In a special new format for AskFlagler, after the November 17th special Council meeting which aimed to narrow the search for a new City Manager, I spoke to Mayor David Alfin in a collaborative interview with Jonathan Simmons, writer for the Palm Coast Observer. The questions listed below are a combination of my own and Jonathan’s. Much thanks to him for allowing us to record our interviews concurrently.
Make sure to check out the Palm Coast Observer’s article on Wednesday’s meeting, as well as AskFlagler’s.
Jonathan Simmons: “Could you start by telling us what your picks were?”
David Alfin: “My picks were developed from twelve different criteria that I developed, and applied against all of the applications. My twelve criteria were ranked 1 through 12, and I based my sort strictly on that. Because all I’m dealing with at this point is paper, not people. So it was truly an arithmetic analysis. And my top choices were developed just from that criteria ranking. So I’m looking forward to hearing what criteria my fellow Council members used. That would be very interesting, I would hope through collaboration we would eventually all agree on the same collaborative data points or criteria, because then it becomes much easier to match a candidate to the criteria.
“The criteria reigns, and then you match the applicant to your criteria. Now we may or may not come to a consensus and a final. We may not. Our criteria may be very different, in which case as I mentioned before, we have an option if we choose to suspend the search in favor of hiring a third party search that specializes in municipal government employees who may have a list of potential applicants that we were not able to attract from our internal search. Make no mistake about it, I mean to help find us the best of the best for the City of Palm Coast.”
Simmons: “So what were, say, your top three criteria?”
Alfin: “I did look at education, I did look at prior service in municipal government, I looked at the size and shape of government experience. And there were others, there were a bunch of other factors. There was economic development, health care, interlocal experience, a bunch of other things.”
Simmons: “So you opted at this meeting not to really have much in-depth discussion of pros and cons of individual candidates, why did you decide to hold off on that?”
Alfin: “Too many candidates. In other words, I don’t believe the discussion becomes succinct or effective until after…and I think Councilman Danko made a very good point: he’s gonna go back and look at candidates that he might not have considered because obviously his criteria may have been different than someone else’s. So I think it orients us now.
“So I’m confident that we have culled the best-qualified within this group and now we can really drill down. And that’s what the interview process and quite frankly the background check [are for]. Because having a lot of discussion in advance of that, why would you do that? So I’m trying to facilitate the most efficient, effective process that will yield the result I mentioned before. And I think everybody’s on board so far with that.”
Simmons: “So if you end up with a situation where the background doesn’t look really appropriate on say, two or three of your six…”
Alfin: “Well that’s real easy, now we’re down to three or four!”
Simmons: “But if you only have three or four, is that too narrow a pool to bring in for interviews?”
Alfin: “So what was the option I just mentioned before? If we felt that that was the case, we have Phase 2, or however you wanna call it. I built that into the process literally from the first [stage]. You read the articles recently, so I’m not pushing for that. I don’t know. I have an option, and I will utilize that option if we are unable to, like you said, feel comfortable and confident that we have harvested the best of the best within whatever small group that might be.”
Chris Gollon: “When you have these six candidates do you plan on, in any part of the interview process, when the Council asks them questions is any of it going to be at a meeting in the public eye, where they can stand there in front of the people?”
Alfin: “It’s my suggestion and the way I will question…every interview question I ask will be in a public forum. Some City Council members have asked to do it in a more private setting, but it’s not closed, you can still attend. My feeling is that we started the search in the public venue, and I will maintain that through. I want the public to know exactly what I wanna know, I want the public to know what the applicant has to say, period. That’s me, I can only speak for myself.”
Simmons: “You mentioned the possibility of bringing in an executive search firm, what would be something that the search firm could do that, say, city staff wouldn’t do?”
Alfin: “I’ll make it very simple. They’re in that business. They keep a list, they keep in contact with the best of the best municipal employees around the entire country. So they can pick up the phone and say, ‘hey, we think you should take a closer look at the City of Palm Coast. Forget about what you saw in the media or on the internet, they’re on the right track, they’re working in collaboration, we think you should take another shot at that.’ So that’s what they could do, we have no way to do that. Because that’s what they do every day of the year with their staff.
“The other benefit is, they become the facilitators of the process. So I’m serving two masters here. One master is the City of Palm Coast, making sure we find the best of the best. The other master is making sure the public and staff both feel that we are competent in our process and that we have executed our process well. I have to make sure that the public and staff believe that, because otherwise you would be putting a ding in the potential applicant if they thought that the process was flawed. So I took great pains to make sure everybody’s on board, everybody understands that there’s no issues here, it’s very transparent and very clear.
“The third party search firm becomes the facilitator of a process. They put the corners on the box and they run that process through. There’s nothing outside of that process box, and that’s very important I think.”
Gollon: “In the event that a third party firm did become involved in the process, would you plan on abiding by their suggestion as a hard line, or would you merely take it under advisement?”
Alfin: “That would be a discussion between City Council and the third party to come to an agreement on what that is. So you wouldn’t be yielding to their process, they would work with City Council, like for the criteria. So they would facilitate the process of finalizing criteria. And then like I said before, then you match candidates to your criteria. And quite honestly the candidate that matches your criteria most closely would probably be your final pick. It’s not really rocket science I don’t think, you have to keep it reined in so it doesn’t go out of control.”
AskFlagler thanks Jonathan Simmons of the Palm Coast Observer and David Alfin for participating in this interview.