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Local Governments Agree To a Therapist To Cut Through Economic Dysfunction

| January 31, 2011

County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson, in the light bluie shirt, conferring with County Manager Craig Coffey before Monday's intergovernmental meeting at the county's Emergency Operations Center. (© FlaglerLive)

The unexpected did not grace an economic development gathering of Flagler County’s local governments under the makeshift gavel of County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson this evening. (For a minute-by-minute account of the summit, read the archived live coverage here.)

After 137 minutes of presentations by the county, the school board, each city, the chambers of commerce and Enterprise Flagler, plus speeches by a few members of the audience and some elected officials and a few pleas for a breakthrough—including by an unemployed man—the only common ground the summit produced was agreement to meet again for a longer summit. With one difference: the next summit is to be mediated by an independent “facilitator” unaffiliated either with the chambers of commerce or any single private business, but paid for by the County Commission. In other words, elected officials are turning over the job to a professional therapist who can cut through the dysfunction and disunion.

And it will again include all local government representatives, not delegates.

“We are either open for business, or we don’t have our act together,” Colleen Conklin, a school board member, told the group, herself acting the facilitator at that point, almost two hours into the meeting. “You need an outside facilitator.” Conklin’s proposal to turn over the next summit and the facilitator’s job to the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, however, was shot down rather swiftly, the chamber not being a disinterested party in the deal.

By turning the management of their next meeting to a facilitator (a suggestion first floated by County Commissioner Barbara Revels weeks ago), the local governments were conceding that no single leader among them, and no single government, could mediate the process or explore possibilities of agreement between governments. That’s not unusual when politics and deep disagreements are in play. And both are very much in play. The elected officials didn’t find that out Monday evening. Separately, they suspected or knew it was the case: they read the news, they hear each other talk. Even the county commission was rife with disagreements, and the Palm Coast City Council was clearer about what it did not want to do than about what it was willing to do differently. Monday’s meeting validated those suspicions, certifying that if local government leaders are serious about developing a plan, they have to look beyond themselves.

Enter the facilitator.

The meeting also confirmed where those disagreements are. First, there is no single, strategic plan anyone agrees on, even as every single elected official agrees that something must be done to foster more economic activity. Should Flagler County market itself more to out-of-state companies? Should it invest more in existing local businesses? If it did so, would it help a local business to have more employees if consumers aren’t ready to buy, and visitors aren’t visiting in large enough numbers to sustain increased economic activity? If it’s about recruiting, who would do the recruiting, and with what incentives? Should Flagler build more infrastructure? Further develop its eco-tourism? Should Flagler re-brand itself according to a new, or at least better defined, identity?

None of those questions was answered Monday evening, and none is about to be, even as the county put forward its structural plan on how whatever strategy was adopted would be administered. But there’s no agreement on that, either.

The county itself appears in general agreement over structuring an economic development organization that would draw representatives from each government and from business, and would be funded by a new sales tax. Bunnell is going along with that plan, but only if it has an equal seat at the table—not a voice proportional to its population. Palm Coast is categorically opposed to the plan. So is Flagler Beach. Also, neither of those cities supports a new tax, though it wouldn’t be up to them to decide to levy one. That would be the county commission’s job, which can do so two ways: either by a super-majority vote (of at least four commissioners) or by placing the proposal on a popular referendum.

The super majority proposal might as well be dead for now: County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson and commissioners Barbara Revels and Milissa Holland don’t favor it anymore than a majority of elected representatives do (including Beverly Beach’s mayor, though that city’s commissioners haven’t yet hashed out anything related to economic development plans). At most, there’s agreement that if a tax must be imposed, it should first get the electorate’s approval.

County commissioners and the county administration will draw up a list of potential facilitators and foot the bill (think a few thousand dollars). The list would be circulated among local governments to win agreement on a facilitator before moving to the actual summit, which would last a day or two (officials, whose impatience could be glimpsed—or heard through glum silences—Monday evening, are unlikely to agree to a two-day summit). Peterson hopes to have those matters settled within 30 days.

But don’t expect the next summit to take place before early spring. Nor will the next summit necessarily settle fundamental differences, as much as settle on a few areas of common ground—two vastly different things that mean any vision of a comprehensive, county-wide economic development plan remains more wishful than credible for now.

And it does so because the two largest entities in the county—the Flagler County Commission and the Palm Coast City Council—might as well be West Side Story’s Jets and Sharks, minus the Shakespearean love angle.

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9 Responses for “Local Governments Agree To a Therapist To Cut Through Economic Dysfunction”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Sounds like Bubba Clinton saying, doing something is better than doing nothing.

    He was wrong then and they’re wrong now. I suggest everyone at that meeting drive around the county and check out the decayed condition of empty store fronts, strip malls, offices, houses and condos so they can see what their meddling handiwork has wrought so far.

    The European Village development looks like its namesake, rusty, dusty and empty with the parking lot a football field away from the entrance. Who designed that? The confusing access to the newly named Marketplace ditto. Palm Coast officials okayed that design too. Too cute by far.

    They don’t need to spend money on a facilitator. Do any of them even know what facilitate means? They need to face reality. No matter how much noodling they do, there is nothing they can do now that they’ve dug themselves into a deep ditch except to stop digging.

  2. Layla Hansen says:

    Palm Coast was built as a retirement and resort destination, period. Those of us who moved to Palm Coast and Flagler Beach are NOT interested in developing a high tech corridor here. We moved here for the unspoiled beauty.

    Leave us alone, please.

  3. sue says:

    Don’t you think the time to voice your retirement opinion was when Palm Coast & Flagler Beach hopped on the housing boom and allowed thousands of homes to be built for young families with children. The concept of a retirement community went out the window.
    Now lets face the reality. This is no longer a retirement community. Have you seen how much we have spent on new schools and additions in the last 5 yrs?
    Its time for the retirement community to look out the window and see the reality. If you don’t get on board all you’ll see out your pretty windows are vacant unkept homes, closed business and such…
    If Palm Coast or Flagler Beach no longer suits you go further south for that retirement vibe.
    The facts are clear we are not a retirment community. retirement is the minority now.

  4. JMILLER@YAHOO.COM says:

    if your looking for a retirement community you ddn’t do your homework!
    move to the villages…..

  5. mare says:

    If they are serious about shrinking the budget they might consider an across the board cut in salaries like the rest of us in private enterprise have had to endure. How about a 20% pay cut for all city and county employees? Maybe we should start there. What ever happened to city officials “serving the taxpayers,” it seems like they really are serving themselves via money or ego.
    Oh, one last thing, I hope they don’t build another building in this county until they fill up what’s already for sale or rent. They’d be hurting those of us that are desperately trying to rent or sell our existing properties by competing with the local real estate economy.
    We need to live within our means and within our budgets until we can figure out how to get a sustainable economy.

  6. Flagler County Homesteader says:

    One representative from each of the local governments in one room with one pot of coffee, all have an equal voice majority decision goes. Lets make a decision! Lets get something done! Time is money wasted! Governments are failing to step it up when the community needs help. Layla’s retirement wishes will come true, Families are moving to where there is hope for a secure future. Businesses are disappearing. Flagler is not a place to strive and raise a family at this time. I think our elected officials need to show us that they are for or against economic growth so families and businesses can either stay or move on.

  7. Flagler County Homesteader says:

    Couldn’t have said it better Mare! I think its time for the private sector to bring it on hard!

  8. mare says:

    Considering we mostly have to drive 11/2 hours to an airport from here, we have no seaport, we have no train station, and we have no labor force with the medium age at 55. What exactly kind of economic development are we talking about.

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