Jason DeLorenzo, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | October 17, 2016
Today and over the next 12 days we’ll run the Live Interviews of the candidates for local office in the Nov. 8 general election, with early voting beginning on Oct. 24. In the county commission races, the Democrats’ interviews, as with Jason DeLorenzo’s below, are running for the first time. Other candidates’ interviews were published ahead of the Aug. 30 primary, and will run again in the relevant races.
Jason DeLorenzo is the Democratic candidate for Flagler County Commission, District 1. He is challenging first-term incumbent and Republican Charlie Ericksen Jr., who defeated Ken Mazzie and Dan Potter in the Aug. 30 primary.
DeLorenzo, the government affairs director for the Flagler County Builders Association, is currently finishing his first term on the Palm Coast City Council, to which he was elected in 2011. You can read his 2011 Live Interview here. (That year, Ericksen challenged Jon Netts for Palm Coast mayor. You can read Ericksen’s 2011 interview 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.
All registered voters in Flagler County or any of its cities, regardless of party affiliation, including independents and members of minor parties, may cast a ballot in this race on Nov. 8 or in early voting, regardless of address or district.
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: Weehawken, N.J., Dec. 6, 1970.
Current jobs: Government Affairs Director, Flagler Home Builders Association; Partner, Teamwork Custom Art; Council member, City of Palm Coast.
Party Affiliation: Democratic
Net Worth: $52,100 (See the financial disclosure)
Website: JasonDelorenzo.com, www.facebook.com/JasonDelorenzoFlaglerCoCommission
I’ve spent the last ten years 100 percent engaged in this community through my work and civic involvement. I’ve had the pleasure to serve on over a dozen boards or committees that shaped this beautiful place, including the Palm Coast City Council and Flagler County Futures Committee and I have a strong understanding of governmental accounting. More importantly I work in this community, own a business in this community, my retired mother lives in this community, and my wife and I are raising our child in this community. I understand the joys, needs and concerns of Flagler County citizens through my own day-to-day joys, needs and concerns.
Larry Jones (D)
Rick Staly (R)
Thomas Dougherty (I)
Palm Coast City Council
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Pam Richardson (Dist. 3)
Flagler School Board
Maria Barbosa (Dist. 5)
Myra Middleton-Valentine (Dist. 5)
Flagler County Commission
Jason DeLorenzo (Dist. 1)
Charlie Ericksen (Dist. 1)
Barbara Revels (Dist. 3)
Dave Sullivan (Dist. 3)
George Hanns (Dist. 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 us real-life examples to illustrate your answer.
My parents raised me to be kind, honest and compassionate. I truly care about people. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I do not have a great poker face, neither of which is particularly helpful during political debate. But I’m able to overcome these shortcomings by being prepared to make strong arguments. I’m an analytical thinker and take great care in my decision making. I hope I have not made any enemies. I recently mentioned to a friend that I didn’t think a particular person cared for me, they said, “What? Everybody likes you.” If I do have enemies I believe even they would say I’m sincere. Political enemies wish I were a Republican. My friends tell me I’m a poor story teller because I include too many details. What can I say, I like details.
That’s a clever way to avoid the heart of the question, but when it comes to your conduct or rapport with fellow-elected officials, what would be a more searching way of telling us about your faults? We could give you a hand, based on your enemies’ hint: might your ambition and familial and professional ties (with the chamber on one hand, the home builders on the other) make you more daring in words but too cautious in action?
I can say that I am a very respectful and kind person. I am not aggressive, but I am also not a doormat. When I’m not campaigning, I both play and referee hockey. Hockey is a beautifully skilled gamed but within such close quarters aggression and tempers can flare. My style of reffing is to let the players play and understand when they need to blow off some steam. During stoppages in play I communicate with them, let them know why there was or was not a penalty. The players appreciate the blunt, honest communication and I never lose control no matter how heated it gets.
As a person, I’m congenial and kind; And, I also know when to put my foot down and get the work done. I think a diplomatic personality is key to any political role and because of mine, I am able to easily balance my relationships, including those with the Chamber and the HBA.
My top three priorities for Flagler’s future are Emergency Communications, Strategic Planning and Intergovernmental Relations.
