Jack Howell is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 2, running against Jon Netts. The District 4 seat is also up, with Eddie Branquinho and John Tipton vying for it in a runoff. Both District 2 and 4 are open seats. Steve Nobile resigned his District 4 seat in May, and incumbent Heidi Shipley decided not to run for re-election.
The District 2 race was not contested in the primary because it drew just two candidates: Netts, a former council member and mayor with a combined 17 years on the council (he was term-limited out of the mayorship in 2016), and Howell, a retired Marine colonel who heads Teens-in-Flight, the Palm Coast non-profit that teaches teens to fly. To participate, teens are largely the children of soldiers or first responders. Howell has once run for Flagler County sheriff before but has not won an 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. All three other candidates for council are newcomers to politics.
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 Palm Coast council elections, 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. Interviews of candidates who competed in the primary ran in July. 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: New York City, May 8, 1943.
Current job: Retired military, director of Teens in Flight.
Party Affiliation: Democrat.
Financial Disclosures: Not provided.
Website: Not provided.
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)
Returning to the chain of command where the people are the highest authority and City Council reports to the citizens and the city manager reports to City Council per the City Charter. My military background taught me the importance of “Chain of Command.” The entire US Government uses the chain of command as the standard.
My second priority is to listen to the people. I will work with the Sheriff to have community meetings at different times of day in different locations to bring government to the people. I want to reinforce the fact that I work for the citizens and will respond to their requests.
My third priority is financial. I want to find out what we are spending and why. This quest includes but certainly is not limited to examining all outside contracts. My first question will be, “Why can’t existing staff handle this project?” My second question will be, “what is the Return on Investment (ROI)” With that in mind; I would like to see the city have our own full time city attorney. We should see some savings in this line item.
Also I want to ferret out some of the existing “small” contracts such as the contract to Milissa Holland’s old company (Southern Strategies) to help get FEMA money. Finally, in the financial area I will insist on a “forensic audit.” While serving as a senior Marine Officer, I acquired a strong background in investigating fraud, waste and Abuse. This forensic audit may require funding. That is where I will use that money you propose in question number 6.
Every organization has a “chain of command,” but not every organization feels the need to militarize its application. Is the nuance not essential in a civilian, and civil, local government? Do we really need to be compared to the federal bureaucracy in any way, where “chain of command” has more pragmatic applications? You then refer to “return on investment,” as if to suggest the city were a business out to make a profit. What return on investment can there possibly be to digging swales, ensuring that the colossally expensive stormwater infrastructure functions soundly, paving roads and picking up garbage? For that matter, look at your priorities below: where’s the ROI on those? Southern Strategies is the city’s contracted lobbying firm: getting FEMA money released is one of several issues it lobbies for on behalf of the city. Are you not wanting a lobbyist in Tallahassee? Or Just not Southern Strategies, because of its past association with Holland? Before going into a forensic audit, can you point to one instance, one concrete example, that raises questions about fraud or abuse?
I am not proposing by any means a strict military chain of command but rather a return to the organizational flow chart which shows the citizens on top and the Council under the citizens and the City manager reporting to the Council. The employee report through the various departments to the City manager. The importance of returning to this chain of command is essential because of the way things have drifted over the years. Our former City Manager took advantage of the City Council being directed by him and was stronger with his leadership style than the council was. It is important for the City council to accept their role of receiving citizen input and directing the City manager. Directing means encouraging the manager and correcting the manager when needed. In essence a return to the concept of the council being the manager’s supervisor. I do not think this compares to anything other than good managerial practice.
When I talk about return on investment (ROI), I realize the City is not in business to make a profit. However, the City does need to exercise sound judgment so as to get the best “bang for it’s buck.” This is accomplished through the completive bid process. That process is usually achieved via a request for proposal (RFP). It is up to staff to clearly spell out exactly what is needed but not unwilling to consider any features suggested by the bidders if these additional suggestions are cost effective. The City should continue to seek running services that generate revenue such as the rentals of the Community Center and golf and tennis center in an efficient and productive manner.
Obviously, there are services that the City provides that do not generate revenue but we need to make sure that these services are provided in the most cost-effective means. We need to schedule maintenance on swales and roads and more importantly follow that schedule. As one of my slogans proclaims we will need to recognize the difference between wants and needs.
With the above disclaimer, there needs to be a review of the cost-effectiveness of the contracts with all lobbying groups including Southern Strategies. I suggest that these reviews be conducted with the Mayor recusing herself. In fact, any outside contracts reviews must be done with only Council members who have no relationship with the contract being reviewed.
