Charlie Ericksen, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | August 10, 2016
Charlie Ericksen is a Republican candidate for Flagler County Commission, District 1. His opponents in the Republican primary are Ken Mazzie and Dan Potter. The winner will face Democrat Jason DeLorenzo in the Nov. 8 general election. This is Ericksen’s second Live Interview. You can read his first, in 2011, when he ran for Palm Coast mayor, here.
Three seats are up on the commission in this election cycle, and a fourth seat, that of the late Frank Meeker, will be filled by governor appointment. That means that potentially, all but one seat on the commission–the one currently held by Nate McLaughlin–could turn over.
This is partisan election. That means only registered Republican voters in Flagler County, regardless of address or district, may cast a ballot in the Aug. 30 primary. The two incumbent Democrats have drawn no opponents in their primaries, so they do not appear on the primary ballot.
Flagler County Commission members serve four years. They’re paid $50,900 a year.
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
- Critical issues
- Good and bad of county government
- EMS and fire services
- Emergency communications
- County v. Palm Coast
- Civil citations
- Economic development
- Major projects
- Craig Coffey
- Incumbency v. change
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: Hartford, Connecticut Jan. 27, 1943.
Current job: Flagler County Commissioner, District 1
Party Affiliation: Republican
Net Worth: $245,500 (See the financial disclosure)
A. Four years of experience in the position. B. Multiple years in preparation before election regularly attending both City of Palm Coast and County Board meetings, and interviewing and talking with County and City employees. C. Chairman, Disadvantaged Transportation Council. D. Chairman, Carver Center Governance Board. E. Value Adjustment Board member. F. Affordable Housing Advisory Board member. G. Flagler Adult and Teen Drug Court Steering Committee member. H. Regular attendee at Public safety Coordinating Council, Economic Opportunity Advisory Council, and TDC Committee. I. Frequently visit the Flagler County Court System. I get around, to educate myself on what’s happening in all aspects of Flagler , and to make myself available to talk to residents and employees.
Surely you agree that chairing boards or attending meetings is not a virtue in and of itself, nor is it an indication of quality service: it’s showing up, which is commendable, but it does not tell us what you have accomplished on these boards, the county commission included, that actually qualifies you to be on them four more years. Can you tell us?
A county commissioner’s responsibilities to the residents is to seek out just what else happens in the county, other than workshops and commission meetings. I increase my views and opinions of Flagler county services by volunteering for boards and getting to many of the various meetings. I contribute regularly through participation in the teen-adult drug court steering committee (do they need more funding, are they using what they get effectively?) the Carver Center governance board, of which I am chairman, affordable housing, disadvantaged transportation ( another chairman position), Tourist Development Council, economic development, and public safety. I am a voice in those sessions. I also see what the county might do to make the events even better. I go to some to help participants know, government is interested in the importance of the activity.
Once again you are telling us where you go and what you do, but not one example of an actual accomplishment through these meetings and chairmanships. Your colleague Barbara Revels, for example, who also chairs her share of advisory board, just successfully steered through the Public Safety Coordinating Council (where you were in attendance) a proposed county ordinance to establish a civil citation program. That’s a concrete achievement. Can you point to something similarly concrete in your four years on any of these boards?
I have no accomplishments similar to her efforts on the Public Safety Coordinating Council on the Civil Citation Program and a weak 7-5 vote. I bring to every board a common sense approach to management, that is, to make all parties fully aware of the subject at hand, the questions,that need to be asked, the value of the background information and the importance of our decision. My opinion is but one opinion. I am quite pleased with the quality of each committee actions I sit on, and the active part I play in decisions we make, and that the funds we distribute are in line with any grant language. I do not consider my actions as a personal accomplishment. In some cases, where I may disagree with a committee or board decision, I support the majority vote (as in the case of the sheriff’s operations center). I look forward to the full extent of the information on the Civil Citation program being sent to the county commission over the next few weeks, so that we can approve or reject this proposed ordinance. I understand this may be scheduled for a late September meeting.
2. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, 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 is real-life examples to illustrate your answer.
I am a quiet listener of anyone who wants to talk about the County. I am at numerous City and County ribbon cuttings and socials on a weekly basis. I bring to the board a person who will listen and not cut you off before you are through. If I cannot immediately answer your question, I will call you back. Shortcoming? Not talking a lot and explaining myself. To me many politicians talk to hear their own voice, and I answer, with a short , brief explanation. My best quality is visibility. I am out all the time, in public. So is civility. I will treat you with civility even if you or we do not start out that way. I will make every effort to understand your concerns, but I will not be abused, nor treated rudely.
