Nick Klufas, a first-term incumbent, is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 3, running against Cornelia Manfre and Zach Shapiro.
The mayor’s seat and three council seats are up this year. Mayor Milissa Holland is in a five-way race. Bob Cuff has elected not to run again, opening his seat to a three-way race. Councilman Jack Howell has resigned, requiring a special election in conjunction with November’s election in District 2. 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.
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: Port Jervis, N.Y., April 18, 1988.
Current job: Lead Senior Software Engineer, First American Financial, and Palm Coast City Council member.
Party Affiliation: Republican.
Net Worth: $300,000.
Website: Klufas2020.com, https://www.facebook.com/klufas2016/
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
Reduce traffic and improve safety on Palm Coast’s major thoroughfares by adopting an adaptive traffic control system. These systems also incorporate “red light extenders” which can actively preempt t-bone accidents caused by drivers running red lights. This initiative can be funded from transportation impact fees.
Perform a full solar feasibility study to understand the timeline of a net positive return on investment of adopting solar and battery storage technologies installed for City facilities. A typical solar array pays for itself after 8 years; we have high use commercial applications which I believe can become profitable even sooner (e.g. our Water Treatment Plants.)
Support MedNex in any way possible. Bringing a UNF campus to Palm Coast is going to be the most transformative opportunity we have seen in many years. It’s going to be the catalyst for job creation and how we retain our local graduates.
The city in 2014 spent $55,000 on a traffic optimization study designed to improve traffic flow and safety, $500,000 on the first implementation in 2016, another $200,000 in 2017 on the same system, and more since on maintenance. Do we really need yet another traffic control system? City facilities have benefited from an array of solar improvements in the partnership with FPL. In these covid-ridden times, how does another solar project improve residents’ services or alleviate their needs?
palmcoastgov.com/fibernet) – Our municipal broadband utility that was essentially ignored from 2010 – 2016. Within the past year we acquired the talent capable of upgrading the underlying infrastructure and they’ve done a tremendous job. Now it’s time to educate our Council on what possibilities we can pursue and how best to partner with an ISP to generate growth and competition amongst our current local broadband duopoly (ATT & Spectrum).
Electrification of fleet vehicles – Palm Coast maintains a fleet of vehicles that are used in a non-commercial setting for a variety of departments (e.g. Code Enforcement.) Cities across the state are finding it more cost effective to leverage electric vehicles for these duties and avoid the gas expenditure. The solar evaluation will provide a clear analysis and potential cost savings for our Council to digest.
Citizen engagement – I’d like to increase the radius for notifications that are sent out when developers are proposing a project. Often I receive feedback that residents weren’t aware of what was being built until the process has already begun.
Four years ago you ran on an all but FiberNet platform. You claimed at the time that FiberNet could be a source of considerable revenue for the city, offsetting the need for tax-generated revenue. The year before you were elected, IT’s fund, which includes cell tower revenue, generated $616,000, according to the 2015-16 budget book. Yet four years later, the adopted budget for revenue is a decline, to $552,500. FiberNet revenue is barely expected to increase in coming years. It is as if FiberNet has been AWOL in the last few years. You say the talent newly hired has done a “tremendous job” upgrading the underlying infrastructure, but all your budget shows (according to the figures presented to the council last month and the current year’s budget) is no capital outlay in 2018, $50,000 in 2019. It shows $142,000 and $284,000 next year, so those improvements are coming, but the figures show not nearly an equivalent revenue to offset the spending. Cell tower revenue is projected to grow, but that’s based on an initiative you opposed. So how can your signature issue not be deemed seriously wanting? As for citizen engagement, how can that still be lacking after the high-intensity and relentless promotion of Palm Coast Connect?
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.
There’s no easy answer. Depending on the size of the shortfall, I’d first look at our Capital Improvement Projects matrix and look at the queued Utility Projects and reassess what can realistically be temporarily paused. Specifically the wellfield expansion project at water treatment plant 2.
