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Jerry Cameron, There Are Better Ways To Save Face Than Blaming Media Over The County’s Homeless Blunder

| March 7, 2019

Jerry Cameron is Flagler County's interim administrator. (© FlaglerLive)

Jerry Cameron is Flagler County’s interim administrator. (© FlaglerLive)

Dear Jerry,

You’ve impressed in your short time as Flagler County’s interim administrator with your calm, your thoughtfulness and your intellect. But in what amounts to the few hours you’ve been here, your last 24 were not your finest. And your attempt to blame the media for the portrayal of the county’s catastrophically pinheaded decision to boot out the homeless from their encampment behind the public library in Palm Coast and exile some of them to that rustic little internment camp called Russell Landing at the other end of the county is disappointing–and worrisome.

pierre tristam flaglerlive editor's blogYou’d first decided on the exile option, then reversed yourself and opted to just shift the homeless’ encampment near the library during the clean-up, but keep them there. To explain your reversal, you told me in an interview late yesterday afternoon that the media at first “picked up the posting and interjected themselves in the middle of our planning process and we didn’t have an opportunity to feel out all the options before we could figure out what we were going to do.” I suppose you’re referring to the Observer’s Brian McMillan, who broke the story Tuesday by writing about the county’s plan, and to subsequent reporting by FlaglerLive.

I’m concerned about your use of the word “interjected” in relation to the media, given the context. My colleague’s story was focused on interviews with homeless individuals at the camp, and framed by the 15-odd order-to-vacate signs your human services manager posted at the library, in the camp and around it. He did what good reporters do: he reported on what would (and was) a serious, in some ways shocking, development regarding an ongoing issue he’s written about in the past. He did not sniff out the story by intruding on one of your staff meetings. He did not, from all appearances, stake out your offices to eavesdrop on not-yet-ready-for-prime-time information. He did not go after troves of emails where you may have been having discussions that weren’t yet ripe for a conclusive decision on the matter.

He reported on what was already affecting human beings, on what you had decided with such finality that your staff printed up red-lettered notices, posted them on the grounds, set up bus routes for the homeless, organized some trips to Volusia and some voucher uses for others, who would be staying in motels, and sent maintenance crews to hurriedly make that camp at the end of the world seem like a livable option. The following day, you had your staff issue a press release that explicitly related those same details and that went to all local and regional media, and was posted on your website. FlaglerLive–at least when we recovered from the stun-gun effect of that release, since we hadn’t seen Brian’s story until then–followed up with a pair of stories on Wednesday.

Where, anywhere in that sequence, do you see the media “interjecting” itself in your process? We followed-up on your printed notices and news release and went by your statements, as when we first interviewed about the issue Tuesday evening, when you said of the plan to bus the homeless to Russell Landing: “It’s going to be heavily monitored, small numbers and very temporary”?

Now you say there was nothing final about any of this, that it was all required by legal steps that didn’t necessarily mesh with the end product. You told the Observer and FlaglerLive that “we never finished our plans,” that somehow or other the orders to vacate and your news release were “interpreted as the final plan.” And this afternoon you disagreed that you placed any blame on the media: “I admit that we could have done a better job in telling the media that this wasn’t solid information and we won’t make that mistake again.” I suppose we should now question every release that comes out of your shop, perhaps every report, every recommendation, and add an asterisk that says: “Not a final plan.”

There’s no question that someone screwed up this homeless issue. There’s no question that based on our interviews, you took responsibility for making the final decision of exiling the homeless to Russell Landing, though it may well have been one of your directors’ recommendations. You wanted to commend your staff for the way it handled the whole thing, and to protect them from the fallout. You could have done both by stopping at your initial explanation: that it was more humane and legal to keep the homeless at the library, and leave it at that.

Click On:

We weren’t looking to embarrass you by pointing out the small rebellion that was brewing over your previous decision, or the incredibly clumsy, Coffey-scented way it was handled, with zero notice or preparation for the neighbors in Bunnell government, let alone to neighbors in west Flagler (putting aside those west-Flaglerites’ repugnant reaction to the homeless themselves, as if they were about to be flooded by a band subhuman creatures from Marineland’s old lagoons: that’s another story of pitchfork provincialism you’ll get used to in Flagler, though St. Johns doesn’t exactly have a more stellar reputation in that regard, so you should not have been surprised by the reaction.)

