Dave Sullivan is a first-term District 3 County Commission incumbent. He faces one challenger: Kim Carney, the former Flagler Beach city commissioner. They are both Republican, and they are on the Aug. 18 ballot. But since they are the only candidates, and no Democrat or independent has filed to run, this election is open to all registered voters regardless of party or non-party affiliation. It is a universal election, and it will decide the winner on Aug. 18.
Three seats are up on the commission in this election cycle. In District 5, incumbent Republican Donald O’Brien faces Bob Jones in the Republican primary, with the winner facing both Denise Calderwood and Paul Anderson in the general election on Nov. 3, the latter two running as independents. Two-term Commissioner Charlie Ericksen in District 1 has opted not to run again. Republican Andy Dance, the long-time school board member, will face Democrat Corinne Hermle in the Nov. 3 general election. Neither has drawn a primary opponent.
Flagler County Commission members serve four years. They’re paid $55,387 a year.
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
- Critical issues
- School cops
- Beach rebuilding
- Environmental protection
- Economic development
- Jerry Cameron
- Social media
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: New York, N.Y., November 19, 1941.
Current job: Flagler County Commissioner District 3, currently Commission Chairman.
Party Affiliation: Republican.
Net Worth: $1.05 million.
Website and Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/DaveSullivanFL/
1. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, and what makes you qualified to serve—or to unseat an incumbent, as the case may be. Please give us real-life examples to illustrate your answer.
I am a mature, thoughtful, experienced, and intelligent human being. I try to think things through carefully before speaking especially when acting in my role as an elected official. Saying that, I realize that we all have shortcomings and I have many, such as being a little overbearing at times, but I have learned to listen better as I have grown. My education includes an AB Degree from Boston College, a Masters in National Security from the Naval Postgraduate School and completion of both the Certified and Advanced County Commissioner courses given by the Florida Counties Foundation in conjunction with the University of Florida IFAS Extension. Education is one thing but actual job experience means more, doing one’s job as an elected official. I spent 28 years on active duty in the US Navy covering both dangerous and challenging situations and I was Commanding Officer of an Overseas Command in Japan during the height of the Cold War. Leadership is a quality that one must have in order to be successful and my experience in both the Navy and Business provide proof of that. I ran for public office and won against a tough opponent four years ago (then-two-term incumbent Barbara Revels) and my experience as a County Commissioner has been both enlightening and a clear record of my capability to produce great results for all our County citizens if I am re-elected. For example I sought out and succeeded in finding a replacement for our former County Administrator who resigned under pressure, and we needed to replace him with a ready to lead individual. We have consistently stressed the importance of following up on the complicated process of getting much need funds from FEMA and other Agencies to make up for severe losses due to hurricane’s Matthew, Irma, Dorian, flooding throughout the County and now Covid 19.
I did call Jerry Cameron at the time we were searching for an interim replacement for County Administrator Coffey who had resigned. The candidates that had applied were OK but I felt we could do better. I had known Cameron previously and knew he had the right credentials to be an interim Administrator since he would be up to speed quickly and able to move the County forward while a more permanent Administrator could be found. The other four Commissioners eventually agreed with me and Cameron was hired. It turned out well and Cameron has stayed on over a year already and the County will be in much better shape as the process for a replacement proceeds, I hope in not too quickly a fashion.
Safety and security are always the most important critical aspects of governance. Right now, we have one of the most unusual and threatening issues facing our citizens’ safety and security and that is this dreadful Covid 19 pandemic. The health threat facing us all is both severe and more dangerous, its long term effects on not only our individual well being but also our businesses and really all aspects of life in the country. I feel as member of County Government we have an excellent team of experts addressing the ever-changing requirements of this terrible virus (Health Department Director, Emergency Manager, Sheriff, County and City Administrators, EMS and Local Governments). The watchwords: social distancing, hand cleaning and best of all wearing a mask inside or when you cannot distance outside. I can only speak for Flagler County and I feel we are doing a good job here with testing and keeping our citizen informed on the threat.
Next critical issue in order is always the problem of maintaining government services while holding the line on spending and maintaining a balanced budget. This years County budget has done this and in fact we lowered the millage rate by a tenth of a point and we plan to have the same results for FY-20/21. We cannot at the local level print money the way the Federal Government does but I can say we are holding the line here in Flagler and trying to increase our low reserves so as new threats come along we will be able to deal with the financial aspects we will then be faced with.