Emergency Communications: The County’s 800 Mhz system, which communicates with all radios carried by first responders, will be at the end of its life next year and there is still no plan to replace it before 2020 or beyond. The current plan is to keep the system going with spare parts. We cannot rely on a parts bin to keep our First Responders and citizens safe. The current system has crashed several times, has communication dead zones and cannot penetrate large stores or schools. The latter leaving schools vulnerable to poor communication during emergency situations. In 2012 the County’s millage rate was 6.22 and they collected $40.8 million in ad valorem taxes alone. This year they are proposing nearly two mills more and tax collections of nearly $60 million. That’s a 46 percent increase. Some of that money should have been used to upgrade the system. I will make it a priority.
Strategic Planning and the Budget: There is a better way to plan for Flagler’s future and I’ve seen it in action. On October 22, 2007, I was appointed by the County Commission to serve on the Flagler County Futures Committee. I worked together with approximately 20 other citizens from around the community for over two years to produce a new Comprehensive Plan for the County. The Plan approved in 2010 is supposed to be a planning guide for how the county should grow until 2035. The Comprehensive Plan is made of 11 elements including Future Land Use, Conservation, Economic Development, and Capital Improvements. All but one of those elements (Housing) states the Flagler County Commission 5-Year Strategic Plan will be the implementation document for each element. In other words, each year when the Commission completes strategic planning and goal setting, guidance will be given towards the elements in the comprehensive plan and how each should be addressed over the next rolling 5 years. The County produced the first 5-year plan in 2009 and an update in 2013. The document has now expired with only a handful of goals being accomplished. One of the highest priorities, the rewriting of the Land Development Code, remains incomplete even though a committee was formed in 2011 to do so. If you want high quality, innovative, low impact development you need a good Land Development Code. Our LDC is 25 years old and the rewrite needed to be completed before growth returned.
During my time on the Palm Coast City Council, we received state and national recognition as a best practice for the way in which we perform strategic planning and goal setting. Individually, Council Members meet with staff each year to review accomplishments, ongoing priorities and vision for the future. Staff collates those thoughts and Council meets publicly several times to receive input, amend proposals and eventually vote on the next year’s priorities. The finance department then takes those priorities and puts a budget value to them. Before approving the budget, Council decides if we can afford or are comfortable with the cost of all of the priorities. Throughout the year, staff measures their progress and reports to council so we can maintain accountability. The process is a circle and makes the plan whole, cohesive and efficient. It’s not a document that sits on a shelf to be updated every few years without action.
When it comes to capital projects it takes a much longer vision to deliver citizen needs while living within our means. I propose a three-tier approach. A 20-year big vision, a 10-year narrowing of priorities and a 5-year action plan. The 5-year action plan includes project time frames, estimated budgets, and available dollars. It’s a tool to manage resources and flatten out tax spikes because you are planning over the long term and not project to project. The importance is seeing what the long term needs are, prioritizing them and understanding how you can pay for them. Projects are like puzzle pieces. Some are needed immediately, some take multiple years to complete and some cost more. If you don’t have all the pieces, you can’t see the whole picture.
During my time on the City Council we raised the millage rate by only .255 while providing raises to our employees, improving customer service, beautification, increased services and many infrastructure and capital projects. Palm Coast has the second lowest tax rate for a city its size in Florida and I believe that is because of budget development though strategic planning. I wish to bring this approach to Flagler County and improve Flagler’s future.
Intergovernmental Relations: A few months ago, at a candidate forum, I stated that the current relationship between the County and its largest city is embarrassing to the public but not really as bad as it seemed. I was wrong. It’s still embarrassing and it is worse than I wished to believe. The elected officials are all cordial even friendly to each other. I have open lines of communication with all the County Commissioners and have reached out many times to try to work through issues. The main problem is the administrations – they flat out cannot get on the same page. They are competitive and at times combative. Competition can be good but not when a collaborative approach is needed to complete a project or achieve a goal.
The relationship between Palm Coast and Flagler County reaches beyond the cities borders, it affects the whole county. The south entrance to the airport affects economic development, EMS decisions affect countywide services and emergency communications jeopardize all our safety.
With the loss of Frank Meeker, I will be the lone Commissioner to have served on both boards. I have a working knowledge of the issues facing Palm Coast and I will be uniquely qualified to be able to express those concerns to my fellow commissioners while also being able to rely on the relationships I’ve built at Palm Coast to bring the sides together and solve common issues.
