Woody Douge, Palm Coast City Council Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | August 23, 2014
Woody Douge is a candidate for the Palm Coast City Council.
Two seats are up this year: District 2, an open seat, as incumbent Dave Ferguson chose not to run, and District 4, where incumbent Bill Lewis is running again.
Maria Barbosa (Dist. 1)
Andy Dance (Dist. 1)
Toni Baker (Dist. 2)
Lynnette Callender (Dist. 2)
John Fischer (Dist. 2)
Janet McDonald (Dist. 2)
Michael McElroy (Dist. 4)
Trevor Tucker (Dist. 4)
County Commission Candidates:
Dennis McDonald (Dist. 2)
Nate McLaughlin (Dist. 4)
Frank Meeker (Dist. 2)
Mark Richter (Dist. 4)
Palm Coast City Council Candidates:
Woody Douge (Dist. 4)
Bill Lewis (Dist. 4)
Steven Nobile (Dist. 4)
Joel Rosen (Dist. 2)
Anne-Marie Shaffer (Dist. 2)
Heidi Shipleyu (Dist. 2)
Norman Weiskopf (Dist. 4)
District 2 has drawn three candidates: Joel Rosen, Anne-Marie Shaffer and Heidi Shipley. District 4 has drawn four: Woody Douge (pronounced DO-jay), Lewis, Steven Nobile and Norman Weiskopf.
If a candidate wins at the Aug. 26 primary by more than 50 percent, that race is over: the candidate is the next city council member representing that seat. Should either or both races fail to produce a winner by outright majority, then the top two vote-getters will go on to face each other in a run-off in the Nov. 4 general.
Though delineated by districts, all residents of Palm Coast who are registered voters may cast a ballot in the election, regardless of where they live, regardless of party affiliation, including independents. It is a non-partisan election. Council members serve four-year terms and are paid $9,600 a year.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all council candidates, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked, and that all exchanges would be on the record. Each candidate was also given the opportunity to ask his or her opponent questions. Follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in italics. When a candidate fails to answer a question, that’s noted in red. The questions and follow-ups attempt to elicit precise answers, but the candidates don’t always comply.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Candidate Basics
- Economic development
- Town Center CRA
- Red-light cameras
- Medical pot
- Home-based businesses
- Palm Coast’s Business friendliness
- Making Palm Coast great
- Arts and culture
- Tax revenue
- Water and desalination
- Council dynamics
- Evaluating Jim Landon
- Other candidates’ questions
Place and date of birth: Port of Prince, Haiti, March 27, 1981.
Current job: Probation Officer, 40 hour per week.
Net worth: Not provided. See statement of financial interest.
Party Registration: Did not provide the answer. Douge is a registered Democrat.
Websites: Website; Facebook.
I am currently employed as a Probation Officer for the state of Florida. I hold a Masters Degree in Business Management and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. I have been able to make numerous contributions over the years to my community while serving as Probation Officer and a public servant. I have participated in public relations with community organizations to include projects and resources for children and their families. In addition, I have developed and implemented summer programs for at risk youth and completed several community projects such as, Stuff the Bus (back to school drive), Youth Empowerment Day for foster care youth involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice, and Seeds for Change to feed homeless families in Flagler County. I was named a recipient for the Davis Productivity Award in 2011 for the Northern Region of Florida for my innovative, dedication and commitment to excellence to youths in the community. I have had great pleasure of serving various roles over the years. I am also involved in many local community events and created many community volunteer projects.
A councilman’s job requires a significant time commitment, including weekly meetings that stretch to, heaven help us, several hours at a time, with three of four monthly meetings talking place during regular business hours. That’s not including the demands constituents will make on your time, and the time you will spend at the administration building. How do you propose to manage that time commitment with your current job?
2. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the council, what your temperament is like: what would your enemies say is your best quality, and what would your friends say is your worst fault? Give us real-life examples to illustrate your answer.
I moved to the United States as a young child. I have grown up in the United States and love this nation. This country is great for its ability to extend opportunity to all citizens. I moved to Palm Coast after graduating college to contribute what I could to the community. My father who is a preacher at a church in Miami taught me that service to your family and community are the most important things in life. In my work I am able to see first hand many of the difficult situations residents face in our community. I chose my line of work to try to make a difference in the lives of young people our society tends to turn its back on. I now want to take that same spirit towards improving this city for all of us. I want to make sure the tremendous opportunities that this country made available to me are made available to others in our city.