That’s fine in so far as capital projects go, but those projects have nothing to do with immediate and vital services. In other words the wastewater project is intended to build capacity for future years, based on demographic projections the covid and economic emergency have demolished much as pre-2008 demographic projections were demolished, so it’ll be many more years before the wastewater plant is needed. Pausing that project–or pausing parks projects, for that matter–won’t signally affect residents’ needs. The question is focused more on the general fund and such services as police, fire, code enforcement, customer service and the like. Within the general fund, where might you see areas that could sustain any cuts?
This really depends on how severe the shortfall is. All of the services you named could potentially be on the table. I’d prioritize keeping our emergency and safety services fully operational.
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.
Flagler County has done a fantastic job of mitigating Covid, it’s obvious when we look at the historical data. What’s giving me great pause, is the fact we are accelerating our case count at a record rate. The assisted living facilities are my biggest concern, we need to do everything we can to keep them safe. Considering the actions taken by surrounding municipalities and counties, I’d vote ‘yes’ on mandating masks in public spaces [Klufas did in fact vote yes when the issue came before council.] If we can keep our case count low, we are going to accelerate the reopening of our local economy and protect those that are most vulnerable in our community. Enforcement would be difficult without County cooperation but it’s still the right thing to do.
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’m against implementing a public service tax or franchise fee on utilities. Our Council has been capable of providing balanced budgets while simultaneously moving our Capital Improvement Projects forward without adopting either tax, I strongly believe we can continue to do so.
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?
In order to broaden our working-age population we have to remain focused on what empowers those employed in today’s digital economy. Ensuring the ability to telecommute throughout our City is critical. We can accomplish this by encouraging competition at the local Internet Service Provider level, which the City of Palm Coast is uniquely positioned to do with its FiberNET broadband utility. We ourselves can offer these services or alternatively we can partner with regional ISPs to accelerate deployment.
Residents both young and experienced enjoy our City’s amenities. That’s why it’s important to focus on providing activities for all age ranges, and I’ll fight for that. I voted to accelerate the Holland Park splash pads which will provide a destination that so many of Palm Coast’s younger growing families have asked for. I’ll also continue to advocate for multi-generational use facilities such as enhanced programming offered at our Community Center and adding Pickleball courts to our Palm Coast Tennis Center.
Following up on your idea of telecommuting and combining that with what we’ve learned of the importance of that through the covid emergency: Why have we heard nothing from Palm Coast–a city so enamored of certain technological innovations, with its own innovation district–and specifically from you, given your expertise in the field, about positioning the city for 5G technology? Why isn;t Palm Coast a pilot city in that regard?
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?
High density apartment complexes do not belong inside of our neighborhoods. Palm Coast can encourage this type of development within Town Center by supporting MedNex which will create jobs and in turn create the demand for additional housing options.
No one is proposing to place apartment complexes in residential neighborhoods: zoning makes that a non-starter. The question is whether you’d approve changing the density requirements within apartment-ready zones such as height limits, and whether you think palm Coast has enough zoning options for apartments?
The only height restrictions that I would consider amending are for parcels near US-1 that don’t back up to an arterial neighborhood. I want to remain competitive with Bunnel’s more lax height restrictions, but ONLY if it doesn’t impact existing residents. (https://flaglerlive.com/
My definition for economic development is to provide the ideal environment where we can attract new and existing businesses to grow roots here, in Palm Coast.
I’m not a fan of direct cash incentives for businesses, too often it comes with no strings attached in the event of the business failing. Previous City Councils have tried to hire ‘commercial matchmaking’ services which failed to yield any results (https://flaglerlive.com/
Palm Coast needs to leverage FiberNET to provide free/subsidized internet to companies that relocate here for a set period of time. every company needs telecommunication capabilities and high speed internet. The cost for our City to provide this service is a fraction of the value it adds to an incoming business. This concept was leveraged effectively to incentivize Gioa Sails to construct a new building off of Hardgrove Grade. The economic impact on their bottom line is 10 times the cost to the City for laying fiber and delivering broadband internet access.