The emergency communications system’s backbone is paid for through a $10 million loan that doesn’t come to term until 2020. Are you willing to take an additional loan before the expiration of that note to upgrade the system sooner? The improvements on signal reach and penetration into big-box stores and schools would require a more expensive system, with high-end estimates exceeding $20 million. Are you willing to ask for a system that would add that much cost, or even a few million dollars, to the current bill? You say that “During my time on the City Council we raised the millage rate by only .255…” Sure, but isn’t that deceptive, considering you also raised the stormwater fee 37 percent and raised water and sewer fees 22 percent (not including the annual inflation “adjustment,” which tacks on additional spikes), while the city utility carries the largest debt load of any government entity locally, ensuring that city residents will be on the hook for that debt for a generation, with likely further rate increases ahead. Is that the sort of robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul strategies you propose to migrate to county budgeting? Finally, regarding the combative relationship between the two government’s administrations, why have you as a councilman who just diagnosed the issue candidly tolerated that from your city manager? We do not recall a single instance in your tenure on the council where you have so much as diplomatically raised the issue with your employee.
Emergency Communication: There is plenty of work to be done before we borrow money to replace the system, but if that’s what we need to do, I would. We haven’t selected the new vendor or have an understanding of how many radios will be able to be upgraded to that system. We still need to know how many and where the towers will be located to eliminate dead zones and provide better coverage. Penetration issues can be reduced with little cost by requiring repeaters be installed in large buildings.
Strategic Planning and Budgeting: No, it’s not deceptive, but I suppose it’s not the full story. The County changed the distribution of sales tax dollars to keep more for themselves and provide fewer capital projects dollars to Palm Coast. Palm Coast then had to make up a shortfall of more than $600,000 per year. I confirmed again this year, during budget preparations, that the stormwater fee as compared to property taxes distributes more of the cost to commercial properties rather than residential.
Intergovernmental Relations: Behind closed doors, in his review and publicly I have told the City Manager the tone he often takes with the County is not helpful. I can remember at least one instance at a workshop when I could tell he planned to speak poorly of the County and I cut him off and told him I didn’t want to hear it.
I believe the County has made great strides when it comes to tourism and bringing in amateur sporting events. Visitors bring outside dollars to the community and help our economy. The bed taxes have been used to improve facilities and help offset the costs of local cultural events. We’ve seen a steady increase in sales tax collections which primarily fund capital projects. Having visitors help pay for your infrastructure cost helps us all. I will be a strong supporter in continuing our tourism efforts.
In terms of improvement, as I already stated, we need to do a better job of planning for Flagler’s future through strategic planning and budgeting.
How exactly have bed taxes been used to offset the costs of local cultural events? What events? What costs? And regarding your second point, how does “strategic planning and budgeting” relate to something residents can understand beyond the government-speak, on a pragmatic, day-to-day level? Are there really no other issues you see of concern at the county?
The Flagler Film Festival, Pellicer Creek Raid, Flagler Beach Historical Museum – Cheer at the Pier, City of Flagler Beach – Fabulous Fourth of July, Choral Arts Society – 3 Concert Series, Rotary Club of Flagler County Foundation – Rotary Fantasy Lights Festival, Native American Festival, KIX Country Fest, and Freedom Fest all received grant funding totaling $13,500 to offset costs of advertising at the TDC’s July meeting.
Strategy Management Group defines strategic planning as “an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization’s direction in response to a changing environment. It is a disciplined effort that produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also how it will know if it is successful.”
Strategic planning is not government speak, it’s what all successful organizations do to move forward. The goals, objectives, strategies and measurements of those strategies are the day to day level.
The County has many more issues that need to be addresses or continued to be addressed such as: increased homelessness, employment centers, transit, senior services and beach erosion.
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 difficult question because we still do not have all the facts. Palm Coast has one set of numbers and Flagler County has another. This is why I supported a joint meeting. I believe the only way to reconcile the numbers is to sit across from each other, eye to eye, and work it out. Then we will all know if there is a need in the north central part of the County.