Finally, there’s this, as I learned this morning from Palm Coast Interim Manager Beau Falgout–even more worrisomely than your blame. It turns out that not only were you not under order to clear the homeless, as your staff made it seem, blaming Palm Coast, which had only sent a courtesy email to county government about the mess. But it was one of your staffers who initially called the city asking the city to take some formal action that would give the county cover to proceed with the clean-up.

“They called and I don’t know if they asked to be cited or [ask for] a kind of like a compliance review, it was a little strange,” Falgout told me. “I took it as they were just looking for what the situation was and how they met city code. But yeah, I believe one of their staff members called Barbara Grossman and asked them to look at whether they were in compliance with the property.” (Grossman is Palm Coast’s code enforcement manager.)

The city had been getting complaints but had not yet acted on them, and did so only after receiving the call from the county. That puts an entirely different twist on the sequence of events–a cynical if not mendacious move on the county’s part, now that we know who started this whole thing. Or am I interjecting again? (“I wasn’t there when the conversations between the county and the city were going on, I was only told that the county was working with the city on the issue,” and that you were given a letter from the city and the fire chief, you told me this afternoon in that regard. “If somebody on staff purposefully deceived me and I determine that that happened, that will be addressed.”)

At least the county moved from blunder to resolution swiftly, and the city appears poised to help. And since you’ve been reading Aurelius lately, his advice may seem familiar: “When circumstances have compelled you to be a little disturbed, return to yourself quickly, and do not continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts.”



Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here.

29 Responses for “Jerry Cameron, There Are Better Ways To Save Face Than Blaming Media Over The County’s Homeless Blunder”

  1. Percy's mother says:

    Could all this have been as simple as misinterpretation on many levels within the City and the County?

    Could have all this have been as simple as trying to report an unfolding situation much too quickly? (I’m sure there’ll be a blistering response).

    It seemed/seems to me, reporting “the plan” came out of left field perhaps when “the plan” was just in the discussion of possible options phase. Then it was reported as concrete fact.

    No need to throw blame around, as is the usual case.

    Give the new guy, Jerry Cameron, a chance before throwing him under the bus.

    Rush to judgement seems to be the norm these days.

  2. Josh Davis says:

    The Founding Fathers thought “the press” was important enough to put in the First Amendment. Also, knowing Brian and Pierre, I respect their work even if I don’t always agree. Whether you’re being praised or acting the fool, it’s going to be reported. It’s the backbone of a free society. Whoever does not like it, maybe you shouldn’t “interject” yourself into the spotlight. They will call you out on it. Guaranteed.

  3. Kendall says:

    Did we expect anything better than this from GOP operative? Of course he’s going to follow the Cheeto Jesus example and blame the media for his shortcomings. The dishonesty and obsfucation so early on is despicable.

    Great job Commissioners. Maybe don’t look at party and look at character next time.

  4. Steve says:

    I agree. The Homeless were allowed to be where they were all the while The powers that be knew. Now we all own it. Figure it out …

  5. Stretchem says:

    Did y’all know this old white dude gets paid more than most state Governors? Little ole rinky dink Flagler county.

    Shoot, pay me twenty grand a month and I’ll happily take a weekly verbal beatdown from FlaglerLive!

  6. Brian B says:

    Complain complain complain, where are your solutions? Your so smart and articulate. Your slant is too mean. Try to come up with a solution that will work, then you can slander thoughtful people trying to come up with something that can satisfy you. SOLUTIONS not division. No hate, remember?

  7. walter says:

    yeah blame the media for something he wanted to keep a secret so we the people wouldn’t know

  8. Denise Calderwood says:

    Ok I’ve had enough…..Pierre the homeless have been there behind the library for way too long and the numbers have swelled recently and issues with them had begun to surface due to over excess of panhandling..and being told they couldn’t use the Library’s dumpster! It was way past time for someone to step up and DO SOMETHING …our previous administrators both Landon and Coffey and the previous elected officials and recently retired county staff just let their social service staff do Nothing. Finally several concerned citizens stepped in to help who have limited resources and we started by acknowledging their existence and then we started listening to their stories.

    A plan was developed. It might not have been the best one but look at least we have action on everyone’s part including the homeless themselves since they have agreed to be a part of the solution by assisting with cleanup. Since this began, nine of the homeless living behind the library have been given a lifeline and had housing provided and later will have social services….so now there are 29 left! Nine of them are frail and vulnerable Senior Citizens living on less than $800 a month in benefits.

