Andy Dance, the second-longest serving member of the Flagler County School Board and its most reliably centrist analyst, stunned his colleagues at the end of the board meeting this evening by announcing that he would resign the seat he’s held since 2008 and run for Charlie Ericksen’s seat on the County Commission. Ericksen is not running again.
Dance, 55, isn’t leaving yet: he will resign the seat in early November 2020, immediately before that month’s election, even though by then he would have had to compete in a likely primary Republican election for the county commission seat, with no guarantee of winning it.
“I can’t go out into the community without getting stopped nowadays and people asking me about the rumors or, you know, is it true,” Dance told his colleagues, saying he owed them “the courtesy to clear the air.” He then told them of his plans, almost choking up: “This is kind of hard, because I really like this job, but I’m going to resign my school board seat on November 16th, 2020, so it’s a little bit off.”
Colleen Conklin, who alone has served longer on the board (since 2000), and whose seat is also up in 2020, interrupted him: “Jees, you’re going to give me a heart attack, Andy.”
“We’re going to go out together in style,” Dance continued, referring to Superintendent Jim Tager, who is resigning in June 2020. “It was important to do this and clear the air here,” he said, “and make sure that everybody heard it from me first, especially staff. It won’t be long, the parents and students will know shortly.”
Dance, a Republican, first ran in 2008 in a special election to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Jim Guines. He beat Lucy Green Davis in the 2008 general election by 16 points (after she had edged him out by a few votes in the primary, requiring a run-off). Since then., Dance has had no real challenge: he was unopposed when he ran two years later, he beat Maria Barbosa by 20 points in 2014–Barbosa is now his colleague, winning election from a different district in 2016–and again running unopposed in 2018.
His decision to run for the county commission has several political consequences. It unexpectedly opens a third seat on the school board in an election year when only two were scheduled to come up: that of Barbosa and that of Conklin. So Dance’s decision will ensure that at least one new school board member will be seated. Barbosa has filed to run again and is in a strong position to retain the seat, but Conklin has yet to file.
Dance’s candidacy for the county commission would be formidable to any other candidate even in an open seat. Two candidates filed for the seat before him, Leslie Giscombe and Thomas LeGault, but Giscombe has already withdrawn. Dance’s name may prevent several others from throwing in their names, especially as he got Ericksen’s support.
“I did have a conversation with Andy Dance and he asked me if I was running again,” Ericksen said this evening, “and my answer is, I will not be seeking reelection. I think Andy Dance is a good man. He’s done a good job with the school board, and his family has a good record representing Flagler County, with his mother participating.” Dance’s mother, Nancy, herself served a dozen years on the school board from November 1984 to 1996.
Dance said he had been approached by people in the community encouraging him to run for the county commission. He was not ready to say who those people were, but said it would soon become apparent from his campaign contributions. Dance, who owns his own consulting business (he’s a landscape architect), has maintained a close association with the chamber of commerce and has generally been backed by the business community, a backing that was key to his role in winning tax levies for the school board (and losing them: when Dance wasn’t clearly on board with one such levy a few years ago, it failed.) In that sense, the board is losing its strongest advocate as it prepares to ask voters to renew a half-penny sales surtax after 2020–the surtax that’s been funding the district’s technology initiatives.
If he were to win election to the county commission, he would be a commissioner in the mold of Donald O’Brien, the current chairman: both are business oriented, both are excessively–sometimes painfully-deliberate in their decisions, devoting an enormous amount of time to studying issues while seeking the keenest intersection of rational and middle grounds (an approach fellow Commissioner Dave Sullivan has increasingly adapted). Neither is interested in ideological posturing, which can make them uncomfortable. (For instance, Dance was intent on not leaving his seat vulnerable to a political appointment, as opposed to an election.) They’re pragmatists, foremost, with an ability to hardly ever alienate their board colleagues.
In an interview this evening, Dance spoke of the larger picture leading him to decide to leave the school board. “It is a complicated question,” Dance said. “This year my son is a senior, and based on the timing, I get to hand him his diploma the same as I did my two daughters, which is an incredible blessing. It’s an experience I’ll carry with me forever.” The timing, his conversation with Ericksen, encouragement from others and interest in a new challenge convinced him.
“I didn’t have a background in education, my background is better suited to being a county commissioner than a school board member, but I was a parent,” Dance said. “I’m hoping somebody behind me will also be able to carry on as a parent and a school board member. There’s a lot of challenges at the county level. I’m always ready to meet challenges, as you know from past interviews. I’m a data person, I get into the nitty gritty of details and like to find solutions.”
Not done on the school board yet, he said he looked forward to being part of the search for a new superintendent–his goal is to find someone with a longer shelf life–but that new blood was a good thing. He is not ready to stake out positions for the county commission. He said he has plenty of research to do in that regard. But his broader principles are clear enough to him: “First and foremost is trust and transparency,” he said, citing “a severe lack of trust and confidence in the past” administration, though he said that’s changing with Administrator Jerry Cameron. “We should continue in that path.”
He said his longevity as a Flagler resident, “not a native but a child of Flagler County from when there were only 6,000 people in Flagler County,” connects him to the county and its interests in “smart growth and protecting our environment, and the quality of life, and continuing my focus on protecting the public’s safety and health.”
Dance’s wife, Luci Dance, is actually a key staff member on Cameron’s administration, a position Cameron may have to shift (to the chagrin of other commissioners) to avoid conflicts of interest, should Dance be elected.
“Yes, you know what, I think you’re a perfect fit for the county, Andy, but I’ll certainly miss working with you,” Conklin told him this evening. She then said what many who knew him would say, hearing his news: “Just got to process what you shared.”