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No Vacancy? Filling the top jobs at Vero Beach City Hall


By the time you read this, Vero Beach could be hanging a “no vacancy” sign on City Hall when it comes to filling the two top spots on its management team.

Last Friday, City Council members conducted both public interviews and individual, round-robin sit-downs with five candidates to run the city’s legal department, a position vacated last fall by City Attorney Wayne Coment.

But the only decision the council made on Friday was to not switch from an in-house legal staff to an outside law firm.

The vote to determine which of the remaining four applicants would be offered the job was scheduled for this past Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Also on Tuesday night, the council was set to entertain a proposal by Councilman Harry Howle to halt the headhunter search for a new city manager and instead hire Vero Public Works Director Monte Falls, 61, for that job.

Falls has been serving as interim city manager since former City Manager Jim O’Connor’s retirement, same as he did for nine months in 2010 and 2011 while city officials searched for and eventually found O’Connor.

Two months ago, Falls was not interested in the job because of the harrowing experience he had while serving as interim city manager the first time around. 

But after eight years of O’Connor changing the culture of the city government, Falls says he definitely notices the difference. So when Howle approached him in late April about taking the job, he didn’t say no.

“Things have changed a lot. When I did the job before there were a lot of contentious issues,” Falls said. Those issues – including soaring utility rates, botched contracts and $3 million consultant bills – had no easy or quick solutions. And Brian Heady was on the City Council, always clamoring for answers, to keep Falls busy.

Selling the albatross of the electric utility took a lot of heat off the city manager’s office, but it’s more than that.  Falls said he learned a great deal from working with and for O’Connor.

“Jim showed us that there’s a different way of doing things,” Falls said.

Falls said O’Connor’s management style put the five elected members of the City Council more in the driver’s seat, and positioned the staff, from the city manager on down, to provide the best information and advice when asked, and then to carry out the policies set by the council.

After meeting with Howle, Falls said he spoke to his wife Michelle about it. “I consulted her, as I do about everything. We’ve been together going on 40 years now.”

Then he met with O’Connor, who assured Falls he was up to the challenge and encouraged him to go for it.

Howle said his motivation for urging Falls to step up to the city manager post was not just because he has confidence Falls will do a good job, but also because Howle sees the value of hiring a permanent city manager who does not need to be brought up to speed on everything.

“I really want to get this done so we can move forward,” said Howle, who is serving his final six months in office after deciding not to run for re-election in November.

Howle said having a professional in the top job he can trust with the responsibility of running the city – long after his council term is complete – is of utmost importance. “I’ve known Monte since I was 15 years old.”

Mayor Val Zudans apparently also values Falls’ advice and knowledge of the city. He asked the interim manager to sit in on his one-on-one interviews with the five county attorney hopefuls last week.

Falls said he was impressed by the candidates’ knowledge, by them personally, and by the good rapport several established with the mayor.

Falls’ long tenure with the city is one of his biggest strengths, but it has also raised questions of whether or not he would retire soon.

He went to work for the City of Vero Beach 28 years ago, in January 1991.  But Falls said he plans to stay “a minimum of five more years” and would commit to at least that timeframe if offered the city manager job.