Pam Richardson, Palm Coast City Council Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | July 26, 2016
Pam Richardson is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 3. She faces two other candidates in the non-partisan election on Aug. 30: Anita Moeder and Nick Klufas
Since its incorporation in 1999, when all five of its council seats were up for election, Palm Coast has not had an election like this year’s, when three seats are open. The council majority, in other words, is certain to turn over, with three new faces in November joining two relative newcomers: Steven Nobile and Heidi Shipley were elected only in 2014. That’s because Mayor Jon Netts, who has been on the council since 2001, is term-limited. Council member Bill McGuire resigned effective Aug. 15. And Council member Jason DeLorenzo is running for a county commission seat.
Of all the candidates running for Palm Coast City Council, only one–Milissa Holland–has held elected public office before. She was a county commissioner for six years. It will not only be the greenest council in 17 years. It is almost certain to be the youngest council, ending an era dominated mostly by council members retired from the workforce.
This is a non-partisan election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for all three seats, regardless of district.
If a candidate wins more than 50 percent in any of these races on Aug. 30, the race is over: that candidate is the winner. But if none of the candidates clears the 50 percent hurdle in the primary, then the top two vote-getters will face-off in a run-off on the general election ballot on Nov. 8.
Palm Coast council members serve four years. They’re paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor, not including a monthly “telecommunications” allowance.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges on the record. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Charter review
- Public service tax
- EMS and fire services
- Palm Coast v. County
- Council dynamics
- Post-Jon Netts
- Jim Landon
- Pot and civil citations
- Code enforcement
- Golf and tennis clubs
- Community center
Place and Date of Birth: Brooklyn, N.Y., June 9, 1958
Current job: Broker-Associate at Watson Realty
Party Affiliation: Republican
Disclosures: Did not turn in complete form.
Resume: Did not turn one in.
I first would like to see that all Palm Coast residents receive quality cell phone service. I’ve been told that the plans for a tower in the Graham swamp has been voted and approved yet none of the carriers have signed on.
In addition, I think an extensive review of the budget line items are necessary to see how we can cut costs to prevent tax increases.
Finally, review procedures within the planning and development to make sure we are truly business friendly.
The Graham Swamp cell tower approved in February 2015 is on county, not city, property, making it a county issue. That aside, the current council is all for better cell coverage but while it can ease regulation to encourage cell towers, as it did this year, it cannot force companies to sign on and provide coverage. What, policy-wise, would you do differently than what the council is already doing? The council every summer reviews the entire budget. Can you cite one or two examples of overspending, or items that could be cut, that would justify your suspicion about costs?
I believe the council is doing what they can even though both the city and county are aware that there are several areas that do not have adequate service coverage in my district. My concern is that some private and public spots which have dead zones leaving questionable safety for our residents. I would like to address the cell phone carriers with citizen engagement as to assure that all constituents can be connected with law enforcement and first responders whenever it’s necessary.
Pam Richardson did not answer the remainder of the question.
My concerns are simple, Serve the residents needs for safety, financial soundness and quality of life. I plan to present any ideas to the board knowing that it will be decided by a majority vote.
Your concerns are clear. However, you did not answer the question. Would you try again?
Budgets are best when they are viewed by more than one set of eyes. What may appear as a cost savings might have a valid explanation. I have some questions on several items which have recently come in front of the council with a brief explanation and limited information. For instance, the $500,000 traffic study and the modifications discussed. No discussion on time schedules, or why the current need outweighs the outcome. In the previous question I spoke of the concern for safety, and financial soundness. I would like to see more positive feedback on the response to the city being business friendly and my hope is to fill the seat and work with the council to keep the city moving in a positive direction.
I have read the charter several times. The review is mentioned but does not specify definite time requirements so that is up to interpretation. I would like to see us add the finance director along with the manager, and the attorney to be responsible directly to the city council.
The charter does, in fact, specify that it may be revised every 10 years, though the council or the electorate may implement changes by various means at other times, and through referendum. So would you favor such a comprehensive review? Why specifically would the finance director’s position–a non-policy setting position–be better as a council appointment than as an administrative appointment?
In the last election cycle the charter review was a prominent discussion yet there was not a strong drive to pursue an outside review. I do believe the charter should be reviewed as provided every 10 years to adjust what may need to be addressed as the city progresses and to assist our council to have more discussion in an open forum and workshop. The finance director does an excellent job yet I believe a direct review to the council would help bring a more concise definition to budgeted issues.
Not sure we understand what you mean by “a direct review to the council” or a “more concise definition to budgeted issues.” Can you explain?
My goal is to have an open communication with the finance director achieving a more candid, direct, and unfiltered discussion of the financial concerns and issues. Glossy presentations in a workshop does not lend itself to the interactive type of Q &A that would allow the council a full understanding of the data in order to make appropriate decisions.
