David Sullivan, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview
Cheryl Tristam | August 14, 2016
David Sullivan is a Republican candidate for Flagler County Commission, District 3. His opponent in the Aug. 30 Republican primary is Jason France. The winner will face Democrat Barbara Revels 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
- 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
I have been a Flagler County/Palm Coast resident for over 15 years. My wife Pat, born in Jacksonville, Florida, and I love living here and want to do as much as possible to make our County the best it can possibly be. To do that one must possess qualifications that match the position you are seeking. In my case my background, education, and experience meet those objectives. (See the biography.) I have completed both the Flagler County and Palm Coast Citizen’s Academies because I have always been interested in what is going on in my community. I have done extensive volunteer work. I am well suited to support the over eleven thousand Veterans living in Flagler County and help improve the Veterans Administration (VA) assistance we owe them. I have not just complained about things here in the County, I have run for and been elected as the President of the Flagler County Republican Club (FCRC), Chairman of the Flagler County Republican Executive Committee (FCREC) and Chairman of the Grand Golf Club Board of Directors. In addition to currently running for County Commissioner, I am on the ballot County wide for the position of Republican State Committeeman which is important for Flagler County in the County Commission dealings with our Republican State Legislature. I have both government and civilian business experience in dealing with large complex budgets one of the key components in carrying out responsibilities as a County Commissioner.
I feel that I have maintained a cordial relationship with people I have come in contact here and am always ready to listen to others views and demands. In this race, if I win the Republican Primary, I will face an incumbent who I really have no significant negative feelings about. However, I think that two terms as a Commissioner are enough and it is good to bring new ideas and concepts to the table. We have a County Administrator system and that Manager and Staff provides plenty of continuity for the Government. The County Commissioners provide the key interface between the citizens and our County Government and I feel should be changed on a regular basis to avoid the perception that they have lost touch with our citizens and are not listening. I feel that I possess the qualities to keep Flagler County a great place to live.
How has Barbara Revels lost touch with citizens, or is not listening? How is she not keeping Flagler County a great place to live?
I do not think I have specifically accused Barbara Revels of the faults you mention in the question. However I will attempt to answer anyway as best I can. I live in Precinct 31 which has 2,657 registered voters and is part of Ms. Revels’s district. In the seven-plus years of her tenure as a Commissioner I have never seen or heard her being specifically involved with issues in this precinct. I know she has accomplished some good things with the Caver Center in Bunnell but as a County Commissioner you support all the citizens County wide and my specific experience here in my home Precinct may also be the case in other precincts both inside and outside of District 3. Therefore the point of losing touch and not listening to all our citizens.
As I have said before Flagler County/Palm Coast is a great place to live and I want to keep it that way. I feel that I will have a positive impact on that point if elected. This is a very subjective question so my answer must be that I feel if elected I will be the best choice to keep Flagler a great place to live now and in the future.
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.
As far as my human qualities go and since I am providing the answer, I am reasonable, have good instincts, restrained but enthusiastic when I believe in something, hopefully a gentlemen, logical, friendly, and interested in the well being of all those around me. As I have matured my youthful Irish temper has tempered and I am a pretty calm person now. If I had enemies, not sure I have any right now; they probably would say that I am pretty smart and difficult to get around. My friends might think I can be a little overbearing as a fault but usually it’s me trying to bring a little humor into the situation. When I was Chairman of the Flagler County Republican Executive Committee I had to constantly deal with a severely divided group of members pretty equally split. I had to constantly keep my temper in check and remain calm to get anything accomplished. I am a strong New England Patriots fan so if you catch me and the fan club during a game at the local Hooligans you might get the impression that I was a little wild and uncontrollable.
The amount of long term debt that the taxpayers of Flagler County, their children and grandchildren will face is for me the most critical issue. I say this realizing that the current 2015-16 Budget ($189,277,298) is being administered with no big glitches so far. But even with an overall increase in property values of 6 percent the County Commissioners at their July 6 meeting approved a potential tax rate of $8.14 per $1000 of taxable value for 2017. This would be a 2.5 percent increase compared with last year’s rate of $7.94. This proposed rate is 6.6 percent higher than the rolled back rate of $7.63 per $1,000 of taxable value. Only George Hanns voted against this increase. To me this reflects the large debt load the County must service among other things. Auditors at the July 6th meeting also reported that due to changes in State Pension rules the County must add $30 Million long term costs to the pension costs (not all $30 Million in one year but a yearly cost). Deals that the County made for the Old Hospital in Bunnell, Plantation Bay Water System, repeated stops and starts on the old Bunnell Courthouse have all added more to long term debt then they should have. For someone living in Palm Coast and have to worry about not only County debt, but the Utility and Palm Coast City debt the future is not a pretty picture. My feeling is that the County has not been as good a shepherd of our citizens hard earned taxes as they should have been. This needs to change because a turn down in our US economy would now be devastating to all of our citizens.