The third critical issue that we must deal with is our government’s role in dealing with our most unfortunate citizens and the associated issues. The County is responsible for most of the government funded social welfare programs here. Some of these programs are: Senior Services, Adult Day Care, Congregate Meals, Sally’s Safe House, Meals on Wheels, Flagler County Free Clinic, SMA Behavioral Health Service Services and many others. There is never enough funding to cover all these needs. I have supported some increase in funding for various of these activities over the last four years but there is never enough. These social problems require an “all hands-on deck” effort where Government, Church, Volunteer, Sheriff, financial gifts and individuals pitch in to address these problems. Coordination of all these efforts is difficult and I have felt and made public my feelings that without better management we end up duplicating efforts and wasting some funds.
3. Evaluate the county’s response to the coronavirus emergency. As of this writing, the county has not mandated the use of masks in public places, though it’s in the commission’s power to do so. Tell us how you’d vote on a mask mandate, and explain your answer, citing appropriate scientific authorities.
My answer on this Corona virus emergency was covered as part of my answer to question 2 above. Specifically, on the issue of mandatory mask use, I have stated that I favor mandatory use of masks. However, as an elected official I must get things done by consensus. Based on information provided by our Sheriff the general opinion of our government experts is that enforcement of such a mask mandate would be an unnecessary burden on our deputies and really not feasible. Therefore, we will strongly recommend that all citizens use masks as appropriate and educate all on the importance of the masks and how it is the only way right now to limit this large increase in positive cases and hospitalizations.
Who specifically are you referring to when you refer to “our government experts,” given that public health experts locally, including the health department chief, Bob Snyder, and the medical director, Dr. Stephen Bickel, were urging a mandatory mandate? Are you comfortable setting Covid-related policy based on “government experts” as opposed to public health experts? What makes Flagler County’s law enforcement response to an enforceable mandate less capable than in, say, Alachua and Leon counties, where the mandates are not only enforceable, but where judges have ruled them constitutional?
The “experts” are not only the medical experts but the rest of the “partners” team including our Emergency Manager, County Administrator, Attorney, City Managers, Flagler Beach Police Chief, Sheriff, School Superintendent and other key staff personnel. Covid-19 involves all aspects of our County and various interests must be taken into account. The health experts rightfully have the most weight especially at times of Covid-19 growth but there is always a balance in the decisions that are made.
4. Commissioners like to say they won’t raise taxes or will keep taxes, or at least tax rates, flat. How do you define a tax increase—as keeping the rate the same or as exceeding the rollback rate? Adopting your definition of an increase, are you against property tax increases? What three specific line items would you cut from this year’s proposed budget to keep the property tax where you’d want it?
A tax increase in regard to property taxes is any increase year to year above the “rollback rate.” Other types of taxes are paid by all citizens and a raise there would also be an increase. I am not automatically against property tax increases, we all pay increased property taxes when the value of our homes goes up. If one is on “homestead exemption” your tax increase is limited to 3 percent per year. If you compared a homestead exempt homeowner with a similar housed non exempt homeowner you could make the case that one owner is lowering his taxes as compared to the other because he does not get the homestead exemption break. Things that might be cut from the proposed budget to hold taxes in line? Well we have already scrubbed the budget and we dropped some new vehicle purchases, possible land purchases, and the South library for now.
Can you elaborate on “possible land purchases”? What was on the table as possible purchases, to what end, and were these purchases considered with general fund money or sensitive lands revenue, which is a separate pot approved by voters–and which has been moribund for years due to some questionable purchases by previous commissions?
Land purchases are best kept silent well negotiations are underway. My comment referred generally to the fact that the county has recently had to take care of some land and building past purchases that did not work out in the the best interests of the County. Bases on this new land purchases will be very restricted until we clean up the former problems and move on to a better County financial situation.
5. State law requires armed security in every public school. Flagler has chosen to have a School Resource Officer at its schools. The district and the county essentially split the cost. But the county doesn’t have to assume that security cost. Would you reduce the county’s share? Alternately, do you pledge to preserve that split for the duration of your term?
School Resource Officers? Continue to fund as we are now doing and I commit to this for the duration of my term in office.
