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In Day of No-Shows, Latest Economic Summit Slouches Toward Enterprise Flagler

| May 13, 2011

They had better things to do. (© FlaglerLive)

By the time the latest countywide economic development summit—the fifth since January—disbanded after 2 p.m. Friday, less than half the original 65 participants were still around the table. About a third hadn’t showed up at all. The rest trickled out, little by little, as the day wore on, despite copious doses of self-congratulations and pom-pom-less cheerleading.

The principal questions that have dogged the summits and were their original motive—who’s going to lead the county’s economic development organization (if one is needed), what is it going to look like, who’s going to pay, what are they going to pay—remain largely unanswered. But the group may be getting closer to some answers, at least to questions re-calibrated to be more easily answered. That is, questions that skirt essential matters of politics and finance.

On Friday, the group agreed to hand over the responsibility of figuring out who will lead the economic development effort, and what it should look like, to Enterprise Flagler, the county’s public-private partnership. Two of Enterprise Flagler’s leading members—the banker Garry Lubi and County Commissioner Barbara Revels—conceded that the organization isn’t well perceived beyond its walls (“dysfunction,” is how John Walsh, the Palm Coast Observer publisher and marketing executive, summed it up). Luby and Revels disputed that perception, though not 24 hours earlier the dysfunction was on display during an Enterprise Flagler meeting.

When County Administrator Craig Coffey suggested that Enterprise Flagler lead the way to recommending who and what the leadership would be, pending the larger group’s approval, the assembly agreed—somewhat by default: an attempt to get SCORE, the business counseling organization, to lead the effort failed when SCORE’s executives balked, saying the county’s officials, private and public, should take ownership of their own initiative. Keep in mind: Enterprise Flagler won’t be deciding anything, merely recommending it.

Meanwhile, the five focus groups that have been meeting and developing five general economic development “strategies” and tactics, few of which would resonate with the general public, will continue to do so, honing what they’ve done so far, particularly in terms of cost and one of the day’s catch phrases: “return on investment.” The five groups’ bottom line cost attached to those strategies–a cost of more than $7 million over three years, a number conveniently in line with what a half-cent sales tax would generate–wasn’t discussed directly on Friday, as the assembly continued a pattern of evading the hardest questions. Rather, each group summed up its findings and projections of what eventually totaled a few thousand jobs to be created in the next three years, if their plan was adopted.

The speculative numbers were not put to any analytical test on Friday, but presumably will be in more committee meetings over the next 30 days. Those results would be submitted to yet another countywide summit in June, what will be the sixth, as will Enterprise Flagler’s key recommendations.

The meeting was held, as before, at the agricultural extension service, near the county fairgrounds. The meeting room emptied quickly as soon as it was over—indeed, it began emptying before Upton declared the meeting over, though he culled a few jazzed up sum-ups from a few participants as an optimistic send-off. “The meeting that we’ve had here today helped to unify our focus,” David Ottati, Florida Hospital Flagler’s CEO and the president of Enterprise Flagler, said.

“It seems like we have the same amorphous mass that we had when we started three months ago,” Art Barr, the developer and a guarded skeptic of the summit process, had said earlier in the day. By the time the meeting disbanded, he’d changed his mind, saying the focus on Enterprise Flagler was at least some recognition that the organization that ought to be in charge should take charge, if only to clarify the matter of leadership. (Barr’s quote was incorrectly transcribed in an earlier version of this story, with the word “mess” instead of “mass.” See Barr’s comment below.)

“Enterprise Flagler needs to be restructured,” County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson said in his sum-up, “but that may delay all of the things that we’ve done in the last two months.” So the restructuring will take a back seat to whatever refining of the summitry’s focus groups entails.

Optimism may be premature: the political groundwork of any of the efforts put forward is virtually non-existent, which means that much of the work risks being wasted as wish lists rather than as initiatives that have the backing of the various governments.

At the heart of the political paralysis is the matter of paying for it all. There’s little interest in new taxes, and outright opposition to new taxes for economic development from Palm Coast and Flagler Beach. That didn’t change on Friday, and isn’t likely to change as Palm Coast faces an election this year (the mayor’s and two council seats are up).

Absent a new source of money, the five summits’ talk since January—which have now added up to close  to 30 hours of talk, not counting committee meetings, and with more to come—may end up being just that.

