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Daniel Potter, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview

| August 12, 2016

daniel potter

Daniel Potter. (© FlaglerLive)

Daniel Potter is a Republican candidate for Flagler County Commission, District 1. His opponents in the Aug. 30 Republican primary are incumbent Charlie Ericksen and Ken Mazzie. The winner will face Democrat Jason DeLorenzo in the Nov. 8 general election.


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

The Basics: Daniel Potter

Place and Date of Birth: Cleveland, Tenn., September 14, 1947.
Current job: Retired.
Party Affiliation: Republican
Net Worth and financial disclosure: $112,000 (Potter did not turn in his form as requested; you can read it here.)
Resume: Not disclosed.
Website: None.

1. What qualifies you to be a county commissioner?

•A. A no nonsense approach to real world problems leaving political correctness at the doorstep.
B. I listen to the people and take the majorities wishes to the table. My agenda is their agenda. If I do not like the views of the majority I must still vote with that majority. It is called democracy and being the voice of the people.
C. I studied civil engineering at the University of Tennessee prior to military service. While in the military I took every technical course offered by colleges at all military bases I was stationed. As mayor of Oak Grove, Ky., I worked on many projects with my engineers and operated without a city manager. Oak Grove is a city of 10,000 people.

What do you mean by “political correctness”? Please define the terms. Can you cite one example of the county commission applying “political correctness” where it should not have? And in that instance, what would you have done instead? In your years as mayor, did you not make any decisions that were not necessarily popular, but were the more publicly responsible decision to take?

My definition of political correctness is speaking and acting in such a manner as to not offend anyone just for the sake of maintaining their support. I will not cite a case. It is unfair to them.

There was one decision that I made as mayor that was not popular with the residents. The carrier of our municipal insurance notified me via certified mail that they were going to cancel our liability insurance due to judgments against the city prior to my shift. I desperately searched for another company. With the inability to locate another carrier I publicly addressed the residents explaining that state law would not allow our department to function without insurance. Therefore, I began negotiations with the county sheriffs office to transfer our department to county operations. They evaluated the value of our department assets and made an offer, fortunately I did find another agency and all negotiations were cancelled.
If it’s unfairness to commissioners you’re concerned about, isn’t it unfair to imply in your answer that they act with “political correctness,” yet you are unwilling to document one such case? Doesn’t that reduce your claim to a veiled, unsubstantiated accusation that aims to do exactly what you decry–say something to win support?

2016 Election Interviews

Supervisor of Elections


Kaiti Lenhart
Kimble Medley
Abra Seay

Sheriff


Jim Manfre (D)
Don Fleming (R)
Larry Jones (D)
John Lamb (R)
Jerry O'Gara(R)
Rick Staly (R)
Mark Whisenant (R)
Chris Yates (R)
Thomas Dougherty (I)

Palm Coast City Council


Robert Cuff (Dist. 1)
Troy DuBose (Dist. 1)
Sims Jones (Dist. 1)
Art McGovern Jr. (Dist. 1)
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Anita Moeder (Dist. 3)
Pam Richardson (Dist. 3)
John Brady (Mayor)
Milissa Holland (Mayor)
Dennis McDonald (Mayor)
Ron Radford (Mayor)

Flagler School Board


Colleen Conklin (Dist. 3)
Jason Sands (Dist. 3)
Paul Anderson (Dist. 5)
Maria Barbosa (Dist. 5)
Sharon Demers (Dist. 5)
Myra Middleton-Valentine (Dist. 5)

Flagler County Commission


Charlie Ericksen (Dist. 1)
Ken Mazzie (Dist. 1)
Daniel Potter (Dist. 1)
Jason France (Dist. 3)
Dave Sullivan (Dist. 3)
Denise Calderwood (Dis. 5)
Donald O'Brien (Dist. 5)

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.

A. I listen to people and employees well. I do not always assume my idea is the best idea. As leaders our job is to take care of the people.
B. Any enemies that I may have would say that I am extremely perseverant. I was taught to win at all costs. My friends believe me to be too articulate on many issues, not all. Once I have established a goal in my mind I will gear myself up to accomplish it. This election is an example. If a government does not function as a synchronized organization then I will attempt to change it whereas it will.
C. My temperament cannot stand willful negligence. I am forgiving of stupid, not of willful stupid and carelessness.

You mention listening to employees. But your only employees as a county commissioner are the county administrator and the county attorney. Do you have others in mind? “I was taught to win at all costs.” For an athlete in the context of Olympic coverage, the phrase may sound inspiring. In the context of an election for a public office in 21st century America, the suggestion sounds worrisome. Can you explain what winning at all costs means to you, and how that jives with a responsibility, as a county commissioner, to primarily seek consensus on issues with which you may disagree? Is that, incidentally, your flaw, as we can;t imagine articulateness being seen as a flaw?

