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A closer look at the résumé of Amelia Graves

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of October 24, 2013)
Photo of Amelia Graves

Political newcomer Amelia Graves is applying for a job – a seat on the Vero Beach City Council – and she has been interviewed along with the rest of the field of candidates. That’s the democratic weeding process.  In politics, every applicant gets a sit-down with the potential bosses, the voters.

But based on her resume, if Graves was applying for a real job, would she even get an interview?

Despite pretty good performances at candidate forums and interviews with clubs and unions that hand down endorsements and hand out campaign dollars, 30-year-old applicant Amelia Graves probably wouldn’t get that far in a normal hiring process for decision-making position with a business with a $100 million-plus annual budget.

Starting with her education, Graves graduated from Vero Beach High School in 2001, but it took her six years to get a bachelor’s degree in history in August 2007 at age 24. At first blush, an employer might wonder whether or not the applicant was particularly motivated to get out of school and start a career.

The next six years of her resume would do nothing to allay those concerns. Employers want to see an ascending career path and gaps in resumes always raise red flags.

After college, there is an 11-month gap in Graves’ resume, followed by a five-month position teaching English in Bangkok, Thailand.

An employer who bothered to check out the company on the internet could find out that the King’s College of English assignment currently pays about $1,000 annually, with contractors responsible for all their own travel expenses, plus room and board while they teach students and businesspeople hoping to further their education in the States or in the United Kingdom.

An employer might consider this foreign junket a glorified vacation a year after college graduation.

The Bangkok experience is then followed by a four-month internship in Cambodia with an organization called New Hope. A brief check of New Hope and their “voluntourism” program states that there is a $500 placement fee for volunteers; plus, students are responsible for their own travel and living expenses.

After two months off, our applicant again boards a plane for a foreign country, this time Nicaragua for 13 months with Manna Project International. It is now 2009 and our applicant is 26 years old and has not held down a steady job.

The Program Director position Graves lists on her resume is once again advertised on Manna Project Website. There is no salary listed for the 13-month assignment, but it does come with a cost of $8,900, plus airfare and expenses for sightseeing and incidentals.

Though it may have been a great learning experience for a young person right out of college – and that’s a stretch at this point for our applicant – it’s still probably not the kind of experience the employer is looking for in a decision-maker for a $100 million-dollar per year enterprise.

The Manna Project website published the following biography of Graves in August 2009 during her stay in Nicaragua.

“Amelia Graves is a native of Vero Beach, Florida, and a graduate of the University of Florida where she studied history with a specialization in Latin America. While studying abroad in Nicaragua she researched the roles of NGOs in Latin America and sustainable development. After college, she taught English in Bangkok, Thailand, and worked to develop an English curriculum for New Hope Community Center in Siem Reap, Cambodia. As part of the CS team, Amelia oversees the website, CS (Child Sponsorship) photography, and birthday bags. She is currently continuing her education at UF as she pursues a Master’s Degree in Public Health.”

A May 2010 issue of Manna Project’s e-newsletter stated that, when not engaged in her duties with the children, “she enjoys spending her evenings reading and joining the others for rooftop yoga.”

Since Graves oversaw the website, the information about her education should have been correct, but the University of Florida could only confirm that she received a degree in history in 2007. “We have no record of her enrolled in a master’s program as of yet,” a UF spokesman responded to Vero Beach 32963’s records request on Oct. 9. “It’s possible she was admitted, however. But thousands of students are admitted who don’t enroll.”

Regardless, our applicant’s 13 months with Manna Project International would presumably not meet the criteria of a real job for most prospective employers; it would be considered yet another extension of the college experience.

“Through all my experiences I have learned to listen and communicate with people from all walks of life. When people feel valued in the decision-making process you can build consensus and move forward. Working in intense situations, in different cultures, using a different language, with very few resources, I honed my ability to effectively and creatively problem-solve,” Graves stated about how her overseas travel experiences might pertain to the current available position on the Vero Beach City Council.

After the Nicaragua trip comes probably the most troubling part of the resume for a potential employer – a 29-month gap with no employment or education listed. Anyone who has been unemployed can vouch for the fact that companies don’t like to see that long of a period pass without a job.