I will bring a much needed perspective to the council. Seniors on fixed income, working class residents and young people have no voice on the council. I will be that voice for them. I am a team worker. I am able to work with all types of personalities. I am a peacemaker in discussions, bringing differing views together and working to bridge the divide, where possible. We need someone to represent seniors on fixed incomes, working people in the city as well as our youth. Currently on the city council we have the perspective of former executives fully covered 5 times over.
Tell us what your faults are, and how those faults may play into your relations with members of the council, and your decision making?
3. Candidates for city or county government routinely speak of bringing jobs if elected. Do you think it’s in your power—and your job description–to bring jobs? If so, how would you? Are you satisfied with the city’s economic development focus by way of the Business Assistance Center?
Politicians can not directly cause job creation to occur, however they can promote and create the environment and conditions that allows for businesses to prosper. The end result is job creation. I have a plan to improve the economic situation of all our residents here in Palm coast. We can do the following:
I. Promote establishment of IT based businesses in the city.
II. Educate our young people to start-up or work in these businesses.
III. Offer business consulting and technical assistance through the BAC or other entity.
We have a surplus of empty office spaces all over our city. Lets work together to fill those vacancies. We can create an environment that benefits our retirees, young people, the developers, and our local businesses. Everyone wins under this plan. Individual property owners win, when their property values rise. Commercial property owners win, when stable IT companies start filling up their vacant space. Builders win with greater demand for new homes. Our Youth win with greater opportunities for gainful employment. No need to pit one group against another for singular gains. In a prosperous Palm Coast we can all benefit.
The intentions are commendable, but every council member going back to pre-housing-bust days has wished to see vacant retail spaces filled, and every council member has realized that his (and the rare her) capacities and authority to do so are limited to nil. All three of your priorities suggest that you have power to accomplish them. How? Is it a council member’s job to educate young people to develop such start-ups? Does the BAC not already offer business consulting–indeed, is that not one of its primary purposes?
4. The Town Center CRA has had its share of controversies over the years, not least the way it was designed as such. It subtracts about $1 million a year in county government revenue. And it hasn’t lived up to its development promise. Do you think it’s time to sunset the CRA? If so, why, and if not, why not?
The failures of the Town Center CRA has been directly related to the economic downturn. A better job should have been done to anticipate what would occur if a recession were to occur. Many of the problems the city faced during the recession has been directly related to poor anticipation of what would happen if the building boom came to an end. However re-litigating the mistakes of the past will not yield any solutions. We must move forward with the work of building a greater Palm Coast.
In other words, let the CRA be regardless?
CRAs are meant to be vehicles for long term development. They can last up to 40 years if extended. We have to give it time to succeed. Although the results thus far have not been as expected. There has been progress. Progress that will accelerate as the economy continues to improve. We have to consider the future of the city. The development in the area that make up the Town Center CRA will be beneficial to everyone in the city. As I stated earlier Good ideas need proper leadership to come to fruition. Many good ideas in Palm Coast stall at the gate, due to ineffective execution. I did not say let it be regardless, We simple need to get the right leadership in place to get better results.
Critical Voter Information:
5. Red-light cameras have divided the city between ardent supporters and ardent opponents. On which side are you? Explain your defense or opposition to the cameras. If you support keeping them, would you support adding more or reducing their numbers? If you would repeal them, how would you propose to break the contract with ATS before the contract’s end date in 2019? How would you then address safety concerns at intersections?
I volunteered to collect signatures with the folks working to End Palm Coast Red Light Cameras. I went door to door in my spare time collecting more than 1200 signatures to assist the effort. On the council I will work to remove these cameras from our city.
Another example of the lack of diversified view is what has happened with the Red Light Camera program. A few cameras were put in to try to stop folks from barreling through red lights. Now approximately 90 percent of the tickets from these cameras are for virtually harmless right hand turns. Now we have cameras everywhere. They now have our seniors driving around afraid of every turn that they have to make. They claim it raises driver awareness and drivers behavior will improve. Nine years later, that does not appear to be the case since revenue collected keeps going up, an indication that more people are running the lights. The cameras do not work to improve driver behavior. We are only causing the vast majority of our safe driving seniors to drive around in fear of a $158 ticket because they did not count enough seconds at a right hand turn.
