Don Greene is a candidate for Palm Coast Mayor running against John Brady, incumbent Milissa Holland, Alan Lowe and Michael Schottey. Two council seats are also up this year, potentially opening the council to a majority turnover, though between the 2016 and 2018 elections, all five seats turned over. One seat is open in this election, as incumbent Bob Cuff has chosen not to run again.
Holland has been in politics since winning election to the County Commission in 2006. She was reelected in 2010, resigned to run for a state House seat in 2012–she lost to Travis Hutson, now a state senator–and won election as mayor in 2016, taking 63 percent of the vote in the primary in a four-way race, making a runoff unnecessary. All four other candidates in the race have not held public office before, though Brady ran for mayor in 2016, getting 15 percent of the vote.
This is a non-partisan, at-large election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for Palm Coast mayor or council. If a candidate for mayor wins 50 percent plus one vote or more in the Aug. 18 primary, then that candidate is the outright winner and mayor, making a runoff unnecessary. But if none of the candidates manages that majority, then the top two candidates with the most votes will go on to contest the Nov. 3 general election.
The Palm Coast mayor and council members serve four years. They’re paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor. The council members and the mayor also each get a $1,200 car allowance and a $910 communication allowance each year, so in sum council members’ total pay is $11,710, the mayor’s is $13,510.
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 conducted by email and 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. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, 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
- Aging Palm Coast
- Economic development
- Matt Morton
- Council dynamics
- Social media
- Rap sheet
Place and Date of Birth:
Jill Woolbright, District 1
Carol Bacha (Mother Elizabeth)
Colleen Conklin, District 3
Paul Mucciolo, District 3
Maria Barbosa, District 5
Dave Sullivan, District 3
Donald O'Brien, District 5
Bob Jones, District 5
Sims Jones (Dist. 1)
Ed Danko (Dist. 1)
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Cornelia Manfre (Dist. 3)
Zack Shapiro (Dist. 3)
See The Observer's Speedy Candidate Interviews
- Get a handle on tax revenue spending. I will eliminate any redundant projects or programs, and third party vendors and contractors as feasible. Examples include expensive apps when we have a viable website. If telephone apps are required to stay in contact with residents, I will look for less expensive alternatives. Another example is third party vendors working on city owned equipment (i.e. generators and pumping stations). We have a Public Works department that should have the skill set available to maintain all city owned equipment. If we don’t, we’re not hiring the correct people to service this city.
2. I will bundle these two policies together since they work hand in hand. We need to review the Code Enforcement and Permitting policies and procedures. This city has long been known for its city wide HOA and the permitting requirements currently in place. Both of these systems need review and I will simplify both and eliminate any unreasonable dialog that interferes with the property owner’s rights.
3. I will scrutinize future residential development planned throughout the city, to ensure thoughtful consideration is given to the existing home owners’ rights and that the development proposed matches local existing dwellings. This city is in for some very difficult financial times ahead. The future is going to bring a slowdown in the housing industry and with more supply than demand, the current property values will surely drop. We have to be responsible as to how we develop the city, protecting green space and property owner rights in the future.
A citywide HOA? Can you be more specific, and cite examples of the sort of permitting you are referring to. Do you find any kind of permitting problematic? If so, cite examples and how you’d address the issue. Do you have a development or two in mind where existing property owners’ rights have not been taken into account?
The “city-wide HOA” refers to the code enforcement issues. The enforcement is not standardized; example: excessive non-motorized items in the driveway at one house gets a ticket, other houses on the same street with the same issue do not receive tickets. Same issue can be said about broken fences, clutter, trash cans, etc. The codes should apply to all equally, or need to be eliminated. Many of the required permits encroach on property owners rights. Property owners should be able to complete DIY projects on their own property without having to get permits. In my opinion, if it doesn’t require a footer dug into the ground, you shouldn’t need a permit. Example: commercial tool sheds, concrete garden pavers, etc.
