It was supposed to be a routine matter. The Florida Army National Guard was appearing before the Flagler County Commission to seek approval to use land near the airport to build a reserve center. The county has been working with the National Guard since 2006 to lure it to Flagler. Last November, the Guard signed a lease agreement. Now it’s a matter of securing the $21 million in federal dollars to build the center. That’s pending. Meanwhile, the guard and the county are putting everything else in place so construction can be expedited the moment money is released.
What should be routine did not take one obstacle into account: Jim Landon, the Palm Coast City manager.
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In July, when the National Guard made its presentation about the future center to the Palm Coast City Council, Lt. Col. Mark Widener and another member of the guard were blindsided by comments the manager made at the end of the meeting to the council, with the guard members still in the room: “Our policy is, if you want water and sewer, you have to annex, and so we’re going to have that issue come forth. We don’t need to deal with that right now, but traditionally the county has been fairly resistant to have the airport being annexed into Palm Coast, but this is going to generate that discussion, because I don’t have authorization to give water and sewer unless they annex first.”
Landon’s heavy-handed approach was apparent during the presentation itself: he’d slapped “CITY OF PALM COAST ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TEAM” on the guards’ powerpoint presentation, making it seem as if the National Guard project were a Palm Coast initiative when, in fact, Palm Coast has been an observer. The county did (and continues to do) the heavy lifting on this one. Widener, who was not there to get enmeshed in provincial politics, was not pleased to be caught in a turf battle the Guard wants nothing to do with.
Monday evening, the county administration’s plan for the land near the airport was before the commissioners, and the commissioners were eager to sign off.
Then Charlie Ericksen got up to speak. That’s the retired insurance executive you’ll find at most county or city meetings, observing, rarely talking—unless he has a specific issue. He never says much when he does speak. But unlike a few gadflies, he’s Flagler County’s one-man E.F. Hutton: when he speaks, the elected listen. And sometimes scramble, as they did Monday evening.
“You know,” Ericksen said after identifying himself, “I’ve heard some pretty specific questions expecting specific responses. I’ve heard though a lot of waltzing around the two words that concern me the most. Palm Coast. I sat in on the workshop at Palm Coast, and I specifically heard one council person, one city manager say that they would not supply utilities to this particular location unless that land was annexed to Palm Coast. I’d like to know how that particular subject is going to be addressed.”
Craig Coffey, the county manager, had scoffed back in July when told of Landon’s comments (or Palm Coast’s muscling over the deal with the National Guard). He wasn’t scoffing Monday evening. He told commissioners that the county and the city’s staffs had worked out an agreement over the airport property that commissioners would see in late November.
And yes, the National Guard site would, as that proposal has it, be annexed into Palm Coast. That was news to the commissioners.
“National Guard would become a customer of the City of Palm Coast,” Coffey said. “Beyond that on the airport you’d have a master meter like you do now. We’re master-metered on the airport now. That’s been our tentative discussions to date. Nothing set in stone. Obviously that’s up to this board.”
“Why are we moving forward with this then, if it’s not been resolved?” Commissioner Milissa Holland asked. Coffey said the annexation would take place only after the development.
Revels, who’s been chafing at Palm Coast’s muscle acts, was more blunt. “I’m frankly surprised and shocked to hear this about the city of Palm Coast and agreements that you have with them to annex this property,” Revels said, “ because it was my understanding that that absolutely was not going to happen, and that we did not have—they did not have to annex for utilities, because we would be able to provide them, through our bulk agreement, on airport property, and that this was the beginning piece of the development of that side of the airport’s industrial park. I don’t personally like the terminology that says that basically the city is deciding whether or not 55 acres stays or not or the airport stays or not. I don’t believe that that’s totally the city’s decision to make. I just yet again, I am aggravated beyond belief with the fact that our staff will work for two years on a project, work it hard, trying to better the community, bring jobs to the community, economic development, and then have the city come in when all the work is completed and doing an annexation. I’m highly opposed to that. I’d like to see this project move forward with maybe some nuance changes, but not in that vein.”
No part of the airport property need be annexed to get utilities. Coffey said utilities can be supplied through the airport site, not necessarily through Belle Terre Blvd. That’s not quite what was worrying Holland, who’s had issues with Coffey springing critical policy matters on the commission without laying the groundwork first (issues so severe that she tried firing him over them earlier this year). “Again I thought this was already resolved in several of our workshops that we’ve had, addressing this 55-acre parcel. Did I miss a meeting?” Holland asked, facetiously.
“I don’t know that we got to that level of detail,” Coffey said. “I didn’t understand that. But if that’s the understanding of the board, I’ll definitely take that back.”
Peterson: “I’m absolutely appalled that you’re bringing this to us and there has been no mention of a potential annexation. I started out asking about coordination with Palm Coast. It would seem to me that somewhere along the line in this discussion tonight, the word annexation might have come up because now, now this design makes no sense to me.” Peterson called the “major omission” of questions of annexation “ridiculous.”
“The reason I didn’t bring it to you as far as annexation, it’s almost irrelevant to the issue before you tonight as far as whether you’re going to do it or not,” Coffey said, clearly miscalculating the political implications behind the administrative issue he was focused on. Three commissioners had described themselves essentially stunned at the mere notion of annexation, yet Coffey, who moments earlier had spoken of a deal worked out between the county and the city, kept downplaying the issue—and backtracking.
He hadn’t yet heard the fourth commissioner: George Hanns, the chairman, who rarely gets angry. That’s usually Peterson’s job.
“This is totally ridiculous. We’re not in the position to do a voluntary withdrawal and let this be annexed into the city of Palm Coast,” Hanns said. “City of Palm Coast gains nothing by getting property that doesn’t pay taxes. If we’re annexed into the city of Palm Coast, if we allow this to happen, we’re subject to their rules and jurisdiction in our own airport. In my opinion that’s not going to happen, and this years ago was resolved that there was not going to be any other forced annexations. You know, you have all the development on the west side of U.S. 1 that’s proposed with the eight to 10,000 units, the county worked on that project for over a year, and the city decided this would be something to jump on. And I don’t mean the people of Palm Coast, I’m talking about the city administrator, their form of government. He seems to run everything. We have some very good commissioners on that city council, and I don’t believe if this annexation is being threatened, it’s just a spite package. That’s all I can say. It’s ridiculous.”
It took two to water-tango on this one, however–Landon and Coffey–though Hanns, always a strong supporter of Coffey, barely alluded to his administrator’s role. He added: “I haven’t been a party to these talks, and I’m not going to sit back and allow the city manager—I’m not saying the city, I’m not saying Palm Coast—the city manager, as far as I’m concerned, he might be sitting there, gloating right now over the aggravation that he’s causing this county commission to bring in something that will create jobs, to have the security in the event we do have a catastrophe locally to have the National Guard in here… it’s ridiculous.”
Actually, Landon at that very moment was in San Jose near Silicon Valley, attending the annual International City County Management Association’s annual meeting, which began Oct. 17 and runs through the 20th.
“The airport was never discussed, for the record,” Coffey put in.
Hanns didn’t buy it. “What benefit would the National Guard Armory be to the city of Palm Coast if it was in the city? They benefit by the fact that it’s in Flagler County in the event it’s needed.”
“No argument with me, I agree,” Coffey said.
By then the National Guard’s original application had become almost incidental. But the commission approved it with few caveats, including strictures on noise levels and no turning the place into a shooting range.