6. Evaluate the county’s long-term plan to save its beaches. It signed on to a $100 million beach renourishment plan for just 2.6 miles of beach just in Flagler Beach. The cost is expected to increase by the tens of millions of dollars, with half that cost over the next four or five decades the county’s responsibility. It is now demonstrably certain that sea levels are rising, and Flagler’s revenue sources for additional beach protection are tapped out. How do you propose to pay for the next repairs should a hurricane like Matthew or even a strong storm with damaging surges strike during your tenure? How is beach protection not a losing battle?
First as to the current situation with the Army Corps of Engineer’s Contract to federalize 2.6 miles of beach in Flagler Beach, thereby ensuring that our beach will be maintained for the next 50 years. The contract calls for a 50-50 split between the Army Corps and the County each ten-year period to refortify the beach. The first ten-year period has been funded for both the County and Army shares without using County funds. It is true in ten years the County will have to come up with the 50 percent match, and each ten years thereafter. However, for each ten-year period including the next ten years, if our coast is hit with a named storm the Army Corps is responsible for refortifying the beach. There is a lot more information on the details of this plan, but I will say we would be looking a gift horse in the mouth if we did not try and follow through with it. We have ten years to figure out how to come up with our next 50 percent match and we will not have much chance of upgrading the other 15 miles of beach if we do not go through with this contract. We are fighting sea level rise with this plan but Flagler County will not be Flagler without our beach. By the way the Dutch seemed to have come up with a way to stop ocean intrusion and even Venice, Italy, has finally completed a system to halt high tide intrusion there.
But the Dutch have been at this for literally a thousand years and have immense buy-in from taxpayers at no small cost. But you just told us you have no idea where you’ll get the county’s match of $10 million (conservatively speaking) for the next beach renourishment installment for just 2.6 miles of beaches. Are you open to changing the tax structure for flood-control?
I do not think I said specifically that I had no idea where the county matching funds would come from in ten years when the next Army Corps restoration of the 2.6 miles of Beach south of the pier would be needed. It’s kind of moot at this point since it appears now that without approval of the last thirteen easements the Army Contract will never even get started with the first phase. This is a shame as a few selfish land owners will be the reason that a project worked on since 2005 will now not go forward.
I think the County is doing a very good job on succeeding in environmental protection and preservation. Start with 26 now 27, with the opening of Bay Drive Park, Trails and Parks containing thousands of acres of protected land for the future and current enjoyment of our citizens. There are always new threats to the environment. As an example, we need to be very careful that development along John Anderson Highway south of Route 100 does nothing to hurt Bulow Creek and Park. On the other hand people have private property rights so it is very important that the local government carefully examine proposals for development in all areas but especially those near sensitive lands.
Where do you stand on The Gardens development? What are your thoughts on the current proposal? What would keep you from approving it, and do you see either side of John Anderson Highway–or Colbert Lane for that matter sustaining thousands of new homes and apartment buildings?
This is another matter where we (Commissioners) may be voting on in the near future so I will not add to the answer on Question 7b that I have provided above.
8. The population of Flagler County has increased almost two and one half times since the main library opened in 2001. Yet current funding for the library is approximately the same as it was in 2007. What are you willing to do to restore some financial balance to the system, reflective of the 50,000 cardholders it serves? Library administration and the Library Board of Trustees have determined that a library branch is badly needed in the southern part of the county. The county has picked out a site near the Government Services Building, but year after year has not funded it. What are you willing to do to see that a library branch is constructed?
I have been the County Commissioner representative to the County Library Board for the last three years plus. The facts made in your question are basically true but solutions are much harder to find. The Governor just cut the $500,000 grant that was to be used to help fund the new Southern Library. I have been a strong proponent of this new facility and have fought hard here in the County and Tallahassee to prioritize this grant and make it happen. It was listed as the #1 Library grant for the State before it was cut by the Governor due to the current Budget Covid19 problem. I will continue to do what I have been doing to try and get this Southern Library project back on track.
The grant was to be just one part of the larger funding package necessary to make it happen, and year after year the grant, it appears, has become a foil for the commission’s own lack of resolve to put up its own dollars: isn’t it too easy to blame the state when the county has yet to commit a single dollar to a project it’s been promising constituents for many years?
