Michael Schottey is a candidate for Palm Coast Mayor running against John Brady, Donald Greene, incumbent Milissa Holland, and Alan Lowe.
Three council seats are also up this year. Councilman Bob Cuff has opted not to run again. Councilman Nick Klufas is running for a second term. And Councilman Jack Howell has resigned, requiring a special election in conjunction with November’s election. So the council will have at least two new faces by November, and possibly four. Between the 2016 and 2018 elections, all five seats turned over. Other than Holland the candidates in the mayoral race have not held public office before, though Brady ran for mayor in 2016, getting 15 percent of the vote.
This is a non-partisan, at-large election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for Palm Coast mayor or council. If a candidate for mayor wins 50 percent plus one vote or more in the Aug. 18 primary, then that candidate is the outright winner and mayor, making a runoff unnecessary. But if none of the candidates manages that majority, then the top two candidates with the most votes will go on to contest the Nov. 3 general election.
The Palm Coast mayor and council members serve four years. They’re paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor, not including a monthly “telecommunications” allowance.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges conducted by email and on the record. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
Place and Date of Birth: Muskegon, Michigan, Dec. 16, 1985
Current job: Business Owner, Marketing and Consulting
Net worth: $75,000
Party Affiliation: Democratic
Websites, social media: Schottey2020.com | Facebook.com/Schottey2020
Strengthen/Diversify Local Economy — The local economy and the city budget are almost entirely wrapped up in single family homes and property taxes. The area (and the city specifically) lags behind in commercial development specifically because of long-crafted concerns that the city is “not business friendly.” Economic Development is not happening in any concerted way in our area with multiple departures at the county and city levels and with our local chamber of commerce shuttered. We need new ideas, collaboration and to clear out red tape at every level of the process—especially regarding city codes and processes which infringe upon individual rights and their ability to best operate their businesses.
Improve Quality of Life for All — For the entirety of Palm Coast’s 20-year history, citizens have been begging for some of the same exact things: more streetlights, more sidewalks, better roads, more green spaces and a mental health system that doesn’t allow the most vulnerable of us to slip through the cracks. These are big, expensive ideas that others throw away as “too big,” “too difficult,” or “too expensive.” We can do big things by refocusing and moving away from specific government priorities benefiting only a few, better leveraging public and private partnerships, expanding our tax base to include more jobs and more fully accessing federal and state funds along with grant opportunities.
Ensuring Local Government is Responsible — Every candidate for any race, ever, promises fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets and to end wasteful spending. Great! Me too…but in Palm Coast, the promises need to go beyond that. Thanks to the bloc elected four years ago, matters are now decided long before they get to the council chambers. We need rigorous debate, which starts with engaging citizens first and foremost and treating each of the five council members and their priorities as equal. We also need to strengthen the transparency of the procurement (spending) process which has been continually bent by current leadership to subvert proper procedure.
In your segment about “more streetlights, more sidewalks, better roads, more green spaces and a mental health system that doesn’t allow the most vulnerable of us to slip through the cracks,” the council has, with the exception of the last clause (mental health) actually made those a priority, with visible results: we do have more streetlights, though perhaps not in as accelerated a schedule as some would wish, the city is keeping up with its roads, has added sidewalks (Lakeview, Seminole Blvd. etc., though granted, it took a child’s death in each of those areas to make it happen), and city surveys point to high satisfaction with parks, if those are to count as green spaces, with yet more being spent (with questionable wisdom) on Holland Park as we speak. So these big, expensive ideas are getting their due. How do you see it differently? As far as mental health is concerned, social services have primarily been a county responsibility. How do you see that changing within the existing budget? Can you give us an example or two of the way current leadership has subverted the procurement process? Are you seeing that as a matter of routine procedure or is it done, if it’s done at all, more selectively?
I’ll begin with the areas posited as places the council has “actually made a priority with visible results.” I do not believe the community is, in any way, pleased with the bare minimum results being touted as progress by the incumbents. Klufas recently released a video triumphing “continuous lighting program” as one of his successes, but the actual installation of lights has grinded to a halt. Sidewalks and roads, too, have been extremely slow moving (a handful of miles at a time) in a town where lapsed infrastructure is quickly becoming a serious issue. Parks, too, are expected to be entirely left behind for the next decade per the city’s official plans, which is untenable at best.
For mental health, specifically, the city has completely disengaged from the topic outside of a photo op at a community meeting here and there. While at the city, I worked closely and tirelessly with advocates from across the area and met near constant malaise and obstruction from City leadership. This is a personal matter for me, both as a subject which has affected my family and as an area I worked in while in school. I understand fully that the county is the area where money funnels to from a statewide basis, but to have the city (which composes so much of the county) completely disengaged is damaging to the process.