One of the issues not yet discussed, but important to Flagler County with the new growth occurring is a multi-long term growth plan (two to five years). While we presently do a one-year, detailed operational plan, we need to objectively project population and look at the effects this will have on our infrastructure. Not only roads, water, sewer, but what effects will occur with our Court system, Constitutional offices (the sheriff’s office, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections). We need to know this in advance and be ahead of the curve. Very few politicians have ever experienced a great deal of growth in their prior occupations. Looking and planning forward, being pro-active, is preferable to being reactive, after the fact. Secondly, our aging population and its needs: Right now almost one in four residents is 65 or older. Will this age group grow even more, affecting types of services? Medical care, activities, etc. Do we really need a senior center? Just go to the Belle Terre Swim club and see how many seniors are there. Many seniors in all activities, weight room, pools and education. I was there one day last week and there were 100 or more people enjoying the services and paying for it. How much are the seniors willing to pay for County-provided and paid for senior services? Will it be an increase in property taxes on all or fees, for those who want the services?
You are asking more questions than answering. But voters are looking to you for answers, not just observations or analysis of where we are. If long-term planning is so critical, why have you not accomplished something to that end in your last four years? Are you proposing that the county be, in your words, pro-active and provide a senior center? If so, how would you pay for it? You gave us two critical issues. Might you have a third?
A senior center has been talked about. The voters of Palm Coast, by a large margin, turned two down in the past, and it’s time now to discuss one again. Discuss being the action word. Questions: just what services might be offered, location(s) , and of course cost. Does the Belle Terre swim club represent a possible alternative with its pool and meeting room availability and monthly fees? We are talking a significant tax increase. Depending upon services, could we expand the size of a new library to meet the needs? I don’t have a position, but we could have a workshop discussion and hear what the residents are saying.
Flagler County is providing basic services to its residents. In addition the Carver Gym, Drug Courts, road and bridge upgrades in the Western part of the County and purchase of the Plantation Bat water System are improving lives in the County. Add to this sports fields and an active Tourist Development Council department.
Can the county really take credit for the Carver Center and Drug Court? The county was ready to kill the Carver Center a few years ago. Only a public outcry and Commissioner Barbara Revels’s switch, from opponent of the center to proponent, and her indefatigable fund-raising, has kept the center going. The county is merely signing a much smaller check than it used to as its contribution, with many others picking up the slack. Drug Court is a judicial initiative run by judges, law enforcement and the court system. The purchase of the Plantation Bay utility system was a commission accomplishment, but it’s been bedeviled by Plantation Bay residents’ complaints, as was the purchase itself–a clunker for a steep price that essentially bailed out a rich developer: you yourself were not too thrilled about it at the time. The sports field you refer to are owned by the school board and maintained by Palm Coast. So without taking credit for the accomplishments of other branches of government, and roads and bridges aside, can you point to specific, positive achievements by the county? You did not give us three examples of what the government is doing poorly.
The county can take credit for putting Carver Gym back on its feet. Yes, Ms. Revels did a great job in getting Carver up and running, and funded by a its board. The county provides regular services like maintenance, helped with insulation and other major building repairs and planned future ones. Employees need to hear feedback and recognition. Plantation Bay is a disappointment. It seemed reasonable to take on the responsibilty of cleaning up the colored water problem for the Flagler/Voluscia residents, the cost of which is now paid for by the users, not the taxpayers. The developer [Mori Hosseini] reneged on his responsibility using political favoritism and we now need to get the problem fixed, regardless of the past. Right now, I’m told that complaints are down. A third example of government doing poorly is: the county communicates poorly to the residents. We seem to be holding back on just how much detail goes into every discussion. Do we leave information out, hoping no one asks? But do residents even read any of the information? Commissioners get to make their decisions. Residents don’t trust their government and the only way to clean it up is force conversation. Changing from incumbents to new hasn’t helped one bit , locally or nationally.
You have a PR person, a marketing person, a county newsletter, near-daily news releases, you’re getting into social media, your tourism division spends untold dollars on advertising and web site promotion and has its own PR efforts, your economic development division just went through a very costly website redesign: why despite all this do you still have poor communication as a county government?
Let’s not go overboard on the use of the word “poor” (and yes I was the one who chose that word). It’s apparent that many of those who get up during a public comment section of a meeting either have not read the materials or even seen them. What do we do to make sure many more see the extent of our avenues of information available to them? Residents say they “don’t trust” government. What can we do to improve that misunderstanding? Better communications.
