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Palm Coast Manager’s Power-Play Mucks Up Donation of Truck to FPC’s Fire Academy, Ignoring County’s Role

| August 24, 2018

The fire truck at the center of the controversy. (Flagler Schools)

The fire truck at the center of the controversy. (Flagler Schools)

If you want to grasp why ego-driven tensions flare so periodically–and needlessly–between Palm Coast and county government, you need only look at the city’s donation this week of a surplus fire truck to the Fire Academy at Flagler Palm Coast High School.


What was supposed to be a useful, feel-good donation from the city to the district turned into a power play by the city, and more specifically by Jim Landon, the city manager, who as the county sees it shoved through the donation and the agreement controlling it by neglecting to include those who run the academy itself: Flagler County Fire Rescue and its chief, Don Petito.

The Flagler County School Board tried to smooth things over Tuesday, approving the agreement with Palm Coast with a few caveats–namely, making it clear that any donation to the academy will be up to the county to use or not use within the purview of its program, and making minor changes to the agreement with Palm Coast.

Landon, again ignoring the district, earlier today pushed out a characteristically haughty and inaccurate press release that appears to purposefully ignore Flagler County’s role in creating the program and the county’s continued involvement in running it, while playing up Palm Coast’s role, which, beyond providing ride-alongs to students, happens to be minimal: the program is taught by Flagler County Fire Rescue Lt. Andrew Kepler, but the release dropped the word “county” from Kepler’s role. The city release states that “Palm Coast Fire and other local fire departments work with Flagler Schools to make the new program a success,” though in fact the program originated with Petito and is a county-driven, county-taught initiative.

The release quotes ex-FPC principal Dusty Sims, who Landon imperiously refers to as “my principal,” and with whom Landon discussed the donation (the two met frequently), to the exclusion of Petito. (The fire academy is one of the district’s many flagship programs, and likely its most visible. It is designed to give students a hands-on education, preparing them for the workplace.)

All that has left school district officials, whose concern is their students rather than egos, in the middle of an unnecessary mess they would have rather not had to clean up, as they were attempting to do Friday, urging a rewrite and correction of the city’s premature release: Landon sent out the release without the district’s knowledge, and without acknowledging the School Board’s actions on Tuesday. He initially resisted corrections, then relented.

Some of the tension had bubbled up at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“It’s not just the district and the city of Palm Coast. We have a fire academy because we have a relationship with the county fire department,” School Board member Janet McDonald said at the time. “It’s like having a partnership and one person saying, well I’ll go talk to you over here, and then I’ll just bring it in and whatever that other person in that partnership, you can take it or leave it. That’s not the point. The whole thing started a couple of years ago because we didn’t all come to the table. This is the same thing. We are not improving our relationships here, and we need to for the betterment of the whole program.”

From the county’s perspective, the sticking point in the donation of the surplus 2004 Kenworth T-300 fire engine, aside from not being involved, is the material effect of the equipment on the program: it has to appropriately mesh with the curriculum. There’s little likelihood that any fire apparatus donation would not mesh, but Petito wanted those issues cleared ahead of time, not after the fact, so as not to jeopardize the program’s accreditation.

“I don’t see no reason why we can’t work through this stuff, we’ve said that since the beginning,” Joe King, the county’s deputy fire chief, told the school board. “We’ve gotten gear from multiple departments, hose for them to roll in the school is no big deal.” He said guidelines set by the state could be added to the city’s agreement with the district or the county’s memo of understanding with the district. “But here’s the obvious: if something is donated to the school and it’s handed to us and said, do you want to use it and we say no, then it should go back. That’s where I felt we were two years ago.” He added: “With moving forward, we could have moved through this and had this discussion and probably fixed this a lot faster.”

Jerry Forte, named this week Palm Coast fire chief starting in September, also addressed the board: “The students need this,” he said, “because two years ago when we started this process, they were promised a truck that they were going to be working off of, the truck was supposed to be part of this process. For whatever reason, we’ve got this ability to give those students a truck and let them feel what it’s like to pull hose off the truck, work off the truck, wear an air pack off of the truck and give them that real-life experience that they’re going to need to make this part of the real-life experience that they think they’re going to get. It’s available, we’ve got it, you can have it. We’ll work with Kristy about getting the finer details worked out, but we’re not going to scrap it, this truck is going to be part of the school board program at some point and we’ll make it happen.”

Petito this afternoon said it’s inaccurate to imply that the program has not had a fire truck. “We have three fire trucks that we use” to train students, he said–the proximity of Flagler County Fire Rescue’s Station 92, within sight of campus, helps–and one truck is dedicated to the program. It is stored at the agency’s vehicle storage facility.

