The controversy over a footpath through the F Section, toward Matanzas High School, took several strange turns since it re-emerged in late June, after a nine-year hibernation. On Tuesday, it got plain weird as City Manager Jim Landon re-acquainted City Council member Steven Nobile with the word railroaded.
The footpath is a $180,000 project to pave an easement beneath Florida Power and Light power lines. The path would then provide students in the F Section a straight road on foot or on bikes toward Matanzas High School. The path was planned and partially built in 2008 until residents along the way realized the city’s intentions, mobilized, and forced the council to shut down the project. They objected to having their backyards so close to such a path.
Landon revived the project this year in conjunction with the council’s renewed focus on student safety, in light of two Matanzas High School students’ deaths as they walked and biked on Old Kings Road and Lakeview Boulevard further north. But Landon never informed council members of the controversial history of the FPL path. He did what he has often done with projects he favors: he muscled it through with the bare minimum of information, some of it dissimulated as part of a long list of repaving projects.
Then the controversy exploded just as it did in 2008, though council members had already voted for the path by then. Realizing the breadth of the issue, two council members–Nobile and Heidi Shipley–sought a re-vote, got it, but fell short: the rest of the council voted 3-2 to push on with the path.
With a caveat. The swing vote, Bob Cuff, asked for alternatives and more information regarding the path costs and the cost of building an alternative, temporary path along Old Kings Road–what many F Section residents have wanted all along. Landon produced those numbers, but they were vague, and council members again asked for clearer information, especially as they realized that the FPL path was not going to cost just $180,000, as Landon had told them, but likely a lot more than that, given the demands for lighting and security along the way.
Then came today.
The council was going through its annual overview of its capital project budget for the next five years, including what was to be spent next year. It’s a lot of money spread between innumerable projects from roads to sidewalks to park improvements to bridges, and so on. It can be confusing. And it was.
Nobile picked out a line item for a $400,000 project dubbed “Old Kings Temporary Path.” He asked about it. Landon explained that it was the cost of building a temporary path along Old Kings Road. It was placed on the 2018 capital funding spending list.
“I’m confused,” Nobile said, the first of many times he’d use the word over the next few minutes.
“We said we were going to bring back a proposal for city council’s consideration,” Landon said.
“Are we doing the FPL path?” Nobile asked.
“So this would be in addition to that?”
“So why are we doing the FPL Path?” Nobile asked.
Because the FPL path is nearly completed, Carl Cote, the city’s construction manager, told him.
Nobile was again confused: there would a $300,000 FPL path and a $400,000 temporary path that “negates” the FPL path?
Landon didn’t like the word “negate.”
“They both go to the school,” Nobile said. “Why am I spending–now Im up to $700,000 for a path.” He was referring to the projected $100,000 additional cost for the FPL path that Landon had not initially presented to the council, weeks ago, when he wanted the project adopted with as little friction as possible. The additional $100,000 would be for security improvements. Nobile described the whole thing as “a thorn in my side, this process, and this project, because I don’t understand against all of this opposition, building this FPL path, when we’re now considering circumventing and building a path on Old Kings Road.” (Shipley, who has been on Nobile’s side in the controversy, was not there today, as she was still visiting family in Boston.)
“I’m totally lost on this, this is not working, am I the only one?” Nobile asked.
He was not. Cuff was not seeing it clearly, either. Nobile said the cost of the temporary path along Old Kings was now close to the fuller cost of the FPL path, which would suggest that the Old Kings option should be adopted, and the FPL path dropped.
“I’m like you,” Cuff told Nobile, “I don’t understand why the $400,000 is in our capital budget for next year, unless we’re planning to build a temporary path.”
It sounded as if council members were spectators to their own business. But that’s not been unusual: it’s how the administration often operates, handing down the equivalent of edicts wrapped in a patina of choice. It’s in part why a majority of council members have become disenchanted with Landon–and why Nobile put him on notice several weeks ago that his time managing the city was drawing to a close. (The council is discussing Landon’s fate at an August 3 special workshop.)
In this case, however, Mayor Milissa Holland was not interested in retreating on the FPL foot path. “I don’t see the need for a temporary path, I’ll just say that,” she said. Her focus is on pressuring legislators to in turn pressure the state transportation department to provide $30 million for the widening of Old Kings Road through the F Section, which will eventually settle the question of a sidewalk along Old Kings. But those $30 million still have not appeared on any capital project plan’s horizon.
Nobile tried again: there’s no need for both the path and the temporary sidewalk. The temporary plan should have precedent. “I don’t remember both,” he said.
Then came the railroading: “We’ve signed the contract for the FPL path, so that one is happening,” Landon said. He might have mentioned that at the beginning of the discussion, saving everyone a lot of confusion. But there were motions to go through, a few blanks to fill in, for appearance’s sake. “What I’m hearing is now is not a good time to fund the temporary path.” So it should be taken off the budget, he added.
And that was it.
Landon’s plan for the path was fulfilled. He had provided council members with the options they asked for. Or at least went through the motions of doing so, all along signing the contract for what he wanted done, knowing very well that a signed contract could not be undone, and what he wanted done is getting done. He had outmaneuvered Nobile with what had essentially been a done deal all along.
Cote then moved on to talking about the $8 million construction on the Palm Coast Community Center “wrapping up next year,” and that was it. Case closed.
“This is why I came today,” Nobile had joked at the very beginning of the discussion on capital projects. What he got was not exactly what he had come for.