4. Palm Coast has the authority to impose a public service tax on your utility bill of up to 10 percent, and a franchise fee on utilities, which would be passed to customers, of up to 10 percent. The money may be spent at the council’s discretion. Many counties and cities around the state partially or fully levy one or both the taxes. Palm Coast considered imposing a 6 percent electric franchise fee and a 2 percent public service tax in 2012, but reversed course in the face of strong public opposition, even though the two new taxes were intended to replace the existing stormwater fee. Either of the new taxes, proponents argue, would diversify the city’s revenue stream. Either could be used to generate revenue that would otherwise have to be generated by property taxes, though the public service tax and the franchise fee are regressive in comparison. Where do you stand on either new tax becoming part of Palm Coast’s taxing structure?
It’s important for the city to live within our means, all the money is out of the taxpayers’ pockets, Let’s call it what it is, a new tax. I don’t believe in adding it.
Each of the past several years the council has increased taxes modestly to keep up with constituents’ demands for services. Would you have voted against every one of those increases? Would you vote against the current proposed increase? If so, what specifically would you cut from current services to make up the loss? If you are not able to answer the latter question, how responsible is it of you to pledge no additional taxes without being able to concurrently say how you would contend with the shortfall?
As I have been attending almost all of the city meetings, there have been several times where new fees and taxes have been suggested. I do not believe that there was a decision to increase the ad valorem taxes. Again addressing the budget items individually would also help to offset any shortfalls.
The council has in fact raised the property tax modestly, at least according to the state’s legal definition of a tax hike, and is preparing to do so again for the next budget. Would you vote against the current, proposed increase? And again, how responsible is it of you to pledge no additional taxes without being able to concurrently say how you would contend with the shortfall?
As a fiscal conservative, I am generally not interested in raising taxes, yet being a realist, I recognize that future circumstances and obligations can change requiring some kind of a tax adjustment. My commitment is to exercise due diligence before voting on any tax increases.
5. Explain who provides ambulance and fire services in the city. Evaluate the quality of that service, including your assessment of the adequacy of fire stations and EMS, and what you would change, if anything, about it. If your proposed changes cost money, how would you pay for them?
It’s my understanding that we are on a two tier system. The county is for emergency services and the city is our first line of fire service. We have an inter-local agreement and both departments work together. After speaking with many residents, I have not heard of anyone having issues with their services and on that note I believe our Firefighters have the training and experience to handle the management at this point.
6. Palm Coast and the county have a sniping, at times competitive, at times antagonistic relationship, as if between fiefs. To what extent are the two elected bodies responsible? To what extent are the two government’s managers responsible? How will you help foster a less medieval relationship?
We have turned that corner and I would like to continue on that positive track.
Let’s try again. In the past couple of years Palm Coast and the county have clashed over water issues at the airport, over the EMS system, and over the emergency communications system. The first was finally resolved after a four-year bout. The last two are still unresolved, adding yet another conflict: the two sides can’t even agree to a joint meeting. Could you take another crack at the question above?
Both governing bodies naturally look at things through a different vision. It may appear to have more animosity than there actually is. I personally have a good relationship with all city and county representatives. The managers may have different views but I think that we are basically working well together overall.
We need to strengthen the position of the council members since they are elected by the voters.
You did not mention that in your answer about a charter review. But since you do so here: how and to what extent to you define strengthening council members’ positions? What are council members not doing now that they ought to be doing? What is the manager doing that he ought not be doing? Please cite examples.
I would like to see the council at large receive the opportunity to respond to the residents who come to meetings to voice their concerns. The mayor addresses the questions often without offering the District seat holder time to respond yet often refers to the staff for a response. I am hopeful that the new council can bring many new ideas to the table to build a stronger line of communication.
8. Jon Netts’s tenure as mayor spanned half the life of the city: eight years. Ceremonial duties aside, what should the next mayor continue that Netts did best, and what approach or method should the next mayor discontinue or do differently, including parliamentary conduct during meetings? How do you hope the next mayor distinguishes himself or herself from Netts?
I am proud of the job John Netts has done for the city. It is the mayor’s responsibility to be the face of the city. As with any board I have been a part of the Chair always speaks for the board and the mayor’s direction has been spot on. I would like to make sure that any resident concerns brought up at any of the city council meetings and workshops remain to be addressed at the meeting.
Meeting management aside, it is concerning to hear you say that the chairman, or the mayor, speaks for the council. Council members would–or should, under the city’s charter–take exception to that. It has also been our experience that almost every question brought up by constituents at meetings, and now at workshops, are addressed then and there, and when the council or the manager are unable to provide an immediate answer, they welcome the constituent to stay behind and meet with a staffer to get an answer. But the question remains: are you looking for a Netts clone in the next mayor, or are there certain things you’d like to see handled differently?
9. Evaluate City Manager Jim Landon’s performance, citing strengths and weaknesses. His total compensation package is close to a quarter of a million dollars. He is seeking a raise. Would you grant it? [Note: the question went to candidates before the council’s vote rejected the request on July 19, though the question remains valid for the new council.]
The city manager has both pluses and minuses and I will feel better prepared to evaluate him once I am working with him on a day to day basis. I feel a raise at this time would be absurd.
