Corinne Hermle is running for the District 1 seat that Charlie Ericksen, a two-term Republican, is not contesting again. Hermle, a Democrat, faces Andy Dance, the school board member and a Republican. Dance will resign his school board seat regardless in November.
Three seats were up on the commission in this election cycle. In District 3, incumbent Republican Dave Sullivan defeated Kim Carney, the former Flagler Beach city commissioner, in the primary. Because that race drew only two Republicans, it was a universal primary, meaning that all registered voters cast a ballot.
In District 5, incumbent Republican Donald O’Brien, who easily defeated Bob Jones in the primary, faces two independents in the Nov. 3 election: Denise Calderwood and Paul Anderson.
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
- Beach rebuilding
- Environmental protection
- Economic development
- Jerry Cameron
- Social media
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: Ocala, Fla., May 22, 1979.
Current job: Environmental Consultant with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Party Affiliation: Democratic.
Net Worth: $189,462.78.
Website and Social Media: hermle.us, facebook.com/ElectCoriHermle
See Corinne Hermle’s 2018 Live Interview.
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 believe I am qualified for the simple reason that I am willing to work hard at finding solutions to the challenges our community faces. My background as a state government employee has given me experience in working with land conservation programs and with water quality and water quantity issues. I have worked with a variety of stakeholders to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. I am also very familiar with Florida’s Sunshine laws and how the levers of government work, so to speak.
As such, I will rely heavily on my 14 years working for state government to make sound decisions. I am willing to dissent when I see something come before the Board that is not in the best interest of the community. I want to see Flagler County maintain a high quality of life which can only happen with a transparent and accountable government that considers the facts before acting on a well thought out plan. No more knee jerk decisions.
I am a very data driven person, and so I tend to ask a lot of questions and research issues. I have a tendency to point out unforeseen possibilities. Every decision creates a path of possibilities; as one moves along the path and further decisions are made, these alternate possibilities get closed off. Decisions being made yesterday and being made today will impact this county for decades to come. I point out ramifications of decisions, and I can be outspoken in pointing out if a decision today may box an organization into the proverbial corner in the future.
What knee-jerk decisions are you referring to? You are running against Andy Dance, who’s served about a decade on the school board, where he’s built a solid record as a data-driven, analytical and centrist board member. What specifically in your experience would convince voters that you are more qualified, as a person who’s never served in public office before?
My education and professional experience are indeed different from my opponent’s and from the rest of the current commissioners and candidates. One would argue, being a trained scientist, that being data-driven and analytical are more in my wheelhouse. Your question presupposes that experience in one capacity is a predictor of future outcomes. I respectfully disagree. There is substantial difference between what the school board does and what the County Commission oversees. There are alternatives to the status quo.
Perhaps the crucial difference is that I am not interested in the agendas or endorsements of the Flagler County Realtors Association or those who would seek to wholesale develop the County in an unsustainable manner. Scientists have a questioning nature, to be skeptical of vague promises. I will ask the questions, and say NO when it is needed. I will apply reason rather than voting in a “knee-jerk” emotional fashion, doing my best to ensure decisions are fiscally sound and actually meet the shortfalls they are meant to address. (Doing my best to avoid buying multiple buildings that were poor investments with little thought of how to rehabilitate, make use of or, dispose of in the case of the Sheriff’s old building.) I will ask to the point of aggravation how do these objectives fit into our long-range plans and what are the desired outcomes.
- The citizens of Flagler County deserve good governance and accountability, and to have leadership that recognizes government officials have a duty to spend tax dollars wisely, as they are a finite resource. Government accountability to me means to be prudent and as efficient as possible when spending taxpayer dollars. I believe that government accountability, effectiveness and stewardship can always be improved upon. I don’t believe the Commission has been prudent or efficient with several decisions over the last several years.
- Sustainable – It is up to the local governments within Flagler County to manage growth in a way that builds a sustainable community. To maintain quality of life we must balance the short term benefit of additional tax revenue against the long term costs of infrastructure improvements. To have a sustainable economy we need to economically diversify.
- Quality of Life – Flagler County’s growth over the last few years isn’t limited to straining the local infrastructure, but is also having an impact on water quality, water quantity and the loss of green space. It seems the immediate temptation of additional tax revenue isn’t being balanced against long term infrastructure obligations and impacts to the area’s water resources and environment. As a mother of two young children and a native Floridian, I want my children to experience the same beauty of Florida I had when I was growing up. People have chosen to live here because Flagler County offers more than just development. I worry that decisions are being made with only the goal of development and growth, with no consideration of the consequences.