The better manner to describe “listening to employees” would be understanding the wants and desires of employees through the county administrator. This is no different than me as mayor only dealing with each department heads and never going to subordinates of department heads for information. In the armed forces you never jump the chain of command by going around someone in the chain. I can only evaluate the ability of Craig Coffey and his job performance and his abilities to converse with department heads and other employees.
The full meaning behind the statement “at all cost” was the maintaining of spirit and determination to complete any mission attempted. This is actually assuring to people especially when you are fighting for grants to fix problem areas.

3. What are the three most critical issues facing the county, and where do you stand on each?

A. Lack of clean industrial development in the Bunnell-US 1 area. Industrial development achieves a two-fold solution. First it provides county residents with a job that can pay benefits and good wages, technical training, retirement, and medical. Presently many are driving from Flagler County to work in Volusia County and Saint Johns County and unfortunately leaving some of their money there. Most of the jobs in the county are in retail that does not provide benefits, and hours are normally kept at less that 40 to ensure small if any benefits are realized. Any government strong in industry maintains a good tax base.

B. Rising property tax rates is not accepted well by the residents. On one hand we have a $5 million increase in revenue from appreciated property values but still there is an increase of millage in next fiscal years planned budget. That millage is planned at $8.14 per $1,000 of assessed value on residential properties. It takes much money to maintain county infrastructure, health facilities, libraries, fire rescue, EMS, police, schools, economic opportunity, transportation, etc, therefore, serious rainy day funds must be established but not at the expense of raising taxes but rather being frugal.

C. The manner that people perceive the leadership of the county is as follows. It really looks bad to the people when the Board of County Commissioners votes 4-to-1 to increase tax rates but on the other hand desire to raise their travel expenses 184 percent.

You’ve given us a diagnosis of what’s lacking in terms of clean industry, but not how you’d make a difference bringing clean industry about: the county has had an economic development department afoot for five years (a question addresses that below). Every county commission candidate promises good job. How are you different? If being frugal is one of your critical issues, please give us specific examples of what you would cut or scale back in order to not have a tax increase.

It is very difficult to explain all the concepts of industrially showcasing an area in a couple of paragraphs. I can state two facts that are always true. First, an area must be “shovel ready to accept industry. Industrial sites are everywhere but few are ready for immediate construction. Demographics of the area must be adequate to support that industry. Schools, premium workforce availability, railroad, good roads, utilities, and may other factors make up the package to success. Of great importance is the simple question, “do the local governments fully support the incoming industry and will they continue to support that industry?” Do we truly support Sea Ray? I hope so.
The other means to establish industry in an area is through the use of tax incremental financing (TIF). For those not familiar with the process here is a short overview. A city or county selects a parcel of property that normally would not be expected to develop. Blighted property is preferred. Initially it could be say 400 acres. By law this could become a TIF parcel. With an absence of infrastructure it would be the responsibility of the incoming industry to construct the infrastructure with the agreed upon legal obligation of the city or county to return a portion of taxes, usually 50 Percent back to the builder until infrastructure development costs are met. I am currently studying state law to see if this is workable in our county.
I along with my city council shaved a little here and a little there to avoid raising property taxes. Our rates remained at .255 cents per 100 dollars of assessed value from the day I took office until I left office 10 years later.
You are still not telling us how you would scale back spending to not raise taxes, as proposed in the coming budget. Regarding tax-incremental financing, the issue in Flagler County has been the reverse of what you describe: Palm Coast has one such “community redevelopment area” in Town Center, but the county has been opposed to its continued existence as a CRA, as it denies upwards of $1 million a year to county tax revenue. Bunnell found itself having to scarp its CRA. Where do you see the feasibility of such a CRA in the county?

4. What do you think county government is doing well, and how will you build on that? What do you think county government is doing poorly, and what will you do to improve matters?

A. County government routinely acknowledges groups of individuals with official proclamations. These are very nice and builds some harmony in the county. Everyone wants to feel appreciated.

B. The county commissioners are “Out of Touch” with the citizen and their opinion. Sometimes it’s good to casually stop people and ask what they could do to improve the county spirit. Usually it is not about money. Get to know the people, those from each income level and ethnic group.

Every local government in the nation does proclamations. Is there nothing else this county commission does well that directly affects the lives of Flagler County residents? You say commissioners are out of touch. Criticism of the sort is often heard at election time, but difficult to pin down beyond campaign-trail sloganeering. Can you give a couple of specific examples of how?

I don’t say the commissioners are out of touch with the people, rather the people say that. After knocking on 7,500 doors and talking to people at those doors most residents believe that commissioners do not do enough to promote industry and job opportunity. There is more to being a county commissioner than budgeting and attending meetings. May residents believe that Craig Coffey does everything and the commissioners do little. Countless people ask me what a commissioner does because they simply do not know. It’s sad when our county government pays a board of commissioners over $250K a year and the people have no idea what they do. Maybe the people would have a better understanding if FlaglerLive did an article of the responsibilities of the commissioners.

