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Creekside Festival Slyness: How the Chamber Discriminates Against Non-Party Candidates

| September 19, 2011

They can have a booth. So can Republicans. Independents can't, by order of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. So far, the county commission is allowing the exclusion, though it's taking place on public ground.
(© FlaglerLive)

See a Monday update at the foot of the article.

The Flagler County Commission is trying to arbitrate what has all the appearances of sneaky politicking on public grounds by the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce at the upcoming Creekside Festival on Oct. 8 and 9. The commission punted on Monday evening, opting to wait before making a decision even as two of its members declared themselves very uncomfortable with what the chamber calls “policy,” and what two political candidates are calling outright discrimination in favor of the chamber’s own favored candidate.

The Creekside Festival at the Princess Place Preserve drew some 17,000 people last year. It’s a great place to see and be seen, particularly by politicians. The festival did wonders for Milissa Holland’s name recognition when she first ran for the county commission and worked hard to differentiate herself from her father, Jim, who’d been a Palm Coast city councilman. She had a booth at the festival.

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The festival is run by the chamber. The county is intimately involved. It helps plan the event and coordinates its logistics. The county collects rental fees. It also collects 25 percent of festival revenue, which includes a per-car entry fee ($3 last year) and revenue from vendor sales and the rental of booths to dozens of organizations or merchants. The money helps supplement Princess Place’s budget.

The Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Tea Party will each have a booth at the festival.

Dennis Cross and Bill McGuire are running in the Palm Coast city election set for Nov. 8. It’s a non-partisan election. They’re running under the No Party Affiliation banner, or NPA. (Independents are the fastest-growing voting registrants of the past dozen years or so.) They each applied for a booth and were ready to pay the fee.

Doug Baxter, the chamber president, told them they couldn’t have a booth.

They could visit the festival. They could sit under one of the other parties’ tents. They could walk around and talk to people. But they could not distribute literature, as political candidates like to do.

McGuire is running against Holsey Moorman for the District 1 seat. Moorman is a Democrat whose volunteers have used Democratic Party booths at other events to campaign for him. Cross is running against Jason DeLorenzo for the District 3 seat. DeLorenzo is a also Democrat whose volunteers have done the same.

One more thing. DeLorenzo is married to Rebecca DeLorenzo, one of his most hard-working volunteers—and the vice president of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce.

To Cross, whose candidacy was already almost railroaded once by Palm Coast’s redistricting process, and McGuire, think something stinks at the Creekside Festival: that the chamber is using its muscle and thinly veiled claim to be unaffiliated with any candidates to push at least one candidate in particular, if not two. Cross and McGuire took their case to the Flagler County Commission Tuesday evening (McGuire, who’s in St. Louis, did so by way of his campaign manager, John Ruffalo).

“The Chamber of Commerce staff has a right to support any candidate they want. They do not have a right to deny me an equal opportunity to meet voters and listen to their concerns,” Cross told the commission. “The policy must be for all or none.”

Dennis Cross, left, and Jason DeLorenzo. (© FlaglerLive)

Ruffalo, speaking for McGuire, noted—as did Cross—the dismal showing at the polls in last week’s mayoral election in Palm Coast, when less than 11 percent of registered voters cast a ballot—the worst turnout in Palm Coast’s dozen-year history. “You elected Commissioners especially know that enabling registered voters to personally meet and chat with candidates is a great way to substantially increase voter turnout,” Ruffalo said. Clearly Palm Coast has a non-partisan government so voters will be encouraged to forget political parties and vote for the candidates they deem best suited to represent them. Bill and Dennis will equally represent all independent, republican and democrat residents. In fact Bill McGuire’s campaign stresses that before voting, he always will ask “How is that best for all our residents.” (See the Ruffalo-McGuire statement in full below.)

McGuire didn’t buy the argument, put forth by Baxter, that space was limited in a 1,450-acre spread, or that the county had no say in the matter. “By more-than-coincidence, getting away with this insult to all local residents, including Chamber members, this “unwritten Chamber law” will substantially benefit the candidate husband of the Executive Vice President of the Flagler Chamber of Commerce.”

Then it was Baxter’s turn. “The Creekside festival is a festival for families, for arts and crafts, and not for politicians. We have allowed the three—the tea party, the Democrats and the Republicans because they are non-profit organizations to have a booth out there. We do have limited space based on electricity and requirements of bathrooms out there. We are trying not to make the Creekside Festival a campaign venue.” He added: “We do not want to get in a situation where people are saying things about the Chamber that are untrue.”

But the chamber’s own application of its policy invites questions. Last year, it was difficult to make it into the festival grounds, or look around the festival, without seeing signs shilling for the defeat of Amendment 4, the so-called “hometown democracy” amendment that would have made it more difficult for local developers to win major land-use changes—and that the chamber opposed. The school board also had a booth to push its own tax-renewal initiative, as did the political parties.

Peterson’s claim that the county cannot get in the way of a private organization’s policies also raises questions by way of Peterson’s own qualifiers. The county cannot get in the way, Peterson said, as long as those policies “conform to all the county rules and regulations and don’t violate any other rules that might be state or federally required.” County rules forbid discrimination. And the federal rule in effect on public grounds in this case is the First Amendment, which has no greater application than in relation to political speech: when it is granted to some according to a certain standard—whether by booth, by tent or by megaphone—is cannot in any way be denied to others. If policies are written to that effect, the policies are in violation of the amendment.

McLaughlin made the point. “I’m a little uneasy with restricting political speech,” he said. “This is not like a church group rents Wadsworth Park and there’s an expectation that it’ll be limited to that church group. It’s not necessarily a public event, so they can go in, they can have prayer, they can have whatever symbols they need and they can do their thing. Now this event, on the other hand, is an event that the chamber in essence is renting Princess Place, but they are inviting the public to their event. It’s an open, public event. Am I right so far? Ok.” After a brief exchange clarifying the county’s involvement and cash take from the event, he added: “So here’s the rub. We’re getting a little something off that. We’re inviting the public. […] I’m a little uneasy with saying, you can all come but you can’t say whatever you want to say, and I’m a little uneasy about that.”

Commissioners Revels and Holland pointed out that the chamber’s policy is also contradictory. Baxter claims not to want families accosted by political campaigners. But denying candidates a booth of their own essentially forces them to walk the park, accosting others (albeit without literature, making verbal buttonholing even more likely) instead of having them sit in a booth, letting people come to them.

“So why don’t you create the ability to have one more booth that’s NPA?” Revels said, using the acronym for non-party affiliation. “And anybody can go there that wants to.”

“I’ve discussed it with staff,” Baxter said, “I’ve discussed it with the chairman of the board, and none of us want to do that.”

“I’m not comfortable with that. I don’t know that we can do that,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin and Holland supported Revels’ idea of having a non-party affiliation booth in the mix, but the commission, with Peterson on the others side and Commissioner George Hanns not making it clear where he stood, decided to delay a decision, essentially letting the chamber know that a majority of its members are uncomfortable with matters as they stand, and giving the chamber an opening to compromise.

Sept. 20 Update: Palm Coast City Council member Mary DiStefano this morning asked the council to send a letter to Doug Baxter and the Chamber of Commerce requesting that a non-party booth be added to the mix at the Creekside Festival. DiStefano spoke in strong terms against the prohibition in place preventing non-partisan candidates from having their own booth.

DeLorenzo on Monday said he had no objections to Cross and McGuire campaigning in any capacity at the festival, though he himself would be there not as a campaigner, but on the clock for the Home Builders Association, which is hosting another Green Expo at Creekside, as it did last year. “I understand where the policy was born out of because of the extraordinary number of candidates in 2008,” DeLorenzo said of the chamber’s policy on campaigners, “and I don’t think it went further than that. I don’t know why they would have even needed to think about it.” DeLorenzo conceded that the enactment of the same policy, in light of this year’s circumstances, may have lacked foresight.

John Ruffalo is the campaign manager for Bill McGuire, a candidate for District 1 in the Palm Coast City Council election on Nov. 8. McGuire is running against Holsey Moorman. The election is non-partisan. McGuire was in St. Louis Monday evening. Ruffalo delivered the following remarks to the Flagler County Commission. The remarks are unedited.

I am John Ruffalo from Palm Coast. I’m also Bill McGuire’s campaign manager. Since Bill had to be up north this week, I’m representing him.

We all know voter turnout for Palm Coast’s mayoral election was awful. You elected Commissioners especially know that enabling registered voters to personally meet and chat with candidates is a great way to substantially increase voter turnout.

Creekside Festival at our Princess Place will be held just weeks before non-partisan early voting starts for two of Palm Coast’s Council positions. So non-partisan candidates Dennis Cross and Bill McGuire did the obvious and paid to jointly rent a booth space where they plan to meet-and-greet Palm Coast residents as non-partisan candidates. Each will occupy half of the space, but will share a banner with words like: Meet Non-Partisan City Council Candidates.