    So can we agree to stop ranting about nothing and put the talk into action. If we advocate and educate our well to do than maybe we can help the rest by having a place for these Seniors to live…after all look at all of the new senior living facilities that have opened up and then we can develop new short and long term options to address the rest of the homeless issues like opiod, mental health and alcoholic issues so please start helping the homeless by researching solutions or asking the tough questions of why Flagler County is not getting any federal dollars from HUD when our name is part of the organization that is responsible for serving our homeless- the Volusia Flagler Commission on Homelessness and Housing.

    Why don’t you give Mr. Cameron a chance….instead you are taking the anger and resentment you have built up over the years with Coffey and Landon and have taken it out on Mr. Cameron and he has been here less than two weeks…

  9. Blinded Reader says:

    Your article is quite astonishing! It sounds as if you are ready to have this homeless community in your own backyard. You claim to be an editor but I guess anybody can claim to be anything in life. I would hope media would share facts and not their own opinions. What you write is so very obvious that this is your opinion of what has been going on in the county and city. So very sad because you do have a large following!

  10. Hammock Resident says:

    Cameron has a lot on his plate because of all the follies that took place prior to his arrival. Right now he thinks Hadeed is his buddy, but Hadeed is just playing him. He needs to have the Commissioners fire him too. He’s neglected to do his job that got the County into these shady deals: Failing sewer plant, water treatment plant, Sears building purchase, old hospital for the sheriff’s operation’s building, the sweet deal for Captain’s BBQ, who knows what else will surface. And let’s not forget Hansen.

  11. fredrick says:

    Applause!! Very good Pierre. Thank you for staying on top of this issue.

  12. Concerned Citizen says:

    So far what I have seen of Mr. Cameron I’m not impressed.

    The BOCC could not have hired anyone more out of touch with Flagler than Jerry Cameron. And the amount of money spent on hiring an “Interim Manager” is ridiculous at least. His track record in St. Johns has a murky past as well.

    Flagler County is in need of a qualified Administrator and fast. Our BOCC still seems incapable of decision making on their own. And has already let their ‘Interim Manager” run loose.

    Thankfully we have local media keeping us informed on all of these shady shennanigans.

  13. Mark says:

    Pierre, It’s about the homeless not you and Mr. Cameron.

  14. Palm Coast Resident says:

    There’s a position available for the library which starts at $10.99/hr. Can you imagine a job that pays you such, to have to worry about how to handle some of the darker aspects of homelessness? Imagine getting paid $10.99 and witnessing panic attacks, pass-outs, having to navigate over desperate people sleeping on the library sidewalk. Having to discard or clean chairs, having to consider the possibility of needing to administer Narcan to the partrons, having to see bloody needles on the premise or in the restroom, seeing folks use the restroom in plain view as you pull up to work in the morning?

    All while answering to the public, attending meetings, assisting with budgets, conducting workshops, helping people with computers…$10.99/hr.

    The problem of homelessness, enriched with deeply seeded personal challenges, is a national problem. Flagler County cannot solve it in a month, nor can it solve the problem probably ever. We are all expecting the city and the county to “do something,” without realizing all the “somethings,” they have been doing–and with great success.

    What a lot of citizens are doing is asking for solutions with their hearts. They are laudably assuming the best hope for the individuals out there without seeing the intense problems some of these homeless people are experiencing and bringing into the community with them: Drugs, self-destruction, destruction of property. There is hope that takes time in solving homelessness one individual at a time. Meeting a person at his or her own time and ability to embark on a major transition from living in the woods in survival mode for years requires patience and an incredible wealth of community collaboration for even the success of one single individual.

    The county has been desperately attempting to respond to two resounding and completely opposing voices: one voice is asking or compassionate, unabashed assistance to house these folks, and the other is screaming for relief from the devastation that chronic homelessness and its associated root-causes are bringing to the community. One voice says, “Give them free housing, love, and help, help, help.” And the other says, “Get them out of here!”

    The community needs to understand that compassion and kindness IS happening. Connection to resources and resolve for their condition exists. Emmanual’s Closet is providing free clothing. The Sheltering Tree is providing assistance with food, tents, bicycles, and even with resources that help people apply for and get jobs, such as assistance with obtaining birth certificates and ID’s. The county has been connecting resources for them and offering outreach to the library, connecting them to Stewart Marchman and the Homeless Coalition. A multitude of community resources exist which help people navigate their hardships, and these services and community resources have been widely successful with the gumption and motivation and drive to succeed from the citizens experiencing hardships themselves.

