Overflow Crowd at a Wonkish Forum for 7 Palm Coast City Council Candidates
FlaglerLive | August 23, 2011
There was no apathy here.
At the Hilton Garden Inn’s conference room this evening, every chair was filled, spectators stood along the walls, spilled a bit into hallways, and zeroed in on the three candidates for Palm Coast mayor–Incumbent Jon Netts, challengers Charlie Ericksen and Joe Cunnane–and four candidates for two seats on the council: Bill McGuire Challenging Holsey Moorman, and Jason DeLorenzo running against Dennis Ross for the open seat being vacated by Mary DiStefano.
The forum, organized by the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, the Flagler Homebuilders Association and the Flagler County Association of Realtors, drew 168 people at the Hilton’s conference room, some of whom gave the candidates a standing ovation when it was over.
The event, broadcast live on WNZF and moderated by David Ayres, was helpfully preceded by cocktail hour. The forum itself was compelling, but not exciting. Except for Cunnane, the least serious of the candidates and the most relaxed, the panel–seated shoulder to shoulder along a white-clothed set of tables–was earnest, humorless, and at times technical enough to sound like the replica of human resources workshop.
The questions were straightforward, eliciting answers on economic development, the city’s business friendliness (which got middle to good marks from the four candidates asked about it), staff and managerial salaries, infrastructure, city hall, Palm Coast’s water desalination project, Palm Coast’s code enforcement policies: the questions may have been policy wonks’ dream, but they were not the sort of question that, in themselves offered much insight into what separated the candidates from each other.
On almost every count, the candidates more or less agreed that the city could become more business friendly but has been doing a good job getting there anyway (the city’s new Business Assistance Center was on every candidate’s approving lips). Holding employees, including the manager, accountable for their salaries is a good idea, though–with the exception of Cunnane–there was little desire to be critical of City Manager Jim Landon, and, though the manager remained nameless in their assessments, praise from the incumbents for what’s been accomplished on his watch (though Moorman and Netts did their best to take credit for those accomplishments). There was no disagreement over shifting sales tax dollars from repaving to stormwater improvements. And even on desalination and a new city hall, the candidates agreed this is not the time. That agreement included Netts, who is a past champion of both, though he maintains that desalination will be in Palm Coast’s future at some point.
Answers to the questions were not as telling as the way the candidates answered them: Netts seemed as comfortable on his candidate seat as he is in his mayor’s seat, deconstructing questions with long, discursive answers that at times require a guide map to follow, though he always knows his destination. Ericksen was more stiff, displaying none of his dry humor and appearing once or twice at a loss for words, though reading from a statement, he closed on a challenge to the mayor and the city manager: “Right now Palm Coast needs an experienced administrator-mayor to lead the city council. I bring a new set of eyes and problem-solving skills to challenge existing problem areas.”
DeLorenzo drew on his many memberships on local boards or committees to differentiate himself from Cross, a retiree with business experience. DeLorenzo alone mentioned his age: 40, making him by far the youngest in a field of retirees. McGuire repeatedly drew on his history as a cost-cutting manager for large companies who’s eager to do the same for Palm Coast, contrasting himself with the more laid back Moorman, who described himself as having “enjoyed serving the people, because all of my adult life, I have served.”
Below is a blow-by-blow account of tonight’s forum, transcribed as it was happening.