Milissa Holland is the incumbent mayor of Palm Coast, running for a second and final term (the position is term-limited) against John Brady, Donald Greene, Alan Lowe and Michael Schottey.
Three council seats are also up this year. Councilman Bob Cuff has opted not to run again. Councilman Nick Klufas is running for a second term. And Councilman Jack Howell has resigned, requiring a special election in conjunction with November’s election. So the council will have at least two new faces by November, and possibly four. Between the 2016 and 2018 elections, all five seats turned over.
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
- Coastal Cloud
- Statement by Milissa Holland
Place and Date of Birth: Poughkeepsie, NY June 26,1971
Current job: Consultant for a technology firm (Coastal Cloud); Mayor of Palm Coast
Party Affiliation: Republican
Net Worth, Financial Disclosures: $225,000
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
Stay within our current budget, which places us as the 5th lowest tax rate in a City our size within the State of Florida. It is essential that we maintain the level of service we currently provide and yet we will have to find ways to do that with the impact that Covid-19 will have on our revenues over the next few years. The City has maintained a reserve that has been consistent with our fund balance policy that I would insist that we keep as that has given us a high bond rating and has allowed us to withstand three hurricanes and a global pandemic over the last four years without disrupting City services. Also having an Emergency Fund has helped while we have waited for FEMA reimbursement. We have already started looking at ways to cut the budget this year, and have asked the administration to come back with additional ways to become more efficient within departments with minimal impact to the residents for the many services we provide. I have not raised taxes in my entire term of office and will continue with that commitment moving forward. We go through an arduous process of Annual Strategic Planning, that identifies our goals and objectives that allows us to spend well. It is a testament to this process that we currently have zero municipal debt.
Public Safety is a top priority of mine and I will continue to invest in different aspects of it in our City. We currently contract with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office to provide an additional level of service that meets the needs of the City of Palm Coast. We are adding an additional five deputies to that contract this year following a request from Sheriff Staly in order to continue to ensure his strategies for community policing are met. The other item we have agreed to is to completely create a new contract. That’s important for many reasons. The contract is 15 years old and our current Sheriff has adopted some brand new strategies in keeping the crime rate as low as possible in our City. The contract as it stands today is not reflective of current strategies, technologies, personnel or services that would provide the agency with modern applications. That’s not to say that this will be one that would be one sided as we want to ensure that it meets the City Council’s and communities input as that is and will be important as we move through this next phase of law enforcement within our City. I am proud to share that 95 percent of residents surveyed feel safe in their neighborhood. Our Fire Department has been working hard over the last two years in developing a 10 year plan for the department to ensure that our residents will continue to receive quick response times with calls, a station plan for future growth that has been identified and accounted for using specific data models, continuing training for the department members and community outreach programs to name a few. This plan will allow us to set aside funds that would support these important initiatives for years to come. Our firefighters and command staff have earned an ISO rating of two which places is very high in regards to a protection classification. We are grateful for our first responders dedication, sacrifice and loyalty to our citizens health and safety 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Street lights are another aspect of public safety that we have invested in as a Council. We currently have more than 2,800 streetlights in our City. Lighting our roadways at night continues to be an important component in our City Strategic Plan as well as requested residential intersections. Last year, continuous streetlights were installed on Lakeview Boulevard. As of this month, we have signed the agreement with FPL to install 257 lights on Belle Terre Parkway. Design is also complete for 60 lights on Old King Road North during the widening project in which we secured funding from FDOT for. The next roads on the list are Ravenwood Drive, followed by Seminole Woods Boulevard and Belle Terre Boulevard. Finally, our Parks play a key role in public safety. Our Palm Coast Little League alone has thousands of kids that play ball each spring and summer. That is one league we have worked closely with on the Sports Alliance to ensure we have capacity for practice and game times available. We will be focusing on future expansions on additional fields and parking in the upcoming years. This also includes our trails, our Community Center that provides hundreds of programs a month and our many amenities that provide an outlet for all ages to stay safe and healthy.
Which brings me to my final top priority and that is quality of life. After being a resident for 36 years, I know that the majority of our residents chose Palm Coast to call their home. I hear from many of them regularly. They share their stories of what’s important to them, what originally brought them here and that is in the back of my mind at all times. Drainage is an important topic to many. It is why we adopted a master stormwater plan in January of last year. It is very comprehensive and for the first time it takes a comprehensive approach to improving our inherited engineered stormwater plan. Our technicians have been busy in the field treating and cleaning out our canal systems in an effort to relieve some of the bottleneck areas that were causing backups to occur within the swales in front of your houses. Using lidar (a laser sensor), they will then be able to determine a cleaning out of the swales by streets rather than one at a time. We will also be able to communicate with you when and how that will be happening within your neighborhood so you can be prepared as well.
Roads, we have gone through an extensive process of analyzing and assessing the condition of the roads in Palm Coast and have drafted and prioritized a plan moving forward on how to address the roads with a comprehensive maintenance plan for that as well. We will be communicating that plan as well in the future. We have adopted a long range plan for our Parks and Recreation facilities that will continue to add onto our current inventory and for all generations to utilize. We are very proud of our active retirees as well as the young professionals, families and everything in between and have received a lot of input that has helped tremendously in developing this plan. This will allow us to set money aside annually to plan for these amenities moving forward. I mentioned earlier about zero municipal debt. We don’t borrow money for capital amenity projects. We have adopted a 5 and 10 year plan that has some of our “Be Local Buy Local’ Sales tax dollars earmarked for projects that have been identified in this plan. It is how the projects in the past were paid for in cash such as our expanded Community Center, which is utilized by thousands of our residents annually. We have plans for pickleball courts in the near future as well as different trailhead restrooms and a kayak launch as examples of how we make the dollars go even further by applying for grants, utilizing sales tax and impact fees as it applies to growth. We cannot forget about the arts as we have just recently adopted an Arts District in Town Center and have been working with the many arts organizations within our community to develop a collaborative strategy to add cultural arts opportunities year round for our residents to enjoy.