    We have to address this problem realistically. The workers in the community are and will continue to work with these folks to connect them to opportunities to improve their lives, but to do that, the people experiencing homelessness NEED to be active participants or else nothing anyone ever does–the county, the city, the nonprofits, the volunteers will ever solve the problem for them.

    What we all absolutely must NOT ignore is the somber reality that many of these individuals are fighting demons which bring severe problems to the community and to the library. No one should enable this, because the sad truth is that until they are ready to transition into stability, they will continue this path here or somewhere else.

    I hope the county and the city realize that they CAN, and SHOULD take the action necessary to make it hard these folks to continue living there in the woods they way they are. We all have to understand that opportunity to emerge successfully exists, and being hard on them gives them a viable choice: move out of here or get the help that is absolutely available to you. Citizens will complain. People will accuse the county of being heartless, but it takes heart to know the truth and to have the hope for salvation of a human’s dignity that we believe they can do it. Making it hard to continue this lifestyle is the best option for these citizens. Let’s not bring in porta-potties and trash bins. Other communities have done this only to see the homeless population grow exponentially. We must consider the library staff, the nearby residents. We can’t move the problem somewhere else. We must make it difficult to continue while offering the options that do in fact exist.

  15. Donna from Palm coast says:

    This blog while entertaining is not the forum for complaints and insults. As a regular to the library, I had become very uncomfortable with the bathrooms and parked grocery store buggys at the bicycle racks. We have a problem, please offer viable solutions. Peace for all.

  16. gmath55 says:

    Is this a manufacturing crisis? Lets get CNN and MSNBC to investigate. Or, maybe all the Trump haters could investigate.

  17. TB says:

    The media did interject. He was absolutely right! Many of the people who live/work in the vicinity of this camp, myself included feel it needs to go. Letting them stay there does not help them or the homes and businesses in that area. The majority of hear homeless have shown 0 effort to get out of their situation and take handout after handout. Enough is enough it’s time for them to move along!

  18. Flagler Resident says:

    I believe we should all give the guy a chance to solve some of the problems that
    were dumped into his lap and the ones still to come Did anyone really expect
    him to wave a magic wand and fix some of the issues that have been going on
    for years in just a few weeks.

  19. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Hammock Resident got it right and thanks also Denise …..
    Three of us concerned citizens met yesterday with Jerry Cameron, and Commissioner Dave Sullivan regarding several pressing issues ( the major P Bay AREA wastewater crisis, Sheriffs dump,Sears and got our two cents in on Bings Landing. Give him a chance. – he inherited a zoo and a mess. He is trying very hard.

  20. chips says:

    A lot of talk and no action as usual!

  21. Sherry says:

    Thank you, yet again, and again, Pierre for keeping the citizens of our community “INFORMED”!!!!

    The basis for good decision making is “factual” information. Fellow citizens, just imagine what we would do if we did not have excellent investigative journalism outlets like FlaglerLive, and the Observer. Whether you personally agree with the view point of the “editorial” pieces written by the journalists, having the “facts” reported is absolutely VITAL to our understanding of the governmental and political processes that affect of country, our community and even our daily lives.

    “BLAMING the PRESS” for informing the public, and shining light on important problems and situations is completely contrary to the transparency that is fundamental to our Democratic processes and way of life!

    Thank you, Concerned Citizen, Kendall and Josh Davia for your thoughtful comments. For those who want to “shoot the messenger”. . . our fine journalists are NOT responsible for FIXING problems. That is the job of our very well paid government officials.

    In my opinion, we should all be focused on the continuous failings of not only the very weak board of Flagler County Commissioners, but also on those who have continuously provided very poor legal oversight and expertise when it comes to agreements and contracts for Flagler County and Palm Coast. Those two government managers are now being replaced. The legal teams that allowed the multitude of huge mistakes need to be gone as well!

  22. Bill says:

    Amazing how YOU see this. “I’m concerned about your use of the word “interjected” in relation to the media, given the context” BUT you have NO concern for YOUR use of this given its context “exile some of them to that rustic little internment camp”. Just more of your hypocrisy of your ideology.

