Corinne Hermle is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 4. The District 2 seat is also up. Steve Nobile resigned his District 4 seat in May, and incumbent Heidi Shipley decided not to run for re-election.
The District 4 race has drawn three candidates: Eddie Branquinho, Corinne Hermle and John Tipton IV. According to the city charter, that means they must compete in the Aug. 28 primary. If one of them gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then that candidate is the elected council member. If none of the three manages to cross the 50 percent threshold, then the top two vote-getters will go on to a run-off in the Nov. 6 general election.
When three seats were up two years ago, the council’s majority turned over, with two new council members and a new mayor elected. This year’s election will complete the council’s entire turn-over, as two new members are certain to be elected, though “new” may be a relative term in the District 2 race: the two candidates for the District 2 seat are Jack Howell and Jon Netts, who as former council member and mayor has served on the council more than any other official since the city’s birth in 1999. Netts was first elected in 2001 and served until 2016, when he was term-limited out of the mayor’s seat. Howell has once run for Flagler County sheriff before but has not won an election. All three other candidates for council are newcomers to politics.
Since the District 2 seat has drawn just two candidates, they will compete only in the Nov. 8 election.
This is a non-partisan, at-large election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for the District 4 seat, even though the district winner ostensibly represents that particular district.
Palm Coast council members serve four years. They’re paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor, not including a monthly “telecommunications” allowance.
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
- Amendment 1
- Public service tax
- How to spend $500,000
- Arts funding
- Council dynamics
- Council report card
- Jim Landon
- Manager search
Place and Date of Birth: Ocala, Florida May 22, 1979
Current job: Environmental Consultant with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Agricultural Water Policy.
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Financial Disclosures: Estimated +$100,000
Flagler County Commission
Greg Hansen (Rep., Dist. 2)
Dennis McDonald (Ind., Dist. 2)
Joe Mullins (Rep., Dist. 4)
Jane Gentile-Youd (Ind., Dist. 4)
Flagler School Board
Janet McDonald (Dist. 2)
John Fischer (Dist. 2)
The Candidates on ESE
Palm Coast City Council
Jon Netts (Dist. 2)
Jack Howell(Dist. 2)
Eddie Branquinho (Dist. 4)
John Tipton IV (Dist. 4)
Hire a new city manager. Push the city to develop long term plans to address the stormwater and wastewater deficiencies that are resulting in impaired waters for Palm Coast. Address housing sustainability in Palm Coast by diversifying the types of housing available, with the hope of pulling in young professionals that can bring in more businesses and better paying jobs for the community overall.
Tackling stormwater deficiencies will be costly. Is the $11-a-month stormwater charge on residential properties too low? How high would you raise it? What other means would you use to draw revenue for stormwater?
Yes it would be costly. And it’s an issue, as with many infrastructure projects, that will only get more costly as time passes. As for whether the stormwater charge is too low or how high it should be, that will require research and analysis – what does the current stormwater infrastructure look like, how old is it, is it nearing the end of its designed utility, how bad is the flooding situation in some neighborhoods, how large or sustained of a rainfall event is needed to create flooding in those neighborhoods, is flooding frequency increasing as neighborhoods are being built out and impervious surfaces are increasing, etc.
I’ve heard a lot of frustration from citizens in flood-prone neighborhoods. They’re not happy with answers and an apparent cavalier attitude they’re receiving from the city when they voice complaints about the flooding. These citizens are going to the St. Johns River Water Management District, to the Health Department, etc with their complaints, trying to get some kind of resolution.
It may be that the city cannot address these issues by itself. The drainage and water control problem may have to addressed across jurisdictional boundaries in the county. One way to do this is with a special taxing district whose sole purpose is to address drainage and water control for the region. There are over 75 special taxing districts in Florida in which their function is drainage and/or water control. I don’t like having government for government’s sake, but perhaps this region has finally hit a tipping point that an overarching entity is needed for the area in order to address stormwater issues.
Encouraging sustainable growth so the community can meet its current needs without compromising quality of life for residents of all ages; Developing a resilient community that can weather both natural and economic storms, recognizing that partnerships between city, county or state can generate better outcomes than a ‘go it alone’ approach; and Accountability and proper oversight of management in government. 2. Cite three issues or concerns that in your view the city is addressing poorly or not at all, and explain how you intend to convince the council to change course.