Lastly is Citizen Engagement. I heard very early on that our residents felt a disconnect between their City and their needs. We were receiving about 10,400 calls a month at our call center without having any way to track or follow up to ensure your requests were responded to. That’s no longer the case as Palm Coast Connect was launched a year ago and it has improved the dialog with our residents so much that we have seen a 16 percent increase in resident satisfaction in our last survey. We can now track every call, email, walk in and case logged as well as communicate directly with you on when you can expect a response and a resolution to our issue. It has been transformative not only for our residents but it has helped us make better decisions for you at City Hall.
You make a statement about taxes–“I have not raised taxes in my entire term in office”–that is categorically inaccurate: you were elected in 2016, when the city’s property tax rate was at $4.245 per $1,000 in taxable value. The rate stayed the same in 2017, but did not go back to the rolledback rate that year, making it a tax increase under state law. The council raised the rate to $4.5937 in 2018, and to $4.6989 the following year, where it remains in the current year. So even going by the rate alone, the budgets you have supported have raised the rate 10.7 percent. How did you conclude that you had not raised taxes? Regarding the new sheriff’s contract, where do you stand on the movement not so much to defund the police, as that has no application locally, but to redirect policing resources, make policing more reflective of minority concerns, and increase mental health components in policing, now that such a large proportion of deputies’ calls are taken up by Baker Acts and other mental health issues? You mention the fire department’s 10-year plan. In that plan is a new fire station in Seminole Woods, which the deputy chief said is foreseen in the next three years. You have much of the capital to build it, but not the general fund dollars to run it: how will you afford the new operating costs–the additional firefighters and equipment maintenance–in what is certain to be years of downsizing? Or will you delay the station, even though wait times for Seminole Woods residents awaiting ambulances and fire trucks are, in fact, well beyond the better average wait times in much of the rest of the city? The same question applies to new trails, fields, even a community center: how will the city afford all that? The statement, “We don’t borrow money for capital amenity projects,” can be misread, or mislead, since you do borrow quite heavily for capital projects in the utility department, a separate department run as its own “enterprise fund.” Most residents don’t see a distinction between funds. They see funds, and they see debt. Can you explain why the utility fund and other debts (stormwater, CRA), which currently total $170 million, is not of concern? Finally, while the 2019 survey shows the highest customer satisfaction ratings for the city in a decade and a half, was the survey itself not conducted before the rollout of Palm Coast Connect?
The numbers you supplied are correct and as you know the Florida tax structure is in need of an overhaul as the Save our Homes provision–which caps homesteaded tax assessments at 3 percent–creates an inequity in revenues generated annually and we budget accordingly as mentioned due to our priorities. The trim rate discussion takes place annually in advance of finalizing our budget discussions. The two years you had mentioned we added five additional deputies per the Sheriff’s request, additional street lights per the residents request, a one time transfer to capital projects and for an executive search firm and an investment into our fiber initiative. With those adjustments we have been able to still keep taxes one of the lowest in the state for a city our size and our residents rated us very high for the services they receive at a very low cost.
Debt is always a concern and I have never taken it lightly. Two prevailing sentiments of long-term capital project investments are to equitably spread out the costs through project financing and maintaining rate systems and pay those debts and maintenance and operations. Simply stated, a sewer main can have a useful life of 50 years. Why ask residents to pay all the cost in year 1, when a resident may or may not live here their entire life or only a few years. Or how would you like to have just moved to a city and be presented with “your” upfront share of the bill for a 50-year project? Rates are designed and evaluated to account for expansion projects and maintenance and operations of these municipal utilities, it is fair, equitable and a recognized best practice.
From a pure finance perspective the cost of borrowing from the utility funds, currently contemplated at less than 1 percent interest, makes it a better financial position for the City to invest its money in the currently approved investment strategies. Lastly the Government Finance Officers Association recognizes that certain long term financing mechanisms can add to government resiliency because they free up working and investment dollars.
On the fire department: This is a long range plan, contemplated through a progressive staffing model and incremental improvements to staffing and response design. The station is planned on being designed within the next three years, built in year 4 and staffed in year 5. The plan also includes a total of six firefighters in the coming fiscal years, three in FY21 and three proposed in FY22. As we shift resources from Station 25 and Station 23, looking to build the mini station to serve the peak service demand time around Whiteview Parkway, this begins to even out resource deployment between high call volume stations and stations with lower call volumes. Also, the new ladder truck and its associated crew are being considered to be deployed to the possible Seminole Woods station. Our Fire Chief and the Department will continue to design staffing and staff and resource locations based on calls for service. This is efficient and timely, while it will continue to require investments in public safety. I am proud that our Fire Department leadership continually tunes up resources needs and deployment to maintain the most efficient deployment and have never sought to overbuild and overstaffed buildings.
Although we have seen some vast improvements in our planning department since overhauling it, I believe there’s still room for improvement. One of the areas is that we still are operating somewhat in a silo mentality and we haven’t as a Council set expectations on what we would like to see as far as response time and turnaround times for permits to be issued. This conversation came up in our Strategic Action Plan discussions as a Council and that’s been added as a goal and priority moving forward. Whether you are a business looking to open here or a resident adding a pool or a developer submitting a plan, we need to ensure that it is a business friendly process and not a frustrating one. That is a continuing theme that I hear in the community. I am pleased that the Council has identified and adopted this goal. We have had some big changes at City Hall and change is hard. In Government it seems that adapting is a bit more challenging.
I think having a new City Manager after 12 years with a new approach has not been entirely smooth. I hope that having a Council set clear expectations on updates quarterly and a recommended approach on our adopted strategic action plan will allow a solid focus on the goals so they are accomplished in a timely manner. The Council has agreed to this new approach and this year will be the first time we will see the outcome of that shift. Although Palm Coast Connect has been a great tool in establishing regular connections with our residents I think we need to do better to inform our residents on the many projects, programs and initiatives we have adopted to help make Palm Coast the best City it can be. I will be continuing to ask Council for support in this area through our City Manager.
After all that’s been invested in Palm Coast Connect and Palm Coast Connect literally hijacking the front page of the city’s website, how can it still be said that “we need to do better to inform our residents on the many projects, programs and initiatives”?