About the procurement issues, my very first day at City Hall roughly a year ago was spent finding multiple bids after-the-fact for a project already underway. This happened multiple times. Recently, there have been a number of questionable sole source bids, including one in the recent past for Cotney Construction Law as well as one coming in the near future for a P3 partnership to re-imagine the Tennis Center. I believe procurement Is consistently seen as a barrier to the incumbent mayor’s vision rather than as a tool to ensure the public’s interest is met.
You’re still not telling us how you’d change the city’s involvement regarding mental health. If the city is completely disengaged, how, specifically, would you engage it, and with what money?
The path to any true fix for the mental health issues in Palm Coast needs to be a true partnership between the City of Palm Coast (where most resources and tax dollars sit) and the county where most state funds trickle down to. For instance, the local Health Department is funded on a statewide basis thanks to a population formula circa 1982. Obviously, Flagler County was not a very populous area in 1982 and we’re missing out on around $700,000 per year that could conceivably go to local mental health resources if the City put the full weight of statewide lobbyists and other methods of advocacy into that effort. While at the city, the local health department had a conversation with me about this and other topics in a meeting no other leadership could be bothered to attend. There are plenty of ways the City can help that have nothing to do with a specific budget line item, but the imagination and the will has not been there.
Building/Planning & Development — It is common to hear stories of businesses taking well over a year to open in Palm Coast. That trend has not gotten better over the past few years and it is untenable. We need to fully staff the building and planning department and stop letting every single project become politicized.
Code Enforcement — Much of our city code as well as the principles of enforcement are older than the city itself. We need to take a long look at rewriting a code that respects the hardworking community we have in Palm Coast—specifically eliminating codes which punish citizens for owning their own business, working as tradespeople or realtors or owning boats and RVs.
Modernization of City Technology — For a free app, the time and costs related to Palm Coast Connect are skyrocketing to an estimated minimum of $400,000 taxpayer funds next year in licenses and dedicated personnel costs…costs that will go up when the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software is selected. I agree that we need to modernize the systems related to City Technology, but that process should be transparent, inclusive and not benefit any one person or company unfairly at the expense of taxpayers.
We are aware of the city’s reputation as a difficult place to open a business, but were a little less aware of it in recent years, particularly with the arrival of Jason DeLorenzo, the development director who, as a council member and lobbyist for the county’s homebuilders, back when he was on their payroll, was not exactly known as regulation-friendly, and the sprouting of those apartments in town center and businesses around Bulldog Drive, not to mention the city’s concessions across the street for the development off the airport’s property. The building department just scrapped building fees again, as a spur to the local economy. Where specifically do you see that division failing? How has “every single project become politicized”? Let’s look at one that drew some headlines–the Matanzas golf course development–and one that did not, except here–the American Village development, though both are substantial, and the latter was built (and both are by the same developer). Where are the politics? As for Palm Coast Connect, if those costs do rise to $400,000, no need to be told by Houston: we’d have a problem. We have the $100,000 charge from Salesforce. Can you document the claim though, with this caveat: let’s not get into “staff time,” because every government at every level can be seen to be either hyperinflating or hyper-ignoring staff time, depending on the manipulative uses of the figure (we could easily calculate that the sheriff’s office is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just responding to false fire alarms: it’s demonstrably the case, since that’s one of the top responses deputies carry out, but it’s also part of the job, and no one would argue it should be eliminated. Either way, the personnel costs aren’t fluctuating.) So: in actual hard costs, can you document that $400,000 figure?
The O’Reilly’s Auto Parts on Palm Coast Parkway was recently met with a situation where, with a completed building permit already in hand, they were asked by the City of Palm Coast to do extensive changes. That is, in short, completely unacceptable as well as in violation of the law. This is a story I’ve heard both from people intimately involved with the project, but also developers, contractors and subcontractors completely uninvolved with the projects who simply “heard it through the grapevine.” The “Palm Coast isn’t business friendly” mindset has not gotten better under Jason DeLorenzo, and although I personally have an affinity for both Jason and his deputy (Ray Tyner), they are stymied by leadership above.
To answer your question, “where are the politics?” I will respond with my own experience: Every single building project finds its way to the second floor of city hall. As Communications Officer, I was often put in the position to articulate the City’s position on a building project in its infancy which included near-constant (ex parte) communications with the incumbent. This includes the Palm Harbor Golf/Marina projects, the Matanzas Woods project and many other.
As for Jason’s reputation among the builders, I would ask you to doublecheck that for updated information. Jason also wrote extensively against the “evils” of impact fees while he worked for the HBA and now seems to be their biggest advocate while working for the City.