5. What would you change about the EMS, or ambulance, system in the county and in Palm Coast, if anything? Where do you stand on consolidation of fire services with cities, understanding that cities would be resistant: would consolidation save money? To what extent do you think turf and pride as opposed to bottom lines prevent consolidation?
We have a great Fire and EMS system in place. Many would say the best in the area. The only possible savings is in the placement or replacement of firehouses. We save money in the southern part of the County by sharing a firehouse with Volusia county already. [Note: Ericksen is referring to the firehouse in Volusia County in the Halifax area where Flagler County Fire Rescue keeps a fire truck manned by three people, which helps cover the Plantation Bay area and that southern area of the county.] Our challenge will come when the firehouse at the airport and Palm Coast’s need for better coverage in the S-section collide. We should build a shared site, reducing over all county and city costs. Consolidation does not create a reduction in the work force . We’d still need specialized firefighters and equipment in the west for wild fires.Structure fires in the City. We share the “tower” training site on Justice Lane for both city and County.
Palm Coast and county share space because of county ambulances stationed in city fire houses, but how, given current relations between county and city, could we realistically expect the two would share a firehouse in the S Section, starting with who would figure out how to split the construction bill?
Let’s get the city-county elected officials together (like we used to) and decide. We usually agree. When do we stop the finger pointing and the BS? And let’s get on with serving the residents. If someone needs to go, do it!! The election results this year should give us some new faces and input. In the business world, road blocks are pushed out. The only problem is the person’s contract that has a pay-out on it, usually six months pay. That might be a small price to pay for better understanding, but a sorry price for government taking too long to resolve. Sit them both down, put them on notice, spell out the need to cooperate, and provide regular feedback. This is regular common sense in corporations. I don’t think that progress will be seen, I don’t think either the council or commission has the backbone to do this, and at least one will have to go.
Your answer contradicts what you told us in your response to question 11, where you sang the praises, without qualifiers, of Administrator Craig Coffey. here you tell us that one of the two–City Manager Jim Landon or County Administrator Craig Coffey–may have to go, but you also tell us that neither the council nor the county commission has the backbone to do what must be done. You are part of that backbone. Who in your estimation must go? And why have you not more clearly made those points from your seat at the county commission, where you have never spoken in those terms about either Landon or Coffey?
I come from a background of solid basic, management experience. That is to talk about all the options to clean up a problem, including letting someone go (that would be the most extreme). We have two head-strong individuals, who should have better, more specific directions from their bosses. That will be determined by a meeting(s) between both Palm Coast council and the county commission. They will decide how and what is necessary to achieve harmony at the positions.
Although I have never discussed Mr. Coffey’s performance review with any of the other Commissioners, I don’t believe for me to bring the subject up during a county commission meeting would achieve anything. I have discussed his performance directly with him, one on one. I share his enthusiasm to make Flagler a great place to live. His actions still achieved the needed result. He tries very hard to be part of all the municipalities’ challenges in Flagler and with the exception of one (Palm Coast), he is successful. The same is not true of Landon. He is not a team player in Flagler County.
6. Explain where we are as a county with our 800 mhz emergency communications system and evaluate the county’s approach in updating the system, explaining where you see flaws or strengths in that approach. Palm Coast and the sheriff consider the county’s approach to be laggard. Do you agree?
The present 800 MHZ works well, but is not yet paid for. A totally new system will create a double expense. This is another example why a long term plan mentality is needed. Buy and implement any new system knowing just how long it will last. Examples, both the City and County measure the life of vehicles . to know what expires ( useful age) and when.
The county, as first presented to you and other county commissioners in November 2013, knows the end date, and is planning for a conversion. The question is: has the county approached that conversion too slowly, as Palm Coast and the sheriff contend?
The information that I remember is that the conversion was scheduled for a planning phase in 2017, and then after that, tower discussions, followed by being operational in 2020. At that time, the present system would be paid off and we’d have no double debt. Right now we are still paying for the original one.
7. 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?
Sniping, sometimes called competition, is a part of doing one’s job. The County snipes and competes with the State every time when they reduce taxes or impose unfunded mandates we must make it up. The State shoved it to us, and the Flagler tax payers with the Juvenile Justice debacle. You never heard much about this, even though the State bullied Flagler and all other Counties in Florida to accept significantly less dollars back than put in. Hundreds of thousands less. In defense of both of them, (Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon and County Administrator Craig Coffey) they work 10-hour days, six or seven days a week. I doubt very seriously that many residents have had that responsibility, hours and headaches of a 24 hour business. Mistakes occur in all businesses, and I see no more here in City-County relations than in the business world. Mix in the millennium workers and you’ve got your hands full. Coffey is a known asset to the other managers in Flagler County. He is readily available , open with his discussions and cooperative to them. The same is not true of Landon. So you tell me where the problem is?