These Live Interviews add up to the equivalent of a 500-page book. The Observer, the News-Journal and FlaglerLive publish in combination perhaps 1,000 articles a year that reflect and necessarily explain what local governments, including the county commission, do. Each government runs a citizen’s academy and PR departments of its own. What more can be done? How would you, as a county commissioner, better explain yourself?

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?

A new system will be implemented relatively soon termed Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD). As a call is received the 911 operator will triage the patient through the program. As one question is asked then subsequent questions can be asked based on the caller’s answer. This will determine if both an ambulance and engine are required, just an ambulance, or just an engine. On occasion ambulance personnel will be called back to the fire station after being dispatched. This saves unnecessary expense. The new program will separate the role of ambulance from that of a fire engine. Cities believe that consolidating services somewhat diminishes their identity, which it does not. Any consolidation saves money if all involved have a voice in the union and after the union. Just imagine this as a board of directors not loosing anything. Yes, fire, EMS, water plants and wastewater treatment plants should all be regionalized to lower the cost to residents.

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?

County Administrator Craig Coffey states the last payment on the present system will occur in 2020. The manufacturer and service representatives state it will last until 2020 provided parts are available. Palm Coast and the sheriff claim the county will not allow their input into possible solutions which is replace the system at an expense of up to $20 million.

[Editor’s note: at no point has the county disallowed city or sheriff input into the decision making. Meetings had been regularly scheduled involving all parties in the process. The cost of the new system is not known. Its range is from $8 to upwards of $20 million, depending on how broad a system the county commission elects to buy.–FL]

If Palm Coast truly wants the system then since they pay the county for policing why not simply let the city pay off the debt thereby clearing that portion of the books and letting the county establish fresh capital debt to obtain the new system in 2017. What Craig Coffey is concerned with is being upside down on the old system and possibly accumulating new capital debt with the old rolled in. It’s similar to going to a car dealership with a car you owe $10,000 on which is worth $5,000 and the $5,000 is added to the $30,000 of the new car. Coffey is correct.

[Editor’s note: the $10 million 800mhz debt is a county responsibility, as is the running of the 800 mhz and emergency communications network for the county and its participants.]

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?

The relationship between Flagler County and Palm Coast is broken. Usually the predominant city is the county seat but in this case it is not. The county seat is where the county government is housed. It makes no difference where it is based. It will never be Palm Coast unless Palm Coast annexed Bunnell which of course is a stupid thought.

It appears that the Palm Coast City Council supports Jim Landon and the Flagler County Commission supports Craig Coffey. It seems as though this is a Sonny Liston versus Cassius Clay match-up. I don’t know if either of the men have been censored or disciplined or even talked to about the problems. Is this a case where the Romans stand behind the Roman and the Jews stand behind the Jew and there is no neutral ground? If this is the case then an armistice is not workable. The only means to restore good relations are for the city manager and county administrator to bury the hatchet or the county commission and city council dull the cutting edge of the proverbial hatchet.

The question is: how should the county commission “dull the hatchet”?

The commission should go to great lengths to convince the city council of their desire to reach an understanding of the manner their relationship should shape up. Presently this unhealthy relationship keeps both city and county residents shaking their heads.

8. Where do you stand on a civil citation program for first-time offenders caught with small amounts of pot, and other minor crimes?

Everyone should be given a penalty for doing something they know is against the law. Should this penalty be so harsh as to affect their criminal record for the rest of their lives? Speeding in an automobile has the potential for killing people but it normally is controlled by simple fines unless it reaches the point of becoming reckless driving which clearly becomes endangering lives and cannot be ignored. Small amounts of pot are not so horrible as to warrant an arrest, jail time, permanent inclusion in criminal records. Speeding is fined, reckless driving is arrest and jail, possessing a small amount of pot should be fined, large amounts are arrest and jail. Fair? Absolutely.

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?

The director of the Department of Economic Opportunity is fully aware of the need for industry in this county as evidenced by articles she has either written or contributed to. Aveo Engineering came to Flagler County, they looked, they became interested, they decided, then economic conditions changed. You cannot hold a county department responsible for a enterprise “jerking.” It happens all the time. I once had Cheddars Restaurants sign a purchase agreement to build but later the Corporation decided to change the location to another city.