McDonald had attempted to table discussion of the agreement until the county had been brought into the discussion more formally. That did not get the rest of the board’s support, but it led to a long discussion and various proposals to clarify the agreement with the city and the county’s controlling role.

Board member Colleen Conklin wanted to eliminate a provision allowing for student ride-alongs, which has nothing to do with the donated truck (which is to be stationary). The board agreed to that. Conklin also wanted a few other changes (including a provision that “no equipment can be used without prior approval of the Flagler County fire Department,” but those were to be added to the county’s agreement with the district.

“Once we take possession we can do with it what we want,” School Board attorney Kristy Gavin said.

That, and a few other acknowledgments about the county’s role, seemed to resolve the matter.

“The commitment from the county to the Fire Academy is extraordinary, and they need to be recognized if this is going to be a showpiece for the academy,” School Board member Andy Dance said. “Everybody who’s participated in helping this program get to where it is and get off the ground, we would like this to be the showpiece and be able to thank everybody involved in putting this program together through this vehicle. This vehicle will be the branding piece for the academy.” He said he didn’t want the donation jeopardizing the program in any way, but said Petito had assured him the donation would do no such thing, understanding that it left it in the academy’s hands to decide how to handle the equipment, if it was to handle it at all. “I don’t think any of us can properly thank the county for the investment they’ve made in our students,” Dance continued.

There was no hint of such acknowledgment, let alone thanks, in Palm Coast’s release today.

Students enrolled in the academy cheered when the board voted unanimously to approve the agreement–with the Conklin amendment. Superintendent Jim Tager summed up the matter: “If we work together as a city and a county for our students, it’s the best thing.”

Shortly after 1 p.m., three hours after issuing its initial release, Palm Coast sent another release with a red-lettered correction at the top that read: “See below an updated version on how the donated fire truck will be used – that will be up to Flagler County Fire Rescue and Flagler Schools, and details are still being worked out. Also, in consultation with Flagler Schools, we made a few other changes to the release to make sure it’s clear and accurate.”

Kepler’s title was corrected, but the county’s role in starting and running the academy was still muted.

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17 Responses for “Palm Coast Manager’s Power-Play Mucks Up Donation of Truck to FPC’s Fire Academy, Ignoring County’s Role”

  1. Maiden says:

    Get rid of that blow hard once and for all. He is not good for Palm Coast or the county

  2. Lnzc says:

    The king acts again

  3. Anita m says:

    Hope Landon doesn’t expect a recommendation from anyone in Palm Coast…

  4. KMedley says:

    And thanks to the three political puppets: Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod, Landon is still able to perpetuate such behavior, ignore protocol, and when all is said and done, able to deploy his golden parachute.

  5. Mark says:

    When will someone growacet and get rid of Landon?

  6. Agkistrodon says:

    Leave it to beaver to make a big ole Ass out of himself………….Something tells me that is his “natural” state.

  7. Joe says:

    Drama, Drama, Drama…

  8. atilla says:

    Why is the county flappen their jaws when it’s got nothing to do with it. Maybe if Hansen and McLaughlon would do something constructive for the county and fire Coffey they wouldn’t get ousted when the votes are counted,

  9. Anonymous says:

    They talk about draining the swamp. Maybe we should start here?

  10. Tired says:

    I watched the School Board meeting online this week. I was disappointed to see that Forte’s approach is just like Landons. He repeatedly spoke of how many ride-alongs have been done as “part of the program”. When in fact, ride-alongs are not part of the program. Finally, Mrs Conklin asked him to clarify that for she knew and he finally admitted that the ride-along program is a Palm Coast program – not part of the approved curriculum. As usual, Palm Coast manipulates and twists to give the impression that they want. Petito and others at Flagler County have invested a lot of time and research to ensure that this is a great program. There is an entity that they must get approval from and that is not the city or the county. That entity does have the ability to pull the plug on the program, lets hope that Forte and Landon don’t force that option for the kids aren’t the only one that lose. The entire community will benefit from this program when students graduate and pass their exams. Please keep the meddling out and allow Petito and his crew to continue with an impressive program!

  11. Richard says:

    No guts, no balls, no glory!

  12. Realist says:

    When are they going to get rid of Mr. Landon who is the biggest mistake of Palm Coast short history as a city. Every incumbent needs to be voted out in this election . Time to reclaim our great city.

  13. Will says:

    As a Palm Coast resident, I would like to hear the City’s side of the story. What were the limitations and conditions discussed between Mr. Simms and the City Manager? Talk about egos, I believe the County can’t stand not being in control of the Palm Coast Fire Department.

