the job. She’s been one of my absolute favorites here on the county staff because she gets the job done. She knows how to handle people and she’s a problem solver. All the good things you need as a manager.”

Joe Mullins: “I think it’s like a coin toss. Either one of them were great options, and Heidi certainly knows the area a little more. Jorge’s still getting placed in the city, and he and I have a lot of challenges with the broadband we’ve gotta tackle, so it’s gonna pull a lot of time. So I’m very excited about it and I think Heidi is the right person, the right woman.”

David Sullivan: “I think we all knew it was either gonna be Heidi or Jorge Salinas. And I think when we came down to the end, he was actually gonna do the job, I think Jorge came to the conclusion right now it was better if Heidi took the job and let him do the number two job where he thinks he can be more beneficial.”

Donald O’Brien: “I feel real good about it, I think it’s a good decision. I’m proud of the fact that she’s gonna be the first female county administrator in our county’s history. Over a hundred years. So that’s really great, and I have a lot of confidence in her ability to lead and to run the county. And I’m hoping it goes permanent. We’ll see how things go. She’s got the inside track from my point of view.”

Statements on Jerry Cameron’s Departure

Jerry Cameron: “It’s incredibly humbling, and I just think of all of the people that made what’s happened possible. I’m privileged to have been on a Super Bowl team.”

“It’s beyond a pleasure to introduce the class of 2021. This is the high point of what I do here,” said Jerry Cameron, who served as the class’s professor. ⓒ Stephen Helfrich

Greg Hansen: “He was absolutely phenomenal. I learned a lot from him, and I was also hard on him. I demanded some things. He’s the perfect guy to work with. He understands what his job is and he’s very good at it. It was a pleasure.”

Joe Mullins: “It breaks my heart to see this day happen. He has been a mentor, he’s been a leader, he has helped me grow as a person, professionally and personally. I’m gonna feel a void seeing him every day, but I’m gonna try and spend as much time as I can with him in the off-time.”

David Sullivan: “I actually called Jerry about six hours before, it was too late to apply for the job. Back two years and six months ago or whatever it was. So I feel a special feeling foe the fact he came, he did what he said he was gonna do, and we always knew he was gonna have to leave. It was not gonna be a ten year County Administrator. We always knew that, the question was could we move on, get things accomplished and then move on. I think that’s what it was all about tonight. Of course he taught the leadership course, and what’s been accomplished…it’s time for him to move on. We wish him well.”

Donald O’Brien: “We’ve developed a friendship, I know that’s sometimes difficult because it’s an employee/subordinate sort of relationship. You know there’s a lot of respect there because of his longtime knowledge of government, county business that I didn’t have, none of us have. So I think that’s really helped a lot, and he’s just the kinda person that you can develop a friendship with and I’m proud to have been able to do that.”

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Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jane Gentile-Youd

    June 22, 2021 at 10:15 am

    Thank you so much for your coverage in detail. My last request has alo been sent to Heidi Petito and Jonathan Lord to re-open the new federal help program ‘American Rescue Plan Act’ which under 603D can give aid to small businesses and individuals who ‘missed the boat last year when CARES ACT grants were distributed by the county. The Commissioners really know nothing about this plan which they approved allocations on June 7 which are not fair because no money was allocated,as allowed to small businesses, individuals and a miniscule amount to mental health. According to conversations with Jonathan Lord and e-mails the county can re-open their decision without losing a dime of allocations from the federal govt on these grants and hold a PUBLIC WORKSHOP – with the commissioners having all the facts ( which Jerry sent me on June 8) they did not have, and may still not have… After the pubic workshop the re-allocation can be heard at a regularly scheduled commission meeting. The federal deadline is not until 2024 with a preliminary report due in late August. Many small businesses, including a nail salon which the owner lost tons and even her hair during the pandemic from stress never knew about the Cares Act funding… Same for many individuals – the same individuals who need housing! I do not blame Jerry nor Heidi for not thoroughly educating the commissioners ( who let staff do all their work) because of the many unfinished business items on Jerry’s plate.
    I am hoping the American Rescue Plan Act allocation workshop will be approved so that many left-outers from round 1 have a chance this time. $3.5 million however was allocated for new sewers for the Bings Landing Mala Compra area which are not near as vital in my opinion than helping real live people who need right now help. Yes, I did file for 2022 Commission race as an NPA…
    thank you again for your generous informative article

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