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Taking Note of Flagler, Gov. Rick Scott Speaks Economics and Listens to Local Leaders

| August 29, 2011

Gov. Rick Scott with Florida Hospital Flagler CEO David Ottati, center, and Sen. John Thrasher, at this morning's breakfast meeting with local leaders. (FlaglerLive)

He was early: Gov. Rick Scott appeared at the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce in Palm Coast this morning almost 15 minutes ahead of his 8 a.m. breakfast meeting with local business leaders and politicians, giving him plenty of time to get acquainted with the 16 faces around the table–all but four of them local government officials.

When the group sat down to breakfast–eggs and bacon, which Scott skipped: he spoke and took notes on a white, lined legal pad when others spoke–the governor briefed the assembly on the Legislature’s achievements in its last go-around, and what he expects of the coming session. He cited the end of teacher tenure and the expansion of charter schools among his (and the Legislature’s) biggest achievements, along with bucking the nation’s trend on jobs: the state’s creation of 65,000 jobs in the past year, he said, places Florida in second place behind Texas in job creation.

Texas envy was a recurring theme in the governor’s hour here: he referred to the state, almost longingly, several times, as a place where government regulation is low and where, compared to Florida, permitting issues are not a problem. (Scott used to live in Texas.)

Scott’s three goals in the coming session: more focus on education (his administration is studying ways to revamp higher education along Texas’s model, where universities are being required to operate more like businesses), keeping taxes “fair,” ensuring against “frivolous lawsuits,” and maintaining Florida’s cost of living low.

Local leaders spoke in turn of their respective concerns: Alan Peterson, the county commission chairman, asked about the state’s budget health and its rainy day fund, Jon Netts, the Palm Coast mayor, thanked the governor for visiting but also reminded him that “one size does not fit all” in Florida’s 67 different districts, and John Feind, the Flagler Beach commission chairman, brought up his city’s concerns over the state Department of Transportation’s proposed seawall along certain areas of the beach. The city isn’t opposed to a seawall per se, Feind said, but only if other options are exhausted.

The governor appeared comfortable, spoke at his usual rapid clip and appeared to write down the names of those who addressed him as well as their comments. The seating arrangement told its own story: Doug Baxter, the chamber president, sat to the governor’s right, Jim Landon, the Palm Coast city manager, sat at the other head of the table, while Netts, sat two seats down from the governor, on the left, next to Sen. John Thrasher.

Scott Uncut: The Governor’s 72 Minutes at the Chamber
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Matters got quite precise in some cases. For example, Netts and Frank Meeker, the Palm Coast city councilman, raised the issue of water permitting in Palm Coast: they have a 20-year “consumptive use permit” that the St. Johns River Water Management District just approved, expanding Palm Coast’s daily water draws from wells to just over 11 million gallons per day (the city uses 7.7 million gallons). But to enable growth in the future, Netts said, the 20-year permit should itself have more room for growth. Scott said he’d enable a meeting with agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection to ease permitting strictness.

At one point, when Sea Ray Boats CEO Craig Wall mentioned the disparities in regulatory approaches from the state, depending on the district (Sea Ray has a plant in Palm Coast and elsewhere further south in the state), Scott offered up his office’s direct phone line, or at least his assistant’s, Diane Moulton, and said “I’ll get the right person to get involved and try to solve it.”

“If you all have any ideas,” Scott said, “you’ve got to tell us.”

“Tourism tax is a big concern,” Craig Coffey, the county administrator, told the governor, referring to the ongoing challenge of on-line booking agencies not paying TDC taxes. As Coutny Spokesman Carl Laundrie later explained, Flagler County “joined in with 10 other Florida Counties including St.Johns and filed court action in the Second Judicial Circuit (Leon County) against Expedia and eight other on line companies. What is going on is local and in state booking companies are required to impose the local TDC tax, but online companies don’t. The problem is the state agency responsible – the Department of Revenue – has not taken a stance on the issue.” (An earlier version of this story incorrectly linked Coffey’s comment to a movement against county-levied tourism taxes. There is no such movement afoot.)

Andy Dance, the school board member, invited the governor to spend one of his monthly “working days” (when Scott takes up a job in any of the state’s various industries and services for a few hours) as a teacher in Flagler County. Dance also challenged Scott: “If you’re sincere,” Dance told him, about looking into burdensome matters to local governments, Dance offered to draw up a list of unfunded mandates–state requirements that cost local government money, but are imposed without state aid–to illustrate those burdens. Scott invited Dance to draw up just such a list. Dance also asked Scott whether the state would be applying for waivers to No Child Left Behind, the federal law. The state would be, Scott said, even though it’s been among the most compliant with the law.

Toward the end of the meeting Landon raised the matter of infrastructure for Palm Coast, recalling how ITT built “the least expensive infrastructure that they could,” with a 30-year life-span. Those 30 years are up. Landon encouraged the governor to continue to make infrastructure a priority–not just highways and interchanges, but broadband, too.