Communication is essential. My continued push for strategic communications is to ensure our residents have access to the critical information that affects them in their neighborhoods and in the City as a whole. We cannot achieve the levels of transparency our citizens demand and deserve if we are not certain that we are effective, timely and strategic in informing our residents on what their city is doing.
Understood, but you are not telling us how things should be done differently than they already are.
There are many things being improved and should be done better and more consistently. Among them are two I will mention in greater detail. The first is geo-fenced communications, the second is tiered interest communications. An example that might explain both: We recently had an extensive culvert lining in the E-Section. This is of obvious interest to the entire city as stormwater management is a city wide priority and everyone participates in the enhanced stormwater program. All residents should be informed of how those dollars are being spent and why the sequence in which projects are being completed is so. Similarly if you live in or travel through the E-section regularly this project is likely to affect you more and you would get yet a level deeper of information to help you understand what’s happening in terms of times of traffic disruption and the like. Lastly if your home borders the project or say is within a certain distance where noise and dust might impact you – you might get an even more directed and detailed level of communication. This is one example of us leveraging technology and strategic communications to better inform and engage with residents. Our communications, like anyone else’s must compete for people’s limited time and attention. Gone should be the days where residents don’t have access to the level of communications they want and the city simply throws up its hands and says, “well we put it on Facebook.”
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.
Without question we will see some budget revenue shortfalls over the next 2 years, primarily due to Covid. As mentioned earlier, this Council has already directed our City Manager to start cutting where able. Some of the areas he and our Finance Director came back with are hiring freezes, no raises and addressing overtime within City operations. I know Public Works is digging into this issue and possibly staggering some shifts as a cost saving measure as one example. He has asked each department to work on areas of cost savings. Some of the other areas is how we better use technology to create efficiencies moving forward within each department to save on ongoing operational costs. We are going through an energy audit of all of our public facilities to look at any additional cost savings there. As I mentioned, the City has maintained a tremendous amount of fiscal restraint since the incorporation and plans extensively in order to spend wisely. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a continual process as whether we are dealing with a global pandemic or not, we should be approaching it this way annually. Only 23 percent of the residents’ overall tax bill goes towards the City of Palm Coast. The rest, the County, School District, Water Management District, Inland Navigation District, Mosquito Control and the Sensitive Land Fund are all out of our control for adoption of those tax rates. We are a full service City that still must maintain its infrastructure, public safety, amenities, facilities and the key to all of that is doing so by the most efficient way possible.
How then do you justify hiring five new deputies at a time of record low crime rates and a time when you’re having to go through every department, looking for cuts? If you are adding public safety personnel, then how, in a time of Covid, are five more deputies more important than five more firefighter paramedics, knowing that the firefighters’ ranks are periodically affected by quarantines? Without going as far as an either-or proposition, why is the city’s full expansion pot on deputies and not split between cops and firefighters?
This conversation should be part of the contract negotiation that is planned to take place and to conclude before the Fiscal Year 22 budget process, essentially before another request for staffing is decided. The original agreement with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office contemplates “enhanced level of service.” However, that Level of Service has never been a community conversation and the types of enhancements should be evaluated and defined by the residents. Part of a level of service analysis and conversation is that Palm Coast citizens must determine what service enhancements are necessary and what can and should change. For example, DARE was a huge program in law enforcement, founded in 1983, its mission was to combat gangs and drug trafficking by Drug Abuse Resistance Education. While it still carries the moniker DARE it has drastically evolved and no longer carries an anti-drug message as its sole focus. Dare now is almost solely focused on teaching good decision making skills to youth. We need the same willingness to critically examine what works and what we need as a growing City.
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.
I am proud of the Cities’ response to the coronavirus emergency. I believe we became more connected to our residents than ever before. We found more meaningful ways to engage. Our Rise Up Palm Coast initiative brought us together online to share social activities from local businesses and organizations. We danced, we baked, practiced yoga, listened to nightly symphonic performances all done virtually. We launched Feed Palm Coast collaboratively with our faith based community and collected food to feed more than 5,000 families and raised more than $100,000 to purchase additional food for our neighbors in need moving forward. We partnered with many organizations to increase testing and soon will be testing our wastewater to get data to help make better decisions moving forward. We suspended utility shut off and wrote off any fines associated with late payments. Thousands of you linked to our Virtual Town Hall meetings where we shared important pandemic information along with our County partners. For the past three months we have been able to connect with you from the comfort of your living rooms, weekly, with subject matter experts ready to respond to the thousands of questions you submitted. In doing so we provided accurate, up to date information that kept your safety the first and foremost priority. We were grateful each week that thousands of residents tuned in to help us better understand their concerns. Masks became a weekly topic of concern by many of our residents.
Palm Coast has a very large segment of our population that falls into the high risk category of Covid. That was a serious concern for us from the beginning. When the Governor shut the State down, our residents stepped up and complied with the Governor’s orders and we benefited from their actions by low positive case counts and that was certainly an enormous help as we continued to respond to this unprecedented pandemic. As the months went on, the health experts were able to learn more about this deadly virus and continued to provide us with the updated recommended approach to not only keep our residents safe but our first responders, our Healthcare and frontline workers that weren’t able to stay at home or social distance due to their job requirements. The Governor’s phase 2 approach allowed a full reopening of the economy and we supported that as we watched so many become unemployed and businesses lose all revenue overnight. That in itself was catastrophic as time went on. Hopefully we can start circulating the Cares Act money to those that were impacted to help them during this challenging time. We are also getting ready to approve helping with owed utility bills through other grant dollars.
Unfortunately we have now seen the numbers spike to a dangerous level and were told directly that our hospital numbers are getting closer to what they were in April. That means that we need to make some decisions again. We have asked everyone to continue to stay at home if they are at risk but they have to shop as well, we have asked to please continue to social distance and wash your hands and no groups larger than 50. We have issued a proclamation requesting mask wearing and included a video from our Chief in order to signal the importance. We are trying and we, like everyone else, do not want to see a shutdown of our economy again. We just can’t have that happen. The only thing to help mitigate the spread besides the social distancing, we are being told emphatically by our health experts is mask wearing indoors, mostly where social distancing is not possible. We also recognize that some with health conditions cannot wear masks and that our Sheriff is not able to put his limited resources towards any compliance with a requirement. However, I have seen a few communities strike a balance with restrictions and limitations that I believe will allow us to get through this together as quickly as possible as a community. I believe this is a policy decision that needs to go before Council and will be bringing it up with some examples at our Council meeting. I would ask everyone to provide their input and wait and see what is discussed and if anything is approved before leaping to conclusions. I have seen the best of this community through the worst of times come together time and again for the common good and I have faith in each of us that we will rise up to the challenge once again.