  23. Disagree says:

    Denise Calderwood said:
    “give Mr. Cameron a chance….instead you are taking the anger and resentment you have built up over the years with Coffey and Landon and have taken it out on Mr. Cameron and he has been here less than two weeks…”

    Ms. Calderwood, you blame FlaglerLive for reporting the facts and taking Cameron to task for blaming media for interfering. Rather, you should thank FlaglerLive and the Observer for the excellent investigative reporting and bringing to light a knee jerk reaction to a chronic problem.

  24. Flagmire says:

    So this is a necessary critique of new leadership which the press is obligated to provide. Poor communication, poor planning and poor leadership lead to a sophomoric attempt to solve a serious problem. The reality is homelessness is a big problem in this country that politicians just ignore. There is no leadership on this issue and many others. What’s excruciatingly obvious is that an internment camp in somebody else’s backyard is not the brightest idea. Mr. Cameron should provide a written statement explaining his actions to the Board which should then be evaluated and critiqued with suggestions for improvement. Ignoring this issue is tacit consent to any further poor decisions.

  25. Edith Campins says:

    The gowing problem of the homeless has been ignored by both the country and city government for too long.
    Mr. Landon and Mr. coffey had other fish to fry. Every proposal should be given a hearing. Obviously the Russell Landing proposal was not adequate. Let’s work together to come up with better alternatives.

    We may want to look into the Homeless Assistance Center in Miami. They do a good job of reintegrating those who want help into society. Before those of you who have never actually talked to any of the homeless start passing judgement, let’s see wat we can do for those that want help.

    Before you start criticizing Flaglerlive and/or The Observer, think about all the undehanded, bad deals that would have gone unnoticed if these two entities hadn’t reported on them. They have worked on our behalf to let our local politicians know that their actions have consequences.
    Lastly, I have been a library volunteer for many years now. I am there every week. I have never been bothered by a homeless person. Yes, sometimes they smell bad but not once has anyone done anything to make me feel threatened or unsafe. Not once has a homeless person been anything but polite. I have, however, seen many badly behaved library patrons.

  26. Al Hadeed says:

    @ Hammock Resident and Sherry – you may not be familiar with the role of the County Attorney in the transactions you mention in your post. I did not, nor did any person from my office, create the terms of any of the negotiations that you reference.

    Our role is quite specific, to review the legal form of the purchase and sale agreement and leases. I do not interject my personal opinions when reviewing the documents related to the matters you identified. To do so would be outside of my particular role. Those kinds of judgments are left to the operations side of government, to the County Administrator and ultimately to the County Commission.

    For example, the County Commission and the then Administrator discussed the County Attorney’s role in the drafting of the proposed 2018 lease with Captains BBQ at Bings at its recent January 7, 2019 workshop. The then Administrator informed the Commission that the specific transaction points of the lease did not involve the County Attorney. I advised the Commission that my review was confined to the legal form of the document. I cited an example. The lease required the proposed, new restaurant structure to be turned over to the County when it was built. But the lease was unclear as to how that was to occur. For my role, I added the phrasing that compelled the building transfer to County ownership to occur at the time that the Certificate of Occupancy is issued by the County’s Building Official. I added other clauses to solidify that end result.

    We look at legal form unless specifically requested to do more. We are not on the operations side of the government, and we do not negotiate deal points in such transactions except to advise on issues directly related to legal liability. By statute and code, such negotiations are assigned to the County Administrator with the County Commission having oversight and authority to review and set policy.

  27. BeachLifeguard says:

    @Flagler Resident… Anyone should know, the first answer would not be “well let’s send them to a different county. That would be met with anger by both side – Now granted, the homeless don’t really have a platform to combat your opinion. Why can’t we find a particular place where we can give them to all stay, and have local charities visit them with rations and water… Oh because the only homeless people are in Bunnell? So let’s just take on their resources for this problem?

    Right now we treat local stray cats, better than human beings. How do I know? I’ve seen them walk around feeding them, setting them up little cat shelters… What should we do about them? Oh I got it, ship all of our stray cats to Bunnell. They know about those over there.

  28. Willy Boy says:

    Those woods are littered with trash and there are open cooking flames. When Mother Nature has finally had enough, her solution will not be so compassionate.

  29. Dave says:

    Churches? Where are the leaders of our church communities!? Aren’t churches suppose to help house and feed the homeless? I mean we donate 10% of our earning to the church each week, shouldn’t that go to the homeless too?

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