Sims Jones is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 1–the seat first-term Councilman Bob Cuff elected not to run for again. The seat also drew candidates Ed Danko and Lou Salvagio.
The mayor’s seat and three council seats are up this year. Mayor Milissa Holland is in a five-way race. 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.
None of the candidates in the District 1 race have held public office before.
This is a non-partisan, at-large election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for Palm Coast mayor or council. If a candidate for mayor wins 50 percent plus one vote or more in the Aug. 18 primary, then that candidate is the outright winner and mayor, making a runoff unnecessary. But if none of the candidates manages that majority, then the top two candidates with the most votes will go on to contest the Nov. 3 general election.
The Palm Coast mayor and council members serve four years. They’re paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor. The council members and the mayor also each get a $1,200 car allowance and a $910 communication allowance each year, so in sum council members’ total pay is $11,710, the mayor’s is $13,510.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges conducted by email and on the record. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Aging Palm Coast
- Economic development
- Matt Morton
- Council dynamics
- Social media
- Rap sheet
Place and Date of Birth: August 10, 1956.
Current job: Retired New York City firefighter.
Party Affiliation: Democratic.
Net Worth: $400,000.
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
Increase business growth and relieve and/or hold the tax burden for constituents. Decrease the city debt. Increase the voice of the people. Foster compromise and transparency.
How do you propose to increase business growth? The city’s general fund has a large reserve, no debt. Various enterprise funds and the utility have debt, but how do you propose to pay those down differently than they’re being paid down now–including through the refinancing of some debt that lowered the city’s interest costs? Given the city’s high rating, which also keeps financing costs down, where do you see the problem with current debt?
I will be discussing potential business growth immediately with my fellow council members to develop the best possible options to make Palm Coast more attractive for local small business/box store expansion. Regarding the debts, I will be considering possible alternatives with the council. Concerning the city’s high credit rating, at the end of the day we need to reduce or eliminate our debt issues.
Stop division and personal agendas while holding off outside interference among elected officials and professional staff. Create serious discussion to create pathways of change and improve or streamline objectives and long range goals. Take charge to create and improve supervision for all city personnel.
One thing we can’t fault the council for is interminable and serious discussions about long-range, medium-range and short-range goals, as it seems every third workshop is devoted to such a discussion at marathon lengths. Where do you see a lack in long-range planning? This line, “Take charge to create and improve supervision for all city personnel,” raises questions: do you see your role as councilman entailing “taking charge” of administrative business, of supervising staff in any way? Isn’t that exclusively the role of the city manager, who is the only person (other than the city attorney) you supervise?
In terms of short, medium and long range goals, it is of paramount importance to make sure that all our goals line up to complement each other…reality and truthful analysis being the key.
No I do not intend to supervise staff in any way. Nevertheless, clear directives should be made with the council and city manager. Ultimately the city manager needs to follow the directives of the city council and the constituents at large.
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.
The potential shortfalls in the budget need to be controlled by belt tightening our spending. No revenue increases would be needed if frivolous spending is slowed down along with improved planning and avoiding the mistakes of the past. Also, with correcting and acting on existing problems not solved. Considering the areas ripe for budget cuts would be to address the extraordinary cost paid for the County Sheriff’s department (considering establishing a City Police force), stopping wasteful road maintenance and dealing more effectively with all the landscaping and water issues of the city. Communication and more communication.
Can you give us two examples of “frivolous” spending? Can you tell us how much the city is paying for policing services, and where you would place the budgeted amount instead, understanding that with every $100,000 reduction, you’re taking a cop off the streets–or is that your goal?
In terms of frivolous spending and regarding paying for police services… the entire city brain trust has to communicate effectively to deal with these issues. No I do not plan to take any cops off the streets.
4. Evaluate the city’s response to the coronavirus emergency. As of this writing, the city, unlike a growing list of local governments across Florida, has not mandated the use of masks in public places, though it’s in the council’s power to do so. Tell us how you’d vote on a mask mandate, and explain your answer, citing appropriate authorities.
The response to the coronavirus has been confusing with mixed messages. We need to listen to the experts and scientists! This is not a political issue but rather a very serious health threat to all. I would vote in favor of a mask mandate. Our health department directives should obviously be followed since they are our local professionals and experts.
The response of the Palm Coast City Council and administration has been confusing? We recall weekly Town Hall meetings hosted by the city that have done exactly what you describe: feature experts and scientists, with hardly any discussion that could be characterized as political. What do you make of those weekly Town halls (which have resumed), and where has the city’s response been confusing?
Confusion with the city council rests in the minds of the people. I believe the city council needs to communicate more clearly. Excellent effort has been made by the city council to listen to the experts and the scientists.
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?
I am opposed to all increases in taxes or franchise fees. Fiscal responsibility is of paramount importance. We cannot and must not continue frivolous spending. However you want to increase the revenues means the citizens would be paying more regardless of diversification of the city’s “revenue stream.” No new taxes.
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?
No, we should not discourage the increase of the elderly population since Palm Coast has always been a haven for the retired. The elderly population provides stability and a solid tax revenue source for the city. We are able and should increase efforts to attract more people of working age to ensure “essential” workers for the city and our business community. Ideally the distribution of age would be proportionate to current levels since this would ensure both tax revenues, business and job growth.
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?
