By Brad West
I have been thinking a great deal on the late John Lewis’s call-to-action, especially when it comes to this local election season: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”
In the 16 years I have lived here, I don’t recall an atmosphere and climate in this community as ugly and just downright mean as today. Elections are supposed to be about debating issues. Campaigning is competitive. I get it. But this year goes way beyond the pale. It’s been more about vicious accusations lobbed not only at candidates but also at a local company and the Palm Coast city manager.
We have candidates all throwing around allegations about how Palm Coast is “not business friendly” while waging a campaign of attacking Coastal Cloud, a local company that has provided over 70 high-paying jobs, is positioned to add even more, and adds a huge amount to the local economy. These candidates are attacking the company in an attempt to paint it as corrupt while reveling in followers who blindly cheer them on.
So is it the city that is “not business friendly” or is it our community right now, at least as reflected by that segment of business-bashing cheerleaders? Do you honestly think other businesses are not seeing that and holding off coming here? And all for what? Because that company offered to build, and did build, an expensive custom system to improve services and improve efficiencies (which always reduces costs) for free and use as an example to sell that to other communities? Yes, license fees are normal and they are pricey in that world. But just 3 employees answering phones paid, say, $30,000 each with benefits costs adds up to well over $100,000 and is less efficient and effective at delivering service to a city our size. The development costs for complex Customer Service Management and workflows is what is expensive. This company donated many hours, sacrificing many thousands of dollars in revenue. I find it highly improbable that any other community would have refused that deal and associated benefits. Yet it’s painted as corrupt? If I was them, I don’t know if I would want to keep my business here.
We call Mayor Milissa Holland corrupt and a criminal for a minor mistake? A simple Google search and/or visit to LinkedIn reveals both of her positions. Is that criminal too? Yet we disregard how public all of this was and the attention she placed on ensuring she was recused from all official business related to this development. We call it corrupt for City Manager Matt Morton and the mayor to go to a national conference and present the innovative efforts by our city? That positive exposure of our city as innovative to companies around the country helps attract business here.
Our new city manager of 16 months uprooted his life and moved thousands of miles, has dealt with turnover that is normal with change, has led staff and us through hurricanes and an unprecedented public health emergency, and turned down an annual pay increase even though his performance review warranted it. Then we have candidates who accuse him of corruption with no evidence while others applaud? One of those candidates being the one this same city manager showed kindness to by allowing him to resign and tell the story his way rather than being subjected to the embarrassment of being terminated because of his behavior as investigations show was extremely poor and unprofessional. Is that how we welcome and appreciate those going above and beyond serving our community?
And why do we do this? Apparently because former disgruntled employees who found their comfort zones disrupted and quit or were problems that needed to go away want to cause as much disruption and chaos as possible? The calls for Jim Landon to be replaced was loud and clear across this community, and this council and mayor got it done. It was obvious how deep the problems were afterwards with the fallout of staff feeling uncomfortable. Can anyone argue that City Hall was not service focused and there wasn’t an atmosphere that we served City Hall versus the other way around? Those problems weren’t just a city manager. They included the staff that the manager was shielding in the background.
So we should trust a former employee who apparently thought he was our local J. Edgar Hoover, building dossiers he could use against people while making sure to scrub any traces that led back to him? And we don’t question why that individual has stated he has documents and files? Why is a former employee in possession of what is most likely city documents and files which may or may not be public record and could include information on any one of us?
Why should we trust stories from a news outlet running a story of unsupported accusations by a candidate who two days later was confronted with the fact that he’d lied about investigations he had stated as fact? And the same day in a video broadcast admitted he lied about his so-called resignation being his decision, at least compared to the way he’d initially portrayed it. That’s not journalism. It’s tabloid level gossip writing.
Ethics complaint? That is the oldest political move in the book locally. Anyone can lodge an ethics complaint for any reason and use that submission to say: “There’s an ethics complaint and ‘investigation’.” The volume of those complaints always escalates at election time and take many months to be reviewed, assuming the complaints even get to the point of being investigated: many don’t, because the ethics commission deems them insufficient to pursue, or frivolous. Candidates and individuals do this to smear a candidate while preying on voters’ ignorance about the ethics process. It’s basically presuming guilt until proven innocent. We should applaud that? And at the same time we don’t find those individuals carrying out these seedy methods to be themselves corrupt and having questionable integrity?
Both current members and candidates for our council aren’t “politicians” in the strict sense of the term, they are our neighbors. They are members of our community. The council positions come with far less power than most think, and pay around $9,000 a year. The mayor’s position pays around $12,000 a year. Those positions can be demanding and subject those individuals to a lot of exposure, a lot of it negative. Yet they have stepped up to want to serve in what is oftentimes a thankless position. We should applaud them for stepping up.
But if you are running, shouldn’t you at least do it with some sense of decency for your community and your neighbors? Should candidates question each other’s decisions and actions? Absolutely. There are decisions they will be involved in that can, and will, affect our lives and future. But falsely accusing a competitor, or anyone, of corruption and being a criminal is vile. That type of McCarthyist behavior shouldn’t be applauded. It should be denounced. And it speaks volumes of the character and integrity of the ones flinging those accusations around. Imagine if that was you or your family member. No wonder more good candidates don’t step up.
So I am saying something. I am doing something. I am sure there will be ridicule. There will be accusations about made up stories of my motivations to write this. I do not claim to be perfect by any means, but I cannot stand by idle, watching this junk. Most importantly I hope voters stop and really ask themselves if this is who we are now as a community, if this is what we want to be as a community. And I hope some are motivated to stand up and speak out for our community against this ugliness.
Brad West, a Palm Coast resident, is a social media marketing professional.