Perennially underestimated, Charlie Ericksen was 71 years old in 2014 and two years into his first term as a Flagler County Commissioner when he completed the equivalent of his first circumnavigation of the globe on his bicycle: he’d cycled 24,901.5 miles since buying his Trek 7100 from PC Bike in Palm Coast. He celebrated the occasion by starting a second tour, and two years later easily won reelection to the County Commission.
On Monday, his last commission meeting, he bid his fellow-commissioners farewell. After a difficult few years battling health issues, Ericksen chose not to run again this year. His seat will be filled by Andy Dance, the former school board member, who will be sworn in today.
“I’ve had a lot of fun, actually the eight years I’ve spent here with the county is the longest I’ve spent in any one job in my life,” the former insurance executive said. He’d spent four years in the military–U.S. Army–during the Vietnam war, an experience that marked him especially since he was responsible for breaking the news of servicemen killed in the line of duty to the servicemen’s families. “Toughest job I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. ‘I have a list of all those young men who made.”
It was one of the ways that fostered his empathy and personal approachability. “It’s always been part of my life, talking to people, finding what their needs are,” he said. In his public service he’s always been drawn to those facing challenges, personal difficulties or struggles. He has been a constant presence in Flagler County Drug Court, attending every graduation and many of Drug Court’s administrative meetings, at times lunching with the judges or other members of the system.
He had an affinity for such places as Project Warm, the in-patient rehabilitation facility in Bunnell for young mothers struggling with addiction. His committee assignments always included the Carver Gym in Bunnell, also known as the Carver Center, and have included the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. His bike rides served as a way for him to familiarize himself with neighborhoods around Palm Coast and cultivate relationships with first responders, fire chiefs and others, dropping in for a coffee break during his rides. He also served on the canvassing board several times, most recently in this election cycle as an alternate.
Politically, he’d flirted with the now-defunct Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies and the local tea party when he was cutting his teeth on the local scene a decade ago, but he was never a card-carrying member, his pragmatism eventually pulling him more to the center. He had a failed run for Palm Coast mayor against Jon Netts in 2011 before his successful run for the commission the next year, when he and future bane Dennis McDonald could be seen campaigning together. Aside from occasional prickliness on his Facebook page, Ericksen’s demeanor on and off the commission has always ranked him among the more statesman-like elected officials, his confrontations with constituents rare even when his patience ran thin. In that, he was a quiet, forceful contrast to some of the more boorish and crude elected officials who’ve managed to win seats in recent years.
On Monday he paid tribute to several people who’d been part of his circle: the late Al Jones, former County Commissioners George Hanns, Nate McLaughlin, the late Frank Meeker, all the current constitutional officers and some former ones. He recalled with fondness, as he has many times, his days and weeks shuttling to Tallahassee with Meeker when the county was defending its short-term rental ordinance from dilution by the Legislature.
Commissioner Donald O’Brien, who told Ericksen he’d been watching him well before he himself got into politics, described him as “a role model for comportment and friendliness.” Four years ago O’Brien was collecting petitions to qualify for office. “I would always be jealous about the fact that you could walk in and get 50 cards signed, 30 cards signed, I’d get five or six, because you’re just a friendly, outgoing person, people know you, admire you, feel comfortable with you,” O’Brien told him. “You’ve been a friend to a lot of people and it’s been an honor to serve within you.”
“I second all of that,” Commissioner Greg Hansen told him, “and I wish you good bicycle riding and safe bicycle riding now that you don’t have all these rigors of being a county commissioner. You should be able to put in some more time on the bike and keep yourself healthy. You’ve been a great asset to this county.”
Even Joe Mullins, who’s repeatedly and publicly insulted Ericksen, ridiculing his age and his memory lapses, mustered a few words of courtesy. “I know we’ve had some bumps, but you know what, you’re a hell of a guy,” Mullins, said.
“You should look back on your eight years as being very significant and positive for all the citizens of Flagler County,” Dave Sullivan, who chairs the commission, said. But Sullivan almost moved on to the rest of the agenda without giving Ericksen his own chance to speak–an unwitting reflection of the extent to which commissioners had marginalized Ericksen of late.
Ericksen signaled, and said his farewells, ending with a twinkle of a suggestion: “I’ve enjoyed the eight years. I might even come back,” he said. “But I’m going to take a break here and fool around with my two little friends at home, Gracie and Mollie, a mother and daughter dachshunds who make enough noise as two bulldogs. I’m their contact for food, they’re my contact for entertainment.”