Lack of full cooperation between the County and Palm Coast Government Officials. The reality of this problem may be better than the public perception of the matter. Nevertheless there has been a constant public airing of perceived differences between the City Administrator and Mayor and the County Administrator and Staff. Issues such as EMS responsibility, water service at the Airport, Election polling location and use among others is causing some feeling among the population that our local governments cannot be trusted as much as they should be. I feel it is time for our Elected Officials to play a more important part in this area before we all hear about it in the Press.
Flagler County is a great place to live and most of our citizens have a pretty Good standard of living. However, there are many among us who are barely scraping by or worse. Many volunteer Groups and Churches are doing good work for these less fortunate people but there is always more that can be done. Government must always have as one of its top priorities to ensure that help is provided to our less fortunate citizens and do this in a thoughtful and economic way. For example the County should fully support a new “Veterans Court” process currently in place in Volusia and St John’s to help our Veterans facing charges. I will ensure that these types of problems receive my full attention and support.
None of the new costs the county is hoping to pay for with additional revenue–as this overview points out— have to do with debt, but with a planned raise for employees, increasing health care costs resulting from the county’s employee clinic ($1.5 million), rebuilding reserves, capital maintenance projects, and so on. Are you confusing Palm Coast’s utility debt with county debt? (The county has incurred debt buying the Plantation Bay utility, but that’s separate from the property value stream, and directly connected to rate-payers at Plantation Bay.) The deals you referred to, including the old hospital, are paid for through the sales tax supplement, not property taxes. One of the reasons the county hopes to build up its reserves is to hedge against the next downturn. So since there are no debts to speak of with regards to the planned tax increase, what in the list of county spending planned for next year would you cut? Regarding your third point, what, aside from Veteran Court, should the county do for the less fortunate specifically? Regarding Veteran Court, your opponent, Barbara Revels, has scheduled a workshop discussion of that very concept at the Public Safety Coordinating Council in September, the council she chairs. She’s not served in the military, but would she be any less capable to shepherd through such a concept than she’s been with other matters–Carver Gym, economic development, civil citations?
A big part of county revenues goes to pay interest on long term debt so the separation between categories of money you point out, although technically correct, misses the point I am making in my answer. As a taxpayer in both Flagler County and Palm Coast as well as a utility user it makes little difference to me what specific category of funds my various taxes, user fees, supplementals are segregated to once received. I do believe that at least part of current and future Plantation Bay Water system costs either have or will shortly go into long term debt. The tax increase I mentioned in my answer is a direct report from a County Commissioner’s meeting in early July. I realize that the full understanding of the Budget involves some hard work and time spent on details. I am ready to tackle that task if elected since that is one of the major areas in which the County Commissioners play an important role.
As to the part of this question regarding things to do for the less fortunate, I assure all citizens that there are needs in this Community that should be met by a combination of private (501C3) organizations, business groups and the County Government. My sister is a volunteer at the “St Vincent DePaul Society” in Flagler Beach which does a great job in supporting the less fortunate among us by not only providing short term funds but helping through education, goal setting and finding them a job. My wife volunteers at the Island Breeze resale shop on A1A that provides supports the Free Medical Clinic. There are at least a hundred of these types of volunteer organizations that are helping our more disadvantaged citizens. By maintaining detailed knowledge of what all these groups are doing are doing the Government can then target the areas where additional help can be provided in the most efficient way. My major volunteer effort has been for the Navy League where I am a National Director and we provide support to our active duty Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine members to them and their families as well as High School JROTC programs. So my basic thought here is that coordination between volunteer organizations, private business and the government can improve the situation and focus on needed improvements.