Finally, the $400,000 number for Palm Coast Connect is, according to my understanding, a bare minimum. Starting with the licenses, those numbers increase with every signup. For instance: I personally worked closely with the Mayor’s 90/90 challenge and saw that as a situation where meeting our goals with the challenge would’ve resulted in a massive increase to the licensing cost. That cost is going to rise to an estimated $175,000 next year. Add to that two different city positions completely devoted to Salesforce development—Steve Harris and Jaime Lesage-Petruzziello—and you quickly get to that $400,000 number even without including all of the massive time investments by IT, Customer Service, Communications and various other staff members.
What material effects have those “ex-parte” communications had on any of the projects you refer to? As for the $400,000 number, it remains a number thrown out there based on assumptions, not documentation, and it includes two staffers’ costs–a calculation, as noted in the earlier follow-up question, that can be applied to any part of government where government workers are employed, inflating a cost within a budget that isn’t of itself growing in proportion. When you say “that cost is going to rise an estimated $175,000 next year,” whose estimate is that, based on what documentation?
The $400,000 number is absolutely relevant and the documentation certainly exists in receipts of Salesforce Licenses (via Carahsoft, the clearinghouse used to purchase the licenses) needed every time new users sign up as well as the specific salaries, line items for things like “Salesforce maintenance” and job descriptions of the people in question. Steve Harris was hired to a Director-level position entirely because of his background in Salesforce implementation (sales) and another programmer was hired to a Salesforce-specific position. The other “staff time” which you asked to ignore is innumerable on top of that $400,000 number; but just for licenses and the people hired specifically because of Salesforce, this “free app” is costing taxpayers quite a bit.
3. The city’s budget, like all local government budgets, will likely face revenue shortfalls in the next two years. How will you make up the lost revenue? Short of new sources of revenue, what areas of the budget are ripe for cuts? Please be specific.
In addition to the expansion of revenue from commercial development outlined above and the elimination of specific licenses and personnel dedicated solely to the development of Palm Coast Connect and related software development, I believe the City’s rapid expansion of sole-sourced and outsourced legal services are ripe for cuts. We spend well over half a million dollars on legal services (and travel time) from Orlando law firms: Garganese Weiss D’Agresta & Salzman, PA, Fisher Philips and Cotney Construction Law. With that money, we can easily build an in-house legal team of multiple lawyers and paralegals to both provide better services and save money—keeping what money we do spend here in Palm Coast.
Moreover, the Planning and Building department is currently sitting on a large surplus. That money should be spent (as said above) on fully staffing the department and that staff will offset the large number of outside consultants hired by the city to do the work staff could do in departments like technology, traffic and engineering.
Finally, a smaller but important amount of savings will be in the aforementioned revitalization of proper procurement procedures. Numerous projects have been carried out—outsourced videos, graphic design, promotional items, consultant arrangements—based on whim. The numbers can be small or large individually ($8,000 here, $3,000 there…$71,000 for a “must have” report that later gets buried) but add up quickly.
The county has an in-house legal team, but that hasn’t stopped its costs from rivaling those of the city’s, noir does it stop the county from farming out numerous legal issues to outside attorneys, especially labor attorneys, given the county’s proclivity for legal headaches in its fire department (for example). The argument about the city’s (or the county’s) legal costs is almost as old as Palm Coast’s hills, such as they are, but recurring analyses of where and why the costs are so high have yet to point to a smoking gun: lawyers are rapacious, but so are litigants, and governments feel they have to be on a costly defensive to prevent costlier payouts otherwise. In the scheme of things, is a $542,000 budget for the city attorney(s) (1.25 percent of the general fund, 0.26 percent of the city’s overall budget) that onerous? Assuming it is, how specifically do you see even an in-house shop substantially lowering costs if, say, it were to be $400,000 instead of $542,000? Is that potential lower coverage worth the risk of higher litigation costs? Is there not some value in seeking out lawyers who have no community connections? The third part of your answer goes to managerial issues. Without disputing the veracity of your statement, is it the place of council members or the mayor to get involved in managerial issues at that level, especially regarding the sort of sums you refer to, which don’t even make it to council for approval? Regarding the building department, it does have four open positions, but would you scrap the hiring freeze in effect now as a hedge against falling revenue?
I personally believe legal costs are, as the adage goes, “the cost of doing business,” for any entity large enough to attract significant attention. That said, the money should remain in this city, not spent at a premium (plus traveling expenses) to an out-of-town attorney joined at the hip (by voting bloc realities) to an elected official. Overall, I believe roughly $300,000 could begin the start of a “City Attorney Department” at City Hall which could include a lawyer, associate and assistant (with overlap in the current City Clerk division) which would almost immediately provide even better (more independent) service to the citizens of Palm Coast with the savings of (at least) a couple of thousand dollars.
