Dennis McDonald is the independent, or no-party affiliation, candidate for Flagler County Commission, District 2, running against Greg Hansen, who defeated Abbie Romaine in the August Republican primary. Hansen was appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Scott following the death of Commissioner Frank Meeker.
Two seats are up on the commission in this election cycle: District 2 and District 4, held by McLaughlin. Joe Mullins defeated McLaughlin in the Republican primary. Mullins faces Jane Gentile-Youd, an independent. Neither seat drew Democratic opposition.
All registered voters in Flagler County may cast a ballot for both county commission races in the Nov. 6 election, regardless of party affiliation of address in the county.
Flagler County Commission members serve four years. They’re paid $53,951 a year.
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. Answers are lightly edited for clarity, 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
- Critical issues
- Sheriff’s building
- Homestead exemption increase
- Financial commitment to school security
- Beach rebuilding
- Palm Coast relations
- Social safety net
- Economic development
- Craig Coffey
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: Connecticut, April 11, 1950.
Current job: Retired, taxpayer advocate.
Party Affiliation: Fredrick Douglas Republican (McDonald is running as an independent).
Net Worth and Financial Disclosure: McDonald declined to provide it. It’s available here. See his 2014 disclosure here.
Resume: Not provided.
Website and Social Media:
1. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, and what makes you qualified to serve—or to unseat an incumbent, as the case may be. Please give us real-life examples to illustrate your answer.
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)
I have been married for 44 years to the best person I have ever known. We raised three exceptional children to be independent contributors to society as a Builder/Developer/Broker, Corporate 500 HR director and Johns Hopkins Doctor/researcher. All of my interests originate with my family and that same concern is broadened to the community in which we live.
As a county commissioner, I will be the only member who has over 40 years experience in all aspects of the large scale general contracting/development and finance world. As the VP, I have signed all the checks and reconciled with the Treasurer many multi-million dollar projects. I have had extensive involvement in large scale property management, Insurance, banking, legal, planning, design and construction. Those responsibilities produced thousands of living units over the span of my career. To accomplish this I had to successfully navigate the state and local municipality regulations, all while producing a profit. This is an area unknown to any current commissioner.
As examples, I have built and operated private packaged disposal treatment plant and water companies. I took those projects from nonexistence to final EPA and state DEP approvals, and understand the critical nature of each step in the process. In 2009 I was instrumental in creating a PUCA approved water company that by its very approval broke a 30 year bureaucratic log jam and standoff that released development on an extensive length of commercial zoned state road. This water company never had to be built because its new approval changed the dynamic with the existing utilities, causing a compromise that should have taken place decades before.
Unlike any of the other current BOCC members I had to personally sign for the mega loans and deliver. I learned early on in my career that municipalities live forever with their ever-constant flow of tax $$ and developers do not have that luxury, so I must be ever vigilant to costs, ‘value added’ and return on investment.
Results matter. I am a Pragmatist.
You say you will be “the only member who has over 40 years experience in all aspects of the large scale general contracting/development and finance world. ” But as you did in your 2014 interview, you refused to provide so much as an explanation of your work as a “consultant,” or a resume, as we asked this year. Why should we believe your claims of such an extensive professional history if you provide neither tangible proof of your work nor give us the ability to verify it?
In 2007 I stepped back in full time as the VP of Construction for BRT General Corp. to build and deliver 30 Crosby Street in Danbury, Conn. The project speaks for itself and was the last major project I did since the national banking collapse. The budget was $34 million.
A. Sheriffs HQ now stands abandoned as the largest man-made disaster in Flagler history, all created by four out of five votes by the Flagler County Board of Commissioners. I publicly spoke and worked against this purchase from its very first offering, as I knew it was a benefit for two business associates of a former Commissioner. Albert Hadeed, County attorney failed to advise the BOCC of this conflict, which was his function as Board Attorney. One of the commissioners cast the vote to purchase in violation of ethics rules. Fines were assessed but long after the purchase much due to the short comings of the Florida Ethics Commissions and Director Virlindia Doss. We have been trying to minimize the effects of this sick building ever since then, including making submissions to the Federal level.
