VERO BEACH - The city of Vero Beach has hired longtime city employee Monte Falls as the new city manager. The city council also voted to fill the city attorney position with John Turner, a partner with Peterson Law Group of Ft. Myers.
Mr. Falls has worked for the city nearly three decades. He has been serving his second stint as interim city manager since the March 15 retirement of Jim O'Connor.
“Monte knows all the key players in our community,” said Councilmember Harry Howle, who suggested the hiring. “Monte is a well respected man in our community. He has now served twice as our interim city manager. He has all the skills and processes needed to be an excellent city manager. During those two times as acting city manager he’s done a fantastic job. I have been 100% satisfied with his work.”
There was no opposition expressed at the May 7 city council meeting. During public comment, frequent city critics Brian Heady and Ken Daige endorsed Mr. Falls.
The only dissent came from Councilmember Laura Moss, who voted for Mr. Falls while arguing that charter officers should be required to live within the city. Mr. Falls does not.
“Why are chartered officers not required to live in the city? I think that is something that we want to consider,” Councilmember Moss said, noting that members of the Finance Commission, Planning and Zoning Board, and Historic Preservation Commission must be residents of the city.
“We, City Council, have residency requirements, and we serve only for two years. Generally, charter officers have a much longer term. If the charter officers are residents of the city, they are more accountable. They’ll actually feel the results of the decisions they make. You want that person to be directly affected by any decisions that they make.”
Councilmember Moss added that city residents are more accessible to people.
The council voted 5-0 to offer the job to Mr. Falls, who then addressed the residency issue.
“I live three miles from city hall, three blocks outside the city limits,” Mr. Falls said. “I’ve been in my home since 1985. It’s a house that my dad and I built, and it’s probably the last house that I’ll live in.”
At the same meeting, the city council voted to hire John Turner as city attorney, and the Gray Robinson law firm of Gainesville to cover the six to eight week period until Mr. Turner takes over.
Mr. Turner will replace Wayne Coment, who retired in January, and interim City Attorney Kira Honse, who has taken a different position as of May 16.
The vote to hire Mr. Turner was unanimous, with several council members mentioning that he seemed to fit in with the community better than the other finalists.
“While I respect the credentials of all the candidates, and I respect the candidates from the major municipalities ... those philosophies don’t really mesh with our local culture in Vero Beach,” said Mayor Val Zudans, endorsing Mr. Turner.
Mayor Zudans noted that one of his other top choices, Cynthia Everett, opposed the proposed downsizing of the legal department. Mayor Zudans felt that to be indicative of a “government is the answer” approach that he opposes.
Regarding Mr. Turner, Mayor Zudans said “He has the calm, friendly demeanor that fits with the culture of our community.”
Councilmembers Robert Brackett and Harry Howle also emphasized the Vero Beach culture.
“What it came down to for me in the end was a culture, a fit,” said Councilmember Brackett. “Which attorney would be the best fit into this culture that we have here. That being said, my top choice is also Mr. Turner.”
Councilmember Howle praised all the candidates, but concluded “Sometimes it’s about having a fit within your community, and also being able to work with the kind of culture that we’ve had over the years.”
“We want somebody who we think is best going to fit immediately.”
The repeated references to candidates needing to fit in the Vero Beach culture irked the Democrats of Indian River who, without criticizing Mr. Turner, objected to the emphasis on culture. The Democrats published a statement calling the culture of Vero Beach “same old, same old white men.”
“From our perspective, this focus on ‘culture’ seemed to perpetuate a ‘more of the same’ approach that does not allow for experience with different sizes of municipalities, or promote much diversity based on age, race, or sex,” the Democrats’ statement read.
“In terms of finalists, there were four individuals - two female (Cynthia Everett and Susan Garrett) and two male (John Turner and Phillip Sherwin). The female candidates had vast experience in Fort Lauderdale (as city attorney for three years) and Atlanta (in the municipal government). Both of their credentials were impeccable.”
“Three of the council members defended their selection based on ‘the culture of Vero Beach,’” the Democrats’ statement said. “Decisions appeared to focus not as much on credentials as on gut feelings of ‘culture.’ Same old, same old.”
The statement said the Democrats had no problem specifically with Mr. Turner, “who seems like a nice fellow.”