Surely as a serious candidate for council, as a member of one of the city’s advisory boards, as a long-time resident and professional in the community, and as a witness to the city manager’s tenure for the past nine years, you can give us a more searching analysis of that tenure, in so far as you’ve observed it, discussed it or heard about it in your interactions with city issues. Your suggestion that a raise would be “absurd” reflects a strong position on the issue, but an unexplained position.
The city manager makes a very ample salary for his position as compared to other managers in our surrounding communities. We have many families who are struggling to make ends meet when even a small tax increase could make a difference. If anyone has been paying attention to the angst when the council was looking to make a small adjustment in their stipend, then they would understand the reason that I cannot justify a raise.
10. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that contract, and tell us what specifically you would change about it. Are some areas of Palm Coast less effectively policed than others? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future?
The sheriff’s office needs to continue providing equitable service for all the residents. I believe we need more policing on the inland waterways. There is no apparent reason to add the expense of a new police department.
What evidence do you have that there is a policing issue on the inland waterways, and how would you pay for the additional expense?
I have spoken to many residents who live in our Palm Harbor section and have heard their concern of the lack of patrols in the canals’ “no wake” zones, especially in the evenings. Their concerns were for the safety of other boaters and their passengers which needs to be addressed by our public safety officers.
11. The current council appears opposed to a civil citation program that would lessen the penalty for a first-time marijuana possession offense in many circumstances. Without Palm Coast’s approval, the county-wide effort is most likely doomed. Where do you stand on that proposal?
I am not opposed to it.
You were critical above of a council that does not give constituents explanations for their questions. Could you explain your answer beyond six words?
Pam Richardson did not answer the question.
12. Code enforcement: Palm Coast is clearly the harshest enforcer among local governments, regulating such things as garbage cans in view of the street, work vans with commercial imprints on their sides parked in residential areas, and of course tall grass. The city has a fleet of enforcers, and an enforcement board that routinely levies fines on violators. Complainers to the city can remain anonymous. How comfortable are you with that regime, and what, if anything, would you change?
It is important to find a better balance between the two extremes to continue to keep Palm Coast beautiful and livable.
You served for eight years on the city’s code enforcement board and still serve on the county’s planning board. Surely you are in an excellent position to give us more of an analytical answer than a slogan to a question that frequently recurs in discussion about the city’s direction.
As the legislative body for the city, under chapter 162 of the Municode, the Codes and Ordinances are written to be enforced equally among all our residents. Code officers do not have an easy job and they are there to respond to neighbors concerns and health and safety issues which may cause peril to their property, themselves and to others. The objective of code enforcement is to bring people into compliance. It comes down to being a good neighbor. That reflects on the livability and beauty of our great city.
13. The Palm Harbor Golf Club and the city’s tennis club has been losing money since their inception while serving a relatively small number of club members. Should the two clubs stay open with city subsidies? If not, what’s your alternative?
At this juncture I believe that it is time to add these entities to our parks and recreation and have trained people in that department run them.
The entities have been part of parks and recreation for the past two years, but still under contracted management. Are you saying the relationship with KemperSports should be ended and city staff should run the facilities entirely? If so, how would you pay for the necessary additions in staffing, understanding that you are opposed to new taxes?
I know that Kemper Sports has had many opportunities to make changes yet the losses remain. We can look at other management choices and also look ahead to find other revenue streams, for example: the popular foot golf as was previously mentioned and not regarded, yet we are listed as a location; teaching lessons, evening golf and a more recognized restaurant facility. We cannot afford to lose this course and if we need to manage it through parks and recreation then the management needs to explore some of these popular uses for additional golf income streams.
14. The city will be expanding and modernizing its community center next year. But residents from time to time have clamored for a senior center. Do you favor building and operating a stand-alone senior center? If so, how do you propose the city should pay for it?
If the residents want this than I would like to have it put on the ballot for the voters to decide.
Will referendums be your default position for constituents wants? Do you think a senior center is necessary or feasible?
I believe there has been a lot discussion and there are several options being brought up as a resolution for a senior center. Another part of that is the transportation needs for that kind of facility for the many seniors who depend on friends and county jitneys for appointments and errands. It was on the ballot in the past and was rejected by the voters so if the electorate now feels that we have a need and are willing to vote in the want and the cost then that would be the current choice of the people.
15. Question customized for Pam Richardson: It appears that you have spent less time answering questions than us asking them. The council is not a one-liner job, though it’s certainly had its share of un-involved council members. Should we be concerned about the seriousness of your candidacy?
I am surprised at your final question, but the answer is yes, I am very dedicated to the city of Palm Coast. My husband and I chose in 2004 to call Palm Coast our hometown not by accident, but by preference. Prior to my candidacy I have been involved in the community as a small business owner, governmental board and committee member, volunteer and civic leader, dedicated and active as a participant in the arts, the elections, the environment and the community. I love this town and I’m anxious to watch it remain our special place of paradise.