You are still not going to the heart of the question and telling us what services you would cut in order to address your concern over debt, and is your implication in the second part of your answer that Revels–who single-handedly saved the jobs of the few and lowest-paid employees in the county (janitors) a year ago, has not done the job as far as social services are concerned?
First I am glad Barbara Revels saved the jobs of some of the lowest paid County workers and I felt that way when the item was reported. I do not have all the answers on how to control all aspects of our county’s short, mid- and long-term debt but based on my background in major defense and industry budgets I have an excellent record of doing just that. Of course I have no magic wand to cut spending and debt. I also do not know every detail of the current and past county budgets but I am sure in addition to what I have already answered we can find specific ways to make inroads here while maintaining the important services and facilities that are needed to keep our county moving forward in the future.
As I have stated above I do appreciate how nice a place Flagler County is to live. I am fortunate enough to live right on the Intracoastal Waterway and have the pleasure of walking my big chocolate lab dog Oliver along the path each day. So to my way of thinking we have a beautiful environment in which to live and work here. The County and the Cities have done a lot to make sure our wonderful natural Environment stays that way. Make sure new business coming into the County is both environmentally friendly and also supply good jobs. My answers to question 3 above cover the second part of this question, especially in regard to long term debt and coordination between the City and County Governments.
Considering that your previous answer had inaccurately attributed the tax increase to needs for debt servicing, can you try again, with more specifics, giving us three ideas to improve matters (we’ll take county-city relations as the third)? You said in the reply to the opening question that “it is good to bring new ideas and concepts to the table.” We’d love to hear them.
I thought my answer to the tax increase previously explained the point I was making. Budgets are complicated but our citizens only see their Tax and Utility bills going up. I think we should look at the Budget in a number of ways such as vertical vs. horizontal cuts, zero based budgeting and holding the line on approved budget spending limits for the full fiscal year. Grants are important but looking at the tail end costs once the initial Grant is used up should always be carefully considered. Lets not be afraid of change just because we did not do it that way in the previous year.
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?
This is a question that I should probably research better with those actually involved with the EMS system and if elected I would carefully research these questions before making any decisions. However, my impression of how things are on this right now as follows: I think the current County position on EMS is that if it is not broken, it’s excellent service, so don’t fix it. From the Palm Coast City side they feel that service can remain great but with more control by the City of EMS service it can be made to work more efficiently and save money. Additional consolidation of City and County Fire services makes sense when the subject is brought up out of the context of the current situation. However given the history of severe fire, tornadoes and Hurricanes here there will always be resistance to the way we handle our Fire Departments. While I was attending the Palm Coast Fire Department briefing at Fire Station #25 on Belle Terre earlier this year we all noted EMS units speeding by the firehouse every few minutes heading north. The units were from the county Airport’s county fire station, and that immediately poses the question: Would it not be better if EMS Unit(s) were based at the very spacious Station #25 and cut down on response time north on Belle Terre. Additional analysis should be done here to insure that all our taxpayers are getting the most bang for their buck on fire service and let the chips fall where they may.
County airport EMS units cover the southern end of the county and city, where both county and city hope to have a fire station in the future. Units are stationed at the north end of town. All units will be dispatched differently, depending on need. Have you heard of any inadequate service in the city or the county because of that arrangement? As a county commissioner, will you be supportive of building a west-side fire station-? (In western Flagler County, that is, which on occasion, to Palm Coast residents, is like that zone west of the Hudson in the famous New Yorker cartoon: it doesn’t register.)
EMS service is excellent right now and I have not heard of any significant glitches in our award winning organization. It is my understanding that as the population of Flagler County has doubled over the last ten years or so the number of EMS ambulances has remained pretty much stayed the same. If the need is the western county area, that is where additional unit might be located. Budget permitting another firehouse in the western part of the County may be I would not commit to that without more detailed information on the matter.
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?
Like everything else the answer to this question is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. A new or updated 800 MHZ system will certainly improve communications. If affordable an improved system should be the goal. Not sure if money is being budgeted for this in the 2016-17 County Budget. Another case where personal prejudice may hinder a good decision. I need more information on this before agreeing or disagreeing with the Sheriff.
Heaven knows we’re as opposed to yes or no answers as you are. But we are opposed to lacking answers, and find it curious that on an issue that will dominate the next four years of any commissioner’s term, you have not already done your research or formulated at least a general idea of how you’d like to proceed–particularly since current commissioners were first briefed on it in 2013. Is it not among your priorities?