You answered the first part of the question, but not the second as much: How has the city failed in not developing resilience to climate or economic challenges? It pulled through two hurricanes rather well, and made it through a crippling recession without crippling its own finances or government structure. What would you do differently? Where are the shortcomings in accountability and oversight, and what different approach would you take as a council member?
According the the US Census Bureau, wasn’t Flagler County among the top growing counties in the nation pre-2008 crash? Then post-crash, Flagler County had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state? Yes, the government managed to weather the storm, but how bad did it get for the community? Four years of double digit unemployment doesn’t sound like the community easily weathered that economic storm.
Developing resilience isn’t a one-time effort. It is an ongoing iterative process. In emergency management, everyone is highly encouraged to do an after action review to see what went right and what went wrong. You can’t have only a Plan A. You need to put redundancies in place so if plan A fails, there’s a backup plan that can be pulled off the shelf and implemented quickly. I’ve heard state emergency management officials say that communities may unable to rely on FEMA reimbursements to help with storms. Is Palm Coast prepared to shoulder the storm clean up and recovery completely on its own?
Palm Coast has high speed fiber internet. What is being done to lure tech companies here to take advantage of that resource? Are we asking why the tech companies aren’t interested in relocating to Palm Coast? How often is the council being updated on city efforts to spur area growth?
As for your final question on “shortcomings in accountability and oversight, and what different approach would you take as a council member”, please look to my follow up answer for question 9.
3. Voters this fall are likely to approve Amendment 1, an expansion of the homestead exemption to up to $75,000. All local governments except schools will see shortfalls. First, do you support the additional exemption? Please explain your answer. Second, how will you make up the lost revenue?
I am concerned at Tallahassee’s continuing insistence that they know the level of taxation that is best for all communities in Florida. Rather than holding our elected official’s feet to the fire and having them come up with a sustainable taxation structure, voters instead start relying on inflexible methods such as constitutional amendments. We are beginning to have a winners and losers tax structure, which only shifts the tax burden. I believe Palm Coast will be forced, like many other city and county governments, into increasing taxes in order to maintain essential services.
Your answer would apply more fittingly to school taxes, which are largely at the mercy of state legislators. But isn’t city and county revenue largely in local hands–the property tax, impact fees, user fees, sales surtax and gas tax revenue? And Amendment 1 will be decided by voters like you, but how will you vote.
But many of those are issues the Florida Legislature has attempted to regulate in the past. In the last few years, the Legislature has attempted to curtail regulation of vacation rentals, ban tree ordinances statewide, forbid local fertilizer restrictions, etc. These aren’t one off attempts either, but continue to increase in frequency as the years pass.
As for how I would vote on Amendment 1 – exactly how I would vote on any preemption issue that I perceive as a threat to Home Rule – No. Find a better way than via a constitutional amendment that is redistribution gimmick packaged as a tax cut.
4. Palm Coast has the authority to impose a public service tax on your utility bill of up to 10 percent, and a franchise fee on utilities, which would be passed to customers, of up to 10 percent. The money may be spent at the council’s discretion. Many counties and cities around the state partially or fully levy one or both the taxes. Palm Coast considered imposing a 6 percent electric franchise fee and a 2 percent public service tax in 2012, but reversed course in the face of strong public opposition, even though the two new taxes were intended to replace the existing stormwater fee. Either of the new taxes, proponents argue, would diversify the city’s revenue stream. Either could be used to generate revenue that would otherwise have to be generated by property taxes, though the public service tax and the franchise fee are regressive in comparison. Where do you stand on either new tax becoming part of Palm Coast’s taxing structure?
I have lived in Ocala, Gainesville and Tallahassee. Cities like these were able to successfully get their voters to agree to tax increases. Those governments clearly outlined a plan for those tax dollars, with clear and attainable goals. Most importantly, when the voters were willing to take a chance on the tax increase, those governments were transparent with how they spent those tax dollars, didn’t stray from the stated goals, and didn’t use that additional tax revenue as a piggy bank to plunder as needed. You can’t just state that you need additional revenue – you need to show the tax payers a demonstrable need and have a clear plan of how those tax dollars will be spent.
5. Every time a developer proposes an apartment complex in Palm Coast, rebellion breaks out from neighboring residents. Yet the city has a need for affordable housing. How do you propose to diversify Palm Coast’s housing options? By what criteria would you approve or reject apartment complexes? Would you approve raising the density and height of multi-family, or apartment, structures in select areas of the city zoned for the purpose?