Where specifically has the commission not been prudent or efficient? Can you give us two examples of issues that still have not been resolved? How, even before covid, had the county not been on a sustainable path with development, which has been progressing along at a much more measured pace than in the past decade? Where do you see the county’s infrastructure lacking? Aside from Plantation Bay, where those residents are responsible for their utility, the county is not in the utility business, its roads and bridges have been relatively well maintained, with additional recent improvements, especially on the west side, and a major drainage project is progressing in the Hammock. Where is growth management failing? Where specifically–if you could give us a couple of examples–have environmental concerns been compromised by development?
The glaring example is the Sheriff’s old operations building, but its rehabilitation is no longer an issue. The Sheriff still remains without the office space he states he needs for his operations and funding does not appear to be readily available. Concessions at Bings Landing wasn’t advertised in an open bid process, undoubtedly leading to the current legal morass the county is facing on that issue. Circuit Judge France ruled the county commission reached a decision on the 240-boat storage facility and restaurant in the Hammock without “competent substantial evidence.” Again and again, decisions seem to be made hastily, without forethought, supporting evidence or wanting to take the time to deliberate on decisions.
Sustainability is not about the pace of development, but is focused on what the end result will be. Do we wish, 15 to 30 years from now, to have an end result of sprawl, traffic congestion, increased stormwater runoff and neighborhood flooding due to the increase in impervious area, further degradation of water quality in our lakes and waterbodies due to the increase in excess nutrients, increasing blue-green algae and red tide outbreaks due to excess nutrients in the water, increasing salinity of our area public supply wells, loss of greenspace, and so on and so forth? Water bodies in the county show increasing levels of impairment due to a decline in water quality, declines which are directly related to human influenced activities. It is inevitable the county and cities will need to undertake remediation projects to address the declines in water quality in the region. The state will not lay the burden on only one governmental body in the county – all who have been determined to have had an impact will be required to step in to solve the issue. Remediation projects cost money – mandatory septic to sewer conversions, alternative water supply projects, stormwater/floodwater retention and treatment areas. The temptation of potential taxable revenue for development needs to be weighed against the future costs due to increased traffic, flooding, regulatory burdens and the likelihood of having to increase taxes to pay for it all.
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.
Yes for all of the reasons below, I would vote for a mask mandate.
Part of a leadership role is taking the “heat” off of others, to be willing to take the brunt of the pushback or fury. By not having a mask mandate, you are forcing that issue onto local businesses. Businesses, both local and national, had to step into the void left by elected officials not providing leadership during this urgent public health threat.
The failure of the county commission to pass a mask mandate means individuals are being forced to weigh all the risks and make individual decisions. Punting on a mandate decision introduces uncertainty, forcing businesses and individuals to come up with a patchwork response, unnecessarily putting lives at risk and putting us even farther away from returning to “business as usual”. Most states have now adopted mask mandates.
The National Retail Federation itself is encouraging all retailers to adopt a mask requirement: “Workers serving customers should not have to make a critical decision as to whether they should risk exposure to infection or lose their jobs because a minority of people refuse to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.” National chain stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Kohls, Publix, Starbucks, CVS and Dollar Tree are requiring masks to be worn by customers.
Compared to having to go through another lockdown, the effort to wear a face mask, socially distance and frequent handwashing is minimal compared to the potential benefit. Even Goldman Sachs has crunched the numbers, and a “face mask mandate could potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP”.
A mask mandate is necessary, but can have flexibility built in. Alachua County’s Emergency Order 2020-30 Section 3.c. allows for the following exclusions: “shall not be required for children under six, persons who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or individuals with a documented or demonstrable medical problem. It is the intent of this provision that those individuals who cannot tolerate a facial covering for a medical, sensory or any other condition which makes it difficult for them to utilize a facial covering and function in public are not required to wear one.” (Emphasis mine)
A preponderance of evidence shows Covid-19 can be detected both before symptoms appear (pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic) and when symptoms appear (symptomatic). The virus can be detected and present in an individual for at little as one week duration, or up to several weeks. The consensus among public health scientists is that Covid-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, and wearing a face covering that covers the nose and mouth reduces the transmission of this virus. The “CDC reviewed the latest science and affirms that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against Covid-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities. There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have Covid-19 from spreading the virus to others.
