The Flagler County Commission and the Flagler County School Board held calmer, more celebratory swearings-in of their newly-elected members this afternoon and evening, in contrast with morning convulsions at the Palm Coast City Council.
One candidate –Andy Dance–made the jump to County Commission after 12 years on the School Board. Two candidates on the County Commission–Dave Sullivan and Donald O’Brien–were sworn-in for their second terms, and School Board member Colleen Conklin was sworn-in for her sixth. Two School Board candidates were sworn-in to their first elected positions: Cheryl Massaro and Jill Woolbright, Woolbright replacing Dance, Massaro replacing Maria Barbosa, who was nevertheless present at all three swearings-in today.
County Judge Andrea Totten administered the commissioners’ oaths, County Judge Melissa Distler administered the school board members’ after a brief delay that accommodated the board’s tributes in video, plaques and brief speeches to its departing members.
There was much anticipation regarding the chairmanships of both boards. Joe Mullins was in line to be the chairman of the commission. But his recent behavior–his insults of other commissioners, his bigotry toward constituents, his general divisiveness–posed a dilemma for his fellow-commissioners, especially after he point-blank insulted two of them at a meeting. Sullivan and O’Brien, his allies, voted against censuring him in September. But electing him chairman might have been a pander too far.
In what looked like a prearranged resolution, Mullins before any nomination was made took the floor to say he was out of the running.
“I know normally it’s the process of the vice-chair to take the position of chair,” he said. “But I have had a eventful year with covid and my businesses, and I’m making an adjustment to a 14-year-old little lady in my life right now, and it is consuming a tremendous amount of time.” So he nominated Donald O’Brien for the chairmanship, and said he would entertain being vice-chairman again. “I’d like to make that nomination based on my strenuous needs for this year and being out of town a lot.”
It was a clever way to save face, save his colleagues the inevitable public rebuke of nominating him, and saving his actual chairmanship until next year, when it would be more politically profitable, since he might be running for re-election (though he hasn’t quite stopped running since his election two years ago). His colleagues nominated him vice-chairman.
Then O’Brien read his acceptance speech from prepared remarks, making it clear the arrangement had been planned in advance, in the full knowledge of the commissioners–which would be a sunshine violation.
In a signal of cooperation, Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland attended the swearing in at the county, eliciting an acknowledgment from Commissioner Greg Hansen. Each commissioner in turn spoke his good wishes (the county commission remains the only local government board to be all-male) and hopes for various successes in the coming year, recognizing family, friends or political allies in the audience along the way. Dance’s voice cracked when he mentioned his mother, Nancy Dance, who has witnessed every one of his swearings-in since his first successful election in 2008, and who was herself a school board member from 1984 to 2000.
At the school board, where Janet McDonald has been chairing the panel for the last two years, Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt took nominations for the next chair. Massaro nominated Conklin. Woolbright nominated Trevor Tucker, who’d been chairman just two years ago. By custom the next chairmanship was to go to Conklin. But politics is never far from such decisions. Woolbright, Tucker and McDonald are staunch Republicans. Conklin is a Democrat. The vote was 3-2 for Tucker. Woolbright then nominated Conklin for vice-chair. That nomination carried unanimously.
Both Tucker and O’Brien are workmanlike, no-drama chairmen who run tight meetings with courtesy but little room for off-topic banter or ideological curveballs.
Tucker’s first act was to read a proclamation recognizing Holocaust Education Week. His next was to have Bobby Bossardet, the district’s newly appointed leadership development director, recognize five staffers’ completion of the North East Florida Education Consortium’s Regional Principal Leadership Academy, a 15-month program: Ryan Andrews, Cara Cronk, Amy Neuenfeldt, Stacia Collier, Jessica Deford.
From there, the meeting resumed its regular business: unlike the county meeting, which was exclusively devoted to the swearings-in, the school board addressed a full agenda, until, almost two and a half hours in, the new board members had a chance to speak of their new role.
“Every decision, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, every decision that I make will always be in the best interest of our children, because that’s what matters,” Massaro said. “They are our future. They’re going to take care of many of us. So we need to make sure we get them in the right place and we protect them properly.”
“It just energizes me to be back in the schools, I love it,” Woolbright, a former teacher whose mask bore the emblem of her former school, Bunnell Elementary, said in her closing remarks. She’d been former Superintendent Jacob Oliva’s supervising teacher when he was interning as a teacher in the district. He’s now vice-chancellor in the state Department of Education. She sought him out when she was thinking about running, and he lent his support. “Ive been to several schools to meet principals and having chats with them, and it just energizes me to be back in the schools, I love it. Please invite me to your schools. Please invite me to events. I want to come. This will be my full-time occupation. This is not a part-time for me. This energizes me, so I want to hear not only from admin in the buildings, but the teachers and the parents, and I’m going to make plans of ways to be available. You may email me any time, of course, with my school board website address. But please call me. My cell phone number is 386-503-8515.” She said she didn’t ant to become disconnected from the school community. “I need you to be my teachers, I need you to be my ears, I need you to be my eyes, I need you to keep me attached.”