I really disagree with your characterization of how the County is handling the new South Library. The County has every intention of providing this new building as soon as possible given everything else that has happened recently. By finally selling the old Sheriff’s Operations Center and now moving forward with the new Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell the outlook for the South Library looks much brighter and is needed.
9. For all the county’s claims of tackling homelessness, it has done little more than push the homeless to different encampments after fencing in the public library site on the claim, later proven inoperable, that it would build a sheriff’s district office there. What’s your plan for homelessness?
Identify, interview, maintain track, provide help, job training, job finding, drug and mental problems identified and a safe place to live all are involved to some degree. To some degree most of these things are being done but we have a long way to go. We have no dedicated Flagler County homeless shelter and I do not see one coming about in the near future. As I stated above this homelessness problem is complex and needs government as well as Church and volunteer groups to help solve or at least get under control.
You have summarized and restated the problem rather than answered the question: what specifically would you propose in the next four years that would be different than what has already been in place in the past four, but has obviously not moved the needle on the problem–with what may be a more serious homelessness problem ahead, considering the way the Covid crash may push some people out of their homes?
We did not disband Economic Development as implied by this question. We have a full-time excellent employee tasked with this effort. We were spending well over a half million dollars per year on this Department and simply were not getting the bang for buck to make it cost effective. Also, in comparison to other nearby counties and those Counties of equal size we were spending much more than we should have. Therefore, the change is size of our effort here.
You’ve gone from a $450,000 department to a single person–who has resigned, has she not? Why not a joint operation with the cities?
When I answered the question I was not aware that our Economic Development Department employee had departed for Volusia County but my answer to Question 10 does not change, we made the correct decision here.
11. Evaluate the performance of County Administrator Jerry Cameron, listing strengths, weaknesses and areas of concern. In the next four years the commission will very likely face another search, given Cameron’s Methusalahian status. What skills will define the sort of administrator you will look for?
County Administrator performance/skills we should look for? County Administrator Cameron has done an outstanding job since he has been for the last year plus. When he decides to leave or the Board is ready for a change, I would hope we could find someone with many of the skills and experience that Jerry Cameron has for his eventual replacement. Age is not a very good measuring stick for determining the best person for the job. Since I may be one of those making such a decision in the future, I do not feel comfortable saying much more here.
You’ll be making this and many other decisions–as with taxes, beach protection, policing and so on: why would telling us what you’d look for in the next administrator be any different than telling us how you’d handle those other issues? Shouldn’t voters know how their commissioner will handle one of the most important decision of his or her tenure?
I think I will let my answer above stand here. I am a representative of all the citizens in the County in this Republic form of government and therefore in voting for me, they have faith that I will make decisions in accordance with their desires.
12. We currently have five white Republican men as county commissioners on a commission that’s never elected a Black or Latino member, though every other local government has seen minorities elected. Does the commission have a diversity problem? Explain how you have reached or would reach out specifically to constituencies that don’t mirror the commission’s demographics.
I will make an attempt to answer your valid but somewhat “when did you stop beating your wife?” question. The answer is we will have a minority member as a Commissioner in Flagler County when such a person runs and wins election here. I have done nothing to stop this from happening and if any special privilege was introduced on this, I would be against such an attempt. In my current re-election there is no such minority person running and not even one Democrat or NPA has made the effort.
Odd how, in an era dominated by the Black Lives Matter movement, you’d respond by interpreting a question about diversity with your somewhat scabrous analogy. Does that not suggest a disconnect? You’re still not telling us how you have reached out to minority constituencies during your tenure, and how you will do so should you win another term.
If I am still Commissioner at the time of the next Administrator selection I will pick the most qualified person for the job. I also would like to see a diverse group of candidates apply and will ask our HR Director to make sure the search takes these issues seriously as the process proceeds. I am sure there are many well qualified minorities out there, but they are in high demand and our salary may not be enough to entice them to take the position. Alvin Jackson, Bunnell City Manager, is a great example of a well qualified minority who has a City Manager position in Flagler County. (You did force me to look up the definition of scabrous, and I do not think the analogy fit that definition).
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?
First: Yes, I should be held account for what I say or show on social media. Second: I do not have different standards of behavior between my elected position behavior and how I act on social media platforms. Guess this makes me a little less interesting on social media but what you see is what you get.
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.