As for the “managerial issues,” I believe your question belies the point itself. There is no independence between the current City Manager and the incumbent mayor. Any extraneous expenses to companies like Southern Strategies, Prismatic (a company utilized as a subcontractor by Southern) or others are absolutely driven by the incumbent.
Finally, in terms of the building department, I would absolutely scrap the current hiring freeze in favor of creating a department that actually has the ability to meet the needs of the community.
Clarification: we checked with Development Director Jason DeLorenzo about four open position in the building department, which are not affected by the hiring freeze, but by a dearth of qualified applicants, with at least five years’ experience within a 50-mile radius. The search is ongoing.
4. Evaluate the city’s response to the coronavirus emergency. As of this writing, the city, unlike a growing list of local governments across Florida, has not mandated the use of masks in public places, though it’s in the council’s power to do so. Tell us how you’d vote on a mask mandate, and explain your answer, citing appropriate authorities.
I am neither a doctor nor a medical professional, but I believe the most important role of our City Government is to make sure those professionals are supported for times such as these. I promise to put the full weight of the city government (and our lobbyists in Tallahassee) behind better supporting a local health department which is horrendously underfunded due to an outdated funding model. I would also give deference to emergency professionals like the County’s Jonathan Lord and the city’s Tommy Ascone—as I would in any emergency.
As for the specific question of the mandate, I do not believe the Mayor of the City of Palm Coast has the authority to put into place anything the City cannot enforce. The city has limited enforcement to regulate specific business practice, but things such as a stay-at-home order or mandate to wear masks would need to enforced by the county sheriff. As such, making any such mandate at the city level is no more than vanity.
That said, I do believe that wearing face masks is extremely important to fight the currently growing numbers during this pandemic, and as mayor, I would continue to follow the advice of health professionals, lead by example and encourage the people of Palm Coast to continue exercising their personal freedom in ways that best benefits our community as a whole.
5. Palm Coast has the authority to impose a public service tax on your utility bill of up to 10 percent, and a franchise fee on utilities, which would be passed to customers, of up to 10 percent. The money may be spent at the council’s discretion. Many counties and cities around the state partially or fully levy one or both the taxes. Palm Coast considered imposing a 6 percent electric franchise fee and a 2 percent public service tax in 2012, but reversed course in the face of strong public opposition. Either of the new taxes, proponents argue, would diversify the city’s revenue stream. Either could be used to generate revenue that would otherwise have to be generated by property taxes, though the public service tax and the franchise fee are regressive in comparison. Where do you stand on either new tax becoming part of Palm Coast’s taxing structure?
I am against any new taxes whatsoever while such large amounts of money are being wasted and the city’s homeowners are bearing almost the entire burden of supporting the local economy.
What of tax increases: How do you define a tax increase–a mere increase in the rate or anything above rollback?–and how would you vote on either? In other words, are you fundamentally opposed to any increase in taxes above the rollback rate, any increases in impact fees or other city fees, understanding that several of those are now pegged to inflation, with automatic annual increases? Would your position on new tax revenue change if, over the next two years, a considerable economic recession were to leave you with the choice of increasing property taxes as opposed to instituting one of those new taxes or fees listed above?
Insofar as the Mayor cannot singlehandedly control property values, I define the mayor’s role in terms of “increasing taxes” as in either increasing or decreasing the millage rate itself—though, I completely understand a broader definition held by some. In the vacuum of this current moment (absent a compelling reason otherwise), I would vote against any increase of the current millage rate. However, I would also not vote for adhering to the “rollback rate” because the growing city of Palm Coast needs to properly respond to a consistently growing need for response to citizens.
With potential negative economic factors on the horizon (as predicted by many experts even before Covid-19), the City should be working diligently to diversify revenue streams, not preparing to double down on raising property taxes.
6. Just in the last 10 years, Palm Coast has grown by 15,000 people, but it has grown older, with people 65 and older representing nearly 28 percent of the population, up from 23 percent in 2010. That’s a substantial increase, almost all of it as the proportion of school-age children has diminished: the school district’s population has remained at around 13,000 for 10 years. Should Palm Coast encourage that accelerating retirement-community trend? What would you do to ensure that Palm Coast is addressing the needs of its growing elderly population. Alternately, what would you do to reverse the trend, if you’re more interested in broadening the working-age population base?