[Editor’s note: Economic conditions did not change after Aveo’s arrival, which post-dates the Great Recession. Rather, Aveo decided no longer to keep its pledge to build at the Flagler County Airport, and so far as made no further progress in building anywhere in the county, though it still pledges to do so.–FL]

Is the department worth $500,000 a year? Probably not. Should we dismantle the department? Never. Should we contract with a community development service (CDS)? Absolutely not. I know with certainty that economic boards and committees are a waste of time. Almost every person in this county believes that if we don’t have an industrial base then county taxes will continue to rise. Out of almost 7,500 Flagler County residents that I interviewed door to door, only one had a different view. This man stated he was 92, very rich, and could care less. I am certain the director, Helga van Eckert, is accomplishing much more than meets the eye. Maybe she can present a lesser budget requirement but let her continue doing a great job. Eventually she will break through the iceberg.

At what point do you decide that business as usual–in other words, bringing no business to Flagler County–is not working?

Economic opportunity is a tough business. Maybe you want miracles and sometimes they do occur but usually only hard work and hopefully modest gains.

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.

Capital projects mean capital expense. Many senior citizens stay at home for a lack of a place to congregate with other seniors. Many have lost spouses and are lonely. They need someone their age bracket to socialize with. Some cannot drive due to poor eyesight or slow reflexes. Some cannot drive at night. These people do not require an architectural marvel to be happy. A simple good sized building with a kitchen will do. They must have transportation to and from. Order of importance. (1) Senior Center (2) Library (3) Fire Station.

As you say: Capital projects mean capital expense. So how will you pay for these? Even assuming that the sales tax supplement can be stretched in the next few years to pay for all three, how will you pay for the additional and significant operating expenses without raising taxes?

I have witnessed cities, states, counties, and our national government build projects without projecting the true operating cost. We don’t have to have a new library in Bunnell right now or a new fire station in the western portion of the county immediately. We can live for awhile without these. Many people before your time “made do” with what they had. But they were not in a sea of debt as we now experience. A senior citizen center is not about high dollar fixtures but rather a facility that is clean, comfortable, and gaining fellowship. The seniors need something now. Prudent spending is the answer.
Prudent spending is fine, but it doesn’t answer the question of how you’d enable the county to build and run a senior center–an entirely new operation–without raising taxes or cutting existing services. Isn’t that an empty promise?

11. Evaluate the performance of County Administrator Craig Coffee, listing strengths, weaknesses and areas of concern.

It appears that Craig Coffey is always in someone’s crosshairs. To evaluate a person they must either work for you or you for them. Neither is the case here. I will not throw the first stone. On occasion I have witnessed actions of Mr Coffee at Board of Commissioner meetings and found him to be well spoken, rational, well mannered and highly intelligent. He presents extremely well. His agendas are consistently professional. This is from observation only.

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?

Owes too many voters, stagnant, same old agenda.

You’re not telling us much about four years’ public service. Merely making glib accusations won’t do. It’s not fair to the incumbent, nor is it fair to voters. Can you explain your answers with documented evidence?

My answer was not aimed at my incumbent for 1st district but rather folks in office that have “home steadied” the system. I have the highest respect for Commissioner Ericksen. He is a gentleman in every regard. I challenge him because I feel my contributions will be of greater value to the welfare of the county than his.

13. Who, on the current commission, would you most closely model yourself after and why? If you’re an incumbent, please choose from the remaining four commissioners.

I don’t model.

No doubt. But you’re running for office, and you’re asked to give us an insight into your familiarity with the board you say you’re qualified to join, and with colleagues your candidacy claims could use your presence. You’re running for one of the county’s most important public offices, and you’re asking for votes. We’d like to know that you’re willing to give us the sort of perspective voters need to make decisions–and that you’re capable of answering questions without putting glibness or contempt ahead of fair public interest. Please try again.

I would model myself more after the late Frank Meeker. I know he put his heart into everything that he did and was a good Christian man. He was well liked on both sides of the isle and will be missed.

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.

Immediately after Returning from Desert Storm our unit had a party and cookout. I drank too much and was arrested later for DUI even though I was not in the vehicle. I was convicted but it was overturned on appeal. In 2000 I worked as a car salesman for a Chevrolet dealership. One Saturday I had sold three vehicles all in the same day which was identified as a hat trick. The managers and I celebrated at a local bar and I was arrested for DUI after leaving. That was not overturned. That was 16 years ago.

15. Question customized for Daniel Potter: You say you have the highest respect for Charlie Ericksen, but you seek to replace him. Please give us two examples of specific policy approaches or decisions Ericksen has taken that you would have approached or taken differently. 

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3 Responses for “Daniel Potter, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    Something about him I like…

  2. BlueJammer says:

    Indeed. Mr. Potter appears to be a leader, respectful, and a fair man. I appreciate his honesty.

  3. Katie Semore says:

    He seems to be a no-nonsense person who doesn’t try to paint a flowery picture of himself. He is forthright and seems to be extremely honest. Like Robert Lewis says, “Something about him I like.”

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