The big question that has never been answered to date by the Flagler BOCC…’Why has a Phase II Environmental Study never been done on this property that was considered on the federal Brownfields study in 2006/07 ? Normally in any commercial transaction a Phase II Environmental Study is JOB ONE prior to purchase! Yet absent that due diligence, there has been a huge health violation created and now we have more than two dozen sheriff’s employees experiencing health issues. The human element must be addressed by this BOCC and community first before we worry about the remaining building. This same building had forty percent of it demolished without a FDEP permit and was never directly voted on by the BOCC to demolish. Mr Coffey approved payment of 211 truckloads of debris with undetermined contents.
B. Reducing the size and cost of the Flagler County Administration. Since 1999 when Palm Coast became a separate entity much of the burden of the County government has been shifted to the City. Our present voter count that helps define the load of local government stands at 81,138 total for all of Flagler County with 61,921 in Palm Coast, 4,725 in the Beaches with 1,646 in Bunnell.
That leaves only 12,846 Voters in the unincorporated County or not quite sixteen percent! Roughly three quarters of Flagler County is also governed by the City of Palm Coast. The City of Palm Coast sewer and water utility services not only serve the City but also areas outside the City limits.
We have TWO administrators, one compensated over $200K with the “assistant” close behind. The County Attorney legal expense is without merit. In short, this County Administration is top heavy and needs to go on a diet. The County workers that actually get out and do the work get nothing or crumbs. To the extreme we have administrators lavishing dollars on themselves and department heads like the County Engineer that got a $16,000 raise. Then an assistant county administrator who in her seven-month “retirement” collected a very healthy six figure salary!
Solution: The next BOCC needs to step up and reorder these top public service jobs. The salary spread between government management and for profit corporate management continues to widen. Why? Government is not restricted or confined to apply Return On Investment measurement. Instead, they raise taxes. I believe with the numbers outlined above that that process is long overdue.
C. Loss of Coastal Land Mass: We are currently spending near $60 million, with no end in sight, to the loss of beach front. We have hit a wall on the amount of dollars we can afford. What happens when Florida runs out of big dollar sand to truck east and west?
In 2013 I met with Commission Chair McLaughlin, County Manager Coffey and Greg Sarno of BRNS and offered a contract to build 50 feet of beach in a Two mile stretch in Flagler Beach with an upfront cost of ONE DOLLAR! When the project was proven to be successful by a third party, BRNS, that had fronted millions of dollars to accomplish the project, would be paid $8 million. This project would have made us the destination for the coastal United States for all to inspect and experience for their coastal community. I had an agreement with Mr. Sarno that the undercurrent stabilizers would be manufactured in Flagler County. Had this offer been given proper public exposure and been allowed to advance (without public funds) this fledgling industry might now be ready to move to the Sea Ray facility, adding even more jobs. This project was slated to finish in 2014 building beach that absorbs the energy of a coastal storm. This was two years ahead of Irma and Mathew absorbing the effects of those horrendous storms and the loss so heartfelt by our community.
The up-front cost was again .. one dollar, did you ever hear of this project brought forward by McLaughlin or Coffey on a BOCC Agenda? Imagine how Greg Sarno and I felt, we heard …crickets!
Leadership is this County’s biggest void. I will work to find two other votes and move this County forward. I have no financial ties to any of the “stake holders”. I have shown for the last four years that I will stay engaged for the benefit all. For as long as I can remember “this County and the City have been operated for the benefit of the few at the expense of many.” 2018 can start the change!
So: you’d fire the county administrator, his deputy and the county attorney? Lower their salaries? Do you dispute the findings of the recent salary study, which concluded that, while some employees are overpaid, most are not? You make a lot of impressive claims without providing a shred of documentation: the beach “stabilizers” is a case in point. A similar scheme was presented in Flagler Beach a few years ago that proved little different than a coastal version of “The Music Man.” Where has the approach you’re referring to been implemented by “BRNS,” if anywhere, and where is the documentation proving any of your claims?
3. To what extent has the handling of and testing for sick building syndrome at the Sheriff’s Operations Center been—or not been—adequate? The sheriff’s nearly 70 employees assigned there remain unconvinced about the safety of the building. What’s your next move? If rebuilding the Operations Center becomes necessary, how would you finance the project?