You have provided one of the many diagnoses and critiques of red-light cameras, but you have not answered the essential follow-up questions to your plan to repeal them. How, and what then?
6.Evaluate the level and quality of policing in the city. What changes, if any, would you push for, and how would you pay for them, if those changes entail an increase in services? Would you favor Palm Coast having its own police department?
As a Probation Officer I have been able to see first hand the high level of professionalism exhibited by the Sheriff and his deputes. I see the success of Sheriff Manfree’s Community Oriented Policing. Going forward we will be able to see more success out of his approach and reduction in crime throughout the city, due to the sheriff’s proactive engagement with the community
I do not favor Palm Coast creating its own police force. None of the issues with the current arrangement with the County Sheriff are significant enough to justify taking on the additional cost and liability of building our own police force. I would recommend that rather than put resources towards building a police force, we should work to improve the integration of the sheriffs services. Better integration could allow us to yield all the benefits that would be yielded from having our own police force without taking on the cost and liability of such action.
To address issues directly related to Palm Coast I would suggest the creation of a dedicated liaison to the Sheriffs office to allow the residents of the city someone they could take their issues to related to policing. This liaison will have regular contact with the Sheriff’s office and the community. On the council I would gladly assume this role.
Were you not aware that the city and the Sheriff’s Office already have that liaison in Cmdr. Mark Carman, who is also at every council meeting and workshop.
7. Where do you stand on Amendment 2, the constitutional proposal to legalize medical marijuana? Palm Coast is considering regulating eventual medical marijuana dispensaries—assuming the amendment passes—in similar ways that it did pill mills or would less-than desirable businesses, through restrictive zoning. Do you support the approach? If so, explain why, or why not.
I am a Probation Officer and understand the dangerous effects that these substances can have on a community. I am the father of a beautiful 7-year-old daughter, who suffers from epileptic seizures. I cannot put to words the terrifying feeling you have when your child uncontrollably begins to have one of these seizures. There is some evidence that the chemicals in marijuana can help alleviate them. There is an experimental serum in development derived from marijuana that may be able to help her. There are many people in our community suffering from other debilitating illnesses that can gain some relief from legalization of marijuana. How can we deny them that relief?
We will need to carefully manage where the facilities are located in our city and create ordinances that take into account protecting the image of our city and quality of life here. We should have a say where these facilities are located in the city. I would much prefer they be located away from residential areas and school and churches. However we must accommodate locations for those residents in need, to pick up their medication.
Locating any business away from residential areas is understandable and already done. But why the distinction applicable to churches and schools? How is a legal prescription that could relieve, say, your daughter’;s suffering, at variance with what ought to be within a few feet of a church or a school? Why foster that stigma on what would presumably be a legal, medical product? Would you want a Xanax or Prozac dispensary to be similarly restricted?
In certain states where marijuana has been made legal, issues have developed concerning the location of dispensaries. I would prefer a smooth implementation here in Palm Coast that avoids those problems. The issue is already controversial, better to plan ahead and avoid additional problems. One issue is that dispensaries require higher security needs. Similar to those of banks. They would need to be in locations that accommodate those requirements. Changes can be made in the future as we see how these laws and facilities pan out. However I am not for jumping in without taking any precautions. I don’t want a repeat of the pill mill disaster that put Florida in a negative spotlight. We must do this right.
8. In 2012 the council was sharply divided about home-based businesses, finally voting 3-2 to deny a low-impact home-based bakery business from going ahead. Since home-based businesses are a growth industry, the matter may arise again, and your vote could decide it one way or the other in Palm Coast. Understanding that the city already makes room for certain home-based businesses “where information-oriented business activities are limited to paperwork, computer, mail, telephone, and filing,” for example, what’s your position on home-based businesses—how would you liberalize or restrict them?
I believe we are close to a good balance when it comes to home based businesses. We want to keep our communities quiet and beautiful. We can make some minor adjustment to the current policies, however we don’t want to create an environment where a high traffic business can be located in a residential area.
What we do a terrible job of right now is with supporting businesses that want to open in a commercial location. If the cost for opening a business at a commercial location were not so high we would not be discussing the need for so many to want to be based in their home. We seem to regulate businesses till they go bankrupt of beg for mercy. We need to change this if we are to create a greater Palm Coast.