Friday’s no-shows:

Alice Baker, Flagler Beach mayor
John Feind, chairman of the Flagler Beach City Commission
Steve Settle, Flagler Beach city commissioner
Jenny Crain-Brady, Bunnell city commissioner
John Rogers, Bunnell city commissioner
Elbert Tucker, Bunnell city commissioner
Armando Martinez, Bunnell city manager
Frank Meeker, Palm Coast city council member
Jim Netherton, Marineland mayor
Mike Chiumento, representing the Chamber of Commerce
Karen Radcliff, Flagler County Association of Realtors
Robbie Richmond, Flagler Homebuilders Association
David Lusby, Enterprise Flagler
Colleen Conklin, Flagler County School Board
Sue Dickinson, Flagler County School Board
John Fischer, Flagler County School Board
Mike Judd, Flagler County school district administration
James Ardell, Beverly Beach
Gerry Gersbach, Beverly Beach commissioner
Frank Gromling, Beverly Beach commissioner
Lance Berry, Beverly Beach
Ed Hess, Beverly Beach
Nancy Walsh, Beverly Beach
Jim Ulsamer, Flagler County representative

Donald O’Brien had originally been listed. He clarified: “Please be advised that I was never part of the appointed members of the summit. I did attend the initial meeting on behalf of the Chamber. I did this as a favor to Lea Stokes who was on vacation at the time.”

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12 Responses for “In Day of No-Shows, Latest Economic Summit Slouches Toward Enterprise Flagler”

  1. Joe says:

    “It seems like we have the same amorphous mess that we had when we started three months ago,”
    This statement says it all. more wasted time and tax dollars!!!

  2. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Gosh, you think Flagler Beach commissioners really are “getting” it. Saints be praised!

  3. Jojo says:

    I interpret the ‘no-shows” disinterest as a heavy handed statement. Could it mean – bla, bla, bla, bla.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    I am sorry that Commissioner Revels looks like instrumental in organizing the waste of money useless meetings. Otatti does not surprise me at all as he is a typical go getter for tax payers monies as even has being word around about creating a Flagler tax district, to tax us in favor of the Flagler Hospital as tax payers in Volusia are outrageously taxed (about over 200/year in a less than 100,000 home) for Halifax Hospital, so they can hold their lavish VIP’s parties congratulating themselves for further being allowed to bleed those county taxpayers pockets, while Halifax is very profitable. Their Las Vegas resort style structure adjacent to I95 sure shows it! from where the paragraph ;
    Of the three Volusia districts, the largest amount of property tax revenue goes to the state’s original independent hospital taxing district – Halifax Health;
    Halifax has the state’s second highest hospital district millage rate and it makes more money than any similarly sized public hospital in the state;
    •Halifax’s net assets increased by 80% from 2003 to 2005; and
    •Halifax spent $2 million on a television ad campaign and spends 1.1% of its budget on marketing, twice the percentage of hospitals nationwide.
    A subsequent article noted taxpayer dissatisfaction with the district’s spending of more than $350,000, without competitive bidding, to celebrate the groundbreaking for a 10-story patient tower.
    5 Anne Geggis, “Halifax hospital emergency.
    My question is; when a Hospital should need and expensive TV add campaign?
    If we approve Otatti a Flagler Hospital and Enterprise head ,to get away with this tax raising proposal in his favor, then will be no stop to their greed. So better our county commissioners stop this nonsense, the five of them, or they will go the way of Hutch, Kanbar and Abbott. Darby saved himself by throwing the towel before the “cream hit the fan” and Hanns still baffles me, by being reelected. Are some palmcoasters so gullible?

  5. SAW says:

    Another waste of time and taxpayer money, should have been a 100% no show, give it up !

  6. FlaglerResident says:

    I commend Palm Coast and Flagler Beach’s leadership efforts to work responsibly for economic growth opportunities without unjustly raising taxes. Several new programs have been implemented in recent weeks at Palm Coast, many of them well ahead of those being recommended by the economic summit committee. The city has absorbed the cost of these programs without raising taxes and I am certain the County’s budget has sufficient monies to accommodate many of the other programs recommended by the committee. Baby steps need to be the course of action as these are uncharted waters. I am certain everyone’s intentions are genuine, however, I have yet to find a community that raised its taxes for economic stimulus. Higher taxes not only burdens our local citezens but discourages outside interest in our existing inventory of vacant homes, commercial properties, and tourism. I hope the Palm Coast and Flagler Beach leadership remain strong in its conviction to no tax increases.

    If Enterprise Flagler is confident in the program it has submitted to the economoc summitt comittee and the return on the investment is as positive as it anticipates, then those cities/county wishing to invest in the program should utilize the assets the public has already invested in and either sell some of its surplus land or borrow money against the public assets in lieu of raisng taxes. This a typical business strategy that lessens the burden of the investment on its shareholders (tax payers). It also shows the shareholders (tax payers) responsible leadership as failure in such an investment would rest on the shoulders of the leadership first and unfortunately the shareholders second. This could be a win-win proposition as the county/city would gain the investment capital it desires to move forward with the economic stimulus plan and lessen the burden on the tax payer from having to pay higher taxes. If it all goes to hell we may end up with a little less surplus land, but no tax increase. Not all bad, if we lose the public land to the bank, it’ll have to pay real estate taxes! There are many other means by which monies can be induced into economic development, higher taxes should not be a consideration. However it pans out, at some point down the road the General Fund of each City/County needs to budget for the proper investing in our economic future.