- Jobs! This is a retail based community. Using pre-Covid-19 numbers, there were approximately 40,000 Palm Coasters in the workforce. Roughly 25 percent (approximately 1,000 individuals) worked for the city or the county, paid off of tax revenues. [Editor’s note: Greene corrected the 1,000 figure to 10,000 in a follow-up. The follow-up question was based on his initial answer.] 40 percent work retail and fast food. Of the 40,000 in the workforce, better than half (55 to 60 percent) earn less than $30,000 per year. The median income in Palm Coast is $25,300 (28,000 for males, 23,000 for females). This information comes from the demographic website: areavibes.com/palm+coast-fl. You can’t live on this income. Palm Coast has always had a bad reputation for business growth. In the 2020 budget, Business Development only received $5,000 while over $2.6 million went into Parks and Recreation. I will task the city staff to take a holistic view of the cities policies and determine what is preventing positive growth and diligently work to bring in clean, quiet industry with higher paying jobs that will offer the current workforce alternatives. These industries include medical research, defense industry, and the aerospace industry.
- I will change the atmosphere at City Hall to become more community attentive. For years, the community has been speaking to deaf ears about traffic, swale management, public safety, road conditions, etc. My administration will not ignore the people who elected me to lead their community. I will respond publicly during meetings and keep a two way line of communications open so the residents are served, not ignored.
- Mental Health Services/Domestic Violence/Food Bank: The city has continuously snubbed at the local organizations trying to help a community in need. With a Suicide rate among the highest in the state, domestic violence on the rise, and the financial distress getting ready to face our community, City Hall can’t afford to ignore this issue any longer. Our residents need help. Once “Rent/Mortgage Relief” is eliminated, there will be a number of evictions and foreclosures from residents that cannot afford to pay up to four months housing at one time. There are organizations trying their best to assist those in need. City Hall does nothing. As mentioned previously, Mental Health is going to rapidly become an issue city wide as the financial distress of COVID takes its toll. We have yet to see the worse of the financial impact this year is going to bring. We will need all hands to keep this community whole.
You cite figures from areavibes.com, but those figures and their methodology are very suspect. For instance, they state that Palm Coast’s crime rate is 24 percent higher than the state average, even though they claim their calculation is based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, but their figure is incorrect. Palm Coast does not file its own figures to UCR since it’s policed by the sheriff. And looking at Flagler County’s crime rate of 1,245 crimes per 100,000 population, it’s 48 percent below Florida’s rate of 2,551. While the approximate number of people who work for the county or the city is in range of your stated figure of 1,000, that’s only 2.5 percent of the workforce, not 25 percent, though that proportion rises to about 7 percent when school employees are figured in. (Flagler County’s total workforce is 45,000, according to May’s jobs report. It’s not known how many county or city employees live in surrounding counties.) We prefer to rely on Census figures, which show a per capita income of $25,557, but a median household income of $53,820. With that in mind, you may want to rephrase your answer on part 1. Regarding parts 2 and 3, can you cite examples of how residents are ignored, or how City Hall has “snubbed” local organizations? Understanding that social services have been a county responsibility rather than a municipal one (Flagler Beach and Bunnell don’t have social services addressing mental health or suicide either), as a council member, what will you propose doing differently?
I researched about a dozen different demographic sites. I chose areavibes.com as they were the only site to have the “post-Sea Ray Boat” income values. If you research, you’ll see that both male and female incomes dropped about $5,000 after Sea Ray closed its doors. Your estimated median income value of $25,557 is in agreement with areavibes.com. I did not use the site for crime reporting, only income and housing. I’ll also agree that the county’s workforce is estimated at 45,000. Again, areavibes.com estimates the city’s workforce at 40K. The $53,820.00 median household income is probably accurate from the county perspective. Palm Coast isn’t quite that high. Again estimates. It accounts for the number of households in total. Of the 90,000+ residents that live in Palm Coast, roughly half, approximately 40,000 make up the workforce. Many Palm Coast residents are retired and well off, some very well off. This skews the $53,820.00 median household income. Of the actual workforce, the median income, as you pointed out, is estimated at only $25,557. The median household rate of $53,820.00 would suggest there are two working adults in the household and that isn’t always the case.
A clarification: we did not refer to median income, but to per-capita income, which is significantly different.
