Cornelia Manfre is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 3, running against incumbent Nick Klufas and Zach Shapiro in the Aug. 18 primary.
The mayor’s seat and three council seats are up this year. Mayor Milissa Holland is in a five-way race. Councilman Jack Howell has resigned, requiring a special election in conjunction with November’s election. Bob Cuff has elected not to run again, opening his seat to a three-way race. 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: May 5, 1957.
Current job: Broker Associate, First Coast Sotheby’s International Realty.
Net Worth: $250,000.
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
- Develop a strategic marketing plan and have incentives for recruitment of companies to establish in the area.
- Streamline city government to make the application process to Certificate of Occupancy more effective and efficient. Establish time lines for city departments to act on all applications.
- Create balance-budget planning and establish strategic infrastructure planning to keep taxes level.
Can you give us a couple of examples of incentives you’d be prepared to offer companies, and tell us how the city would pay for the incentives, if they are monetary? Your third point suggests balanced-budget planning isn’t already being done: the city of course is required to have a balanced budget, and its tax rate has been flat for the last two years, and close to that for the last four. Do you see it differently?
I would like to encourage the City Manager to work collaboratively with the County to seek out companies that would be interested in relocating to Florida and work towards incentives that can be offered through Enterprise Florida. Further, I would encourage a database be prepared of existing commercial property in the City of Palm Coast for sale or lease. Where appropriate, I would like to have owners/developers show where they would offer build-to-suit opportunities. Tax incentives should be offered for new jobs created with these companies.
The expenditures of the City of Palm Coast have increased by 30% over the past four years. [General fund expenditures were $30.5 million in 2016, and $40.1 million this year.] We need to evaluate line item expenditure and target reductions for the next four years.
I have been a realtor in this area for 21 years. Most of my work has been in commercial real estate. I have worked with the national developers of the Kohls, Belk/Lowe’s, Pulix/Suntrust Hammock and countless others that have looked at Palm Coast to develop in or have developed in this City. I attend national conferences for developers, broker and retailers. In countless engagements with these entities I have heard the remarks of how difficult it is to develop in Palm Coast, how user unfriendly our departments are and how confusing our City remarks are to their development plans. Furthermore, I have worked with residential developers who have had the same remarks. Recently, a national firm was looking for approval and Certificate of Occupancy for a commercial property that from the start (contract signing) to the opening of the doors took nearly two full years. From my side of the equation, service vs. delivery +/- do not equate. My trade is based on site selection and execution. I hope that my experience gives the base to train and lay the foundation of moving the City forward to responsive, pro-active execution of our approval process that will ensure timely response to people and be a magnet for others who will hear the word that “Palm Coast is open and in business”
- Lack customer/business service-department training on business friendly service orientation for all employees.
- Lack of any Economic Development-create new position in the City of Palm Coast and collaborate with Flagler County.
- Lack of commercial development-spearhead 45 day timeline for approvals of projects.
How do you square your first claim with the latest citizens’ survey for the city, which found 78 percent of respondents rating the city’s customer service as good or excellent–the second highest rating, by one point, in the city’s history? How is the claim not based on–or skewed by–outdated or exaggerated anecdotal perceptions (or good campaign sound bytes), given the data? What is the 45-day “approval of project” timeline based on, and how does it not arbitrarily scuttle required analysis and planning that may not necessarily suit the developer, but that also takes into account broader issues, not least of them residents’ interests? Put another way: why should the city bend over backward for commercial developments any more than it does for residential?
Regarding “anecdotal perceptions or good campaign sound bytes, given the 78% respondents rating the city customer service: who are they, how many and from where? Happy to review. The point of business friendly response is not a campaign sound byte, but a reality comment from the public of national and regional developers and national retailers.
A plan to have a 45 days in place establishes a time line. This will be for as-of right zoning in place. Regarding required analysis and planning for a major project, a timeline can also be established. In reference to the City bending over backwards for commercial developments vs. residential, I would like to point out that I expect administration and public office holders to be trained in customer service. This “bend over Backward for commercial developments” is a comment I am not familiar with when it comes to public approval for development. I expect the City and employees to know their rules and regulations and expect them to have others abide by them. But I do expect to see people trained in problem solving, not bend over backwards and let things go by the way side if this is the implication of the comment. No, I want good sound beautiful development, I want to see outstanding landscaping and welcoming alternatives to the problems that may be faced by the City or a developer whether they may be for commercial or residential.
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.
- Parks and recreation should be outsourced by bringing in a YMCA, thereby keeping this expense at current level.
- Employee performance base reviews balanced with work volume and execution of need should be implemented.
- Focus on urgent needs and reduce or delay capital expenditures on additional parks and large projects.
Your first point seems to raise two possibilities: can you specify what you mean by outsourcing parks and recreations–a $6.5 million chunk of Palm Coast’s budget (that actually includes a 2.2 percent decline in spending in the coming budget year), and that includes the aquatic center, the city’s network of parks, and the golf and tennis center: are you saying all that should be outsourced? There’s been storied attempts in the earlier parts of the 2010s to bring back a YMCA, but without success. What would you do differently, given that it’s neither a city responsibility nor are YMCA’s subsidized by governments?
