In Denise Bevan and Lauren Johnston, Palm Coast has the city’s first all-female administrative leadership in 23 years
Palm Coast made history Tuesday night. City Council ratified the contract of Denise Bevan, Palm Coast’s first female city manager in 23 years, months after Flagler County got its first female city manager in more than 100 years. Moments later, as if to change the spotlight, Bevan – who is notoriously modest – announced the appointment of Lauren Johnston as deputy city manager, giving the city an all-female administrative leadership in an industry still largely dominated by men.
In contrast, the City Council and County Commission are all-male panels.
Both Bevan and Johnston had been promoted to co-chiefs of staff a year ago by then-city manager Matt Morton, with Bevan overseeing the public works, utilities, stormwater and community development departments, Johnston overseeing parks and Recreation, the Communications Division and the Town Hall Secretariat. Their salaries were then set at around $125,000. The board named Bevan acting manager after Morton resigned, and named her permanent manager after two unsuccessful rounds of searching for a appointee from beyond town.
On Tuesday, the council approved Bevan’s permanent contract, negotiated with Mayor David Alfin and the city attorney, by a 5-0 vote. Bevan will receive a base salary of $175,000. As benefits, the city will contribute the equivalent of 17% of his salary, or $30,000 per year, to a defined contribution plan, plus a match of 2% to a deferred compensation plan, and the benefits of health provided to other city employees. Bevan will also receive $500 per month for a car allowance and either a phone or communication expense allowance. Severance pay would be limited to the equivalent of 20 weeks’ pay, in accordance with Florida law.
The contract then differs from previous contracts at this stage and is not, as Mayor David Alfin put it, “in line with the contracts of former city managers”. The base salary is indexed to annual cost-of-living increases equal to those of city employees, and Bevan “will receive merit increases consistent with those approved by the City Council for City of Palm Coast employees in general,” blurring the line between Bevan’s role as a city manager who answers to council and as a city employee who, in effect, sets merit pay amounts for all employees who report to the administration. This is a potential conflict of interest. Usually, city managers—who, like the city attorney, are solely accountable to the council—have their entire salary and subsequent increases set by the council, publicly and periodically. The contract clause now allows appointee increases to be less transparent. The contract provides for an annual performance review by the board.
Ratification elicited no comment from either council members or the city manager. Bevan made Johnston’s announcement at the very end of the meeting.
“When I was named acting city manager on June 1 of last year and Chief Forte was called to serve as acting deputy city manager,” Bevan said, reading a statement, “I had confidence knowing that the organization already had a strong foundation through the leadership of previous administrations The framework to ensure a seamless continuum of processes and safeguards to operations was already in place and in the event that a key staff member was not not available, these processes would be activated.That said, I believe it is extremely important to address the ongoing need for succession planning.
“It is with great pride that I announce the promotion of Chief of Staff Lauren Johnston to Deputy City Manager. For the past 10+ years, I’ve had the honor of watching Lauren, putting others before herself, improving communication throughout the organization, establishing a clear vision for the future and to guide and develop members of the organization into leadership roles. She has the skills, talent and courage to help lead our city into the future.
The council gave Johnston a standing ovation.
“I am honoured, privileged and very excited,” Johnston said, speaking from the podium. “It’s been a journey for me working for the city since I was 17, I started in parks and recreation as a part-time summer camp counselor, and I’m so grateful to the investment the city has put in me, and I’m happy to carry the torch with Ms. Bevan into the future Johnston thanked Forte “for also being my mentor.”
Palm Cast previously had an assistant city manager. Oel Wingo was the first to fill this role, starting in 2001 when Dick Kelton was City Manager. She remained in place until 2009, when she briefly held the position of City Manager of Holly Hill. But until Bevan’s appointment a few weeks ago, the top jobs in the city were otherwise held by men. “Whereas in the mid-1970s only 1% of administrative directors were women, this percentage rose to 20% in 2009 and has remained relatively stable since,” said the Phelan US Center, an American branch of the London School of Economics. reported last week.
With a caveat: women tend to be hired when cities are on the edge of a fiscal cliff: “While women are more likely to be hired to lead struggling organizations, they are also more likely to be punished for failing to improve the state of the organization, a tall order given the problematic organizational circumstances,” the center reported.
However, no such cliffs appear on the short-term horizon of Palm Coast. For Bevan, the cliffs are behind her: she scaled them as the city went through months of turmoil, with that turmoil easing in recent months.
Other key administrative positions are headed by women, including human resources, communications, finance and the town hall secretariat.
Johnston, a city statement said, holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Flagler College. She joined the leaders of the 2022 Northeast Florida Regional Council Regional Leadership Academy, served as a Community Pillar of Excellence for 10 years, and has over a decade of institutional knowledge with the organization.
The city had not provided Johnston’s salary prior to this article’s initial publication. As the city’s last assistant manager until he became acting manager in 2018, Beau Falgout was earning $110,000 a year.
Johnston’s current salary was $132,612. A spokeswoman said she did not get a raise. “That won’t be changing any time soon, so it’s more of a title change,” with additional resources, the spokesperson said.
Denise Bevan contract: