Palm Coast Civic Association to the Rescue: O’Donnell Crafts Creekside Compromise
FlaglerLive | September 28, 2011
The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and the county commission are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the Flagler Palm Coast Civic Association pulled both out of the legally murky–and increasingly embarrassing–situation the chamber created with its two-tiered rule about politicking at the heavily attended Creekside Festival.
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The civic association is making its 10-by-10 tent at the festival available to all political candidates (or one of their representatives), and inviting them to distribute their literature and speak with visitors. The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce gets to save face without having to provide a solution of its own. And the county commission gets to pull back from the legal and political mess it was trying to untangle.
“It falls within our charter to help people meet the candidates,” Tim O’Donnell, the civic association president, said this morning. “I thought of it Friday night, sent an email to the civic association board to initiate the thought, and I ran into Jason at a breakfast function Saturday morning and he mentioned he had this idea, so we both had the idea at the same time.” Jason DeLorenzo is one of the political candidates.The candidates–there are just four left, for the Palm Coast City Council election on Nov. 8–welcomed the compromise and said they will participate.
“I think it’s perfect,” County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson said this morning. “It solves this year’s issue. Now everybody is treated alike, everybody gets a chance to be at the Creekside.”
The matter may be resolved this year. It’s not necessarily resolved for future years. “We still as a board need to sit down and discuss policies moving forward on the utilization of all our public facilities. This has raised a lot of questions in my mind,” county commissioner Milissa Holland said. Those questions, she said, have not been answered.
The chamber rents the Princess Place Preserve for the two-day festival, which last year drew 17,000 by the chamber’s count. It’s on Oct. 8 and 9 this year. Since 2008, the chamber has not allowed individual candidates to have a booth there, because of the very large number of candidates running that year. But it has allowed the two major political parties and the tea party to have tents, even though none of them are 501-c-3, non-profit organizations, as the chamber’s own rules require. And the chamber has clearly given some causes more play than others at Creekside, including opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment on growth management last year (the chamber opposed the proposal, and planted anti-amendment signs all over Creekside) and support for a school tax (the school board had its own booth to push that tax renewal last year).
When two candidates running in the non-partisan Palm Coast city election were denied booths this year–Dennis Cross and Bill McGuire–they took their case to the county commission, complaining of a double standard. It didn’t help the chamber’s case that one of the city council candidates, Jason DeLorenzo, who happens to have the chamber’s unofficial but very strong backing and that of Tea Party chairman Tom Lawrence, is married to one of the chamber’s vice presidents. Whatever logic laid behind past year’s rules at the Creekside, the rule this year, and the very small number of candidates involved, created the impression of favoritism for DeLorenzo. He wasn’t going to have a booth, either, but he was going to work many hours at the Home Builders Association’s Green Expo spread at Creekside–a de facto DeLorenzo booth. He works for the association.
The commission left its last meeting urging the chamber to reconsider its rule. The chamber retorted by reasserting the rule, without a hint of compromise and with more than a hint of arrogance, compelling the commission to investigate the legalities of its own policy regarding renters of public spaces who have seemingly discriminatory rules. Al Hadeed, the county attorney, was working on a memo summing up those legalities. But most signs pointed in the chamber’s favor, in the sense that the chamber, absent county sponsorship of the event, was not, in fact, breaking any rules: it’s a private organization. It sets its own rules. It pays for all the services it uses at Creekside, including police, ambulance, sanitation, equipment and entertainment. It was being obtuse about politicking. But it appeared not to be doing anything illegal.
The county would have been more liable for the chamber’s discriminatory rules if the county was a sponsor of the event, which the chamber and the county claimed wasn’t the case. That, however, is in question: the county administration had at least two staffers involved in planning for Creekside, and the county’s logo appears as prominently as a half dozen others among sponsoring logos in Creekside advertising for the event. In fact, one of those large advertising signs with the county’s logo is planted on county property in front of the Government Services Building in Bunnell. (See the photo above.)
And even if all legalities were on the chamber’s side, the chamber’s intransigence was making the commission pay the price.
Craig Coffey, the county administrator, spoke repeatedly with chamber officials, including Doug Baxter, the chamber president, urging them to find a compromise.
“It’s great,” DeLorenzo said. “I’m very happy a solution was found where everybody can be there.”
McGuire, one of the candidates, had no illusions about the way the compromise was reached, even as he speculated about the details: “What I think might have happened,” McGuire said, “was that the county commission got together with the chamber of commerce and said, hey, look, this is getting way out of hand, the citizenry is getting very upset, is there a way to get out of this without getting egg on our face.”