Larry Newsom returns to his role as Flagler Beach City Manager after being out on sick leave.
FLAGLER BEACH — Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom returned to work following a three-week medical leave and he’s ready to pick up right where he left off.
City commissioners approved his return at its April 23 meeting, and Newsom was back on the job the next day.
Newsom had a sinus infection and went into voluntary self-isolation the week of March 23. He said he was tested COVID-19, and the results were negative.
A week later, he experienced wheezing and chest congestion, so he went to the emergency room. A second COVID-19 test came back negative. He was instead diagnosed with the flu. Shortly thereafter, Newsom said he was admitted to the hospital for abdominal pain.
On April 3, Newsom, who was hired in 2016, enacted the chain of succession, which named Fire Chief Bobby Pace the interim city manager.
"I had my police chief and my fire chief handle everything when it came to the virus," Newsom said. "They still handled the conference calls with the EOC, with the county and they would still brief me while I was in the hospital. So, it wasn’t like I was totally out of pocket."
Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher said everything ran smoothly while Newsom was on leave.
"Our police chief and fire chief did an amazing job, as well as the rest of the staff, while he was out," she said. "But it’s nice to have him back at the helm."
Pace said everything went well while he served as interim.
"It was definitely a learning experience," he said.
The city reopened its beach two days before Newsom returned to work, a move he fully supported.
"Opening the beach was actually my decision per communication with the health department," he said, adding that he doesn’t make such decisions without first consulting Florida Department of Health-Flagler administrator Bob Snyder.
"We try to follow the rules," Newsom said. "I know some people don’t like that. They think we’re being hesitant on certain things. At the end of the day, me and my staff have to be accountable for our decisions."
He said handling the COVID-19 pandemic carefully is key.
"Do I want everything opened up with the bars and restaurants up and running? Absolutely," he said. "This is a medical event, so you’re depending heavily on your local health department and state health department for guidance."
Newsom said the city is currently focused on reopening while balancing both residents’ needs and their safety.
"A lot of people are unemployed right now," he said. "They’re worried about paying their bills. I do sympathize with that. We're trying to do everything we can. But we don’t want to have another spike. If we have another spike, we’ll have to go right back to where we started from."
He said the key is to use a "very methodical approach," and by making decisions such as opening the beaches, but keeping the pier and bathrooms closed, the city can "potentially keep this virus at bay."