Days after you initially wrote your answer the council passed the mask “mandate,” though without enforcement provisions. Other communities, among them Leon and Alachua Counties, have enacted enforceable mask mandates. Those two counties are cited because both those ordinances–not resolutions–were challenged in court, and in both cases the challengers lost rather decisively, with the judges in both cases sounding almost impatient or astounded that the “constitutional” question would be raised. Recognizing that you as a city and you as a mayor, particularly, have been very active in the battle against Covid, this essential difference remains: why this seeming lack of courage in adopting an outright, enforceable mandate? It’s what our public health leaders are saying we need. Following science is what you say we must do. The sheriff is contractually obligated to enforce city ordinances, not just the ones he wishes to enforce, not just the ones he thinks are constitutional. Other counties’ law enforcement agencies are complying with their local mask ordinances. Why, with the proportion of 65-and-over (28 percent), this hesitancy in Palm Coast?
Idealism rarely exists in the world and less so is the luxury of political idealism, neither with the original framers nor through today. Palm Coast has collaborated with our Health Partners, taken the lead with a Stay at Home Proclamation, consistently and continually advocated for masks and facial coverings through Virtual Town Hall Meetings and through many venues, and is taking the step to test wastewater as a means to protect community health. Palm Coast has and continues to lead – the enforceability of a mask ordinance is moot when challenged by the reality of who is, or who will, wear a mask or facial covering – I refused to let masks become ‘a culture war’ locally and detract from the proactive and positive community efforts and collaboration we need to have a chance at keeping Covid-19 as minimally impactful to this community as practicable.
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?
This has been discussed and debated a few times over the years on the Council. I am not in favor of a franchise fee out of the gate as it locks us in for 30 years with our current electric provider and precludes us from either finding ways to lower costs for our residents or being beholden to their terms. Thirty years is a long time and technology advancements are continuing to produce alternative options for energy. I think it would be an irresponsible move to sign an agreement that locks us and future Councils from having the freedom to do what’s best for their residents. I am also not in favor of passing an electric tax. As mentioned, we are in extraordinary times and will be for some period of time. Adding an additional burden to our residents is not the responsible thing to do and will commit to that in my next term.
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 think Palm Coast will always have a robust, active population of retirees and I celebrate that as that was the strategy all along from ITT and their original vision. It is why they marketed directly to public employees in the Northeast. I am sure a lot of us still remember the Erik Estrada commercials or the gift of the Garfield phone for touring Palm Coast on a boat ride and picking out your lot and coming down to enjoy your retirement years. Our retirees are and should be a continual area of focus. After all, we are positioned well to continue to market to that base. As taxes continue to go up in the Northeast, I would expect to see that trend continue. With our 125 miles of connected trails, waterfront access, many quality outdoor amenities and programs that offer so much socialization and recreational opportunities, it is very attractive from that perspective. It’s just a beautiful place to retire to. I also think we have an opportunity and we have seen some success in attracting the young professional that is looking for amenities as well, but that can also offer a work from home now that we are working on our fibernet strategies and have increased our cell phone coverage considerably and are developing specific strategies around medical, technology and innovation. It is affordable and clean and a safe place to reside. We cannot discount our young families as we still have over 13,000 children in our school district. Many of their parents work in our service industries, in our hospital, our school system, in our governments and we have seen a number of them coming in and starting up their own business where the true entrepreneurial spirit still remains an important part of our economy. A few years ago the Council amended the vision of the City and that was to recognize our multigenerational and cultural aspects of our population as assets we should build from. We have started a specific strategy around our aging population and that is assuring access to quality healthcare. We have seen an interest in growing our current healthcare system to having others locate to our community and offering even more services. In particular from the Orthopedic medicine perspective. We certainly have seen a trend in the opening of quite a few Assisted Living facilities to transitional housing products that would allow our older population to downsize with minimal maintenance while still maintaining their independence. We are always looking at ways to ensure we have offerings that are attractive to all of our residents.
We really wish you had not reminded us of Erik Estrada. That said, there’s been discussion at the council of a second community center. Do you support such a project? Where would be it built, when and with what dollars? And if it is, in fact, needed, why would your namesake park’s further renovation (the splash park and so on), so soon after it was entirely rebuilt, have had precedence?
I support investing in the amenities and quality of life issues vocalized by our residents in the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which includes a secondary Community Center at some point. We are set to fully review the long-range Parks Master Plan to ensure it still meets the needs and expectations of the community. I will support those investments and initiatives our citizens request and expect. Holland Park Expansion was just such a project, demanded by our residents and families with children. As I stated at the naming of the park event many years ago, well before I served in office, I do not believe in naming parks, buildings, or facilities after people. Moreover, my father would have rejected having a park named after him. However, the Council he served with made that decision after he had passed away during his first term and volunteered for over 20 years in Flagler County in a variety of ways. Again, I get criticism for investing in a regional amenity because it bears my surname. Holland park serves a multigenerational population and along with our community center is our best example of a park that does such. It houses our historical society, senior activities including Bocce Ball, has been a destination for our community children and families and to our basketball enthusiasts and dog lovers.
We did not mean to suggest that Holland Park is inappropriately named, particularly since the word “Holland” is Chaucer-era English for “woodland,” a more appropriate name for a park than, say, “Mt. Rushmore” (named for a gold-prospecting lawyer after the government stole the mountain from the Sioux). But in our lower elevations Michael Schottey claims that Palm Coast parks “are expected to be entirely left behind for the next decade per the city’s official plans, which is untenable at best.” Aside from the possibility of a community center, Is that accurate?