I reject the idea that our City government should either attempt to “pick a winner” in this mythical “young vs. old” battle, nor should a government cater to only one group of its citizens. Regardless of the per capita demographics, roughly half of residents feel their local government isn’t working for them. A better economy works for all ages. Streetlights shine for inexperienced and experienced drivers alike. Homes flood indiscriminately. Elected officials should seek to serve everyone, not pander to one group or another.
If the question implied picking winners, it was poorly written. That’s not the intention, and of course government isn’t zero-sum game. Rather, given current trends, how do you see yourself addressing the needs of a growing elderly population, and given that trend, would you favor any specific policies or approaches that would broaden the city’s demographics–just as, above, you spoke of broadening the city’s economic base (the two having a lot in common anyway).
Generally speaking, I believe my original response answers the follow-up as well. You are correct in saying that broadening the economic base will (likely, though not assuredly) broaden the demographics as well, and I would posit that doing both would also be a huge benefit for a growing elderly population, bringing needed, talented additions to the workforce—including in healthcare, providing additional diverse housing options for those retirees on limited, fixed incomes and reducing the city’s reliance on property taxes to keep those property taxes low.
7. Some apartment complexes have gone up in the past two years, but the city still faces an affordable housing shortfall as housing prices have risen steadily. How do you propose to diversify Palm Coast’s housing options? By what criteria would you approve or reject apartment complexes? Would you approve raising the density and height of multi-family, or apartment, structures in select areas of the city zoned for the purpose?
In many ways, these are legal questions, not political ones…any candidate who says “no new development” or “zero development on my watch” will open the city to massive legal issues that will encompass their entire term and drive our city into ruin. Responsible development is needed, and that development should be driven by the free market, landowners’ current rights and maintaining the current character of neighborhoods as well as the natural environment that drives people to a place like Palm Coast in the first place.
We do need a diverse array of housing types in Palm Coast that provide a variety of housing opportunities for working families, individuals of all ages on fixed incomes, retirees and the teachers, first responders and medical professionals that make our community great and will be needed in increasing numbers as that community grows. We arrive at that diversity through intense collaboration with existing communities and always making sure infrastructure investments outpace development.
You had us until “intense collaboration with existing communities”–not because the phrase is questionable, but because it’s not as precise as the rest of the answer: can you specify what you mean by that, and tell us if you think that that collaboration is not currently taking place?
A top-down approach to city planning places neighborhoods at the end of the process rather than at the beginning, regulations above people and focuses on squeaky wheels getting the grease rather than doing what is best for entire communities. That is what is currently happening—across the board—in Palm Coast. Instead, we need a bottom-up approach, which brings community leaders to the table from early in the process and reacts not just to the loudest voices in the room but also to the needs of those who many not readily have a voice in the process.
Most politicians practice what I call “big game hunting” when it comes to Economic Development—craving big, flashy headlines which often turn into unfulfilled promises. Indeed, the history of both Palm Coast and Flagler County is speckled with amazing press releases which never came to fruition. To continue the metaphor: going after the proverbial “one big buck” isn’t how the family gets fed. Hunting smaller game as well as planting and gathering is also needed.
In economic terms, I’ll be different because I don’t care about getting the credit for the big headline. I’ll work together with a diverse array of stakeholders from fellow governments as well as the private sector to make sure interests aren’t competing or processes being duplicated. I’ll immediately start working to reinstate the Business Assistance Center at City Hall so that local companies get access to the help and the resources they need. I’ll work with whoever will listen to help put our local chamber community back together. I’ll re-establish the numerous City Hall positions which are supposed to be doing Economic Development to ensure we are not missing out on opportunities when businesses are looking for a new home.
In this way, we can build a business ecosystem that supports the businesses being created here as well as those in today’s evolving economy who may work remotely but live here. With that ecosystem in place, reaching out to external businesses becomes a lot easier because Palm Coast will no longer have the stigma of being “against” business.
In fairness to Palm Coast, which had a knack for self-congratulatory press releases, self-congratulation about economic development specifically was rare, at least compared to the county’s regular and continuing paroxysms of bogus successes, though in equal fairness, the city has seen an increase of about 9,000 job holders in the last 10 years–little to do with council policy of course–without chasing after the big duck. It did chase after smaller duck: The city rather pointlessly contracted for $135,000 with a company that was to bring retail to the city, with little to show for it. Which begs the question: with all the dollars the city spent on economic development through such contracts and in-house, not to mention the county, which just disbanded its colossally expensive department, how does it make sense to return to that sort of approach, when the jobs were created, without the city’s or the county’s expensive waste? And how is it a mayor’s role to be a potential but private chamber of commerce’s cheerleader? Isn’t there a lurch to the past, and to a very questionably beneficial past, in your approach?