9. Along the same lines of business and the business climate in Palm Coast, there are often-repeated claims, some of them documented, that the city is not business friendly (recall Panera’s retreat from two planned stores to one), businesses speak of too-restrictive regulations down to the sort of landscaping and buffers they’re required to have or a laborious inspection process. On the other hand, the restrictions ensure that the city doesn’t turn into replicas of stretches of U.S. 1 in south Florida. What is your analysis of the business climate in the city and the city administration’s management, in step with council direction? What concrete changes would you call for? Alternately, what would you build on that you see is working?
On this particular issue I see the merits of both sides of the argument. We do not want to lose the beautiful green environment we have here in Palm Coast. On the other side of that we need businesses here to create opportunities for our residents. There is a compromise to be made here, we can have the best of both. Certainly we can ask that businesses spend money on the beautiful landscaping and greenery that makes our city beautiful. However we can not ask that this cost be greater the cost of the building being built on the lot. We have gone overboard with the regulations. It seems sometimes basic reason takes a back seat to the restrictions. There are compromises that can be made and streamlining of the time it takes to get approval.
I have spoken to business owners in the area and the amount of time it takes to get a project done leaves them unable to effective plan out their projects or get to market quickly to profit from a need. I am repeatedly told it just takes too long and it cost to much. We need to speed up the process and compromise to reduce the cost to a reasonable amount that maintains the character of our beautiful city while still getting the benefits of businesses being here.
Are regulations, and perhaps precisely the strict regulations, you refer to, not the same regulations that have ensured that this town is the attractive place we know?
10. What defines a great city—beyond its employees, its manager, its council, its great people and its beautiful medians—and what will you do to make it so? Please give at least three specific examples within the scope of what’s doable by you as a member of the council. Also, give at least two examples of where Palm Coast is failing as a city, outside of infrastructural or economic issues.
A great city serves it’s residents. The purpose of a city is pooling of resources in order to benefit the people of that city. What we have in Palm Coast is poor management of some resources, while ignoring some of the greatest resources we have. Our young people are underutilized here in this city. They are not given the opportunities they need to contribute and build a more prosperous Palm Coast and a future for themselves.
We have for years looked on as the unemployment rate skyrocket and remained high year after year while our talented young people are forced to move out of the community. They sat back and watched as business after business closed and those shopping centers with local owned businesses begin to become empty. This allowed for the deeper pocketed businesses that are here taking profits out of the community to thrive. Although there are many large retailers here in Palm Coast. Aside from salaries and taxes paid by these entities, very little remains in the local economy. All profits made by these major retailers are diverted out of our community to where they are based. Certainly our local government makes a cut of each sale through sales tax but the rest of that sale is leaving our area.
My plan to improve our city is simple. I want to help our citizens build information technology companies here in Palm Coast. Unlike other types of businesses that rely on local residents for clients, IT businesses can build clientèle internationally. They essentially make money everywhere and bring that wealth back to where they are based. These businesses can bring greater wealth to Palm Coast.
Palm Coast generates most of its growth from being a top destination for seniors to retire. It’s great that we are such a great community that a steady influx of people come here to retire. This has created tremendous opportunity for our residents, realtor’s and developers. We also have efforts underway to expand Eco-tourism here in Palm Coast. I think that is also a great idea. I want to add to these efforts and diversify our economy by encouraging the creation of more information technology based businesses here in our beautiful city. Clean IT businesses will offer high wage jobs while maintaining the character of our small city.
Information technology businesses contribute much more in taxes than other sectors. Any investment made to build an IT sector will be returned in taxes gained. This will keep the need to higher taxes on our residents at bay. If we implement my plan, we can have a more diversified local economy with higher wage jobs and increased property values.
11. How do you support the arts locally (beyond, say, signing your name to a proclamation or attending a show)? What would you do as a member on the council? Palm Coast’s budget for the arts has been declining: $33,000 in 2009, $20,000 in 2011, $25,000 this year. Why the decline, and should a city of this size be so stingy when it comes to the arts?
I would hope that these cuts were a direct result of budget tightening by the city during the recession. As the cities budget improves I would certainly increase the budget for the arts. The Arts are an essential part of the character of a city they contribute to the beauty of a city. I would increase the budget for the arts where possible.