No, this is not accurate and a one-dimensional view at best and that demonstrates the lack of experience and operational knowledge needed to navigate Palm Coast through the turbulent times of Covid-19 and the impacts it will have on budgeting, operations and services. There are ongoing parks maintenance and enhancement projects contemplated each year. The capital budgets will continue to fund rehabilitation and enhancements through programmed capital dollars, albeit at reduced levels for two years as we have prioritized the safety and hurricane hardening of the Public Works Facility. The operational budget will continue to fund parks maintenance to maintain levels of service. In Fiscal Years 21 and 22 park enhancements and rehabilitation projects continue to be funded. The five-year parks plan has funding designated for parking and other improvements at the Indian Trails Sports Complex. The parks impact fee fund also has several projects programmed and leveraged through grants. Right now we have two grants in process. One for major waterway access enhancements at Waterfront Park through the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) for $350,000 and a $1.1 million dollar grant from the Florida Department of Transportation for park and trailhead improvements that will benefit the Lehigh Trail and the Palm Coast Tennis Center. We are also working on increasing parking at the Palm Coast Community Center. That is just capital and operations. We continue to develop additional programming and services through Parks and Recreation for our multigenerational community and seek ways to maximize use, efficiency and programming of existing facilities and resources. Parks is as much about people as it is about buildings and fields. Coincidentally this is something I bring to the office of Mayor no other candidate does, the relationships, experience and know-how to successfully obtain and leverage competitive and scarce resources for the betterment of our residents.
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?
Affordable housing is an issue that every community across the Country is dealing with. I believe that we should be looking at ways to offer opportunities for our first responders, teachers, nurses and other professions that the beginning pay is minimal at best and yet these jobs provide such a necessary service to our community. I remember Sheriff Staly speaking on the radio one day how he spent the first 14 years of his career, living in an apartment in Orange County as that is what he could afford. We have taken some steps on that front in our Town Center in an effort to locate them where it is attractive for young professionals if they want to ride their bike to the hospital or any shopping or likewise with the proximity of the high school. They should be located appropriately in our City and proximity to job opportunities should be one consideration. Town Center is the only area of our Community that has been designated as an opportunity zone and has massive amounts of property yet to be developed so we foresee that as an area that would be appropriate. We also have large tracts of developable land west of US1 that portions of it have been zoned for multifamily housing. More mixed use with some single family and Commercial and Office space throughout. I don’t support increasing height limits on multifamily in our existing single family neighborhoods that need to be compatible with pockets of development. We need to consider those that have made investments in keeping the character of their neighborhoods. I have asked that when development proposals come before the Council that impact those neighborhoods that we have our staff there listen to the concerns and bring them back to us for consideration as we are going through the process. That is where I believe we need to do a better job in communicating with the residents on what is currently allowable and zoned and what is being planned for. The Planning Department has been tasked with making that a priority moving forward.
Over the last four years the Council has developed a vision around specific Economic Development Strategies. We are beginning to see some positive outcomes around our identified goals and objectives. I had attended a conference during the beginning of my term and remember listening to a panel discussion around developing Economic Development opportunities in communities. One of the panelists suggested that the best approach would be to not try to become something you’re not and to take advantage of what you are. I thought a lot about that discussion and it helped to drive the vision that ultimately started with the foundation of the creation of our Innovation District. Our Town Center area is swiftly incubating our Innovation District. It will connect to a fusion of health care, schools and technology start ups. They will share space among an entertainment and arts district, supported by coffee shops and restaurants, public parks, clean industry, nearby housing and retail shops. As medical technology and Innovation continue to drive the brand for our downtown, we’re directing this concept in Town Center towards more novel ideas. We hosted our first Tech Beach Hackathon in Town Center last January. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Hackathons, it’s a unique title for a robust competition where tech professionals come together to solve problems and develop new ideas and solutions using available technology. Our three day event hosted 28 hackers from across the Country who formed nine teams to brainstorm real medical solutions. We received input from hospitals who posed questions for those competitors. Palm Coast actually achieved the objective for the Hackathon. We attracted a nationally targeted technical audience to build a community of innovators around Palm Coast.
By far one of the most innovative of all ideas for Town Center is UNF MedNex. This plan is the pulse of a Palm Coast dream and vision for our future. It creates the first University-based medical hub right here in our City. Its structure will connect an entire Florida medical ecosystem with our high schools, Daytona State College and Jacksonville’s University of North Florida. This offers a true career path for high paying job opportunities. We are bringing together scholars and practitioners to create an epicenter in Town Center which will form a comprehensive medical nexus that will change the entire dynamic and economy of Palm Coast. MedNex propels a talent pipeline across eight counties. With 23 percent of Florida’s projected job growth between 2016 and 2024 accounting for health care, that’s 200,000 new jobs. With these initial huge initiatives, it has brought us the attention of becoming a medical hub with additional interest from other institutions that we are currently speaking with that want to be here.
Do you support changing the city administration’s current economic development structure–that is, restoring something like an economic development department, restoring the Business Assistance Center, or are these–like the county’s defunct economic development department, like the chamber of commerce for that matter–relics of a bygone age? Can you explain why you supported the dissolution of that center?
We are looking to modernize our approach. I supported the dissolution of the Business Assistance Center because it was a relic and did not meet the needs of our business community. I believe in and have advocated for an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. Ecosystem builders drive long-term change by supporting entrepreneurship in their communities. They work for innovation to help create more startups and lower barriers for the makers, the doers and the dreamers. These builders come from a variety of backgrounds and expertise, including entrepreneurs, local governments, economic developers, grassroots community leaders, university leaders, academics, philanthropists, corporate leaders, and the media.We know that entrepreneurial ecosystems thrive when people and resources are connected and working together to develop new approaches and solutions for serving entrepreneurs. The SBAC was not doing that. Our partnership with SCORE has been a first step as we continue to push for modernization of business support and economic development.