The cities have adopted “mandates,” the county has not, and the sheriff has said that mandates are not enforceable–that the cities themselves don’t have an enforcement provision in their mandates. Even if you were elected, you are unlikely to have a majority on the commission that would support a change in existing rules. Do you see any other avenue in covid safety that the commission is not addressing, and that you would propose, with a realistic chance of success?
A “realistic chance of success”? Honestly just two weeks ago I would’ve never imagined a circumstance in which this current board would be discussing the potential censure of one of their members. Perhaps is it too limiting to not even discuss or make motions about topics or items that only have “a realistic chance of success”. Perhaps instead the motions should be made and we see how the chips may fall.
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?
In principle, I don’t believe taxpayers should be asked for more money. Any time the average person sees an increase in their tax bill, they consider that to be a tax increase. In essence, I agree with Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida Taxwatch, “It is a property tax increase if they [local governments] don’t enact the rollback rate.”
In brief, chapter 200, Florida Statutes, defines the requirements for budgets and setting millage rates. The ‘rollback rate’ allows local governments to receive last year’s budgeted revenues from taxes, with the addition of tax revenues from new construction (new net taxable revenue). If the costs of providing government services should rise, ideally those increases are offset by increases in property values from improvements and new construction. Tax revenue for a local government would ideally increase not because the individual pays more, but because more people are paying (new construction) or some taxpayers have made improvements and increased the value of their property, which they must now pay more taxes on.
If money is spent wisely and growth can be made to pay for itself, then the likelihood of a fiscal emergency occurring is minimal. I believe the services being provided by the County are essential and I won’t target any particular program. If the budget must be trimmed, the best people to find cost saving are the heads of departments, but also rank and file employees who may have innovative ideas or are more straightforward about how money is spent. I think you also have to determine what is unique about each economic down-turn and try to determine where costs can be trimmed based on reduced demand. If the budget must be cut, depending on the severity of cuts needed, the focus should be on how to maintain services for the taxpayer. In my experience, cuts can be accomplished by deferring capital outlay, funds can be swept if allowable, across the board cuts, or even hiring freezes.
Looking at the question more specifically, the county commission just approved the 2021 budget, adopting the same tax rate in effect now, which amounts to a tax increase of some 5 percent or so (less on homesteaded properties). Would you have opposed that budget and tax rate? Is the county meeting its financial obligations?
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?
As a mom, my immediate answer is we have to keep our children safe. It is up to the School Board to decide how they will fulfill that state requirement. If the School Board opts to continue utilizing a School Resource Officer, then I would continue to support the County offsetting a portion of that expenditure.
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?
This is not a “go it alone” issue – the scope of the problem is too large. The county, state and federal government need to have a serious discussion about what viable long-term options are available, before the funding availability inevitably runs out. The county will also need to coordinate with Volusia and St. Johns Counties on their long term plans for their beaches. If Volusia or St. Johns County decides to go the route of beach hardening, this will have the knock-on effect of increasing beach erosion for Flagler County. Some battles are fought in order to win a decisive victory, while other battles are fought to buy time. Beach renourishment is a battle to buy time, time to allow for coordination and alternative options to be explored.
Ultimately, do you consider the battle a losing one, given what we now know about sea rises (does the question scientifically support a negative answer?), and if so, how is buying time not itself wasted money?
Science allows us to make predictions. Predictions allow us to plan and mitigate, and while the predictions are grim, they are no reason to abandon hope. I am not as foolish as Xerxes lashing the ocean; sea level rise can only be adapted to. The goal would be to reduce chaos while we change and adapt, because chaos reduces effectiveness, clouds decision making and increases costs. Civilization is essentially built upon overcoming the natural world if only ever temporarily. Once a resource is gone it is gone forever and we can do nothing but lament its loss. We should strive to save as much of our natural beauty as possible for as long as possible – with whatever resources we can stomach to spare.
Flagler County’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands program allowed for protection and preservation of Princess Place, Haw Creek, Bing’s Landing, etc. As for shortfalls, please see my response to question #2.
