Last Updated: 8:01 p.m.
Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy decisively won reelection tonight with 34 percent of the vote in a four-way race, and fellow-commissioner Rick Belhumeur, who was elected without a single vote cast in his favor three years ago, also won decisively tonight, won 26 percent, with all votes counted.
The vote tally showed more clearly the margins of victory: Mealy won with 656 votes and Belhumeur with 513, to newcomer Deborah Phillips’s 438 votes and Paul Eik, trying for a seat for the second time, with 343 votes. That means the Flagler Beach commission will maintain a near-decade-long stability, with few changes since 2011, and with Mealy still the commission’s reigning vote champion.
Belhumeur was celebrating with family and friends at the Beachfront Grille. His son Ben was right: at midday, he said he’d heard a lot of support split between Mealy and his father, less so for their opponents. Mealy was doing what she’s usually done on election nights: she stayed home.
In Bunnell, incumbent Bill Baxley won his second re-election, beating Donald Nobles with 43 percent of the vote to Nobles’s 32 percent, with Beulah McClendon-Johnson in third, with 25 percent.
Jan Reeger, Baxley’s opponent three years ago, finally won an election–by two votes: she defeated former Bunnell City Commissioner Daisy Henry 98-96, or by less than a percentage point, with Tina-Marie Schultz coming in third, with 87 votes. There is a provisional ballot yet to be counted. If it is for Henry, then it may trigger a recount, so the Reeger-Henry race is not necessarily over: the canvassing board Friday at 2 p.m. will sort it out. “Also interesting to note,” Reeger said on Facebook, “Only 281 voters in this Special Election but 399 voters in the Regular Election. That is 118 votes difference.”
Kaiti Lenhart, the supervisor of elections, explained the difference in a comment, which we are highlighting here in part: “he City of Bunnell regular Commissioner race was “Vote for Up To Two” and your Special Election race was “Vote for One.” The difference in the number of votes between those two races is because two candidates were elected in the regular Commissioner race, each voter could cast a vote for their choice of two of them. The results show that many voters chose two candidates in the regular Commissioner race. A total of 298 ballots were cast in the election.”
Beverly Beach was holding its first election since 2009. There, three incumbents were running again, with one challenger, for the the three open seats. The challenger, Douglas O’Connor, won with 98 votes, as did incumbents Debra Wingo (118 votes) and Jeffrey Schuitema (90). Larry Mathies fell short (77 votes.)
Bunnell voters were also faced with a slew of charter amendments. They said yes to them all: limiting commissioners’ salary increases to no more than the percentage awarded city employees, suspending or booting off commissioners for certain ethics violations or offenses, allowing commissioners and the mayor to make inquiries directly of city staff, without necessarily going through the city manager, clarifying procedures regarding vice-mayor selection, the city manager’s residency requirement and citizens’ committee memberships, and clarifying the commission’s contractual authority. See the amendments’ wording in detail here.
Today’s earlier story is below the full results.
Big Turnout for Flagler Beach and Beverly Beach Elections, Not So Much in Bunnell As 14 Candidates Vie for 7 Seats
Bunnell, Flagler Beach and Beverly Beach voters headed to the polls today to elect eight city commissioners between them, with Beverly Beach holding its first election in 10 years and Flagler Beach headed for its best turnout since 2012, when that election’s turnout was boosted by being paired with the Republican presidential primary.
As of mid-afternoon, almost 900 voters had cast ballots in Flagler Beach, 447 of them by mail, well ahead of the 2017 election, which drew just 689 voters (a turnout of 16 percent). The January 2012 election in Flagler Beach, with Mitt Romney piggy-backing his primary win on the city’s ballot, drew 1,582 voters, a 42.7 percent turnout.
Three years ago the Legislature attempted to force cities like Bunnell and Flagler Beach and 258 other cities across the state to move their elections to even years and to be held in November, concurrent with other major elections, to draw from higher turnouts. The proposal was defeated. (Palm Coast moved its election schedule to even years starting in 2014.) Candidates prefer to have the ballot to themselves. “You don’t have people piggy-backing on presidential elections that don’t necessarily follow politics or local government,” Rick Belhumeur, an incumbent running for re-election in Flagler Beach, said as fellow-incumbent candidate Jane Mealy, standing near him today, agreed. “You have to have a little bit more passion to come here and vote for no other reason but to come here and vote for commission.”
Mealy remembers a stint on the canvassing board, when she saw the effects of long ballots on voters. “I found people didn’t necessarily vote down the ballot,” she said.