Across the county, with all agencies involved, we have a really good system in place. The first responders in our community are highly-trained, dedicated individuals that see the big picture of saving lives, not the patch on the sleeve. Mutual aid is provided to all parts of the county and there are times that the first call out will cross jurisdictional boundaries to respond by proximity. This provides efficiency to the system. I do not believe we need more than one transport agency, I would continue with Flagler County as that agency.
Turf and pride are probably a factor, but there is a reason Palm Coast and the other cities started their emergency services; they desired a higher level of service then they were receiving at the time. There may be some short-term savings with less management and such, but I believe in the long term, those savings will be lost. Palm Coast firefighters participate in a defined contribution retirement system. When they are vested and retire, they take what they have accrued and the tax payers no longer pay for them. County employees are part of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) which is a defined benefit program. The county continues to contribute taxes to keep its members actuarially sound from retirement as they receive benefits until death. FRS government participants are also responsible for their member’s portion of the unfunded balance in the system which is currently at 13.5%. That gap, required to be accounted for by state law, affects the County’s credit rating and ability to borrow at lower rates. I believe adding all the other agencies employees to the system would add to the long term cost of providing emergency services.
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?
I identified my significant concerns about the system as a priority for Flagler’s future. All I would add here is that other agencies rely on the system and need a decision to be made sooner than later because they will also have costs to join the system. The radios for these communication systems are state-of-the-art and expensive. Until the County makes decisions about the system it is difficult for the other agencies to plan and budget for their own communication expenses.
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?
As I stated in my third priority for Flagler’s future, the relationship between the county and the city must improve. We are one community and when we plan together and work together we can accomplish much more and usually at a lower cost.
You explained the problem but you did not tell us how you as an individual commissioner would foster a more congenial relationship, since you had that chance on the council but did not succeed.
As I stated above, I have a working knowledge of the issues facing Palm Coast and I will be uniquely qualified to be able to express those concerns to my fellow commissioners while also being able to rely on the relationships I’ve built at Palm Coast to bring the sides together and solve common issues.
We used to have regular joint meetings. I will ask my new colleagues to meet with the Palm Coast City Council to work through issues before they become confrontational.
A Civil Citation is essentially a ticket instead of an arrest for certain non-serious offenses. They are common in our schools and are utilized throughout Florida and the nation. A Florida State University study completed last May states, ”A growing body of evidence underscores the corrosive effects that system involvement and confinement can have on healthy adolescent emotional, mental, behavioral, and social development, many jurisdictions are examining and developing ways to divert non-serious offenders from entering the system.” The Civil Citation programs are a strong alternative to harmful incarceration and should be certainly considered by all our local governments.
The study found that civil citation programs have proven to be the most effective strategy for reducing recidivism in Florida compared to other types of interventions with only 4 percent returning to criminal activity over the next 12 months as compared to 42 percent for incarceration.
Now some counties have added small amounts of marijuana and underage drinking to their civil citation programs. There is not enough information available to see those effects yet, but the FSU study did suggest expanding civil citations as the best way to improve a program that is working well. I’m in favor of the program but for it to be effective the entire county will need to participate.
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 mission of the Flagler DEO is to facilitate the expansion and diversification of the County’s economic base and, in this competitive market, I think they are performing well. Everyone would love to see a two- or three-hundred job company come to Flagler County and that may still happen, but 20-50 job success stories should not be ignored. Gioia Sails, Designs for Health, Coastal Cloud, and Delta-Engineering are just some of the success stories since the formation of the department.
Designs for Health, the first company to relocate to Flagler after the formation of the DEO, just purchased a much larger facility and is investing $3 million in site accusation and upgrades with a plan to add 50 positions over the next 5 years with a $12 million economic impact over the next 8 years. Gioia Sails is busting at the seams having hired to the capacity of their building, which has already been expanded once since moving here. Delta-Engineering, a Delaware based company, expanded its operation with a 14,000-sq. foot facility at the Flagler County Airport. Average salaries for Delta’s Flagler employees range from $90,000 to $110,000 and they recently had an FPC grad intern over the summer while home from college.
The department has completed Brownfields identification with environmental studies and secured grant dollars to help with cleanup during redevelopment. They also built and maintain and continuously update a list of available sites with detailed reports for each available to site selectors via their website.