I have worked with the YMCA for a decade. My recommendation is to joint venture to have a YMCA, aquatic center, senior activity center under the auspices of the YMCA. They do work with government for the start up of operations and then as the membership dues increase they will cover the expenses. I would like to assist the City manager in securing a YMCA development here in Palm Coast.
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.
With the incredible increase in cases State wide, I would implement a mask requirement for all places outside of one’s home. Entrance to stores and other buildings should be prohibited without mask coverage.
The sheriff has called Palm Coast’s mandate unenforceable. Would you have the city requiore enforcement, given the city’s contractual relationship with the sheriff?
Like other violations of law, i.e. handicap parking, you can selectively enforce the mask mandate by issuing warnings. By educating the public on the use of masks and showing that law enforcement is there to encourage the use, I would support the mandate.
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?
An additional tax should only be used in case of significant deficits in the revenues from tax collections today. The budget should be established to fit the needs of expenditures and planning for any needed infrastructure so service taxes would not be necessary.
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?
Purchasing of real estate drives our tax base, regardless of age, either residential or commercial. Economic development should be the driving activity to add jobs and commercial development to increase that contribution feature. We rely too heavily on residential taxes. Bringing jobs to Palm Coast may bring new families with school age children. We are prepared for those expansions. But the tax revenue comes from real estate purchasing regardless of age, family size or job.
Actually, the purchase of real estate and new construction play a relatively small part of what drives tax revenue, which is driven overwhelmingly by existing residential and commercial property owners paying their annual bills. As for the claim that the city relies too heavily on its residential taxpayers, we’ve been hearing the is for years. But in fact the city has run with ample reserves, every year at budget time the council and its manager boast of having one of the lower tax rates in the state for a city this size, and having no debt (to the general fund), while the number of residents who hold a job has increased by no less than 9,000 over the past 10 years (the covid crash notwithstanding). If anything, businesses, rental properties and other forms of commerce pay–as you would well know from your own experience–a disproportionate share of taxes because they’re not homesteaded, which actually shifts more of the burden to them. So isn’t the problem with the tax structure another matter of perception–and often self-serving perception, since the complaint is most often heard from commercial interests–having the better of reality?
The budget has increased 30% over the past three years and it has been on the burden of the residential owners. By increasing commercial development from a 10% portion of revenue to 30% that is recommended by national industry standards, we will ease the effect on senior home owners. We also need to prepare for a revenue decrease as a result of Covid 19.
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?
In order to meet the growing need of affordable or work force housing, it is recommended to add additional units/acre to facilitate the economics of multi-family development and provide affordability to the individual. This could be done on existing zoned areas.
Just to clarify: by adding additional units per acre, that means you do favor higher densities, among them higher height limits?
I favor higher density within the current height limits. Surrounding counties have higher numbers for density. Along I-95 and US 1, an overlay districts could be formed to provide a higher number of units/acre to create more work force housing.
Economic development is the expansion of jobs, affordable housing, and reduced cost of living for the citizens. We are lacking in job opportunities, lack affordable housing and have not seen any reduction in the cost of living. As a commercial realtor, I have spent years soliciting retail and office development. As a City Council person, I will advise the City Manager to hire an Economic Development Manager with experience in the State of Florida and who is associated with businesses who have plan to expand in Florida. Our area has much to offer, it is imperative to market our assets.
Morton is only in the position for 18 months. Some departments have been changed with new personnel. The landing of the UNF MedNex is significant.
The city manager is, along with the city attorney, the only individual you supervise as a council member. The question goes to your analysis of his handling of the transition. Yes, he’s been at the helm just 18 months, but what do you make of his handling of the first 12–the good and bad?
I had a good impression of the City Manager when he first started working. I am concerned about the allegations in the News Journal article and would like to have them founded before forming an opinion. I do believe the City Manager is the executive of the City and should perform as such.
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.
The addition of the MedNex will be significant and the State should be applauded for this decision. The City administration still is in need of direction to make the departments respond to applications in a more timely manner with pro-active engagement with the public. Swale maintenance still needs addressing. Economic development has been at a standstill and now with the departure of Helga van Ekert and Kat Friel, there is no one group or person designated in the City or the County to spearhead the marketing of the area to the State and companies.
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?
With the decrease in crime over all throughout the County, I do not see a need to create a police department. However, the Sheriff’s budget is concerning as it is only funded by the residents and I have concern over the number of deputies being requested in the next cycle and the increased budget.
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 business woman, business owner, mother, wife, grandmother, sister and daughter. Coming from a large family, eight children and two parents, I had to learn early to compromise at a young age. As a business person, I have been trained in negotiation, financial analysis and being accountable for my actions. It is imperative as a public figure to be a role model and to be empathetic. I admire Jack Howell, who not only served as a public figure but makes huge contributions of his time in training young pilots.
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?
Social media is a reflection of the person. Posting should be respective of all readers and reflect you as a person. One is totally responsible for one’s posting on social media.
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.
Claimed made by a prior brokerage company for my commission earned after with another company. I prevailed.
Can you be more specific about when this happened, what the claim was and where or by whom it was arbitrated?
Decision Flagler County Circuit Court 2006 Prevailed Commission dispute
Decision Flagler County Circuit Court 2011 Prevailed Commission dispute
Decision Flagler County Circuit Court 2019 Settlement Commission dispute