Regarding parts 2 and 3, citizens are blatantly ignored at all council meetings and workshops. Council members are texting, reading notes, flipping papers, anything but paying attention to the speakers during public comment periods. Many residents have requested copies of the texts, emails, paperwork, etc, as any activity during council meetings are considered public record, but to no avail. Item 3, with suicide rates and mental health issues through the roof, you’d think that someone from the city would show an interest in the community by showing up to any one of the events held by local organizations trying to combat the issues. Who says it’s a county responsibility? I believe everyone should be involved. If/when the Governor decides to end Rent/Mortgage Forgiveness, how many residents will be facing foreclosure or eviction because they don’t have the finances to pay six or seven months’ rent/mortgage? During the Flagler Cares symposium on February 10, economic distress was said to be the leading cause for suicide in Flagler. The mental angst on families should be a priority for the city as well, not a passing thought.
Note: The county and the city are both administering CARES Act dollars earmarked for housing assistance to those who can demonstrate a need. See information about the forgiveness program (in fact, a deferment program) referred to above here.
3. The city’s budget, like all local government budgets, will likely face revenue shortfalls in the next two years. How will you make up the lost revenue? Short of new sources of revenue, what areas of the budget are ripe for cuts? Please be specific.
I will facilitate budget discussions with Council members and task the City Manager and staff to find areas to cut funds to manage shortfalls, maintaining a balanced budget that City Council can vote on. There are additionally funding streams that should be moved from Enterprise to General Funds to better fit the expense. Example is Solid Waste, currently listed in Enterprise Funds yet is a contractual expense with WastePro. There are also many fund streams within the budget that need reallocations to better support the majority of the community.
You would use enterprise fund dollars in the general fund? Wouldn’t that go against basic budgetary and accounting rules?
If the expense should be in the General Fund to begin with, are they not technically breaking the rule now? I’d correct it.
4. Evaluate the city’s response to the coronavirus emergency. As of this writing, the city, unlike a growing list of local governments across Florida, has not mandated the use of masks in public places, though it’s in the council’s power to do so. Tell us how you’d vote on a mask mandate, and explain your answer, citing appropriate authorities.
The city seems to be doing what they are directed to do from the state government and county officials. As far as masks are concerned, I look at this as the City of Palm Coast. Not South Florida, Orlando, the state, nor nationally. I look at our city. As a community, we have seen recent spikes in the positivity rate as we are now testing thousands instead of a few hundred. Hospitalizations in Palm Coast continue to remain low. I believe that as long as you can maintain Social Distancing, mask should remain optional. If you are in a situation where you cannot maintain Social Distancing, or fall into one of the higher risk categories, than by all means, take the additional precautions. If you are showing symptoms of Covid-19, I would urge you to STAY HOME! Public safety is the priority.
5. Palm Coast has the authority to impose a public service tax on your utility bill of up to 10 percent, and a franchise fee on utilities, which would be passed to customers, of up to 10 percent. The money may be spent at the council’s discretion. Many counties and cities around the state partially or fully levy one or both the taxes. Palm Coast considered imposing a 6 percent electric franchise fee and a 2 percent public service tax in 2012, but reversed course in the face of strong public opposition. Either of the new taxes, proponents argue, would diversify the city’s revenue stream. Either could be used to generate revenue that would otherwise have to be generated by property taxes, though the public service tax and the franchise fee are regressive in comparison. Where do you stand on either new tax becoming part of Palm Coast’s taxing structure?
Again, this is not necessary if tax revenues are managed properly. I will stop the transfer of money from the Utility funding and converting it over to General Funds to pay for special interest projects that do not serve the community as a whole. Any tax increases will be a burden on a community that is already financially impacted by COVID19.
We do not know of any transfer from the utility fund to the general fund to pay for “special interest projects.” Can you cite an example? When you say “any tax increase,” does that mean you will oppose any tax rate set above the rollback rate in every budget year?
I’ll go back into past council meeting agendas and find where the money was moved and get back to you with this one.
6. Just in the last 10 years, Palm Coast has grown by 15,000 people, but it has grown older, with people 65 and older representing nearly 28 percent of the population, up from 23 percent in 2010. That’s a substantial increase, almost all of it as the proportion of school-age children has diminished: the school district’s population has remained at around 13,000 for 10 years. Should Palm Coast encourage that accelerating retirement-community trend? What would you do to ensure that Palm Coast is addressing the needs of its growing elderly population. Alternately, what would you do to reverse the trend, if you’re more interested in broadening the working-age population base?