It isn’t a lurch to the past at all, but a lurch back to the table private businesses expect cities like Palm Coast to be at. There are, certainly, new and innovative methodologies of doing economic development (placing people/talent at the forefront of planning, placemaking, focusing on strengthening current local businesses rather than endlessly chasing new ones, etc) but that doesn’t mean we stop doing the bare minimum expected from businesses who might wish to re-locate here. Currently, if a company wished to move to Palm Coast, they would have no one qualified at any level of the local government or business community to reach out to.
I never knew Jim Landon personally and most of what I know of him comes from (mostly unflattering) media reports. That said, he operated—for better or for worse—independently as our City Charter intends. I know Matt Morton and once considered him both a friend and a mentor. What we lost when he was hired was any semblance of an independent civil servant occupying that office at City Hall. He has carried out the will of one elected official at the expense of the rest and at the expense of the people of this city. I have no confidence in his ability to lead independently of Milissa Holland’s constant direction. His last town, Duvall, Washington, has a population of around 8,000 and Morton is clearly out of his depth in a City the size and complexity of Palm Coast.
You’re essentially saying that Morton is incapable of handling Palm Coast, both as a manager (since you are comparing him to his previous posting in a town less than a tenth the size of Palm Coast) and under Holland’s direction, two serious charges that are stated but not documented, and by someone who recently made very incendiary claims that proved incorrect (specifically, that the FDLE and State Attorney were investigating Holland at the city). They’re made–let’s be clear–by someone whose impartiality is a legitimate question in itself, given your recent history: you were not retained by Morton once your probationary period was over, and of course you’re running for mayor, so we’d not expect you to be lavishing either Holland or Morton with the PR releases he once paid you to write on their behalf. Let’s concede that Holland is one of the more Thatcherite elected officials in the region (then again, so is Bunnell’s Catherine Robinson, if not more so, though we seldom hear about it because she presides over a city the size of Flagler Palm Coast High School). Let’s also concede that Morton is neither as imperious as his predecessor nor as commanding (yet, anyway). But given your fraught history with Palm Coast, and without rehashing intramural issues that crop up within any organization, especially after a change in administration, give us two examples of specific consequential public policy issues with where Morton showed himself to be “out of his depth,” and two issues where Holland’s “constant direction” conflicted with that of the council, or at least was not in line with that of the council.
In his short time, Morton has shown to be completely out of his depth in terms of personnel issues. My own situation aside, his actions also have other former employees lawyering up while over $150,000 in severance has been paid in a very short period of time. I would also point to literally every facet of the City’s working relationship with Sheriff Staly as a real failure of Morton’s tenure. It has been antagonistic from the city’s perspective to say the least rather than one of collaboration. This isn’t surprising as Duvall, Washington, had its own police department with a whopping 14 employees directly managed by the city. In Palm Coast, we have a Sheriff who has a vastly larger department and does not have to listen to the City Manager.
As for Holland, it’s a daily broken process consistently outside the bounds of the City Charter. The two major issues are, anything having to do with Coastal Cloud, Palm Coast Connect or “Innovation” in any way, shape or form. As a specific example, late last year Vice Mayor Nick Klufas and City Staff were asked to do a Chamber event on the Innovation District. I was directed to lie and say the staff member was sick and the event was canceled last minute. Add to that her overstepping her office and editing Cindi Lane’s press releases (and mine, and I would guess my successor’s if anyone wished to take a look), the overbearing direction around the Hackathon, the involvement of City Staff in Salesforce sales calls, the Mayor’s 90/90 challenge and its connection to Palm Coast Connect and the list goes on and on—all under the complete direction of Holland and Morton’s indifference to his office.
The other big issue worth mentioning for timeliness is the Palm Coast Tennis Center. As of this writing, the City just released the background for the 7/14 workshop meeting. As part of the Strategic Action Plan around the Tennis Center, there is a mention of “identify opportunities for P3 partnerships.” That partnership is already picked out and well underway behind the scenes and outside of Florida Sunshine… again, with the complete direction of Holland with Morton as no more than a willing bystander.