Woefully inadequate would be my rating of what was known to be a problematic building from day one. Let us start with the most recent work of Zdenek Hejzlar, the occupational engineer. Dr. Z has no professional knowledge of any area of medicine. His credentials are deep in the “slip and fall world,” very impressive if we owned a cruise ship. Why are we not using a person with a long list of published work on “sick buildings” to address our sick Deputies? Why? The failed administration allowed by the rudderless BOCC, is why.
Dr. Z’s findings are best summed up by his item 5.17 where he says “test results indicate that the soil under the former hospital building does not contain sufficient quantity of toxic compounds that are resulting in vapor intrusion and being released into the indoor environment of the building.” This “expert” drilled two 1/4″ holes through the slab on grade in a THIRTY-FOUR THOUSAND square foot building. He never took a soil sample and then declared these ‘RESULTS’ are passable! When I asked him directly if he found evidence of a vapor barrier when drilling the holes, he replied he was not hired to do that research. This does not pass the smell test!
Something made all these people sick to varying degrees, some quite ill. This is not a freak event and our law enforcement professionals do not want to be compromised physically. To start the BOCC must engage in an all intrusive Phase II Environment Study. Followed by review of the twelve reports known to exist by a real expert who has extensive published writings in sick buildings. Then we can go back and address the 2015 photos of known failures I presented to the County Engineer and Manager. These might provide answers or an educated starting point that we lack today.
This is impossible to speculate with the amount of Civil litigation that is in the wings IF we don’t get to the root cause of this “sick building.” I do believe Dr. Z’s entrance into this investigation has made matters worse. His research process and evaluation would not pass the most basic of peer reviews.
The Civil Litigation may well expose areas of recovery that are unknown at this time.
Isn’t it rich of you to describe the county’s contracted engineer’s credentials as being “deep in the ‘slip and fall world,'” considering your own and none-too successful legal history in that world? Setting Hejzlar aside, is the CDC’s involvement, at least partly made possible by the county–admittedly post-dating your original answer–not pointing in the right direction?
4. Voters are likely to approve Amendment 1, an expansion of the homestead exemption to up to $75,000 this fall. 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 support what the Voters decide. Unlike what goes on in Tallahassee for benefit of Lobbyists, I will defend the Voters position.
If passed the short fall will be a large fall. Those monies lost will come from a shifting of tax burden to NON-homestead properties.
Of course you’ll support what voters decide: you’re legally bound to. But the question is whether you support the added exemption, and assuming it passes, how you propose to make-up that “large fall.”
5. Commissioners like to say they won’t raise taxes or will keep taxes, or at least tax rates, flat, as some are trying to do this year. But with rare exceptions, they don’t provide options of what they would eliminate from the budget to keep their promise. Are you against property tax increases? What three specific line items would you cut from this year’s proposed budget to keep the property tax rate flat?
Yes I am against property tax increases….Surprise! I am not able to answer the question as posed because I do not have all the behind the scenes information. I will offer two areas that I have focused on in my five year battle to stop the $1,230,000 purchase of the old Memorial Hospital that now stands evacuated.
Number one: County Legal would get a veto from me. County Administration would receive the ultimate “haircut”!
Number two: County property acquisitions. We need to use the assets we already own and stop buying property for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.
At every BOCC meeting I see numerous items passed on Mr. Coffey’s Consent Agenda without challenge. Can we the Voters say with confidence that any of these commissioners know what they are voting on? More important did they consider the long-term impacts to our County? The current Sheriff’s HQ is an excellent example. This purchase that was proven to be a benefit to a select group of a Commissioner’s business associates will haunt the Taxpayers of Flagler for decades because of the human element and years of costly legal actions. The current commission took full ownership when they refused to act on June 4th. They cancelled the special meeting after holding 2.5 hours of workshop. It is quite obvious that both this meeting and the tax dance that has been going on for months is a Void of leadership on the BOCC.