Again: If FiberNet is such a great resource, why, with its existing 60 miles of fiber along Palm Coast Parkway, Belle Terre Parkway, Matanzas Parkway, in Town Center and along the U.S. 1 corridor–all the city’s busiest commercial corridors–hasn’t that incentive been put to more use than that single example you provided? Why hasn’t it attracted anyone new (Gioia having merely relocated from one Palm Coast spot to another, not moved in)?
FiberNET had essentially been neglected for the previous 10 years; Magellan produced a feasibility study that outlined all the areas that needed attention, it was hanging on by a thread. We finally are in a position now where we can handle additional ingress and egress traffic on our infrastructure.
The transition was smooth. What we lost was a City Manager who was stuck in his ways and unwilling to work with his counterpart (Craig Coffey) at the County level, basically creating a stalemate. Matt Morton focuses on providing a citizen-centric approach to government, where our residents and business leaders are the focus.
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.
Our City deserves to have someone driven on finding solutions and opportunities through the use of emerging technology. I’m that Councilman. I believe my voice and engineer mindset has positively impacted discussions and decisions made by our City Council and thus our community.
Campaign promises made, campaign promises kept:
New City manager, replaced Jim Landon, ushering in a new citizen-centric approach to government
Continuous lighting program, adding lights along the City’s major thoroughfares (Link).
Fought to accelerate the Splash Pads at Holland Park (Link).
Removed Kemper sports management at our municipal Palm Harbor golf course, the golf course is now making money compared to losing hundreds of thousands of dollars previously.
Improved cell phone coverage through a ‘Wireless Master Plan’ that we designed in partnership with Diamond Communications. We’ve added 5 towers inside the City thus far.
I have a proven track record of delivering on my promises and working diligently to improve the overall quality of life in Palm Coast.
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?
Palm Coast has never been safer. Our contract with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office provides dedicated units within City limits. The “strength” is in the results, we have a community-centric Sheriff that according to industry analysis utilizes his budget extremely effectively.
Sheriff Staly and his team coordinate a distributed police presence through districts and zones. The frequency that the City renegotiates the contract really limits potential weaknesses.
I do not support an independent police department. Palm Coast residents are receiving law enforcement services at a fraction of the cost that most cities pay for contracting police services with a sheriff’s office or having their own police department. This unique relationship is truly a win-win for Palm Coast taxpayers.
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.
As an engineer, I pride myself on being a problem solver. My goal is always to gather as much data as possible and perform an evaluation that produces the best solution. I believe the past 4 years on our City Council have proven my temperament to be calm and steadfast. I’m always willing and available for input or critique and have no issue admitting that new information has led me to change my opinions.
Amongst Flagler County Officials, I admire our Mayor, Milissa Holland. She single-handedly has brought a UNF campus to Palm Coast. That is a monumental accomplishment and one that will have lasting effects for future generations. It deserves an incredible amount of recognition.
What do you make of the perception, common in the community but corroborated by your voting record and the near-total absence of disagreements in four years of discussions and debates on the council, that you are a Holland lieutenant rather than your own councilman?
I would encourage these individuals to become more involved with our meetings, especially our workshops where the majority of compromise and critical thinking are applied to pending City issues. My contributions to the City’s strategic action plan can’t be claimed by anyone else. I have admiration for other elected officials outside of our municipal elected officials,, for example, Sheriff Rick Staly and County Commissioner Donald O’Brien. Our sheriff has done a tremendous job across the board, categorically lowering every significant crime statistic in our County. O’Brien exudes leadership and while I was chairing our City meetings I would often watch how Donald handled himself, being at the time the chair of the Flager County commission.
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 expect to be held to the same standard on my personal social media accounts as I would be in an official capacity. Being a City Councilman doesn’t stop when you leave City Hall. I’m representing all of my constituents, no matter the setting and I encourage everyone to hold their elected officials accountable.
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.
No, I have not.
The question clearly asked whether you’d been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, not just convicted. You said no. But, as we learned after this interview initially published, you faced a 2010 misdemeanor pot possession charge. It was dropped. But your original answer was not truthful. Why?
Because it was adjudicated, dismissed, and subsequently expunged I didn’t think disclosure was necessary.
Note: the case was not expunged, otherwise it would not be accessible on the clerk of court’s public website.