I reviewed the Florida Census website and found that only 28 percent of our population is over the age of 65. These numbers are based on 2019 estimations. 23 percent are under the age of 18. That would indicate that the remaining 49 percent are of working age. It’s difficult to consider Palm Coast a “retirement” community with 72 percent not elderly. These folks need jobs to support their families.
The question is about the trend: Palm Coast was already proportionately older than the rest of the nation, and is now getting older: the city’s 65-and-older population is at 28 percent, compared to just 16.5 percent for the nation as a whole. Do you favor that trend, and if not, what would you do to reverse it?
This is Florida. You will always have an older population as people retire. I wouldn’t reverse it.
7. Some apartment complexes have gone up in the past two years, but the city still faces an affordable housing shortfall as housing prices have risen steadily. How do you propose to diversify Palm Coast’s housing options? By what criteria would you approve or reject apartment complexes? Would you approve raising the density and height of multi-family, or apartment, structures in select areas of the city zoned for the purpose?
This is a single family home community. We have plenty of apartments, duplexes, and other multi-density options available to meet anyone’s particular desires. City Hall looks at “Affordable Housing” based on the price of housing, not the individual’s income. Income is what makes something affordable. These apartments and duplexes developed throughout ever section of the city are just as expensive as a mortgage. If folks can afford an apartment, they can probably afford a house. It’s all about the income.
Going by the per-capita income referred to above, how can a person making the in the range of $25,000 to $30,000 a year afford a house in a market where the median price is $242,000, and the average sale price is $280,000, according to the Flagler County Association of Realors?
Plain and simple, they can’t. This is why it’s important to bring in viable industry to employ the impoverished of the city. If we want to succeed as a community, we must increase the income of the workforce.
I do not see any new retail establishment or a nursing school as economic development. These offer no better paying options for the community. Sure, the city will pick up more sales tax revenues, but it does nothing for the financially distressed residents trying to make ends meet. I have a background of business building in the federal contracting world. I want to bring the aerospace industry to Palm Coast. There are three supply technicians working for every one specialized technician. Anyone that has ever worked retail is a supply technician. It’s not that you Stock, Store, Inventory, and Issue; it’s what you Stock, Store, Inventory, and Issue. We need to allocate more than $5,000 into the Business Development fund and challenge the City Manager and staff to promote Palm Coast as a Business Friendly destination. This will open the door for high paying, clean, quiet industry so our residents can earn a good living here in Palm Coast.
I don’t have firsthand information concerning this transition but from what I understand, Jim Landon was a very good City Manager, despite his personality. During his tenure, the city won numerous awards. I understand that he fell out of favor with the current board and lost his job. Since the change, the city staff has been in turmoil and Matt Morton has not displayed initiatives for change. The turmoil continues.
What do you mean by “initiative for change”?
Matt Morton lacks the skill set and experience to manage a city staff this size. He had the opportunity over the last year to make changes but lacked the initiative to do it on his own.
This seems to place the manager in a no-win situation: on one hand you say “the turmoil continues,” with numerous resignations, firings and so on, which isn’t unusual in a transition from such a lengthy regime with such a different outlook, but which clearly points to a manager cleaning house, reorganizing, redirecting–whichever way the euphemisms might be for making over an administration in his image. On the other hand you say he lacked the initiative to do it on his own. Can you explain the contradiction and tell us what you expect him to have done regarding that “turmoil”?
Sources inside the administration state that the mayor has been directly involved and in contact with each department, disregarding the separation between the City Council and the city employees per the Charter. The City Manager should not have let this happen. He didn’t clean house, she did. He lacked the leadership skills and the initiative to stop her.
10. Mayor Milissa Holland, Council member Nick Klufas and to a lesser extent Council member Bob Cuff were elected on promises of change and novel visions four years ago. Evaluate their performance, their successes and shortcomings, and tell us if you think they’ve lived up to their promise. What will you bring to the council that they don’t? If you’re one of the incumbents, evaluate your own successes and shortcomings, with specifics, telling us why you’re better suited to continue than any of your challengers.