Bill McGuire, left, and Holsey Moorman. (© FlaglerLive)

Clearly Palm Coast has a non-partisan government so voters will be encouraged to forget political parties and vote for the candidates they deem best suited to represent them. Bill and Dennis will equally represent all independent, republican and democrat residents. In fact Bill McGuire’s campaign stresses that before voting, he always will ask “How is that best for ALL our residents.”

Palm Coast became a City before Creekside Festival was started. So it should be no surprise to Chamber officers that City of Palm Coast candidates run for election as non-partisan.

How then is it logical that Chamber officers now claim they have an un-written law that non-partisan candidates for a non-partisan Palm Coast election are not welcome to meet potential voters – - unless they proclaim allegiance to a political party? With 1,450 acres there certainly is space for one or a dozen more booths.

The Chamber’s intent has to be to hurt Palm Coast’s non-partisan election format, at the same time it works to reduce voter turn-out to a non-partisan election.
Bill McGuire strongly asks: How is that best for ALL our citizens?

By more-than-coincidence, getting away with this insult to all local residents, including Chamber members, this “unwritten Chamber law” will substantially benefit the candidate husband of the Executive Vice President of the Flagler Chamber of Commerce.

Commissioners, you rented Princess Place to the Chamber evidently without approving all the rules they might selectively insist on. Please at least express your individual feelings about “How is that BEST for all of our citizens?” Thank you.

That was from Bill McGuire. Personally speaking, in football terms, what the Chamber of Commerce is doing is known as home cookin’. Thank you.

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76 Responses for “Creekside Festival Slyness: How the Chamber Discriminates Against Non-Party Candidates”

  1. Sarah White says:


    Thank you for your insightful, intellengent summary of the situation!!! It is so refreshing!


    Thank you for your excellent observations of this “debate”.


  2. palmcoaster says:

    BOCC from now on, should engage the volunteers and staff of the Agricultural Museum and the Princess Place Preserve to organize and manage the Creek Side Festival. We are still waiting for BOCC stand on this issue. These dedicated volunteers and the staff of the Agricultural Museum are the best professionals to manage this successful event and will further benefit from the additional revenue percentage that Chamber keeps now. If they need additional help I know that the staff and volunteers from the Flagler Beach Museum and also the Palm Coast Historical Society will be delighted to give a helping hand for beneficial exposure and maybe free booth for the help.
    Mr. Caroe suggestion that each running candidate from any political party or affiliation on any election should have a designated same area location for booths and away from the music, art displays, food stands etc. is correct. .Also all amendments to be voted by referendum pro/ con should have equal right to display signs and/or literature, on the event. If one allowed , all should as well, as the site is public land.


  3. Ralph says:

    Sarah, what I meant was I think your candidates should have their booth. It is the only time some of us will see them.

    Two guys in a booth are a threat to so many people? Puzzling to me.


  4. palmcoaster says:

    @Ralph…this is why we the citizens oppose the use of our public land as discrimination tool by this local Chamber (FCCOC). Their decision will favor their only one candidate DeLorenzo. BOCC needs to cancel the lease of our public land for this private business organization and give it instead to the Agricultural Museum, Princess Place, Flagler Beach Museum and Palm Coast Historical Society staff and volunteers to organize and manage. This event held until now, by the Chamber from the start has been utilized as tool to covertly support who ever they wanted to seat in office or any referendum they wanted to pass just few weeks short of any election. BOCC mute is very intimly and we need their in mediate vote against this FCCOC bias stand.
    Specially you a new comer that we welcome, should be aware that these commissioners just have voted to raise our taxes and this year a house appraised at 125,000 if homesteaded with this increase instead of paying $415 will pay $466. $49 more for the county alone. My house will pay 2 1/2 times more than that, given the appraisers value. How many residents with children we have living of an unemployment check of maybe about $1,000/month? How many retirees with even less than that have to get by?
    Meanwhile county decides all alone to waste even more money on superfluous non working Economic Development as citizen Toby Tobin Observer Contributing Writer correctly describe it 9/22/2011 the so much rumored arrival of a Cotsco in this county is (as reliable) as local politician’s promises to do something about economic development. Really sad to see how recently elected commissioner Nate McLaughlin as been already snatched by the powers that be. BOCC already hired Rawls, County Manager Coffey’s friend for a salary of between 64,000 to over 97,000 for one year and a total budget of $400,000 plus at least, to bring the same blunders we seeing so far. Before this $400,000 were shared between PC and County now is footed by county alone. One way or the other BOCC stick it to us same useless organization called before Enterprise Flagler with a different name now but still in our pockets. One more reason for our homes tax increases. Maybe some of the above will move you and the other residents to come out and vote?