OK I did punt on that question previously. It has been a little time since I answered that question and my answer now with more information available to me is that we (County, City, and Sheriff) need the system fixed with urgency. This is one of those areas where the County Commissioners and Staff are not listening or at least not properly responding to an important issue relating to public safety and security being raised by the Palm Coast Mayor and Sheriff. The technology and equipment exist, its time for all to get on with getting the situation fixed with urgency.
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?
I have addressed this question in some detail above. I do believe this conflict is more perceived then the actual reality of the situation. My feeling is that we have a chance with so many City and County offices up for Election this year to really improve the situation between City and County, perceived or not. As stated above this is a great area where the elected officials can get out in front on these issues, lower the level of dispute and show our citizens that we can work together.
If carefully crafted, I would agree with a civil citation program for small amounts of pot and other minor crimes for first-time offenders. I strongly oppose approval of Constitutional Amendment Two which would provide further legalization of pot for medical purposes and beyond. Constitutional Amendments are the wrong way to institute new laws and the issue of future legalization of marijuana should be left to the State Legislature. The Constitutional Amendment 2 will result in wider use of pot beyond medical need.
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?
My last question to the County on this was answered that AVEO was still coming but its possible that I misunderstood the answer. I do know that things are going well at the County Executive Airport with the South Road completed and the new runway construction about to get underway. The National Guard is using existing buildings and will now build more. The potential for economic growth is significant in this County. As far as the need for the Economic Development Department goes, it should be given a zero base review in the next budget cycle to make sure it deserves the current level of funding.
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.
In order of preference: new library, senior center, west-side fire station. I would like to see what senior services will be provided as a result of the redo on the Palm Coast Community Center to improve this situation for the whole County. Any new Capital Projects must be properly budgeted and approved by the full County Commission or by referendum if of major cost. We should not be afraid to take issues for large Capital improvement programs to the voters for approval. I have faith that if properly presented, the voters will make the right decision.
I will be happy to do this once I am elected to the County Commission. At this point my experience with Mr. Coffey is what I see when I attend Board meetings and he seems to have a good handle on his staff and the various issues facing the County. My problem is that the current County Commissioners do not have much say in what Mr. Coffey decides and this can lead to poor perceptions on the part of our citizens as to how things are really decided in the County.
Your last observation warrants further explanation, as it touches on an recurring issue of who really controls decisions–the administrator or the commission. You’ve seen the commission in action, as you note. How would you handle the issue of control, and what would you change about current dynamics? Do you consider existing commissioners to be too easily manipulated? Will you be manipulation-proof?
First, yes I would be manipulation-proof. As long as the meaning of manipulation here means being swayed away from my basic position through unfair pressure. Of course we can all have our position changed if the details provided make good sense. This goes to my basic reason for running for this office. There is plenty of corporate knowledge available in the large County Staff so having Commissioners stick around for more than two four year terms is not necessary from that perspective. Also like it or not my experience is that after a few years on the Board the elected officials become too cozy with non elected staff and begin to lose sight of what their constituents really want. A major way to fix this situation is to make the norm a two term limit on commissioners. Not by statute but by accepted behavior. There may be times when no valid candidate from the specific District would be available. Not this year in District 3. In doing this the actual or perceived “familiarity breeds contempt” syndrome can be avoided and the Commissioners can regain some more control over major decisions.
By the same token the sort of term limits you speak of would result in more turnover, more commissioners on a learning curve, and inevitably, unquestionably, more power accruing to the administration, for lack of familiarity by commissioners. How would that be an improvement on a situation currently where problems derive from the appearance of an overbearing administration? How does a commission less familiar with the workings of government become less pliant to administrative authority?
You have touched on the classic quandary of term limits vs. competence in office. One answer to this of course is to let the voters decide with each new election. On the other hand it is extremely difficult to unseat an incumbent once that person locks in his or her position (election stats back that up). So based on my previous answer on this I have chosen the compromise position of two terms, eight years, for County Commissioners. It would be nice if one or two of our Commissioners would take their experience on the Board and then move on to higher office. Milissa Holland almost accomplished this a few years back but most of the time a person from outside the County comes in with big financing and scares off local candidates, which is the situation now. The County Commission positions are excellent places to build a basis for running for State or Federal position in the future. We are getting to be a pretty big County now and we need to start and develop future candidates for higher position and I feel the two term limit on County Commissioners might help this effort.