We should definitely diversify housing options in the city. Affordable housing is desperately needed since rental costs are exorbitantly high and disproportionate especially for lower income essential workers. I would approve apartment complexes in the “garden” style of building first and foremost. Multi-family and apartment structures should be tightly regulated and controlled while providing pleasant and comfortable environments for them. Of course there should be limitations of height and the density by securing compromises agreeable to all parties concerned. (Maximum number of units not to exceed 200 per complex). Neighborhoods should be taken into consideration so that private home ownership in our many charming neighborhoods is not adversely affected.
Why the arbitrary number of 200 units per complex, and why not different height limits in restricted areas, if it helps maintain private ownership in the charming neighborhoods?
In order to maintain private ownership and charming neighborhoods and still develop affordable housing for essential workers we need to consider the well-being of the entire community. All decisions with our housing dilemma should be beneficial to everyone. My original suggestion of 200 units per complex is just that…a suggestion. Height limits should go according to areas and needs and wishes of the citizens in the various neighborhoods.
Economic development involves enhancing the economic and social sectors of society with specific objectives and well developed goals. To accomplish this goal, discussion and compromise are essential to specific solutions. Thereafter, concrete decisions need to be reached to shore up our many open, empty or abandoned business spaces throughout the city to ensure their resurrection. Price and rental incentives and good marketing practices need to be established in order to accomplish this.
What sort of concrete decision? Would you have the city pick and choose businesses to whom it would provide price and rental incentives? Didn’t the county’s experience with that sort of approach result in a long list of fiascos until the county disbanded its economic development shop? How would you have the city provide price and rental incentives if, as you said before, you’re opposed to generating any new revenue through any new taxes?
Relative to business price and rental incentives, the council has to absolutely develop a concrete, specific affirmative plan. No changes and confusion…which is our current problem with this issue, or as you stated “…a long list of fiascos…” Therefore, accordingly I am not in favor of generating revenue through new taxes. However, I must stress the need for absolute communication regarding the issue of creating a healthier local new development of our business environment.
It is not my position or in my interest to evaluate the former manager Jim Landon. City Manager Matt Morton is doing a fine job.
It’s not the former city manager we asked you to evaluate, but the transition from Landon to Morton, including, for starters, the quarter-million severance package the former manager got when he was fired, followed by what has been by any accounting a tumultuous period of turnover at City Hall. Has that been handled well?
The transition from Landon to Morton was a disaster. The severance package was an abomination. The tumultuous period with turnover at city hall was not handled well…neither was the whole situation with the transition of the city manager.
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.
Mayor Milissa Holland and both of these gentlemen have done their best. Mayor Holland, considering her personal circumstances especially has done a commendable job. Successes and shortcomings can be seen in a variety of ways, they do have the best interests of their constituents in mind. I will bring communication, candor, honesty and the ability to listen and compromise to the council. Careful evaluation and consideration with good communication are of great importance in all matters. I am better suited than all my challengers because of my experiences throughout life with people from all walks of life, with the ministerial services I have brought forth.
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?
The Sheriff has done an honorable job. Nevertheless this is not currently a home run situation, given the rhetoric coming from the department send some confusing or mixed messages to the public at large. I would want to change the messaging to be more professional through not catering to political and specific private personal objectives. I still have to review the contract in order to evaluate it properly. I am definitely in favor of creating a city police force. As stated earlier the city is the cash cow for the county. This has to change.
What specifically do you mean by “messaging” that you;d want changed? The crime rate is at historic lows, the last time a Palm Coast resident died at the hands of sheriff’s deputies goes back almost nine years, a remarkable accomplishment by any measure, and policing costs remain relatively low ($3.5 million compared to $9.4 million for the fire department), while the last time Palm Coast analyzed standing up a department of its own, admittedly more than a decade ago, the costs were prohibitive–and would have required a tax increase. How do you see it differently–and with what money would you pay for an autonomous police department?
The messaging regarding law enforcement, for example the signage at the detention facility [Green Roof Inn] is not professional…rather it is demeaning. Furthermore, my public messaging regarding law enforcement would be in the line of hope and not with authoritarianism or projecting the need of more incarceration, rather with desire for rehabilitation and needed social services to continue to help reduce our crime rate. Whereas, there should be messaging to help others and not just thinking of locking people up. As far as comparing costs of the police and fire departments, that would be like comparing apples to oranges. Different costs with buildings, equipment, staffing and services cannot really be compared in this respect. I do believe we need to consider a city police force since we are the cash cow for the county sheriff department, unlike Bunnell and Flagler Beach.
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 pride myself on being a good listener and communicator. I am a strong person with a competent moral makeup and social conscience. I am humanistically oriented in my dealings with all people. My temperament revolves around caring for and helping others. We all make mistakes, I learn from mine and take responsibility for all my actions. The person I most admire in elected office within Flagler County is Catherine Robinson, the mayor of Bunnell. Mayor Robinson is totally and truly involved with her constituents. She is visible at all times and gets involved in all issues that come up. In other words she goes beyond the call of duty for her office. If the citizens are having a meeting or a public event, she is there. Robinson is a communicator and puts forth the effort to gain understanding and comprehension of the issues at hand. I consider Robinson to be the model I will emulate in the representation that I will offer.
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?
I will absolutely take responsibility for what I display on social media or what I say in public. I should always be held accountable for any statements or actions I have made. I will always accept responsibility for my behavior and actions in all public and private situations. I welcome taking responsibility for my actions and being held accountable for them. One should never have any different standards for their behaviors in public or private. I walk the talk and talk the walk. I have no hidden agendas.
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.
My record is totally clean. No charges or investigative or disciplinary actions of any sort ever.