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s 2010 report, “Productivity and the Density of Human Capital,” found that if a metropolitan area doubled its population density, its human capital increased, leading to increases in productivity. Knowledge-based sectors were the most dramatically affected by increases in density. Those knowledge-based sectors tend to have very well paying jobs. Increasing density in very specific portions of the city has the potential to result in better paying jobs for the community.
I am interested in creating housing for young professionals, such as townhomes.
You support greater densities and town homes. Are you equally supportive of apartment complexes?
Yes, in order to increase densities, I’d imagine there would be a need for apartment complexes. What thriving sustainable community doesn’t have apartments for entry level workers in which to live?
Mini-grants to local business start ups could be helpful. Sometimes a small infusion of funding can help a fledgling business get off the ground. More businesses coming into Palm Coast would be a benefit to its citizens.
7. At around $30,000 a year, the city’s support of the arts is extremely stingy. Some governments, Volusia County among them, dedicate a small, proportional fraction of tax revenue and public spaces to programs often referred to as Art in Public Places. Would you support such a dedicated tax?
I believe providing public spaces for art provides as much value as spending tax dollars on art. A public/private partnership would be beneficial in this instance.
Providing public spaces is cheap–and the least the city can do or, as some governments do, require of developments of certain sizes to provide–which Palm Coast does not. Would you impose such a requirement on larger developments? Does your answer mean that you oppose a dedicated tax to go along with an arts program, as Volusia County does?
I’m concerned that it’s a good idea that doesn’t always get executed well. I’ve been fortunate to travel across much of the state, and I’ve had the opportunity to see some beautiful works of art in government buildings, purchased with tax dollars set aside to support the arts. But that’s the problem – it tends to be put in a board room, or in a building that is only open Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. How is the public supposed to experience that? The art gets put somewhere where perhaps 90 percent of the local taxpayers never get an opportunity to see it?
Ocala’s ‘Horse Fever’ really generated a lot of interest in the arts, and it was a collaborative effort. Gainesville has large murals dotted around the city. Many cities have implemented a utility box art program. Parks will temporarily host sculpture exhibits. All are public, accessible and visible to the tax payers that paid for them.
The council should be deciding policy, and it is the responsibility of the city manager and administration to carry out that policy. The city administration creates short and long term plans, and it is up to the council to provide feedback and direction for those plans. The council also has the responsibility to make sure the city administration is following those plans. If the city administration or city manager isn’t doing so, then it is the responsibility of that council to hold the city administration or city manager responsible. The council has authority over the budget, and they would be wise to utilize the power they have.
Maybe because our question wasn’t clear enough, you told us how council dynamics work in theory, on any council. But we’re asking you to evaluate for us how you see this particular council’s dynamics and what you would do differently.
See my answer to #9 below.
9. Mayor Milissa Holland, Council member Nick Klufas and to a lesser extent Council member Bob Cuff were elected on promises of change and novel visions two years ago. Evaluate their performance, their successes and shortcomings, and tell us if you think they’ve lived up to their promise. What will you bring to the council that they don’t?
I respectfully decline to evaluate their performance. I believe that is a role for the voters of Palm Coast. I see no need to attack or belittle someone who, if the voters are willing, I may have the opportunity to work closely with in the future.
I have over ten years of state government experience, frequently collaborating with state, local and federal government entities. As a Florida certified contract manager, I’m familiar with putting measures in place to ensure not only that a job gets done, but that it gets done right. Government can often be opaque, confusing and difficult to understand. I believe my experience will help the citizens of Palm Coast hold their government accountable.
One of the reasons “government can often be opaque, confusing and difficult to understand” is because those willing to serve are not always willing to answer legitimate questions about the government they want to join, so we can better understand them. The question is not pejorative but objective: no one is asking you to “belittle” or “attack,” but to show us if you’re able to analyze fellow-council members’ effectiveness–and therefore your own. If you’re seeking to represent us, clearly you think you bring something others may not. Or do you? For those reasons, we ask the same question again.
I hope you don’t mind if I combine your two follow up questions with one answer.