Graves did not respond to email and telephone messages asking her to explain the gaps in her resume.

A gap that large also raises questions how an applicant has been surviving without income. A public records check of the address on the applicant’s resume reveals that she is living in one of three properties owned by her mother.

There are still utility bills – how does someone pay those without a job? Vero Beach Utilities customer bills are public record, so an employer could pull an applicant’s bills to get a glimpse of her payment history. In this applicant’s case, the utilities are in her mother’s name and at times have carried a past-due balance due of more than $2,100.

Finally at age 29, our applicant got a job, working as what she now terms interim executive director for Main Street Vero Beach from January to May of this year. The applicant was hired on Jan. 22 and was on the job until a permanent executive director started at the beginning of May, so that’s really only about three months.

This being the only local job listed on the resume, a prospective employer might give a quick call to check the reference. Main Street Past President Terry Torres, a local realtor who was Graves’ boss during her stint at Main Street, said she did a great job, was a quick learner and brought a creative perspective and much energy to the organization. He said she worked hard, long hours on the Hibiscus Festival and as a member of a team helped to double the profits from that event.

Torres also said that, while Graves did not take part in setting the organization’s budget, she converted Main Street’s bookkeeping system to Quickbooks and that she worked well with the City of Vero Beach on all the coordination necessary for a large-scale weekend street festival.

This job sounded promising. Why didn’t Graves apply for the permanent executive director position? This is where the applicant again becomes troublesome for a prospective employer.

According to Torres and another Main Street board member who spoke to Vero Beach 32963, Graves said she had applications out to quite a few medical schools and she needed to be free to jump on an acceptance letter, should one arrive. Torres said he wishes Graves the best of luck in getting into medical school and said he thinks she would make a superb doctor.

What’s our applicant doing in the meantime? She’s now 30 years old.

“Currently, I work part-time as a research assistant at my mother’s law firm,” Graves said. Her mother, attorney Julia Graves did have a busy summer defending Kaitlyn Hunt, who recently pled guilty to battery and other charges stemming from a relationship with a 14-year-old high school girl.

Fast-forward four months and Graves filed paperwork to qualify to run for Vero Beach City Council.

A seat on the Vero Beach City Council offers little in the way of salary, but it does come with a great deal of responsibility. The council job is also a two-year commitment, which is 11 months longer than anything Graves has done since college.

Over the next two years, Graves, if elected, will be asked to vote on how to spend more than $100 million annually in taxpayer and ratepayer funds. She will be asked to evaluate and vote on complex contracts, not the least of which would be the amendments to the $179 million deal to sell the electric utility to Florida Power and Light.

Graves would be asked to vote on whether or not to rip up and redesign the Twin Pairs, and according to her public statements she would be a yes vote for safety reasons. She would be asked to vote on terms of contracts with labor unions that could cost the city millions in salaries and benefits. She would be asked to weigh the options and work to solve the Indian River Lagoon crisis, hopefully without a major intrusion on property rights, or a huge, costly government program.

Graves has no voting record on these or other issues, so her broad political philosophy could be the best indication of where her votes on these issues might fall.

The local Democratic Party has wholeheartedly promoted and supported her as one of their own, despite the fact that public records show she was a Republican from 2002 up until October 2012. What caused the conversion? An Oct. 27 letter to the editor in the daily newspaper gives some clues:

“I made my vote count. I knew before the debates, before the millions of dollars spent on advertising, before pundits ripped apart every single word of every speech who I want as my president. I have known since he took office four years ago and worked to bring my friends home from war, brought my student loan interest rates down lower than they have ever been, protected my health care rights as a woman, and believes no matter who you choose to love you should be guaranteed the same rights as every American citizen,” Graves wrote.

Graves said her publicly liberal, pro-Obama stance won’t be a hindrance in this local race where, as she stated, “the single guiding philosophy that Council members should use to base their decisions is what is in the best interest of the citizens of Vero Beach.”

“I do not think it will hurt my chances, because this is a non-partisan election and my love and respect for the City of Vero goes beyond party politics. Vero does not fit into any one political ideology.

“The issues we face are not political,” she said.