Sticking to the question on taxes: your “Number one” answer reads like an obscure metaphor that doesn’t give us a sense of what you mean: close up the in-house attorney’s shop? Cut back the administrator’s salary? Either way, even if you were to cut both costs by half, it would not amount to a significant budget reduction, given the size of the county budget. Can you cite an example, aside from the old hospital, of county property being purchased for the benefit of “the few” at others’ expense? Who do you mean by those “few”? Are you alleging some sort of kickback scheme?
The old Memorial Hospital may well be the portal of discovery by a federal Grand Jury, they have the tools to follow the money. This portal may well resolve the millions claimed missing from 2007 construction of the GSB/Court House. Let us hope, as the FBI has abilities in these matters second to none.
Dennis McDonald did not otherwise answer the question.
6. State law requires armed security in every public school. Flagler has chosen to have a School Resource Officer at its schools. The district and the county essentially split the cost. County Administrator Craig Coffey told commissioners during a workshop this summer that they don’t have to assume that security cost. He’s right, under the law. With Amendment 1’s consequences ahead, would you reduce the county’s share? Alternately, do you pledge to preserve that split for the duration of your term?
I will keep Flagler County Schools security funded as the Sheriff and School Board know best. I pledge never to be influenced by Mr. Coffey for whatever time he remains as County Manager.
7. It’s costing the county at least $26 million to rebuild the shore’s dunes, upwards of $40 million when the state’s rebuilding of State Road A1A is included, and almost $60 million when the U.S. Army Corps’ funding of the Flagler Beach portion of dune repairs is included. That’s just for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. It is now demonstrably certain that sea levels are rising, and Flagler’s revenue sources for additional beach protection are tapped out. How do you propose to pay for the next repairs should a hurricane like Matthew or even a strong storm with damaging surges strike during your tenure? How is beach protection not a losing battle?
Beach protection is a losing battle if we continue to use the same approach that the Army Corps of Engineers delivers through their mega buck associates from the dredging industry. Dredging is akin to Big Oil from my perspective, their product starts washing away the day they deliver new sand. Payment for future storms would have to be derived from State funds for state/municipal property and from special taxing districts that only encompass the affected areas for private property.
What has remained unknown are my Save the Beach efforts made in April 2013 to offer the Beach Recovery Nourishment System, aka BRNS, at the up-front cost of one dollar. This effort was brought to Chairman Nate McLaughlin and Mr. Coffey and was never even acknowledge by the BOCC. Why?
Curiously, if not worrisomely, some of the members of the County Commission–Greg Hansen among them–don’t seem to believe that sea levels are rising, though the science on the matter is quite settled. Are you a skeptic on sea level rise? If not, at what point is it no longer in the public interest to build more dunes?
I am not a skeptic, physical measurements prevail. The money will run out long before the point of deadly sea rise. We must find a way to recapture the massive amounts of land mass off our coastal shelf. The international dredging industry is a powerful world force akin to big oil that will bleed us dry. If you check these guys out they have a huge federal lobby, and when Army Corps officers retire guess where they go? Three guesses, the first two don’t count. Best to remember who “engineered” New Orleans.
8. We currently have five white Republican men as county commissioners. The average age is 67 in a county where the median age is 50. Only one commissioner holds a private-sector job. The commission is by far the least diverse of all of Flagler’s local governments, in a county nowhere near as homogenous as the commission would make it seem to be. Explain first the consequences on policy and responsiveness of that lack of diversity (if you think there are no consequences, explain why), and second, explain how you have reached or would reach out specifically to constituencies that don’t mirror the commission’s demographics.
The consequences on policy from this very homogeneous BOCC is that there is no leadership.
Leadership is a trait that comes from the individual regardless of sex, color, religion, etc. As examples of this void of leadership, our BOCC has been led by Governor Scott’s appointed replacement. Mr. Hansen was hand-picked to be a Commissioner and assumed the role of Chairman within a few months of the appointment. How is it possible that our present Chairman has the ability to be Chairman with no former knowledge of county government? That speaks volumes. Hansen spent the last 16 years of his working career as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist. Yet we had zero leadership on the new 2018/19 county budget that eluded the commissioners for months that ultimately resulted in a tax increase. Most disappointing was the total lack of Leadership on the now abandoned eight million dollar Sheriff ‘s HQ and the health of the men and women who protect us. I went to numerous workshops and commission meetings and asked them to find the funding to get our Deputies tested because workman’s compensation and their health insurance would not pay. These Deputies lacked the personal funds to be tested, but the BOCC sat on their hands and then could not understand why the Deputies would not provide their medical records right away. Answer…they had none!