  5. Ralph says:

    Oh I vote. And it likely will not be for this delorenzo fellow. I don’t like dirty politics. This is the first place I’ve lived where elections are so quiet. And this one looks rigged.

    From what I am reading here, I am guessing that is intentional?

    You invite the political parties but not the candidates? Not hard to see what’s up.


  6. Nick D says:

    I need to correct some information that I stated in my original post here. In my very first post I stated; “Dennis Cross – Independent, Bill McGuire – Independent (yes you can register as an Independent, it’s an actual party).” I was wrong; they are both Republicans.

    Mr. Dennis Cross

    Mr. William (Bill) McGuire


  7. Nick D says:

    Sorry, I just check my links and realized that it will not allow you to click on it and take you right to their information.

    Should you feel the need to check my facts you will need to go to and type in their names on your own; my apologies.


  8. Ralph says:

    Thanks for the info, Nick, and for the information on the candidates.

    Judging from that website you listed, it is hard for me to believe you have just a passing interest in this election.


  9. Layla says:

    [Correction: the political parties and the tea party do not have IRS-designated non-profit, 501-c-3 status.FL]

    Thank you for that clarification, Flagler Live. I don’t know if anybody saw it, but I did.

    Now what is the chambers excuse? This would be funny if it werent so tragic.


  10. Andy says:

    If I’m not mistaken, the republican and democratic clubs in the county fall under their national 501c7 designation (not a 501c3). The Tea Party falls under the national designation as well.


  11. Citizen says:

    What designation do delorenzo and his 20+ builders booths fall under?

    Your arguments don’t make any sense. That is why you are being attacked. Why not call it the festival of builders?

    Quite frankly, I have serious objections to my tax money going to highlight (and pay for) this man’s attendance at this festival as well.

    We are talking about the appearance of something amiss here. Instead of opening it up, this chamber AND COMMISSIONERS are digging in, daring somebody to challenge them.

    In the end, I think you will find it caused you a great deal of harm. ALL of you involved in this decision. And you brought it upon yourselves. This is not a private event.

    It IS a VERY PUBLIC EVENT ON PUBLIC LANDS maintained by the taxpayers. Dirt swept under the rug is still dirt.


  12. palmcoaster says:

    Creekside festival takes place October 8, and BOCC will discuse it October 3? Who are these commissioners kidding? They should have cancel this event as soon as this Chamber barons made their desition. Do they think we are all morons here?


  13. Nick D says:

    Ralph – I would hope that any resident would not take a “just passing interest” in any election. I’m very engaged in any election that directly affects the community I live in. And judging by the last voter turnout I’m only one of a very few that take an interest in who is going to represent me. FYI – I’m also a Republican.

    Layla – You are right, the local political party “clubs” are not designated as 501c3’s. But this does not mean they are not non-profit organizations. Andy is also correct that the party “clubs” are 501c7’s. And under the Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. – 501(c)) there are 28 types of non-profit organization designations. The designation of 501c7 is used for Social and recreational clubs;

    People seem to be forgetting that it’s not the actual political “parties” that are being given booths; it’s their “clubs” (which are non-profit organizations). There is a Republican Club (which you can join for $25 a year) and a Democratic Club (I’m not sure of their membership dues are) and these are the two entities that have been given booths. This is so they may promote and try to obtain more “members for their clubs” not register someone to their particular party (which I’m sure they would be happy to do also if you ask). But it’s not (or should not be) their primary focus at the festival.


  14. The American says:

    This is in response to Nick D……Creekside is owned by the TAX PAYERS and the CONSTITUTIONS 1st
    AMENDMENT applies anywhere. It is shameful that the Board of County Commissioners, their attorney, Al Hadeed, The Tea Party head, Tom Lawrence, and the Chamber of Commerce do not realize this. They should read their Constitution. People go on the Internet and read all about AGENDA 21, this has come to Flagler County and the Chamber and the county are pushing for ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT? Do you all like the freedom you enjoy, well if you do not get off your couches and do something you will not have your freedom.


  15. FlaglerLive says:

    IntheKnow, your comment clarifying TDC staffing has not been blocked (see above) and you’d have received the courtesy of an email explaining what may have been blocked if you didn’t use a bogus email address in addition to a bogus name.


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