The transition has been challenging. Which one would expect when you have had the same City Manager for 12 years straight who ran the City a certain way. There is a reason that the average City or County Manager are expected to last anywhere from six to eight years on average. Communities grow and change and are fluid. Unfortunately Jim Landon left the City with a reputation of not being very business friendly. That’s apparent when you speak with several owners of local businesses or those that are the head of their Homeowners associations (HOAs) or entrepreneurs that wanted to invest in our City. That reputation is something that we as a Council have adopted strategies to try and overcome some of the hard feelings that many across the community still have. I will say Jim recommended, along with very talented people, some outstanding practices for a fiscal approach that has positioned the City very well and it is one that the Council has consistently supported over the years and I am glad to see Matt Morton continuing with that practice.
I think we have gained a fresh perspective on how to move the City forward and have demonstrated a willingness to communicate with the Council in different ways to meet the challenges of today, coupled with setting us up for successful outcomes in the future. Change is hard and Matt has required accountability, transparency and efficiencies within the organization and at times that has caused some to be uncomfortable that were used to doing things a certain way for several years.
We have a Council-Manager form of Government. That means that the Mayor has no more authority than the rest of the Council. As Mayor, I have worked closely with Communications to identify subjects for the quarterly newsletter that includes a letter from the Mayor, any press releases with quotes from me, any new businesses or events that I am asked to speak at and the State of the City. I have worked with IT who run presentations for meetings I am asked to present at. I have worked with Parks and Recreation on the Mayors 90/90 Challenge and other initiatives that they have worked on like the Palm Coast Arts Foundation Turtle unveilings. I have worked with the City Clerk when she has needed my signature on plats and extensions of State of Emergencies. I have worked with the Administrative Assistant to approve proclamations as well as letters of support that I am asked to write and coordinate my calendar for events. Those are routine for Mayors roles across the Country. I have not interacted with the departments and work through the City Manager if I have any particular questions raised by residents. We hire a City Manager to run the day to day operation of the City organization. Matt Morton is the third City Manager in the City’s history. Dick Kelton, the first City Manager, had a different management style than Jim Landon did and the same goes for Matt. For example, Matt wanted to ensure some of the City projects and initiatives did not sit idle as did at times under former administrations so Matt has invited Council at times to help with certain projects or items. Council member Bob Cuff has been asked by Matt to assist with the Waste Pro Contract as well as the Humane Society as a second set of eyes contractually besides our City Attorney. Yes, it’s been helpful to have Bob, who is an attorney on the Council. Matt has asked Council member Nick Klufas to assist with the City’s fiber initiative and he participated in our Hackathon. Matt has asked Council member Eddie Branquinho to assist with our Golf Course as well as Public Safety. Matt has asked Council member Jack Howell to assist with Economic Development initiatives with Aviation opportunities. Matt has asked me to assist with the Stakeholder group that was working on the Council’s initiatives for Town Center such as UNF MedNex, the Arts District, the Tech Beach Hackathon among looking at how to drive the brand of Medical, Technology and Innovation.
Those are all topics that are ultimately voted on by the Council. No initiatives or projects or programs have moved forward without either consensus of the Council or majority vote. That certainly has been a shift in Management style. Just like each City Manager had the right to build their team to ensure success for the unanimously voted on and supported Council Strategic Goals and objectives, as ultimately that falls on them to ensure its success, Matt Morton should be given that same opportunity. I also think that Matt came in and Hurricane Dorian hit our community, followed by a global pandemic, both of which are not easy events to manage. He hasn’t had a lot of time to gel with his team or communicate his expectations in the normal format as City Hall has been closed for a few months now. However, it has been a year and the Council evaluated his performance publicly and each of us provided comments that remarked on his strengths and weaknesses.
The lack of smoothness in the new administration you referred to in your answer to the second question is a recurring issue, both in public perception and in our own reporting–ours and that of the media at large. You address to some extent how it’s a result of a shift from 11 years of a substantially different-style administration. Without taking away from that, to what extent is it a reflection of Matt Morton’s managerial skills? You were somewhat reserved in your evaluation of the manager this year, certainly in comparison to your enthusiasm at the time he was hired. Putting it bluntly: is Morton, as one of your challengers put it, “out of his depth”?
Matt Morton has been here for a year and has helped manage and oversee a response to a hurricane and a prolonged global pandemic. He has led with community’s safety as a continued priority, and that is something our residents deserve. He also ordered a City Hall to physically close but ensured every department remained operational virtually without a single service being disrupted. I found that to be a creative solution and helped keep not only our over-500 employees safe but the residents as well. He has not yet been given the opportunity to manage a City in ordinary times, but has been impressed on how he has managed it in extraordinary times.
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.
I think the first part of change that took place was a vote of the Council, unanimously, to terminate the former City Manager and to go through an exhaustive search to find and hire his replacement. I believe and stand by that decision and considering it was unanimous I assume that the rest of the Council felt it was time. Everyone that knows me knows that I am direct and I have voiced my level of frustration when Council has gone through an extensive process of Strategic planning and goals that were adopted unanimously like “Be Local Buy Local” had not advanced at a pace that I felt it deserved. The campaign adds tremendous value to our local business community, by helping keep their doors open and employ people in our community and it also generates additional revenue to the City to advance projects that are important to our residents. I have been very vocal about a level of frustration and I am sure at times that was hard for staff that were presenting to hear. There is no doubt that I have high expectations and our residents deserve the best service we can provide them.
I think I would probably tone that down and try a different approach that explains more of why I believe these projects are important to our community. I am very proud of what I bring to my role. I work very closely with all of the Mayors to identify ways we can work collaboratively or share ideas to help each other. I have a great relationship likewise with the County and meet with some of the Commissioners often to discuss topics that are relative to each other’s responsibilities. I work very well with all the Constitutional Officers and have offered help where I can. A few areas that I believe I stand out is that I am the only candidate that knows the County’s budget, role and responsibilities as I had served for six years on the County Commission and formed a close relationship with each of the Cities. That has helped in the areas of Tourism, Transportation, Social Services, Public Safety for all areas of funding sources and grant opportunities. I also understand the State budget and have formed a very close working relationship with both our State Senator and State Representative and have navigated through the complexities of the annual legislative session having spent a few years lobbying myself.
