An electronic roadside sign flashing directions to the relatively new branch of the Flagler County Tax Collector’s Office on State Road 100 caught the wrong eye of the Flagler Beach City Commission, which wants it gone in two weeks. Ironically, Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston opened the new branch in the old Food Lion shopping center mostly to serve Flagler Beach residents, though that’s not the only reason the electronic sign went up there.
The new branch opened last February, but more recently the very popular part of the office that takes concealed weapons applications moved from the main office at the Government Services Center to the Flagler Beach location, which affords more privacy y to applicants. The sign was to give the location more visibility, as residents from Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia all use that permitting process for convenbelience rather than apply through more cumbersome regional offices. “We really wanted people to know,” says Rae Nescio, Johnston’s right-hand woman at the collector’s office, “and everybody who comes into that office just raves and raves about how nice it is.”
She added: “We were only going to leave this rolling sign there for a couple of weeks”
Initially, Johnston had placed yard signs pointing to the new location, along the right of way. She wanted to catch the attention of drivers and also have signs there by First Friday, the monthly outdoors event that draws hundreds of people to Veterans Park in Flagler Beach. Code enforcement picked up the yard signs, which cost her $8 apiece, even though she said the Department of Transportation had told her they were fine there. Then she or a staffer contacted Steve Garten, the county’s emergency services manager, who dispatched the electronic sign to the right of way.
Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur didn’t like that, seeing spite in the installation of the sign. “It doesn’t belong there,” he said Thursday morning. “I’m going to make an issue out of it. That’s just her attacking back, in my mind.”
Johnston, speaking by phone Thursday evening, was taken aback by the claim. “You know me, I’m not a spiteful person at all, Johnston said. “I’m sorry he thinks I would be that type of person. I try to bend over backward to help the residents and letting them know about it. First Friday is a big deal and I knew there’d be a lot of people going that way there.”
At the very moment when Johnston was being interviewed by phone, the city commission was discussing the electronic sign, with none of the four commissioners present too thrilled about it, though they realized that the city itself uses traffic signage as well, as will the Department of Transportation when it rebuilds State Road A1A.
“Electric reader boards are allowed when it’s related to traffic,” Drew Smith, the city attorney, said, though if the sign is flashing, it’s a different matter.
“But it’s not traffic related,” Jane Mealy, who chairs the commission, said of the tax collector’s sign.
“But you can make the argument that that is traffic related because it is informing the public where to turn for the Tax Collector’s office,” Smith said.
Commissioner Joy McGrew proposed a compromise: give the tax collector 10 days, then the sign goes away. “It’s always temporary,” she said. “Because it is a government agency and it is a service that’s offered to our residents, we should allow them to have it up.”
“How come we put a time limit on it then?” Belhumeur said, not understanding why, if it’s not allowed by city code, the sign should remain at all.
None of the commissioners knew by then that Johnston had already solved the issue herself. “I can throw a ball to the sign that says City of Flagler Beach,” Johnston said, referring to the distance from her branch to the city limit. “So we wrote the county a message and moved it back over outside the city. So it’s no big deal.” Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation is minting new roadside signs for the tax collector that will direct eastbound and westbound traffic to the branch. Those signs will be planted along State Road A1A in about two weeks. And one or two of them may well be within Flagler Beach’s city limits.