Your answer to question 2 doesn’t address the Environmentally Sensitive Land program’s dormancy for the past many years: since a former administrator convinced the county commission to spend a large sum of the ESL trust on a mitigation program that hasn’t born any fruit, how has the voter-approved ESL program been beneficial in the past half dozen years, beyond resting on its laurels?
I certainly can’t defend inaction. The framework for the ESL program is still there. The program can be revitalized in the future. Hopefully with improved steps put it place for the evaluation, selection and ranking of land acquisition projects for a better return on taxpayer investment.
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 would like to see these types of capital outlay items be paid for with impact fees so that as growth occurs the County has the money to build the necessary infrastructure. That, however, was not done. The growth happened but the money was not raised to pay for it. Now that we find ourselves in this hole, we need to make it a priority to fund this valuable community resource.
The question is specific to the library, for which impact fees could not be used anyway. It’s grants or tax-supported, general fund dollars. If you say we need to make it a priority to fund the library, what would you delay?
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?
This is an issue that will take a united effort by all stakeholders within Flagler County (the County, Cities, Health Department, sheriff’s department, etc) to collaborate together on providing solutions. How can we keep people in the community from becoming homeless and to help those who end up homeless? Since homelessness is often the result of a variety of issues and not due to one single factor, a single stakeholder will have difficulty successfully addressing homelessness in the County.
I believe the best chance of success will be a community group coming together, supported by our local governments, figuring out what resources ARE available in Flagler County, what the short-falls are, and how those gaps can be filled (whether via increased education, outreach, funding, etc.). Then the community group becomes the neutral group that can go to the County and says “can you provide ‘X’?”, then go to the Cities and ask “can you provide ‘Y’?, then the sheriff’s department, the health department, etc – making very specific asks from each stakeholder.
The county was correct to insist on accountability with its economic development department and to push for a return on investment.
I would like to see a more thoughtful approach to economic development. We have to make it clear we are open for business, of any size. We need to start with obtainable goals and achieve them, rather than seeking the big fish that always ends up in some one else’s net. I would rather see twenty companies come to the county that then hire fifty employees, versus pushing hard for one company that hires the same amount. The county will end up with the same amount of new jobs, but would have a more diversified business environment and hopefully a more resilient one as well.
I favor the idea of a business incubator environment, set-up in cooperation with the Cities and School Board to attract a diverse array of entrepreneurs and start-ups. Strong oversight of such a program would be an essential component. This business incubator could include resources such as a ‘maker’s space’, that contains equipment or resources financially out of reach for smaller businesses, that the business could rent or purchase access to, in order for a business to ‘scale-up’ its operations.
Our neighbors to the west, Palatka and Putnam County, put together a long term revitalization plan, combining public and private efforts. These efforts were years in the making and appear to be coming to fruition. I would like to see a similar effort in Flagler County.
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?
Cameron seems to have spent his tenure cleaning up the previous administration’s messes. He has helped the county to begin pivoting to a new direction, and for that I am appreciative. When the Commission begins its search for a new County Administrator in the next four years, I believe we must have someone who is responsive to the public. My ideal candidate would be forward thinking, ideally with a proven record of innovation. I’m not just interested in a candidate who is willing to make big changes, but knows which changes can be successful and which will not. A candidate who recognizes change is inherently stressful, and is willing to take the time to convince a majority of his subordinates to willingly make the change(s).
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.
A governing body should have a diversity of thinking, knowledge and experiences. This allows the commission to look at things from different perspectives, allowing for more diverse solutions. As a candidate, I have and will continue reaching out to a variety of constituents. It is also important to use a variety of methods to try and listen to constituents. Demographics isn’t limited to just age, race and sex, but also includes socio-economic factors such as income.
But how have you reached out, and what methods are you referring to?
Listening is the most important skill a leader has. I have listened and many, many people are saying something similar – they don’t like the traffic now, never mind the future; they worry about developers slamming high rises on abandoned golf courses; they are concerned about water quality and water quantity, etc. Our leaders must listen to these concerns.
I have been asked what could a single county commissioner do for the people, how could I realistically help them. And I tell them, I can listen and I can be a voice for them, even if it is only 1/5th of the board.
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?
You are always responsible for your actions and for what you say, no matter the medium they are said in. Rightly or wrongly, as a leader you are always being scrutinized, and the public expects a higher standard from their elected officials.
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.
I have never been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. I have never had a civil action filed against me. I have never declared bankruptcy. I have never faced disciplinary action from a professional board.