Councilmember Klufas has brought a unique perspective and a passion for advancing our utility asset of Fiber. He has driven this initiative from the first day he was seated as well as other smart City initiatives and better Cell phone coverage. He is also a young working professional that wants to ensure Palm Coast offers opportunities for all ages and his competitiveness is demonstrated on the pickleball courts. If we were to say anything about Nick as any kind of shortcoming it would be that he gets frustrated with the slowness in which his initiatives have progressed but I believe he has insisted they continue to move forward by ensuring full adoption in our Strategic Action Plan. Council member Cuff is going to be missed. He did support change and brought his legal expertise to every contract and item that has been approved by this Council. He has a knowledge and understanding of why Palm Coast was designed the way it was and developed in such a way. We all need a Bob.
Focusing on your role on the council, you made the statement in the previous answer: “The Mayor has no more authority than the rest of the Council.” You then described in detail the extent to which you yourself are involved, then the extent to which other council members have their own individual involvements in city matters. But clearly you’re sensitive to the question: your answer reflects a degree of defensiveness that compels you to show, unbidden, how much other council members are involved, as if to equalize the balance of council members’ involvement, but there’s no question that as an individual elected official, you have a more forceful personality and presence, whether at meetings or at large, that translates into more authority than that single vote, even if only as a matter of perception. But it’s not just perception: you were the architect of the Landon-Morton firing and transition, you were the architect of the Innovation District, you were the architect of the UNF coup. None of the other council members can make similar claims. There’s also little question that because of your dual role as mayor and at Coastal Cloud, fairly or not, your influence in the launch of Palm Coast Connect, starting with last year’s State of the City address where Coastal Cloud’s role was featured in that launch, has not been zero, while other council members were not exactly involved. It wasn’t your doing, but it was your idea. One-council-member-one-vote aside, is it not a little disingenuous to suggest that you do not exercise more authority–if not power–than do other council members? Has this not been a Holland council in a way that we could never say that it’s been a Klufas or a Branquinho council? The question is not posed to make a value judgment on the policies in play or even your positions about each, but simply to question that statement about authority, which goes to your interpretation of your influence on the council.
I am aware of the perception of a disproportionate amount of power in the Mayor’s Office and I am being criticized for it in this election cycle. The fact of the matter is that I have always been vocal and willing to be disruptive to the status-quo when it comes to government practices. Like the evolution of DARE discussed above, I am not one to sit idly by while I see failed programs or governmental functions with questionable success funded by our residents. This has and continues to ruffle feathers because I am willing to have the uncomfortable conversations, I am willing to make local government accountable to the citizens, I am willing to ask hard questions of staff. This is very unpopular but is the right thing to do. As far as the projects you mention – all are collaborative in nature, not just with the City Council, but with stakeholders across the State of Florida and none of them were possible without collaboration. Moreover UNF, the Innovation District and the termination of Jim Landon were supported by City Council. A forceful personality and commanding presence are part of who I am, I have been asked to apologize or demure myself because I am a woman in leadership with those traits. That is something I will not and should not have to do.
I have years of experience serving not only as a County Commissioner and was Chair two of the six years of my service and now four as Mayor but on several other local, regional and State boards in which consensus building is a necessity and a requirement. I have built a reputation on that skill set and I am proud that we develop and adopt strategies with a tremendous amount of input from multiple areas. We have had many meetings in which we have had healthy debates on topics we are voting on or policy discussions that impact our community. I have served with many elected officials throughout my career and I have gained tremendous value from each of their offerings. Each Council member, I am proud to say, has played a critical role in our annual Strategic Planning process in which ideas and priorities and goals are identified, vetted, discussed and adopted as a governing body.
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?
As mentioned above, I am asking for a complete rewrite of the Contract we currently have with the Sheriff’s office. It was constructed under different Administrations and doesn’t take into account the current direction Sheriff Staly has directed. Although he is a Constitutional officer he has indicated that he wants to continue to work with Palm Coast to develop and incorporate some of his strategies and reflect some resources around them. There are a few things in the current contract like using 911 operators for after hours Palm Coast Utility calls that just don’t make sense for either side and the role of the liaison for the City needs to be clearly identified for both the City Manager and Sheriff to understand the clear expectations. I also think that our first responders often are tasked with areas of Mental Health or Drug and Alcohol related issues that we need to do a better job as a community in providing additional resources towards programs that help those that are struggling and getting into situations that have required law enforcement to respond to. I am hopeful that between the Counties Public Safety Coordinating Council and resources like Flagler Connects and more access to services will help to appropriately allocate resources to meet all of the needs in our community that we can have a positive impact in these areas. We also need to sit down with the County Commission to understand their funding strategies with the Sheriff’s office so we can be smarter about how we are each allocating necessary dollars towards Public Safety. I know Sheriff Staly is looking forward to this discussion and getting started as we have already begun these conversations.
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 am a straight forward, hard working, determined, competitive, empathetic and kind human being. I am also a proud Mom who spent a tremendous amount of time this past year trying to find a way to save my daughter’s life who was in desperate need of a liver. I think that has helped me evolve as a person and has softened me a bit as to what is truly important in life. I haven’t always had a good balance between work and personal life and I am trying to do better in that area. I have an impatient side as I have some lofty goals that I would like to accomplish. I have worked with a lot of elected officials in my years of service and there are many good people I have served along. If I must pick one that has displayed a balance of intellect, a steady and consistent voice, a sense of responsibility and compassion and a great sense of humor it would be Bob Cuff. Bob has served in different capacities over the years that has helped tremendously in this community. He is such an advocate for helping those in the area of Education, Housing, Youth and so many more areas. He is always reminding the Council to ensure the train is running smoothly and encourages us to not lose sight of that on top of these exciting initiatives.
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?
Yes you should be held accountable for what you display on social media pages and not any differently than what you would say anywhere in public. I do not have different standards of behavior in the way that I conduct myself as an elected official, in a meeting or at an official function as to what is on my social media platforms.
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.
I have not been charged with a felony or misdemeanor, had a bankruptcy following a divorce 21 years ago and not facing any investigative or disciplinary action.