Your statements about the city’s relationship with the sheriff paint a black and white picture that simply was not the case. The relationship was fine until last year at budget time a sharp and obvious break took place when Morton rejected the sheriff’s request for five additional deputies because it coincided with near-record low crime and a lack of data showing a need for the additional cops. That’s not antagonism: it’s basic accounting. The sheriff doesn’t take it well when challenged. Morton’s willingness to challenge him was reminiscent of the first year County Administrator Craig Coffey was here, when he openly and directly challenged then-Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth, an untouchable back then, on splurging costs at the new courthouse (a state audit vindicated Coffey). Both Morton and Coffey were not yet familiar with or enmeshed in the political labyrinth of the county. Second, the sheriff’s contractual relationship with Palm Coast does in fact make him contractually obligated to follow the agreement–the city’s strategic direction (which has nothing to do with policing tactics which are entirely in the sheriff’s hands), as set out by the council and executed by the manager. Your second paragraph returns to the sort of claims you made during your Central Park statement, making allegations that fall entirely in the he-said-she-said grid (Holland has denied the editing, though that, too, is no more weighty than your claims). But stating that you were “directed to lie” is yet another serious charge, yet again unsubstantiated: directed by whom? Since you make the claim about having to lie, can you document it? Why was the event really cancelled? what would the event have entailed?
You have a view of the City-Sheriff relationship informed by the history of the area. Mine is informed by direct knowledge of the situation. Morton was in over his head and the personal issues that arose from that interaction have trickled down to negatively affect a relationship which should be a true partnership—some examples include the discussion around enforcement of Florida Park Drive truck ordinance which was acrimonious as well as the recent mask “mandate,” which no one at the Sheriff’s department saw until 11 p.m. after the city’s vote took place (obtained via public records request). Yes, as you say, the Sheriff is “obligated” to certain things because of the relationship, but logic also stipulates that the city needs the Sheriff just as much because Palm Coast is not in the situation to receive law enforcement services in any other way. I would prefer these two entities work much more harmoniously than they have worked since Morton arrived.
The “Common Ground” breakfast featuring Nick Klufas and City Staff was a public event pitched to be about Palm Coast as a “City of the Future.” You yourself asked me about it when it was canceled at the last minute and Morton directed me to lie when, in reality, it was because Milissa Holland did not want someone else talking about the Innovation District, which is one of the signature pieces of her legacy. I BCC’d Morton on the email and made note of it to him in a text (both would be public record). If it were just an instance of a staff member being sick, the City Manager would not have even been involved in the situation.
10. Mayor Milissa Holland, Council member Nick Klufas and to a lesser extent Council member Bob Cuff were elected on promises of change and novel visions four years ago. Evaluate their performance, their successes and shortcomings, and tell us if you think they’ve lived up to their promise. What will you bring to the council that they don’t? If you’re one of the incumbents, evaluate your own successes and shortcomings, with specifics, telling us why you’re better suited to continue than any of your challengers.
Many of the economic factors I’ve addressed in previous questions were identified four years ago and that bloc was elected to turn that tide. Instead, things have gotten worse. I think both Nick and Bob are bright men, but I would ask anyone to provide even a single unique proposal either has brought to the City of Palm Coast that was effectively carried out independently of being part of Milissa Holland’s bloc. There is no such example. As such, I believe the term of each to be a failure which has not served the people of Palm Coast in the spirit that each was elected.
I plan to bring rigorous debate and compromise back to the council where deals are struck in the sunshine of public discussion rather than simply expecting others to rubber stamp an agenda created by or for special interests. I will also vow to put the needs of residents ahead of concerns about my legacy and empower city staff to treat the priorities of each councilmember as equal to my own—truly great leadership doesn’t come from people operating in lockstep with one person’s agenda.
You’re defining the success of Cuff’s or Klufas’s tenure exclusively by their willingness to dissent from Holland’s positions, which is unfair in any setting: it’s like saying Justice Breyer is only as good a justice as his willingness to dissent from Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s positions. For good or ill, there is such a thing as political or philosophical alignments, an alignment those three–and more particularly Klufas, a novice in the clear and admittedly tiresome role of a Holland protege–did not hide. In terms of accuracy, Cuff, one of the more autonomous and self-assured elected official in the county (calling him “bright” suggests more condescension than familiarity with our elected board’s sharpest intelligence), was actually the one dissenter in the effort to fire Landon, then one of two dissenters in the drive to hire Morton. He consistently brought Holland down to earth in numerous workshop discussions dating back to the setting of parameters for the next manager. And Cuff, going against Holland, was the only one on the council to speak of the regressive nature of a public service electric tax when the council considered it again in late 2018, which helped scuttle that proposal. Those are a few examples, one of which had significant public policy consequences, exemplified in workshop discussions, where much more debate takes place than during voting meetings, and where the council members’ more independent streaks are more evident, making the “lockstep” perception–perhaps a holdover from the pre-2016 era, when the council was truly somnolent but for Bill McGuire’s maverick streak–less than applicable. But presumably you have more specific examples that show their, not to mention Holland’s, shortcomings? The University of North Florida foothold in Town center is one of their touted achievements. Was that lockstep push unadvisable?
