Disruption at Palm Coast’s City Hall spilled over last week to the Facebook page of Alan Lowe, the candidate challenging Milissa Holland for mayor.
Lowe had posted a link to a News-Journal story about the recent resignation of Don Kewley, who had been the city’s chief innovations officer.
Kewley is one of several city officials who have resigned, been fired, or were given severance agreements under City Manager Matt Morton, who was hired in the spring of 2019. The latest high-level employee to leave the city was Jay Maher, who filed an ethics complaint against Holland earlier this year and retired on Tuesday after 18 years with the city.
Kewley said he resigned because he believed Morton was going to fire him. Kewley’s resignation was the topic of the News-Journal story, Lowe posted. In the post, Lowe called for a “clean sweep” at City Hall.
Morton responded with a list of ways Kewley wasn’t doing his job. He also posted a photo of computer equipment with multiple wires dangling from it as an example of what he said was Kewley’s poor job performance.
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Morton did not respond this week to a News-Journal request to interview him about his Facebook post. Holland also did not return a request for comment.
But Lowe said he was stunned that the city manager publicly disparaged a former city employee on social media. He added Morton’s post may violate the city’s policy on social media use.
“I would fire somebody instantly if they went on social media and berated any employee that had either resigned or been fired or whatever,” Lowe said. “You just don’t do that, because of the potential lawsuits that can come down the road for defamation of character. You just don’t do that.”
Lowe also criticized Morton’s posting of the photo of the city’s Fibernet internet gear, saying he has been told that it could make it easier for hackers to get access to the city’s computer system.
“He took pictures of that which is a breach of security,” Lowe said.
Kewley, who resigned in late August, said he was “disappointed” by Morton’s post.
“But I couldn’t be surprised or shouldn’t be surprised,” Kewley said, “because Matt Morton has attempted to assassinate the character of several departing staff members over the past year.”
Kewley suggested that Morton had some things to work out.
“He obviously in my opinion has some deeply rooted issues that need to be resolved,” Kewley said. “And I can only wish the best for him. I refuse to dignify his behavior and remarks by responding to him.”
Kewley said he also was disappointed by Morton’s comments in a recent story on the website FlaglerLIve.com. In that story, Morton said of Kewley: “Don was such a spectacular failure. I think he was a fraud, candidly.”
Morton’s Facebook post is just one of the latest controversies at City Hall which has seen a parade of firings or resignations of high-level employees since Morton became city manager.
The Facebook post incident began after Lowe on Sept. 17 posted a link to the News-Journal story about Kewley. In the story, Kewley said he resigned because he had been tipped that he would be fired. Kewley said that he was targeted because he did not support the city using Salesforce, which is sold by Coastal Cloud, a Palm Coast company that also employs Mayor Holland.
Above the link, Lowe wrote about Kewley’s departure: “A continued failure of leadership. How many really talented employees are the mayor and Morton going to fire because the employees disagreed with them?”
Morton responded to Lowe, posting that a variety of things that Kewley purportedly had failed to accomplish.
“Well, Alan – if your view of talent is failing to complete any substantive progress on the three initiatives you were hired to do,” Morton posted about Kewley. Morton then listed the following:
“1. Don did not produce a FiberNet business plan in his over a year at the city;
“2. Don did not advance the FiberNet P3 in his over year at the city;
“3. Don did not execute contracts he claimed he did;
“4. I’m no tech expert, but this photo is from the day before he “resigned”. This is Don’s idea of technology management.
“I guess you would have given him a raise? Morton then asked Lowe. “I ended a use of taxpayer money that failed to provide value to those paying the bill.”
Morton posted a picture of the computer gear with the word “Fibernet” on the boxes, and with cables connected to it.
Some posters took Morton to task for posting a photo of the equipment, which they said could compromise security.
A poster who identified himself as Michael Arnold also took issue with Morton posting disparaging remarks about a former employee and said the city manager had compromised security by posting the picture..
Another poster identified as Clinton Huggins asked Morton “Are you allowed to post about an employee who resigned and their performance on social media?”
Another poster identifying himself as David Valinski wrote that, among other things, Morton,had hired an outside attorney with city funds to conduct an ethics investigation because Morton had rejected his own administration’s internal investigation.
Morton replied that he “did not hire an ethics investigation.” Morton then wrote: “An internal investigation was started as that is a best practice and Jay Maher (the inside investigator) requested it. I have that in writing.”
Morton then posted just the top of a May 6 email from Maher requesting an investigation, but the portion posted did not indicate what was to be investigated.
Maher, who was the city’s compliance manager, filed an ethics complaint with the state’s Ethics Commission against Holland, accusing her of violating the city charter to benefit her employer, Coastal Cloud. Holland has said she has done nothing unethical, and pointed out that she did not take part in the city’s decision to use the Sales Force software for which Coastal Cloud is a vendor.
Maher was the city’s former compliance manager, and ran an internal investigations unit at the city. Morton relieved him of that position after he filed the ethics complaint with the state critical of Holland. The City Council then hired a private attorney who determined that Maher’s own investigations were flawed. Maher called the attorney’s findings “a hit job.”
And on Tuesday, Maher became a former city employee. He declined comment for this story.
Meanwhile the political battle continues. Holland and Lowe will answer questions during a candidates forum at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24, hosted by the Flagler Tiger Bay Club. The forum will be available online at https://www.facebook.com/events/2729086680638179/