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?
This particular question presents a position that would support always electing incumbents provided they have not been put in jail. Even that does not work in South Florida. As I stated in a previous answer, in the form of government management used here in Flagler County, appointed County Administrator and elected Commissioners, the need for long term elected officials is not as great. An exception would be the County Constitutional Officers where corporate knowledge and experience come more into play. Experience is always a factor but there is also the problem of the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. I have noticed that at Board Meetings when issues are under discussion and one of the Board Members raises an issue, the response from Mr. Coffey is usually a little smile and a comment like “you know we went over this in many workshops and it simply makes sense to approve this. If we stop to review this issue again it will take a lot of extra time and we will lose this great proposal we have worked out.” My point here is that after a couple of terms Board members kind of give up questioning and go with the flow. I think our citizens deserve a better situation than this and new members on the Board is the right way to go. The spate of ethics charges and counter charges involving the Commissioners over the last couple of years, frivolous or not, has left a feeling in the Community that our Elected Officials cannot be trusted to fully and fairly carryout their responsibilities. Finally, the County has grown significantly in population over the last ten years, now over 105,000 in population. I’m afraid that our current Commissioners have not fully understood the impact this much larger population has had on the way we must handle much larger in scale problems we are facing.
There are lazy officials, and hard working officials. The difference can be readily apparent. You are running against one of the more hard-working and effective elected officials in the county. Going beyond term limits as principle, you’ve yet to give us a strong argument as to why Barbara Revels (assuming you get past Jason France) should be removed. Can you name two policy decisions or initiatives that she took that served voters badly? Your mention of the ethics and other complaints as “frivolous or not” seems unfair: anyone can file any number of frivolous complaints against any elected official, knowing very well that they won’t stick but that they’ll smear nonetheless–with even a purportedly seasoned citizen like you not only falling for the smear, but repeating it here. Rather than go on “feelings” in the community, why not address the issue of trust as you know it, specifically regarding Revels: are you suggesting she’s not trustworthy?
This would probably be a better question if we wait for the general election period after August 30 but I will as usual try and answer this question. Barbara Revels did not remove herself from the decision on buying the old hospital in Bunnell for the Sheriff’s Operations Center even though she had a financial interest in one of the financial institutions involved in the deal. [Editor’s note: Intracoastal Bank, to which Sullivan refers, was not involved in the hospital deal. Intracoastal President Bruce Page was one of the owners of the old hospital property, and Revels owned bank stock.]
It was reported in a number of sources including Flaglerlive that she committed an Ethics violation and had to pay a $2500 fine. Apparently there is another ethics violation case ongoing and if a penalty is awarded would be a public mistake. I am not suggesting that she is not trustworthy but she has made one serious and another possible judgment mistake. I reject your point that I was smearing anyone in my original answer. Politics is a tough business and not for the faint of heart.
Tough question for one trying to get elected, they are all my friends and I feel that I would be significantly different than any of the current roster.
It’s a tough question, but for voters, a fair question to answer: you’re asking for their vote. We’d like to know your political affinities. For the sake of transparency and the candor you showed in question 2, please try again.
The passing of Frank Meeker was a serious blow to the County Commission and I lost a true friend who always was a straight shooter and intelligent person who had the ability to listen intently and leave one with a good feeling even if you disagreed with him. However as sad as that might be of the current Board members I identify with George Hanns more than anyone else. George is a strong supporter of all our Veterans. He did a great job supporting Princess Plantation and I just like to talk with him. Here I go mentioning the one person who has served multiple Commissioner terms but that is the way I feel.
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.
15. Question customized for David Sullivan: We are not getting the sense that you are running because you have clear ideas and a definite purpose to assume a seat on the commission so much as you are going on a principle of change being good every once in a while. But change to what end remains unclear. You don’t seem to be driven by a fire to win as much as by a vague duty to keep the GOP in the game. But is that a compelling reason? Would you have run if a Republican held Revels’s seat? Would you have run if a more established Republican than Jason France were running in the primary?
I am a serious candidate for the position of County Commissioner District 3. I want to win this election and provide a seasoned leader to this important position in County government. I plan to carryout a serious campaign until the November Election and will continue to be a voice in the County for good win or lose.