I’ll allow that Cuff has been more independent than Klufas and it’s a shame he’s the one not seeking a second term with that comparison in mind.
To return to the original question, the Facebook Page “Flagler County & Palm Coast Better Government Leadership” is the social media page for a PAC supporting (among others) Holland and Klufas. It touted the UNF news with this caption, “This is the beginning of diversifying our job base from 92% residential.” Should we really be touting something as the “beginning” of Holland and Klufas fulfilling a major campaign promise which won’t start until four years after they took office?
Similarly, Klufas recently released a campaign video which notably didn’t say a single thing about the city’s municipal fiber plan (easily the vast majority of what he ran on four years ago) and instead focused on things that I would wholeheartedly say are promises broken by both he and Holland—a continuous lighting plan which is barely a plan let alone fulfilled, a “citizen-centric government” which is just an app, added cell towers which still do not allow most citizens to get adequate cell coverage on major thoroughfares like Belle Terre, Colbert, Old Kings and even (for many carriers) Palm Coast Parkway.
If having a single bloc was supposed to get things done, why are so many things still in their infancy after four years while the major achievement of this council seems to be Palm Coast Connect?
11. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that contract, and tell us what specifically you would change about it. Are some areas of Palm Coast less effectively policed than others? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future?
I am in favor of the contract with Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and believe starting an entire city police force from scratch would be impossible with current economic/budget realities. I am encouraged by the publicly available data about law enforcement and falling crime in Palm Coast and committed to working closely with the Sheriff to maintain optimal levels of service in the most budget-friendly way possible.
However, I believe the City ignores lots of tried and true methods utilized by communities around the globe which could make our city safer in ways that don’t rely solely on enforcement. For instance, our first responders should not be the only people responding to mental health emergencies. Our neighborhoods have numerous areas where speeding is prevalent which could be made safer through better planning. Our issues with homelessness should be seen as an economic, not solely legal, problem. Working together with our partners at the Sheriff’s office, we need to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent on items that have the maximum impact.
12. Elected office is no stranger to bluster. Tell us about you as a person: your character, your temperament, your foibles. Tell us who do you admire most in office today among elected officials in Flagler County—the person you’d consider a model of leadership.
I’m first and foremost a work in progress. To quote the famous line from the musical, Hamilton, “I’m young, scrappy and hungry.” I’m aware my confidence and willingness to share my opinion can come off as arrogance, but I work hard to let the people around me know I truly care for them and to listen intently. I am a man of faith, and that faith informs me continually that I am not perfect. I make more than my share of mistakes, but do my best to learn from them and continually grow. I believe in having a servant’s heart and putting more into situations and connections than you’re expecting to get out of them.
I’ve appreciated getting to know both Don O’Brien and Jack Howell personally over the past few years—the two are polar opposites when it comes to temperament, but I’ve never questioned the integrity of either and I’ve always known where each stands simply by asking them. Both also seem continually willing to grow their knowledge in pursuit of serving their community better and always put people first. Our area would be infinitely better off with more elected officials in that mold.
While we appreciate any literary reference in this kardashianly philistine age, Hamilton was a bit of a Caesar (he chose that pseudonym for himself before his Federalist “Publius”) who was not above treasonous dealings, loved scurrilous personal attacks–it got him killed–and was among the least democratic of our founders: can you reassure us a bit on that score, given your own admission to sometimes coming off as arrogant? And can you address the city’s now quite public (and more specifically, Morton’s) allegation that you had issues with women employees at the city? Do certain people perceive you differently than you are?
I mean, the words I quoted weren’t actually a quote from Alexander Hamilton himself but written by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the musical but I’ll still play along! I believe I addressed much of the follow-up question in the original answer, but I’ll say that I have far too big of a history in living, working and volunteering in this community to let myself be defined by a spurious allegation which was only leveled against me to distract from documented evidence maleficence by Holland.
Did people disagree with me while I worked at City Hall? Absolutely, and it’s more than possible I annoyed some of them during the process, but I have an increasing number of friends and supporters who are both current and former employees and I was known just as much for writing thank you notes and bringing baked goods as well as consistently going out of my way to ensure that my small division was working hard to assist other departments in meeting their goals.
13. Should you be held to account for what you display on your social media pages any differently than for what you would say anywhere public? Do you have different standards of behavior between the way you’d conduct yourself as an elected official—in a meeting, at an official function—as opposed to on your social media platforms?
Yes, we should absolutely be held to account for our social media activities. Those holding a public trust must prove faithful—whether on the dais or anywhere else.
14. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies, or faced any investigative or disciplinary action through a professional board such as the bar or a medical board? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.