Concerning a forensic audit, I will bring up the situation concerning the completion of Holland Park. Remember, Tumbleson and White were awarded a contract to renovate Holland Park in March 2015. Tumbleson and White failed to complete the work. The City had City employees complete a significant portion of the uncompleted work. Hundreds if not thousands of staff hours went into completing the park and therefore the true cost of this project is not available. I am not suggesting fraud or abuse. I just don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling about our financial situation. I am suggesting getting a handle on expenses and true and accurate cost information. Further, as a newly elected official, I want this forensic audit to dispel any concerns by myself, colleagues and our citizens regarding expenditures by the city. I want to start with a clear set of books. One thing I learned carefully reading Government Accounting Office and the Congressional Budget Office audits, during Marine Corps assignments in Washington, DC, is that numbers can easily be manipulated to have them show/tell you anything you want!
After receiving the follow-up questions. Howell prefaced his second set of answers with the following:
In answering your additional questions, I need to provide a disclaimer. I am an outsider and the only knowledge I have of the inside is what is reported by the local media and my attendance or watching City Council meetings on my computer. Surely once elected I will have a different view and with that understanding, I answer your additional questions.
Three issues: swale maintenance, road/street repairs, walking path maintenance and lighting are the highest priorities on my list. I will request information from the city manager as to the ongoing status of each of these items at every Council meeting so these items will be in the public domain and not swept under a rug. At my community meetings as mentioned above I will seek input on all of these maintenance issues.
I will request that the citizens provide photos of any lacking maintenance issues and present them to the city manager at public meetings. I will insist that any new capital expenses meet a “needs test.” I will ask “What is the need and is public safety an issue? Why are we doing this? What is the ROI (if appropriate)?
I will insist that City Council is informed by the city manager before any major purchases. I want full justification for these purchases. I don’t want them to be hidden in the consent agenda.
Do residents not routinely speak to council about their maintenance issues, when they feel they’ve not been successful at the administrative level? What is your dollar-threshold definition of a major purchase? Past a certain threshold, all “large” purchases come before the council for approval. Some routine ones are on consent, though nothing stops council members who do their homework, or at least read the agenda–or any residents– from requesting any item be pulled for discussion. What is being hidden, in (or from) you view?
I am sure residents routinely speak to Council members regarding maintenance issues. Also, I suspect citizens have contacted Council members concerning all types of issues. I am suggesting establishing a schedule and maybe even going to the step of publishing that schedule.
As far as a dollar threshold for routine matters I am comfortable with the $30,000 limit for the City Manager (Once the new manager in place and up to speed). For now, with Interim Manager Beau Falgout, the $30,000 is ok with me. All capital expenditures must be reviewed and approved by the City Council. This means reviewed and approved prior to any planning or designing. I am committed to reducing the Consent items. Again I refer you to my disclaimer above.
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?
My support for this Amendment is conditional. Only if I can be assured that the senior and low income home owners will have more disposable income after the dust settles. Then and only then will I support the Amendment. If on the other hand after the dust settles as a result of what you ask in the second part of this question then I am against it.
In response to the second part of your question, I think further work is required. We will have to see how much home values increase and this increase could not change the city’s revenue. If there is a shortfall, my first response is to take a hard look at our expenses. The measure I will apply maybe using the ROI test. The second place I will direct staff to review all fee structures and identify possible frivolous items that can be lined out of the budget.
Here you go again with ROI: how could that have any application with regards to tax revenue and city spending?
I realize the need to pay for services through taxation. That said I want the citizens to know without a doubt, that we are good stewards of their tax dollars. This is where the zero based budget fits in. It is simple as a department budget for an item such as a truck. When it is time to purchase that truck the department must justify the need. No need, no truck at that time.
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 am against all new taxes in any form. New taxes affect senior and low income families and that is why I am against new taxes. All roads must be traveled before any discussion of tax increase is raised. The forensic audit may reveal areas of significant savings.
Are you against all property tax increases too? That is, will you oppose any tax rate set above the rolled-back rate, year after year? Are you against raising the stormwater rate, the garbage rate, the water and sewer rates? Are those not taxes by other means?
Any transfer of citizen’s money to the City is a tax. I am not against a tax increase if it is necessary and essential. I will seek to be transparent so the citizens will be very aware of the need to ask them to dig deeper. City tax increases affect the low wage earners and seniors on a fixed income. I will make it my mission to do more with less make sure that the Council has public input. Again, remember the needs versus wants test. I will seek all means to continue vital city services at the lowest cost possible.
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?
This is a difficult question and brings to mind the old saw of the chicken and egg. I am for “affordable” well planned housing. From the personal side, the people need good jobs so they can pay the “affordable” housing. Not much has been done on the City or County side to attract employers who pay a living wage salary which will allow employees to pay “affordable “shelter costs. Many of our citizens are working several part time jobs, without benefits, to make ends meet.
The second part of my response has to do with the ability of the current infrastructure to handle any new development. Will the new housing put an undue burden on our roads and will there be traffic issues? Will the new housing put an undue burden on our water supply? What will be the effect on the school population? Will there be police or fire issues?
All of the answers to these questions will guide my decision on any of these particular requests.
Are you opposed for any reason to increasing the number of apartment complexes in town? And does the planning department not analyze all those criteria already, before itself making a recommendation on a new development? Do you doubt the planning department’s capabilities to provide those objective answers?