12. It is almost certain that during your tenure, the city will need more revenue: in the last two years, it increased the stormwater fee from $8 to $11 a month for the typical house, and it increased water rates 22 percent, spread over three years. If you have an issue with those raises, please explain how else you would have addressed the city’s needs. Looking ahead, where would you seek additional revenue—an increase in the property tax? The addition of a utility franchise fee? Any other ideas?
I would not increase any taxes. The council needs to understand that the retirement accounts of our seniors are not an ATM machine for the city to tap at their leisure. If we do a good job of managing the city and fostering and environment that creates opportunity for local businesses and our residents, more revenue will follow. If our citizens are doing well, revenue follows. If property values go up, property tax revenue goes up. If new successful businesses are created here. Business related taxes rise. If the council does it’s job well, we will not face revenue issues. If the city implements my plan, revenue will follow.
You keep referring to your “plan” at your website as explanations to your answers (we have deleted those references, asking you to answer questions here), but a look at your plan reveals no more specifics than generalities offered here, including with regards to this question. The city needed revenue to address needs in utilities and stormwater. Had you been a council member, would you have opposed those increased fees–and willingly risked seeing Palm Coast’s credit rating crumble as a result, for example? Would you have neglected addressing the stormwater and infrastructure needs? You will surely be faced with similar challenges in the years ahead. Making a no-new-taxes pledge sounds irresponsible and unrealistic, though it’s a common campaign theme. Can you be more pragmatic?
13. Assuming strong growth resumes on your watch, and the half-dozen odd DRIs in the city begin to build up. Would you support reviving the city’s desalination initiative to ensure the city’s water supply in the future?
Desalination produces the most expensive water. Why in the world would we seek to produce the most expensive water in the country? I would certainly need to consult with experts in water management to see if we could not find another solution. We are fifth place in the country for the amount of rain we receive, yet we seem to always have water shortages. Perhaps there are better solutions we have not explored. Solutions that do not result in the most expensive water in the country.
Just as with the Red Light cameras, the desalination plant idea is yet another idea brought to the city by business men in suits who’s sole purpose is to get government assistance in creating a means to withdraw even more money from the retirement accounts of our seniors. The logic behind a plan to create the most expensive water in the country only makes sense to people who see it as another way to treat the retirement accounts of our seniors as their own all access ATM.
14. What makes for an effective council member, what makes for a lousy council member? Give examples of both, and give us your analysis of current council dynamics. Who on the current council does your philosophy most closely aligns with?
An effective council member is a person that can make necessary decisions to improve prosperity, while ensuring that those decision do not adversely burden the citizens. A lousy councilman is someone there with an agenda that does not serve the interest of the people.
The current council lacks differing perspectives. We basically have five gentlemen who agree on 99 percent of everything. They often have similar perspectives. This lack of differing views leaves out the perspectives of young people, seniors on fixed incomes and working families. You have a council that does an excellent job of representing the views of wealthy former executives. Unfortunately the city is made up of citizens that are not all wealthy former executives. This lack or perspective is why we have a lot of the problems in the city. It is the reason why they could turn the city into a high anxiety driving maze that has our seniors panicking whenever they see a yellow light, or paranoid about whether or not they stopped for enough seconds on a right hand turn. It is why they took years before even beginning to respond to the high unemployment in the city. They just don’t understand what the lives of ordinary people are like. How can you take in to account what your decisions will do to ordinary people if you don’t understand what ordinary people have to deal with. I do not fault these men for their success, I am simply pointing out why I believe they have made many of the decisions that they have made.
You make strong and compelling points, but you do not answer the question fully, though take heart: very few candidates answer this one on the first try. But we ask again: who on the council do you come closet to in philosophy and outlook?
With his open approach, including consolation with residents before making decisions and opposition to Red Light Cameras, my views most closely line up with those of Jason DeLorenzo.
Jim Landon’s serves at the behest of the city council. Although many in the city direct their dissatisfaction at Jim Landon, It is misdirected. The responsibility for the mistakes that have been made falls on the council. Jim Landon works for them. They appear pleased with his performance as indicated with the recent contract renewal. Do not allow them to play this game where they direct public anger at Jim Landon, as if the council is some innocent group of victims of Landon’s might. He works for them.