Four candidates are running for two seats in Flagler Beach this year: incumbents Jane Mealy and Rick Belhumeur, and Paul Eik and Deborah Phillips. Eik ran two years ago unsuccessfully. Phillips is running for the first time. (See background on each candidate here.) All four were on either side of a street corner near Flagler Beach City Hall around midday, tending to their campaign signs and speaking with the occasional voter on an unusually cold Election Day: the temperature was in the upper 40s, with a stinging wind. So it took some passion to come out to vote.
And some improvisation, wardrobe-wide. Eik was wearing a St. Louis sweatshirt, an odd choice the day he’s appealing for Flagler Beach’s votes. “It was the warmest thing I had in my closet,” he said. It was either that or a Philadelphia Eagles jacket. Phillips was in a magenta down coat, though the temperature, she said, “is a heat wave for Chicago. It’s like, 12 today” in Chicago, from where Phillips and her husband moved down a couple of years back, opening the Pink Turtle Gift Shoppe in town.
Flagler Beach has more often than not had uncontested elections over the past decade or so: In January 2018 Eric Cooley won his seat without opposition, replacing Joy McGrew, who chose not to run. Mayor Linda Provencher retained her seat without opposition. The year before, three candidates contested two seats and the two incumbents won, but in 2016 Mealy won without opposition and Rick Belhumeur was elected by default, when Steve Settle decided not to run again for his seat. There were no other candidates. There was an uncontested election in 2014, with Kim Carney and Marshal Shupe retaining their seats.
The candidates for the most part today campaigned in their own little clusters, almost as amiably as if they were members of a club vying for club responsibilities. Belhumeur’s son Benjamin Belhumeur, 34, who just moved to town from North Carolina’s Outer Banks (where Hurricane Florence demolished his house) was helping his father’s campaign, with his sister Renee, 32, also in town from Baltimore to help. Eik sat in a golf cart on the northeast corner of 2nd Street and South Central, surrounded by everyone’s campaign signs, including one with an unfamiliar name: Doug ‘Bruno’ O’Connor.
If there is an insurgent anywhere on on the three cities’ ballot this year, it’s O’Connor. He did what no one has done in a decade in Beverly Beach, that tiny burg of some 350 full-time residents (500 when the snowbirds are in) just north of Flagler Beach: he dared to challenge the incumbents, who usually get re-elected without opposition. The Beverly Beach incumbents this year are Larry Mathies, Jeffrey Schuitema and Debra Wingo. Their three of five seats on the commission are up. Perhaps still stunned that anyone else would run against them, none of them were in evidence anywhere near Flagler Beach City Hall, the one location where all voting for both Beverly Beach and Flagler Beach was taking place today.
O’Connor, 60, a local homeowner for the past five years and a permanent resident for the past three (he’s from Brooklyn and Long Island), said he has been very active in his community, attending all town meetings and heading up his homeowners’ association at Sunset Inlet, a community of 31 homes. “I question some of the antics the commissioners have and people like the idea I’m involved–and change,” he said.
For a town of 350, drawing out 137 voters by mid-afternoon was not a bad showing for Beverly Beach. It represented 33 percent of the town’s electorate.
It was much quieter in Bunnell: the grassy expanse in front of the old Bunnell City Hall, where candidates have traditionally lounged or brandished signs to the rare voter making it to the polls, was empty today at lunchtime, empty still an hour or so later but for campaign signs here and there, even though Bunnell has a busy election today: six candidates are running for two seats, with one of those two seats being a special election to replace John Sowell, who resigned when he moved out of Bunnell (in preparation for a run for a county commission seat).
Incumbent Bill Baxley is running in one race, along with Beulah McClendon-Johnson and Donald Nobles. In the special election, Jan Reeger, who ran for Bunnell commission previously and sits on the city’s planning board, is contesting the seat with former Commissioner Daisy Henry and newcomer Tina Marie-Schultz.
Bunnell voters are also being asked to weigh in on seven charter amendments on such things as limiting commissioners’ salaries, how and when to fire a city manager, how to select the entirely ceremonial post of vice mayor, and so on.
Turnout today in Bunnell was not as brisk as in Flagler Beach or Beverly Beach, with just 117 voters making it to the polls in person and another 114 casting a ballot by mail, for a total of 231 ballots, or just under 13 percent. In 2017, when Bunnell had three candidates running for two seats, 241 voters turned out, for a turnout of 14.6 percent.
Polls close at 7 p.m. The supervisor of elections is expected to release results swiftly after that. This story will be updated accordingly.