Regarding the planning department my view so far has been as an outsider and even at that, there has been the ”Landon filter.” So my judgement is withheld on the planning department.
Regarding apartment complexes, I recognize a need for affordable housing both for young working people and seniors. I likewise recognize the need for jobs that will allow rents and mortgages to be paid. I am talking to the realtors on the housing issue and will need to bring others into the conversation. This is a work in progress. Bottom line is we need more affordable housing.
It is hard to conceive of a half a million gift but if received this is what I will do:
See my answer to question number 1.
A second use would be to improve the maintenance issues in answer number 1.
You’d spend the money on an audit?
Yes, I would spend money on a forensic audit. I took a lesson from one of my mentors in Washington, DC. General Colin Powell once said about trusting, “Trust but verify.”
Editor’s note: “Trust but verify” is an old Russian proverb, popularized in the United States when President Ronald Reagan, with a touch of irony, used it in the 1980s when discussing nuclear arms control deals with the Soviet Union. Powell used the proverb once, citing Reagan.
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 think supporting the arts is very important and culturally needed as a city. No question that we have a need to support the arts. Although you state a cash contribution of $30,000, you neglect to recognize in kind contributions made to support the arts to include the building of restrooms at the arts center. I would like a full description as to what the city does to support the arts.
I am not in favor of a tax to support the arts. Another option here may be to dedicate any positive revenue from the city owned golf course.
After attending City Council meetings, I present the following description of the dynamics of a council meeting.
Anyone who has ever attended a Council meeting has observed the process, on items to be voted on by Council which goes like the following. The Department head or other staff presents a power point presentation which has been rehearsed and potential questions anticipated and answers formulated. Council is presented with only the option the City Manager has selected and Council voted and usually votes 5 for and none against.
It is apparent that the city manager controls and orchestrates the entire process. All city department heads sit in the back of the room for all council meetings. What I would suggest to have the process more transparent is to require the City Manager to lay all of the options on the table with a reasoned printed analysis following this format. This is what I was exposed to when working on the Staff of the Secretary of Defense and The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, DC:
A brief discussion of what the problem is.
A brief discussion including estimated costs
Option #2 same format as many options are discussed. Remember doing nothing is always an option although maybe not a good option.
Staff choice with reason
This document would be made available to the Council and any member of the public wishing to see the process of the decision making. The citizens would be allowed to voice opinions and would be fully briefed on all decisions to be made by Council.
I think the way to change is to rally the people to come forward and demand reasoned change of the way the dynamics of city council and how true democracy works.
Have you not seen more council autonomy and independent analysis in the past several months, even before the firing of the city manager? How many of the past, say, 10 meetings and workshops have you attended?
Yes, the City council has seemed to be taking more control lately. Of course, as you are well aware four of the five wanted to fire Mr. Landon when FlaglerLive interviewed them last year. However, somehow that changed when the time came. It appears to me that the Mayor finally got fed up with Landon’s conduct and acted out of frustration and maybe anger.
I have attended, watched and listened on my computer, or had a report from someone who attended eight out of the last 10 council meetings. I have reviewed the agenda before each meeting and have made a decision to attend or have a representative attend based on the subject matter. Bottom line, I am up to speed on what is going on in our City government.
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?
Three Council members have failed to bring about change and continue to acquiesce and bow to the City Manager. A good example of this bowing is what happened when FlaglerLive interviewed these three and the Mayor and Klufas were ready to vote the City Manager out but when the rubber met the road, they backed down. Landon’s reign continued and he continues to call the shots.
There will be change and accountability when I am elected to Council. I will use my 25 years of Marine Corps leadership training and experience to bring back the role of council in making independent decisions. We must bring back the focus on responsibility and accountability! Finger pointing does not wash with me.
Understanding that you wrote this answer before the firing of the manager, do you see the matter differently now?
Yes, for the most part as it was time for a change and it is also the main reason I’m running for City Council.
Yes, I would have voted to fire Mr. Landon. Again, it is time for a change.
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 selection of a new city manager will require due diligence. From my perspective I want to see a true leader. I want a manager who is open to ideas, understands the chain of command and the city charter and will be a team player. I don’t comprehend why the process of selecting a new city manager is turning into a quagmire. I was on the committee to select a new school superintendent last spring. The process was almost flawless and it cost the taxpayers approximately $30,000. It was expeditious, inclusive and effective. Within a three month period of time we had a new school superintendent.
Would Beau Falgout make a good permanent manager?
It is too early to tell. I want to access his leadership skills, his knowledge, his job performance, communication skills and if he is a people person.
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?
My first impulse is to keep things status quo. The establishment of a Palm Coast Police Department should be a decision by the voters after the City Council provides all of the variables. Will our own police department be cost effective? Will response times be equal or better than what is current? What is our ROI? Police patrols and response throughout the city appears, on paper, to be effective. While some areas of the city might question the law enforcement activity in the neighborhoods I would defer to the sheriff and his crime statistics.
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|