    My shareholders have required a lean and mean approach to getting through these trying times, Government must take the same approach and utilize its assets for economic investing. Find the money within what the public has invested, we have no more to give. Raising taxes just means bigger government.

    Concerned Business Thinker

  7. Nancy Walsh says:

    Excuse me, but I WAS IN ATTENDANCE! Perhaps as a reporter you need to better confirm your facts before writing them. I was sitting with the Mayor of Beverly Beach, Commissioner McDonald and across from Joe Marotti, from SCORE.

    As for the summit, itself, I was pleased to see how it was all coming together. Honestly, at the first summit meeting I wasn’t optimistic. A great deal of work has been put into getting where we are today and I am hopeful that we will continue to move forward.

    Beverly Beach Commissioner

    Oh yes, in addition, Colleen Conklin is no longer part of the Flagler County School Board, so perhaps that is why she wasn’t in attendance. Once again, how about knowing the facts.

    • Flaglerlive says:

      Right Honorable Nancy dear, we go on what’s recorded more than what’s claimed, particularly when the claimant doesn’t know her facts from her conk shells. If you were in attendance, that’s great; you hadn’t signed in. As for Colleen Conklin not being part of the school board, that may be news to her. You might want to inform her of the “fact.” Where do you get your news? And how on earth do you call yourself a commissioner when you can’t keep straight who’s in office and who’s not on our single most important board, not to mention what your own commission stands for. Your commission, such as it is, and according to your own mayor, informed the last league of mayors’ meeting that Beverly Beach was out of the economic-development charade (as Beverly Beach’s rich non-attendance attests). Also Nancy dear, it’s not honest to write multiple comments saying the same thing while pretending to be different people. Particularly when you call yourself “Another Reader.” It’s what we call in journalism unethical, and what you might better understand as dishonest. You might want to brush up on either terms, foreign though they may be in much of our media landscape. So you might understand why your credibility may not rank terrifically high from this end of the observation tower. Incidentally, we have a column by Colleen Conklin coming out later today, and she’s identified as a Flagler County School Board member. You get first dibs on correcting us, and her, if you like.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    I can’t believe that the Beverly Beach voters had only this Nancy Walsh to elect and represent them. Her ignorance do not allow her to evaluate that an “elected by the people” hence constitutional officer can’t only be removed from office, if broke the law. No wonder then in this county we have these few in power wasting our hard earned contributions and their government administrators costly time also in useless and more Economic Development workshops that only have one cartel for the residents “pay and shut up” Where did she get this premium news about Colleen? Does she know she can be sued for libel by Conklin? Hope Nancy Walsh has “no relation” to John Walsh from the Observer. Does she or doesn’t? Because if yes then all here need to go back and read :

    Is Nancy Walsh related to John Walsh from the Observer, Flagler Chamber spokesman and advocate for this project? Yes or not?

  9. truthseeker says:


    John Walsh, of the Palm Coast Observer, is NOT related to Nancy Walsh, Town of Beverly Beach Commissioner, so you may dispatch of any conspiracy theories accordingly.

  10. Art Barr says:

    Close, but not quite! That was an ” amorphous mass ” not mess as you noted. And it referred to the diverse group of attendees. However, you were correct when you said I was encouraged at the end of the meeting when it was decided that Enterprise Flagler would remain as the administrative entity for economic development moving forward. I was also encouraged when it was acknowledged that we need to attempt to resolve the management structure as we move forward.

    Your making light of the whole process is certainly entertaining but sadly misses the reality of the difficulties we as a community face. It is not simple nor is it easy. To do nothing is to go backwards. The progressive collaborative and cooperative nature of the meetings is encouraging. It is nowhere near being complete but we are making progress. Stay tuned.

  11. palmcoaster says:

    Thank you Truthseeker for the clarification…I was just curious.
    I disagree with Art’s evaluation regarding “to do nothing” as was the opposite as for sure our locals governments have been very actively doing a lot, by paying all these years into Enterprise coffers and not getting our hard earned tax dollars worth from that entity. The problem is that our contributions are directed to just sustain a lot of red tape and high pay checks for little or nothing in return. There is no need of further $$ wasted in order to bring job creating small businesses to relocate here.
    Most of the 9,000 business seating in this county that employ our local workers, relocated/opened here paying their own way and with no tax benefits, breaks, incentives etc. etc. Those are the existing businesses that are not asked their opinion and misrepresented by the 1% that are Chamber Members. The rest of us bare the brunt of decisions and tax increases pressure for a mirage economic development that won’t materialize, no matter what the bleeding of our pockets. There is a close neat group of some professionals in this county that as you do, cheer for this project. Goals..? are only special interest to fulfill.

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