They have been unproductive, inefficient, and riddled with conflicts of interest. This has stifled their positive initiatives, and the community as a whole.
That’s just a general, broad-brush statement that a challenger might lob on the campaign trail but needs to stand up to scrutiny if it’s to be credible: you’re not telling us specifically how each of these individuals has been “unproductive, inefficient, and riddled with conflicts of interest.” How, for instance, do either Cuff or Klufas fit that description, and if you’re referring to Holland’s Coastal Cloud employment, what specifically has been a conflict if the company is not earning money from Palm Coast?
I believe I answered this sufficiently. Another challenger may wish to expound on this question but I’m professional enough to let it go.
You level quite pointed criticism at council members but, ironically, call it “professional” not to back up your accusations with a single example. Will that be your mode of leadership–unsubstantiated accusations?
The council members were so wrapped up in the mayor’s personal agenda that they lost focus on the very aspects that got them elected in the first place. You know as well as I do that the last several years have been the Milissa Holland show. The mayor is one of five votes, but, good, bad, or indifferent, it always went her way. From Coastal Cloud, the tax revenues spent on the park, or using her office to promote the company she works for, take your pick. All were wrong and the council members sat and let it happen. And no, my style of leadership is not hit and run. I understand that no one is perfect and I rarely go looking for fault. I chalk much up to a lesson learned. But, if the lesson continues to repeat itself, it beckons more attention.
11. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that contract, and tell us what specifically you would change about it. Are some areas of Palm Coast less effectively policed than others? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future?
I believe the Sheriff and his team do an outstanding job policing our community and the contract should stay in place. We should also approve the Sheriff’s requests to grow his force as the city continues to grow. Trying to break off and create our own police force would be an expense no one would want to bear. I like having full coverage of the county.
12. Elected office is no stranger to bluster. Tell us about you as a person: your character, your temperament, your foibles. Tell us who do you admire most in office today among elected officials in Flagler County—the person you’d consider a model of leadership.
I’m a very easy going individual but will not be walked on either. I despise drama and always maintain a professional working environment. My military history and years of experience in Senior Level Management have taught me how to see and concentrate on what is important and disregard what is not. I always say, “Live the Dream.” I am a solid Christian with very high moral values. I serve unto the Lord. That said, I don’t care what people say about me, you can’t offend me, nor can you upset me. I do not allow anyone to have that kind of control over my life. I’ve had a number of instances where I should have been taken home, yet I’m still here. I value each and every day as a true gift from God. I haven’t had the opportunity to spend enough time with any sitting officials to formulate a model of leadership.
Without questioning your last statement, it raises a question about the degree of your involvement or attention to the position you are now seeking, and more broadly, to the political community you now seek to join. If you are not able to give us a sense of who you admire on any of the local boards, even from a distance–and we’d urge you again to try–what have you done to prepare for the job of mayor? How many meetings have you attended or followed online? How many local community or advisory boards have you served on?
I’ve been back in Palm Coast full time since October 2016. I came back to a city in distress, misguided by its leadership. Since returning in 2016, I’ve watched two council members resign and a mayor run her own special agenda through city hall. I have been researching issues and viewing council meetings online for over a year and a half in preparation of running for mayor. This critical position is about being able to objectively lead a community through a harrowing time. People look for family name recognition, popularity, or advisory boards served. In my opinion, it’s about experience, leadership, and the well-being of the community.
13. Should you be held to account for what you display on your social media pages any differently than for what you would say anywhere public? Do you have different standards of behavior between the way you’d conduct yourself as an elected official—in a meeting, at an official function—as opposed to on your social media platforms?
Absolutely! Whether it’s in person, Social Media, or anything else, I don’t wear any masks or pretend to be something that I’m not. I am who I am.
14. 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, or faced any investigative or disciplinary action through a professional board such as the bar or a medical board? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.
In 2004, I was going through a bitter divorce. My wife at that time and I had Injunctions in place for each other. A procedural event via a telephone call ended up being a technical violation of the civil injunction. The issue was not worth the expense trying to appeal it. I pled “No Contest”, paid the $185.00 and took the punishment. This incident had no impact on my receiving a Top Secret – Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS-SCI) clearance, the highest level security clearance from the government.