No, Commissioner Ericksen: you tell us. And please explain what sounds like an oddly discriminatory swipe at millennial workers.
Discrimination? When the employer has a job opening and it is properly described to include work hours for multiple new employees to work for two weeks, knowing the needs etc, and then saying “they don’t like coming in and working 8-5” and would rather have floating hours, every day is unacceptable. That’s the actual truth.
The Public Safety Council has yet to vote on their recommendation of the Civil Citation program. They have gone back and forth. One group in favor, another says no. I have seen many articles on the subject, and believe in “second chances” but where is the truth? Have we heard all the information? Should we be as lenient with those who only speed 7 mph over the top speed, versus 20 over the limit? We should leave this up to Tallahassee, to recommend one process for all 67 counties statewide.
Just to be clear, then: you are opposed to a county commission ordinance providing for a civil citation rather than criminal arrest for an individual stopped on a first-time pot possession?
The county commission has yet to discuss this as a group. Other than sitting in at public safety council meeting, I have seen no documentation on the subject. The safety council is split on its decision. So my answer is no, right now.
9. Between March 2010 and March 2016, Flagler County residents holding jobs increased by 52 percent (or by 15,000). Only a few dozen of those jobs can be attributed to the county’s $500,000-a-year economic development department, keeping in mind that the department’s most touted job coup—the 300-job promise of Aveo Engineering at the airport—was a bust. Is that department still necessary? Can you point to substantial reasons and examples that make its expense worth the price to taxpayers?
It seems like you want me to compare six years of actual results with two years of startup businesses. The budget is more like $450,000 a year and keeps us in the eyes and on the radars of businesses throughout our primary interest groups. When we hit it, we will pull them in by droves. To stop will take us out of competition and drop us down to nothing, just where we started. We have limitations that other counties and cities don’t have. Just look at the growth of the Daytona area, with the space opportunities they have alongside I-95. We have very little chance to attract a mall like Daytona is now building, or anything big, along our section of I-95, where we have very little land.
Actually, the six-year jobs figure compares with almost five years of the county’s economic development efforts: that economic development board was established in late 2011. Again: can you point to substantial reasons in that time that make the expense worthwhile, given that 15,000 Flagler residents got jobs that have nothing to do with the county department’s involvement? How long must we spend and wait?
How long must we spend and wait? We spend and wait till we get something worthwhile, the option to do nothing , or change direction is “starting over”and that is even more costly. Helga van Eckert’s efforts have been recognized throughout the state.We are not a Daytona with highway lots, no site-ready locations, but lots of land. I say run it like it is. On the other hand, is the problem here and there, due to Coffey spreading himself too thin and taking on too much responsibility? First we added economic development as a department, then tourism. Has he maxed out? The employee will never admit it.
10. The past four years were dominated by major capital projects: a new sheriff’s operations center, an expanded jail, the taxpayer-subsidized transformation of the old courthouse into a parochial school, and the acquisition of the Plantation bay utility. What, on your watch, will be the next batch of major projects? Rate, in order of importance, the following projects: a senior center, a new library, a west-side fire station.
Basic Infrastructure …1. Getting ready for the big population influx coming. Population growth, more seniors, need improved basic services and roads (we have but four North-South routes for vehicle travel) water, fire house buildings coverage. We are not ready. When we had opportunities, we still built roads that will age and need to be widened yet again. We’ve built bad intersections (Old Kings Road-Town Center), single lanes already backed up. The roads within Town Center will never hold traffic. In fact the new Music Center will prove that.
Your answer makes it sound as if you’re running for the Palm Coast City Council, not for re-election to the county commission. None of what you refer to has to do with county jurisdictions. No did you answer the question about how you see the three projects mentioned above, in order of importance.