15. This is one additional question your challengers are not getting, but one required by the recurring reporting about you and Coastal Cloud and about City Hall being in turmoil. You’ve conceded to making a mistake with those two emails sent as mayor but referring to Coastal Cloud. We’d like you to address directly whether you have made any other mistakes involving the two hats, whether you are the subject of any form of inquiry from any agency, and what measures you have or will institute, individually or as a council, to ensure that a firewall is in place between the two hats you wear.
Those two emails from my mayor email account were a mistake and it will not happen again. I take the separation of my two roles very seriously and that is why I recused myself from any involvement in the original public/private partnership agreement that former City Manager, Jim Landon initiated and signed with Coastal Cloud. I had nothing to do with conceiving that agreement and recused myself from voting on it when Jim Landon brought it before City Council for approval. I deal with thousands of emails every month between my two roles. The fact that I only had two such email errors indicates how strongly I try to maintain separation. I am not aware of any other form of inquiry and have never been contacted by the FBI or any agencies regarding any “investigation.” It is disappointing that former City employees can make such claims.
I have been in Flagler and Palm Coast politics for over 16 years and never had my ethics challenged. The current political environment both nationally and locally seems unusually nasty and full of half-truths and lies. I will continue to operate in full transparency about both of my roles and continue to recuse myself from any decisions related to the City and Coastal Cloud. However, I also believe that I have an obligation to help the economic growth and diversity of our community. Coastal Cloud has been the largest economic development success story in Palm Coast in the last five years, creating over 100 high technology jobs and training over 30 local high school student interns for careers in technology.
My role at Coastal Cloud is to help explain to other cities and counties across the country how new technology can make their communities more transparent, accountable and efficient. I intend to keep fulfilling that role because the more success Coastal Cloud has in other communities, the more new jobs that will create in Palm Coast. Coastal Cloud provides services to many different industry sectors: healthcare, manufacturing, high technology, education, non profits and public sector. I hope to grow the public sector unit of Coastal Cloud so that many new, high paying jobs are created in Palm Coast. This is the same reason I have spent so much time over the past two and a half years pursing the MedNex project. We need to continue to make progress on diversifying our economy. The sort of jobs that MedNex and Coastal Cloud bring to our community are exactly what we need. I intend to keep building on the momentum we’ve generated in the past four years.
This is an election season unlike any I have ever witnessed or been a part of. Several candidates have been focused solely on keeping the conversation focused on negativity, accusation, rumors and false claims. It is ugly. It does not reflect the character of the Flagler County and Palm Coast I know and love, and I refuse to participate in the debauchery of which the only aim is to demean us all.
For the last few weeks, two of the most recurring questions I’ve been asked are, “Why am I not answering these false accusations?” and “Why am I not more visibly campaigning?”
First, the accusations. They are simply that: accusations. They are coming after me with them because accusations are all they have. There is no smoke and there are no mirrors. It has been established that I am not under investigation by the Ethics Commission, FDLE, the State Attorney’s Office or any federal agency. Anyone can file complaints and do so in particular during a political season. Unfortunately, we have seen this tactic used many times historically in our community. The repeated recycling of the same claims does not make them true. It does, however, show the ferocity by which these claims are designed to be hurtful and damaging to me and our City. There appears to be no limit to their mudslinging tactics. At a time when economic development is so crucial for our community’s progress, I am being attacked for doing the job I was elected to do. I have and will continue to do that job fearlessly and without apology. There are no back-room deals and there is no corruption. We have cleaned house at City Hall to ensure our City is focused solely on serving our residents and creating opportunities for the future.
Second, in regard to why I have not been campaigning. I have chosen to do my job as Mayor rather than participate in political events and activities that, in light of what we are going through, do not supplant what this community needs and deserves. Our community needs extremely serious and focused leadership by a serious and experienced Mayor. I have been spending tremendous amounts of time navigating our City through the covid-19 pandemic, an intense fire danger seasons and what could be a significant hurricane season. I am focusing on issues such as public heath, businesses assistance, CARES grants and working with partners to provide utility payment and housing assistance.
Campaigns are supposed to be about ideas. Campaigns are supposed to foster dialogue and reflection around what matters most to all of us. Campaigns are a time to evaluate the performance of the ideas of each candidate. Fact: I have dramatically increased the transparency and efficiency of City Hall. Fact: I have delivered a government focused on our citizens. Fact: I have not and will not accept anything less than excellence from myself, our city manager and our city staff. Our National Citizen Survey results reflect these facts that trust, transparency, efficiency and public safety have made significant and sometimes double-digit gains. Our quality of life and our quality of amenities have increased. We have some of the best utilities in the state. Because of our investments and partnerships with our Sheriff’s Office, crime is at historic lows in Palm Coast.
Moving forward, I am not going to waste time and energy in political ugliness. It is beneath our community. I will continue to focus energy on delivering jobs through UNF MedNex. I will continue to do my job with a sole focus on our residents and your concerns. I will continue to ignore a nasty political circus sideshow meant to damage and distract us from our desired future.
As always, I remain available to talk about your ideas to make Palm Coast a great community to live, work and raise a family. We are all privileged and proud to call Palm Coast home.
The statement prompted the following question from FlaglerLive:
You raise the issue of mudslinging. But can you address the propriety of the city issuing the investigative findings about Schottey’s alleged inappropriate behavior long after he left the city and three weeks before the election? How can that not be seen as politically motivated, especially as it is based on only one named witness (the city manager, who did not himself have issues with him) and a vague number of “multiple” other unnamed witnesses, which does not inspire credibility? If the investigation waited until July to be conducted–Schottey is obviously no longer an employee, so he’s not an immediate concern to employees–why not wait at least until after the Aug. 18 primary to conduct the inquiry? To be clear, the inquiry clears Schottey of wrongdoing, but not before listing all sorts of unflattering allegations, minor though they are, in essence getting it both ways: he didn’t do anything wrong, but look at all the things he did. How is that not a form of dog-whistling?
I had nothing to do with the Schottey investigation. Did not request it, was not made aware of it as that was a process that is out of the Councils responsibilities. I found the comments made by female employees disturbing nonetheless and my concern is the common theme about fear of retribution. You would have to ask Matt why he felt the need to request it and why now as his comments to Council address it, he may want to answer more specific questions but I will leave that to him.