Chairman Hansen and Commissioner McLaughlin publicly criticized me for not knowing you could not take a vote to help the Deputies at a workshop. What they did not let be known is my criticism was for CANCELLING the special BOCC meeting advertised to follow the workshop where they could have taken action after 2.5 hours of hot air. All this is proof that Lobbyists never lead !
As a Commissioner you must reach out to everyone without limits set by the County Manager Coffey. How do I know this happens? I experienced it first hand when Mr. Sullivan was restricted from access to information and County employees by Mr. Coffey.
You are deflecting the question to return to your bête noire, and making yet again a series of accusations unsupported by documentation. Let’s set aside Coffey for a moment. The question is how the current commission’s lack of diversity, which your election will not change, may be affecting public policy (or not), and how you propose to be inclusive of constituencies not reflected by the male, white, Medicare-demographic commissioners now serving.
As I have always tried to do as instructed by my father…”stand in the other person’s shoes for 30 seconds.”
Change. Both of these managers have been allowed to operate unchecked by not having or adhering to good policy for 10 years. If the Voters allow in 2018, I believe that changes are forthcoming on both City Council and County Commission that will quickly find new direction with new managers.
You’re not known as a consensus builder, but rather as an adversarial insurgent. That’s not in and of itself a fault: some of government’s most visionary participants have been flame-throwers. But there’s usually more belligerence than constructive aims in your fire. You have filed numerous lawsuits and other high-profile suits against governments and individual elected officials, winning one (against Palm Coast), losing all others. Some of them are still not resolved. First, will you pay the $59,000 legal fees the ethics commission has ruled you must pay in reimbursements for the ethics complaint you filed against ex-Commissioner George Hanns, and that the ethics commission found to be malicious and untruthful? Second, how can you, with such an adversarial record, bring harmony to the relationship between city and county, if not within the county commission?
10. To what extent should the county commission be responsible for a social safety net in Flagler? Is the money the commission annually awards groups such as the Free Clinic, the Family Life Center and the Early learning Coalition sufficient?
The County support of these services provides help in optionless situations. It can be a factor in helping defray costs of our three prime services – Law Enforcement, Fire and EMS. Yearly consideration as a commissioner would be time well spent as it allows you to update yourself and check the value received and augmenting what is in place, if warranted.
11. We have an economic development department that consumes upward of $450,000 a year though it’s been responsible for literally just a few dozen new jobs since its inception in 2011, compared to the 17,200 jobs the county has added independent of the department since. But we don’t have a homeless shelter. How do you justify the contrast—and the continued existence of the economic development department?
Economic Development has become an industry all to itself and, in some cases, all for itself. I do not believe this was the public intent when it was first introduced. I would review the ROI and work with others to revamp or terminate the current structure if proven unwarranted. The prime question I will ask is …what benefit does this $450,000 a year bring to the average Taxpayer of Flagler?
County Manager Coffey’s performance is of great concern for the continued well-being of this County. Throughout this interview I have referenced job performance that is sub-par. I believe Mr. Coffey should have been terminated For Cause when the Chairman and BOCC members were named by the FDEP in OGC File No: 18-0216, 4/30/2018 for Demolition Without Permit of the 21,000 sq ft of the old Memorial Hospital. Failure to act on this Maximum Fine was the sole responsibility of the Flagler County Commission.
This new ugly chapter of the evacuated New Sheriff HQ is further confirmation of his mismanagement. The 5/2015 pictures I publicly supplied of the rotten non-compliant tie down walls are yet another example of his failure to follow State Laws. Commissioners stated at Workshop they wanted to see those walls opened for review, but as of this date the request has been denied. Why? Civil litigation will expose the truth, all at our expense, both human and monetary, managed by Mr. Coffey.
After almost 12 years on the job, do you see no strengths in Coffey’s abilities?
13. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies? If so, please explain, including cases where charges did not lead to conviction.
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|