Yes it does,, but again it’s cooperation routes 1 and sr100 are county responsibility..What impact will population growth have on constitutional office growth, especially county employment one of the biggest budget costs,,( salaries, annual increases, health care costs up, state retirement costs,out of sight and up every year, even though stock market has returned to highest level, bids to do work for county + 5% ..Just how many more ee’s will fit in gsb and court house, which needs expansion now..( yes)
Mr. Coffey meets my expectations in performing his job. No one else in the County is held accountable to 100,000 residents and their attitudes and limited knowledge of what really goes into managing a County. We have a population of residents from numerous states that were accustomed to services and attitudes there, who come here expecting the same services, but at our tax rates, which are significantly less than what they paid earlier. Coffey works more than 10 hours a day, and is on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This county is his life and he puts a 100 percent effort at making anything work, as opposed to the BS you hear people throw at him. You name it, he’s been blamed. The technical and managerial skills needed to run a County are many. His job responsibilities are somewhat defined by the State and many of the projects are tough to evaluate and rate upon completion. OK, we had a challenge on the new Sheriff’s Operations Center. But it was completed, on schedule and under budget on price . The same is true on the jail project. You don’t see that in the media. You see conflicts and disagreements which make his job even more difficult to get done. If any of you were in the military or were born in the 1930-40 period, you learned to shut up, if you didn’t have anything good to say and get the job done. Positive attitudes pays. Weaknesses? Most likely needs more support people at his level, but he saves us tax money by not hiring more. I’ve never lived in any place in the United States where taxes are such a bargain. The problems here are driven by many at fixed retirement levels , where even small tax increases hurt. Where are the more services-less taxes candidates?
Are you seriously suggesting that residents and the media–which, contrary to your assertions, has lavished a great deal of flattering attention on the sheriff’s and jail projects well beyond the controversies–should shut up if they have issues of concern? If you are so enthusiastic about Coffey, why did you oppose the 10 percent raise he sought in December 2014? Are there no areas of concern in his management style?
Never said shut up and never meant it. Not used to residents flipping me off, or other gestures from the audience. We gave no $$ to employees, no $$ to Coffey, and if I did 10 percent would be way too much.
We’re not sure what you mean when you use the dollar signs, but it usually means “money” or “dollars.” Last year you did award a modest raise to county employees, and the total raise that went to Coffey was 5 percent. You are not telling us if there are areas of concern in his management style.
Again, management styles are dependent on the individual hired. I am looking at a final-results individual and the way someone gets there is secondary (as long as it respects its employees). Mr. Coffey has had a “full plate” over the past years. You can say the same of Sally Sherman, his Assistant County Administrator, who is quickly approaching her retirement. We need a potential replacement or plan on hand to assure a smooth phase out/in transition. To me he should hire an additional assistant (for a total of two) to spread his load. You will recall, this was brought up by the county commission when he brought both the tourism office and the economic development department on board. I also questioned the addition of the Agriculture Museum.
12. In this election, all three county commissioners are facing challengers. If you’re one of those challengers, and understanding there is inherent value in the experience of an incumbent and the institutional continuity, history and understanding that the incumbent represents, what are three reasons that justify removing him or her? If you are the incumbent, what are three reasons that justify keeping you beyond institutional advantages?
In the business world, a good balanced team approach is best to achieve success. A commission should be the same way, with people of strength in one subject willing to listen to each others on others. Unfortunately an “election” and the criteria voters use does not guarantee that mix. Elections are normally a popularity contest and a good balance does not always happen. Many elected officials, take years to understand the process (or drink the cool aid). Some have never achieved that.
Why should I be re-elected? I have a proven record of being 100 percent involved in Flagler County’s growth and present employers and residents. I regularly attend and chair multiple important committees and councils requiring leadership. I research all county commission agenda items, prior to approval. I vote No when I decide to (such as the vote opposing the purchase of the old Memorial hospital for the sheriff’s operations center). I’ve bicycled 29,000 miles in Flagler County, knowing its neighborhoods, people and challenges.
Frank , Barbara , Nate and George… each one brings skills to the Board, that compliment all others, If anyone cannot learn from that group, they don’t belong being a Commissioner. Pick and choose.
Once again, we are asking you to pick and choose: you are the one running for reelection. Voters deserve to know your affinities.
Charlie Ericksen did not answer the question.
14. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies? If so, please explain, including cases where charges did not lead to conviction.
Not even a parking ticket in my history.
15. Question customized for Charlie Ericksen: You went through two major surgeries in the winter of 2015. You will turn 74 soon after Election day. Your interview here reveals a Charlie Ericksen less focused on specifics, more tending to generalities, and a somewhat angrier Charlie Ericksen, than the one who spoke to voters five years ago. Why shouldn’t voters be concerned about your command of the job, and indeed about your health?
Ok, here we go. My physical health is as good or better than it was prior to surgeries (one of which is now classified as minor gallbladder surgery). I bicycle even more each day than before (29,200 miles on bike). I have been tested by brain specialists for any residual problems, none other that normal aging. I think I am talking better than I did before surgery.