- By Bill DiPaolo Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Coming to coastal, affluent Jupiter from a smallish town in inland Texas — where there are no zoning laws, lighthouses or turquoise inlets to the ocean — is a welcome challenge, said the town’s new manager Matt Benoit.
“I’m taking this job with no pre-conceived notions. I’m going to show up, keep an open mind and listen,” said Benoit, 43, who is moving his family from Huntsville, Texas. His first day is Feb. 21.
The annual salary for Benoit is $215,000.
Benoit is leaving his five-year position in Huntsville on good terms, said Mayor Andy Brauninger.
Benoit is “a detail guy with a strong personality,” said Brauninger.
Some Huntsville residents took that as a “bully attitude.” Brauniger did not.
“Matt’s not a backslapper. Sometimes, he pushes too hard. He might make a few enemies, but he will get the job done,” said Brauninger.
A native of Denver, Benoit’s first job as a city manager was when he was 23 in 2,500-resident Herington, Kansas. He has taken jobs since then in increasingly larger communities. He describes his management style as an intermediary between the council and the staff.
“I don’t get in the weeds. I let people do their jobs. Both the council and staff want to do good for the community. They sometimes see things from different angles. My job is to bring them together,” said Benoit.
Long-range planning is Benoit’s top asset, said Carol Smith, the executive director of the 525-member Huntsville/Walker County Chamber of Commerce in Texas. She said Benoit was a leader in the recent passage of a $128 million bond issue for infrastructure improvements.
“(Benoit) has been city manager in different communities with different rules. He adapts very well,” said Smith.
Huntsville is an inland southeast Texas city of about 39,000. Jupiter has about 64,000 residents. Huntsville’s annual operating budget is about $70 million. Jupiter’s is about $90 million. The average home value and the median income in Huntsville is about half as much as Jupiter.
Huntsville has about 280 municipal employees, about 100 less than Jupiter.
Another big difference between Jupiter and Huntsville is zoning laws.
Huntsville, like most of the rest of Texas, doesn’t have any. That means hotels, houses, factories and playgrounds all must learn to co-exist in the same neighborhoods. While homeowners associations have deed restrictions, Texas does not regulate what and where structures can be built.
Benoit said his experiences in other communities have prepared him to handle the switch.
“I speak both languages,” said Benoit.
Florida’s Sunshine laws, seen as among the most open in the nation, will not be an issue, said Benoit.
“Every e-mail, phone call and memo is open the the public here. I’m totally comfortable with it,” Benoit said.
A nationwide search to replace former Jupiter Town Manager Andy Lukasik — whose annual salary was about $180,000 — drew about 60 applicants from throughout the nation, including Jupiter Police Chief Frank Kitzerow.
In addition to his salary, Benoit’s contract calls for annual 2.5 percent raises for the first four years. He has a monthly car allowance of $650, and a monthly cell phone allowance of $200. The town is paying moving expenses up to $20,000.