I’ll use a recent meeting as an example to point out how the current council dynamics could be better. In FlaglerLive’s August 1, 2018 article, “In Rebuke to Palm Coast Council and Public, Landon Fends Off Request For More Timely Information”, not having all meeting material in advance of the meeting to allow for a proper review time period of the council members is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. If I don’t have materials in a timely fashion so I can fully review them, then I can’t make the best decision for the community. I will vote against that item on principle.
I would speak up and ask questions and vote against anything I do not believe benefits the City in a clearly demonstrated way. A No vote doesn’t always mean ‘this idea is terrible so I’m voting no’ but can also mean ‘this idea has merit, but I don’t like the version you’ve presented to me. Improve it and lets vote again on the issue in the future’. That is why is it important for Council members to have open discussion on various items. Discussion isn’t solely for the benefit of posturing to the public on various issues. Discussion is important to the support staff of a meeting so they know what a council member is looking for.
The City Manager shouldn’t blindside the Council. Asking for supporting documents to be provided 48-72 hours in advance of a meeting is standard practice. If the City Manager repeatedly is unable to provide the documents in a timely fashion, then the Council is well within their rights to make a motion requiring the City Manager provide all supporting documents to the Council a specific number of days before a meeting. If the documents can’t be provided in time, then the issue is tabled until the next meeting.
The same goes for consent agenda items. Any Council member can request an item be pulled from the consent agenda to be discussed further. This goes back to accountability – the City Manager’s job is to supply adequate information so that the Council can then provide direction. When this doesn’t happen, the City Manager appears to be doing his own thing according to his own agenda and not what the people would prefer.
I begrudgingly admire his ability to get things done, even though they’re not be the things the council or citizens of Palm Coast wish for. He obviously knows and is comfortable using the levers of government. I believe he uses that knowledge to try and sneak things in under the radar, or slow walk projects or policies he doesn’t agree with.
11. The council is looking for a new manager. Evaluate the manner of the manager’s search to date, now that it is more than a year in the making, including your assessment of the current manager’s involvement in the search. Would you have been willing to pay the current manager’s severance to speed up the process? What will you look for in a new manager?
The current city manager should not be involved in the search for a new manager. Since the council hasn’t received a final date of employment for Mr. Landon, it is incredibly premature to hold a search for a replacement. One only needs to look at Mr. Landon’s past behavior to realize any dates he has thrown out for his retirement are speculative at best. If the council somehow managed to find an amazing candidate for city manager, how long does the council expect that candidate to stick around waiting for Mr. Landon to retire? If I were a council member, I would’ve let Mr. Landon know what my expectations were for his position as city manager. If he repeatedly failed to meet those expectations, then I hope I wouldn’t get hung up on a sunk cost fallacy, but would be willing to pay his severance.
My ideal candidate for city manager would have leadership qualities, in order to win support from the community and from city employees. A willingness to keep the board informed, and humble enough to follow the board’s directives. Budgeting experience, both short and long term. And finally, a strong standard of ethics, so they can act with transparency and honesty.
12. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that contract, and tell us what specifically you would change about it. Are some areas of Palm Coast less effectively policed than others? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future?
I don’t favor creating additional costs for the citizens of Palm Coast and duplicating effort. The start up costs for creating an independent police department are significant – personnel, vehicles, equipment, benefits, training, a location to house those individuals, etc. I hope the sheriff is taking advantage of data analysis and visualization to help improve law enforcement in the city. Such analysis may show that more personnel are needed or may show that community outreach efforts may be a more cost effective solution.
2018 Election Candidates, Flagler County
|County Commission District 2||Greg Hansen, Incumbent (Rep)||Abby Romaine (Rep)||Dennis McDonald (NPA)|
|County Commission District 4||Nate McLaughlin, Incumbent (Rep)||Joe Mullins (Rep)||Jane Gentile-Youd (NPA)|
|School Board District 1||Andy Dance, Incumbent||Unopposed|
|School Board District 2||Janet McDonald, Incumbent||John Fischer||Carl Jones|
|School Board District 4||Trevor Tucker, Incumbent||Paul Anderson|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 2||Jack Howell||Jon Netts|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 4||Jose Eduardo Branquinho||Corinne Marie Hermle||John Tipton|
|Florida House District 24||Paul Renner, Incumbent (Rep)||Adam Morley (Dem)|
|Congressional District 6, Democratic Primary||Stephen Sevigny||Nancy Soderberg||John Upchurch|
|Congressional District 6, GOP Primary||Fred Costello||Michael Waltz||John Ward|