Baxter toward the end of the meeting raised the matter of the west side’s 58,000 acres of pine trees in the state, its cabbage and potato growers, and had Greg Rawls, the outgoing director of Enterprise Flagler, put in a plug for the county’s attempt to bring “value-added” products in line with those agricultural resources. Rawls suggested to the governor to have a local ombudsman who’d be a liaison between the state’s economic development initiatives and those at the local level.

“I want everybody to understand the differences in our counties,” Scott said (citing differences between fee and permitting structures, for example.)

“You all have my telephone number, so call,” Scott said. The phone number: (850) 488-5603.

The meeting ended at 9:16, so Scott could hold a brief press conference and go to Florida Hospital Flagler nearby.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Netts said after the meeting, as the governor was across the room, speaking to reporters. Then Netts modulated the judgment: “We’re seeing some changes. I empathize. He’s got the problem that every government leader’s got: finite resources, infinite requests.”

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14 Responses for “Taking Note of Flagler, Gov. Rick Scott Speaks Economics and Listens to Local Leaders”

  1. Michael Murphy says:

    Counties should not be allowed to levy tourist taxes.The fact is they abuse them example giving a privately owned company $150.000 to build a marina at marine land,please explain to me how this will bring tourist into motel/hotel rooms.Please remember the tourist dollar also called bed tax is generated by motel/hotels.
    Recently raised to hire another tourist employee,Please explain to me what the tousism board really does for us except to take credit for things they had nothing to do with. My daily rant……

  2. Lucine says:

    Scott…as a teacher??? WAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAAAAA!!!!!!

    Maybe he would think twice about destroying public school education if he took up Mr. Dance on the offer.

    All Scott can do is…well…nothing!

  3. says:

    all the educated leaders and still problems in our communities. all that meeting was a way to network with each other for their own agendas.i have more faith in my jack russell coming to my rescue. faith and trust in people like that at the meeting are at a single digit level.

  4. Merrill says:

    Is this true, FlaglerLive? Did Florida add 65,000 jobs, second only to Texas?

  5. Val Jaffee says:

    Why do people insist on calling Scott an idiot? If all the idiots in this country were as smart as this guy, we’ll all be living the happily ever after too! So please sign me up for the same stupidity classes. I see that one of his daughters is an ESE teacher, he’s been married for 39 years, was in the Navy, went to public school, and he has Bill Gates advising him on education reform. His education reform works for me! The rest of his agenda does not.

    …”Dance offered to draw up a list of unfunded mandates–state requirements that cost local government money, but are imposed without state aid–to illustrate those burdens.”…

    Mr Dance can you make the list public so that citizens are made aware of these ‘unfunded manadates’ which will help us understand the workings of this school district.

    I am not against paying higher taxes, I am against how my tax dollars are spent.

  6. rickg says:

    I take exception Lucine… Scott can do something. He orchestrated a huge medicare and medicaid scam that paid off nicely for himself.

  7. PJ says:

    Ok weither you like him or not at least he shows here from time to time. Maybe it will pay off in the long run. The only bad part of the meeting is that he sat next to chump one and chump two. Landon and netts.. I’m sure they really educated our Gov. Scott with their dazzling BS.

    They should have sat the regular folks next to him. Oh yea I guess they did?

  8. Gerard D says:

    Scott, Ottai, Thrasher, Meeker, Netts, Baxter, Landon, Peterson, Feind, Wall, Coffey & Dance. Sounds like only Republicans were invited…oh wait, its Doug Baxter and the Chamber, go figure.

    Great job Mr Dance on the challenge an the list; make sure that list goes public and Ms Conklin has input on it too like I know she will.

  9. Trudi says:

    Only Republicans? Only men?

  10. palmcoaster says:

    Typical conservative agenda….The wronfully elected and the local elite and special interest representatives only. Sure he did not put a foot on our schools.

  11. Riley says:

    Republicans in charge of our state and city………………there in lies the problem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Riley says:

    The caption under the picture should read, I really feed them a line of crap.

  13. Layla says:

    You’ve got a Mayor’s election going on, the first opportunity to break the ties between the Chamber, the builders and the politicians here in Palm Coast.

    I just spent 2 hours volunteering to pass out literature at the Library to the voters. In 2 hours, only about 15 to 20 people came to vote. The rest were on their way to the Library, didn’t know there was an election going on, or didn’t plan to vote because they “don’t follow this stuff.”

    What are any of you doing about this, other than complaining? That is not an attack, I could not be more serious.

    There are some wonderful comments on this site about the problems in this city but NONE OF IT does any good if you can’t get them to show up and vote.

    Low turnout usually favors incumbents and means more of the same old bull.

    They simply are not interested enough to care or to vote.

  14. tulip says:

    And those people that “don’t follow that stuff” will be the first and most aggressive complainers when the election didn’t turn out to their liking.

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