We must continue to diversify our economy and increase our commercial and industrial tax base to reduce our reliance on residential property taxes. Quite frankly, we still need more and better paying jobs and the department’s efforts as well the work of the Palm Coast BAC is a sound effort and I support 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.
This should be an easy question, but as stated above in my priorities for Flagler’s future the lack of long-range planning makes it difficult. Absolutely, my number one capital project is replacing the 800 mhz emergency communication system. The Malacompra Drainage Project is on the horizon, additional facilities at the airport to support economic development and more T-hangars. Wadsworth Park needs additional parking to support the increase in sporting events and we need to continue to work towards a beach re-nourishment plan. I would rate the library number one, then the senior center and fire station, but we must protect our citizens and first responders first by replacing our emergency communications system.
Mr. Coffey has always been pleasant to me, he is outgoing and definitely pro Flagler County. I believe he can be territorial at times especially when it comes to Palm Coast and perhaps forgets at times that Palm Coast residents are part of the County as well. I’ve been told he is a micro-manager but I will reserve judgment until I get to work directly with him and I look forward to doing that as County Commissioner.
You’ve worked with a micro-manager for the past five years in Jim Landon (as two of your colleagues recently described him). How have you addressed it, as that might be a template for how you might address Coffey?
I have seen Mr. Landon change his style over the years. He now uses a much more inclusive team approach than when I started. I have not worked closely with Mr. Coffey and as I said above, I will make judgement on his management style after I have.
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?
The incumbent is a fine gentleman, a nice person and I believe I can call him a friend. It is generally true that an incumbent has an advantage due to institutional history but in my case the gap is minimal. I served on the Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan Re-write committees, the latter essentially being the County’s constitution; the incumbent did not.
My three reasons to replace the incumbent are all tied together; I’m of working age, I have a young family, and I’m a small business owner. I want to be clear, when I mention age, I’m not talking about vigor or health. I’m talking about being tuned in as a 45-year-old working professional and business owner that is raising a child in Flagler County. I’m talking about Flagler’s Future and making it better for our children and grandchildren to return to.
Flagler County has an employed labor force of over 45,000 workers and nearly 13,000 children in our schools. We are a lot more than a retirement community. We are a vibrant, diverse community and I feel my experience working in Flagler County with a small business and a young family allows me to have a unique perspective on the needs of citizens and businesses which I do not believe the incumbent possess.
Why must it be only one? I’m analytical and prepared, Commissioner Meeker always was. I have a memory for details like Commissioner Hanns. I’m tenacious and a cheerleader for Flagler like Commissioner McLaughlin and I’m a compassionate problem solver like Commissioner Revels.
Again, very diplomatic–and cautious. But also evasive if we’re to stick with the spirit of the question, which is intended–need it be made explicit?–to give voters more clarity about your most pronounced political affinities. So yes, there must be only one: which of the three remaining commissioners would you most model yourself after?
I don’t model myself or plan to follow after any of them and I have more elected experience than my opponent.
DeLorenzo 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.
No! When I was a child, growing up in New Jersey, whenever we drove down the Turnpike, my mom would tell my sister and me, “I better not ever see you there.” She was referring to the state prison near Newark Airport. I’m courteous, a decent cook and I’ve never been arrested. Thanks, Mom!
15. Question customized for Jason DeLorenzo: You are married to Rebecca DeLorenzo, president of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, a powerful local organization representing business interests, and as government affairs director at the Flagler County Home Builders Association you speak for one of the most powerful associations in the county, protect its interests and are a bridge or liaison between it and local governments. That’s a lot of masters to serve while still presuming to be your own man on a government board. In the past five years, give us two examples that prove your independence–examples where you have made decisions on the council that went against either the builders’ association or the chamber’s interests.
Rebecca and I are both hard working professionals from blue collar parents, we are community minded and at work we try every day to improve the local business environment and provide tools for them to succeed. At home we are parents getting dinner on the table, monitoring homework, electronics and shower time, and hopefully we get a couple hours for us. Shop talk is rarely the topic.
The one thing I hear from residents more than any other is that we are not business friendly and it is hampering our job growth. I have worked very hard over the last five years to improve that situation. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but we are definitely moving in the right direction. Engaging stakeholders, building relationships and opening lines of communication between the public and private sector that hire our workforce and grow our economy is a philosophy not serving multiple masters. A stronger economy benefits all.