  14. PalmCoastPioneers says:

    Palm Coasts’ $ 36,000.00 Fire Truck; first Fire Truck for Palm Coast:

    August 1976
    Mr. and Mrs. George E. Chuddy
    28 Lake Drive
    Darien,Connecticut 006820
    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Chuddy:
    Because you have made a commitment in Palm Coast by establishing your home here, we believe you should be aware of an agreement that we recently reached with the Federal Trade Commission.
    ITT Community Development Corporation ( ICDC) has signed a Consent Agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning the future development of Palm Coast. Signing the agreement does not constitute an admission that any law has been violated, as the agreement itself states. We feel the agreement is important in order to attain our primary goal — the development of Palm Coast as a balanced, well-rounded community.
    An important part of the Consent Agreement calls for the execution of plans, within six years, which we believe, in the long run, will be good for Palm Coast. In brief, among other things , we have agreed to the following:
    1. A shopping center with at least 400,000 square feet of floor space will be provided.We are already in contact with prospective developers of individual stores, including a supermarket.
    2. With appropriate governmental agreement, a traffic interchange on Interstate Highway 95 will be constructed to serve Palm Coast according to plans we submitted to the Florida Department of Transportation in August 1972. ICDC will pay for the interchange as originally designed.
    3. An office and research park area will be developed with appropriate roads and utilities to serve it and landscaping to make it an attractive part of Palm Coast. Planning for this already is under way.

    4. A multi-purpose office building, with at least 5,000 square feet of floor space, will be constructed for tenants in the office and research park. This structure, also, is under planning.

    5. We will move the headquarters of ICDC to Palm Coast. We plan to be substantial employer contributing much to the economy of Palm Coast and Flagler County.
    The agreement also provides for us to restrict our development efforts to 42,000 acres for a period of 15 years ( with possible extension for another five years). This will allow appropriate construction in areas set aside for commercial establishments, light industry, recreation, preservation and conservation and other residential uses. Moreover, during this 15- or 20-year period, sales will be limited to 48,000 registered lots of which over 36,000 already have been sold.
    The aforementioned are some of the most important points contained in the Consent Agreement as it affect you and the balanced development of Palm Coast. You will also be interested in knowing of additional projects that we believe further enhance the community.. Here are some examples:
    We have donated two acres of land, adjoining the future Emergency Services Building site, to the Palm Coast branch of the YMCA to be used as the location of a Community Activities Center. We will bear the cost of constructing this facility for all community residents and for sharing in operational expenses during its first three years — a gift totaling more than $400,000.
    We have provided as a gift a site of 57 acres to the Flagler County School Board for a junior-senior high school. The first class of proud seniors was graduated from Flagler-Palm Coast High School last spring.
    We have designated a number of sites for recreation parks, preservation and conservation, and other public areas. One site, in Section 1-A, now is being developed and a paved bicycle path has been constructed. Another bike path, starting near the Yacht Club, is in use. We are working with the Palm Coast Civic Association so that Palm Coast residents can form a legal entity to which we can donate a one-acre site and an Emergency Services Building to house fire and security forces, an ambulance, and facilities for community activities. A preliminary blueprint of the structure has been approved by a committee from the Community.

    ————–>As you know, we donated a $36,000 pumper fire truck to the Palm Coast Volunteer Fire Department , which will be stationed in the Emergency Services Building..<———–

    Palm Coast's first church building, St. Mark by the Sea Lutheran Church, was dedicated on the morning of July 4. Catholic and Baptist church organizations have purchased sites for their proposed churches. And Temple Beth Shalom is considering building a Synagogue. We at ICDC are very pleased, as we know citizens of Palm Coast are, to witness this growth and progress in the vitally important religious life of our community.
    Palm Coast's first financial institution, a branch of the Security First Federal Savings and Loan Association, recently opened for business. We believe others will follow with the growth of the community.
    These and many other facilitates will be needed to serve Palm Coast's growing population. And it is growing. During the last nine months, construction of over 200 homes began. We now have over 1,000 people living and enjoying the good life at Palm Coast.
    In closing, let me assure you that the ITT Community Development Corporation believes very strongly in the future of Palm Coast and that we are determined that it will grow and progress in a balanced and healthy manner.
    Sincerely yours,
    Alan Smolen

  15. RC says:

    Surplus fire truck?

  16. Nancy N. says:

    City Council: Fire Landon NOW or we fire YOU! There is absolutely no excuse for the fact that this man still has a job in this city.

  17. PC Resident says:

    @Will the city has no side to this. It is the county fire department that holds the state accreditation to run this program. And palm coast knows this. It is their ego that is the problem in the situation and if they don’t back off they risk ruining an amazing program for our kids. For some reason these two entities have always had problems and everyone just pushes it aside. Well these problems are now effecting our kids and it needs to stop!

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