As One Candidate Withdraws, Jane Mealy and Steve Settle Are Re-Elected in Flagler Beach
FlaglerLive | February 12, 2013
There will not be an election in Flagler Beach on March 5 after all. John Lulgjuraj, the restaurateur and the only candidate to challenge two incumbents, withdrew Friday. He might as well have been casting the one and only deciding vote in this year’s election for the Flagler Beach City Commission: with his withdrawal, Jane Mealy and Steve Settle are automatically re-elected.
For Mealy, 68, it’s her third consecutive re-election, and her second uncontested. She was first elected in 2006. Settle, 62, was first elected in 2010, when he was the top vote-getter in a four-way race for two spots (Mealy was second).
Lulgjuraj, 27, co-owner of Flagler Beach’s Oceanside Grill at the south end of town on A1A, wanted to run to represent the city’s businesses. On Friday, he sent a letter to the city clerk explaining that “at this time, it’s not a good idea that I continue running.” In an interview this morning, Lulgjuraj said he will “definitely” be in the running next year or the year after. But for now, he said he must concentrate on his own business.
He used the analogy of the oxygen masks on a plane: put on your own first, then take care of those next to you. “I want to make sure I’m completely settled and take care of my business interests,” he said, before taking care of “the city I love.”
Lulgjuraj was spurred to join the race earlier this year when he faced chronic regulatory roadblocks from the city regarding parking issues at Oceanside Grill. The city required that the restaurant have a particular number of parking spot. The restaurant acquired a lot and graded it at a cost of nearly $10,000, Lulgjuraj said, though he still sees the regulation applying unfairly to some restaurants without applying to others. The new Funky Pelican, he says of the establishment that took the place of the Pier Restaurant, still has parking overflow problems but isn’t under the same city constraints.
Still, Lulgjuraj can’t see himself dividing his time between the restaurant and the city commission, where, he says, commissioners should be spending more time on the job, not less. “I really want to have enough time to be an elected official,” he said.
Mealy was, of course, relieved, as any politician always is when not having to face an election. She’d already spent $1,000 for the election. No more spending necessary—and no forums, no election questions from public or press, no anxiety until election night.
When they win unopposed, politicians often interpret it as vindication or outright satisfaction from the electorate. The truth is a little more complicated. There is the matter of apathy, especially in a county where voter turnout has been on a downward spiral for several years. Mealy, a seasoned politician, was realistic. “I think most people preferred to stay out of it. You read a lot of complaints,” she said, citing places like the often sweltering comment section on this site, “but I think people realize how much time e is involved and aren’t able to or willing to put in all that time, and most people are interested in one particular issue, but not overall.”
This, despite a succession of overheated issues in the past three years: the saga leading up to the appointment of City Manager Bruce Campbell, rising tax rates, beach erosion, two crises involving the fire department, turtles versus bonfires on the beach, street vendors (an issue that Mealy led), the latest surfer-versus-fishermen battle, doggie dining at restaurants, the noise ordinance, and many more. Flagler Beach City Commission meetings are the hothouse for those issues, which can draw crowds and tempers that commissioners weather firsthand. In one of those meetings, Bob Chase, an irascible resident who faithfully attends most meetings—usually with a paperback in hand for the duller times—spoke angrily to Mealy, then took her nameplate, dumped it in a trash bin, and walked out. He was back for the next meeting. Mealy has had her run-ins with members of the commission, too, chiefly Settle, but those too passed, like occasional brawls of fog over the city.
“I’ve been involved in one form of politics or another for 40 years maybe,” Mealy said, “and I think people get real hot on an issue, and it kind of goes away, then they get involved in another issue, and it goes away.”
Settle, too, did not take his automatic reelection for granted. “It will be nice not to have to go through the work,” Settle said. “I still need to keep in touch with the people so I’ll do some walking as if the election was still going forward.” The idea, Settle said, is to keep representing the will of the majority. That can;t happen without hearing out that majority voice.
Despite the fact that he won his first re-election campaign uncontested, Settle is bothered by the lack of candidates. One of his priorities, he said, was to involve people in Flagler Beach government. Judging from the number of people he managed to turn out for issues he supported (his advocacy for Campbell is an example), Settle did quite well. But that did not translate into people willing to run for a seat. “I think it says there’s some work to do,” he said. “I want people involved. While it’s much easier not to have to run, I believe in contested elections, and I believe we need to promote those.”
Campbell, the city manager, was diplomatically non-committal about the election that will not be. Settle is his strongest advocate on the commission. Mealy, before Campbell’s appointment, was his chief opponent, though she has since been more complimentary.
“From a continuity standpoint it certainly is good for the city,” Campbell said of the settled election. “From a personal standpoint the only thing I can say is at least I know what to expect, period. No more comment.” He laughed as he said that, but it was just as apparent that he was quite serious, if not, like the politicians at whose will he serves, relieved.
From a purely financial perspective, the city stands to save a few thousand dollars, too, by getting to forego the election.
In Bunnell, Mayor Catherine Robinson was also re-elected without opposition this year. That leaves just one municipal electoral contest to be decided: two seats are up on the Bunnell City Commission. Incumbents Daisy Henry and Elbert Tucker are running again, but they face one challenger, Bill Baxley. Two of the three will be elected on March 5.