Last Updated: 7:11 p.m.
Gov. Rick Scott is visiting Flagler County Friday morning, his fourth visit since Hurricane Matthew, to survey the storm’s damage and needed repairs at Washington Oaks Garden State Park, where he will speak with Flagler County commissioners.
The meeting with commissioners is set for around 9 a.m. County Administrator Craig Coffey informed county commissioners to meet him at 8:30 a.m. at the end of Malacompra Road in the Hammock, where he is to drive them with all-terrain vehicles on the beach, north to Washington Garden State Oaks.
Three county commissioners confirmed the meeting: they were reached by phone by the county administration in the course of the afternoon. Coffey confirmed it after he was reached by a reporter at 5 p.m.
Just before 6 p.m., an advisory from the governor’s office said Scott “will make a major announcement on Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts at Washington Oaks State Park.”
Coffey has not noticed what amounts to an informational gathering of the county commission, which will be engaged directly in an issue in front of it currently–beach restoration is the dominant issue on commissioners’ agenda. However informally, commissioners will be discussing issues of immediate and direct relevance, even more so if they are to speak with the governor later on, where Scott is expected to engage in conversation with them. As such, the gathering is not dissimilar from a meeting of the commission, and should be noticed under the state’s open meetings law.
Coffey disagrees. “It’s a public event being held by the governor so it’s not a public notice issue on our part,” he said. “I don’t think he’s going to be there long, my understanding is he’s going to make a brief presentation.”
“We found out literally at 2 o’clock, ” he said. “That’s when we found out and I really didn’t confirm it until 3 or 3:30 so I didn’t get told, so join the club.” The governor’s office informed the state park manager at Washington Oaks of the visit at 2 p.m., Coffey said–when the state park manager was in Coffey’s office.
Coffey’s office has also not informed the local media or other local officials who have reason to see the governor: Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, for example, or Flagler Beach officials, were not informed of the meeting. Holland said she’d want to be present.
It isn’t the first time the county has not informed press or key members of the community from knowing about the governor’s visits: On Oct. 31, it was only by luck that then-Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts learned of Scott’s visit to the county’s Emergency Operations Center, where Scott wanted to meet with local officials to talk about what went right and what went wrong with the response to Hurricane Matthew, and what the state could do to help the county. Palm Coast was very much part of the equation after the storm, yet the county did not extend an invitation to the mayor, claiming, in Coffey’s word, “it’s not our show.” What he meant was that the governor’s office had initiated the visit. But it very much was Flagler’s show: the governor wasn’t visiting Niceville or Ocheesee.
The county administrator again today said it wasn’t the county’s deal: “We don’t handle the media relations or the press releases, and for security reasons we let the governor handle that.”
The commissioners–four of whom will be there–were asked to gather at Malacompra Road, Coffey said, because there’s limited parking at Washington Oaks Gardens (where the parking lot was devastated by the hurricane’s storm surge). So the administrator thought it best to have the commissioners driven up from the beach side.
“The only thing we know is he’s gonna go to Washington Oaks Park, delivering a brief speech at 9, and leaving fairly quickly, and potentially speaking about the dunes,” Coffey said.