In a shocking end to this evening’s Palm Coast City Council meeting, Council member Victor Barbosa, citing nebulous claims of being “targeted” by City Manager Matt Morton and referring to a dozen errant emails and city documents, called on the council to fire Morton for “corruption.”
Barbosa’s motion failed for lack of a second.
The after-meeting then briefly got raucous, with Mayor Milissa Holland having to be escorted out to her car for her protection as members of the so-called “Flagler Liberty Coalition,” a group of anti-maskers who have disrupted local government meetings and who were lending Barbosa support, got loud and intimidating. On the other side of the building, as Morton and Council member Eddie Branquinho were heading to Branquinho’s car, Morton and Barbosa exchanged a few words, with Morton reportedly telling Branquinho that he might be facing legal action, presumably over Barbosa’s accusation.
For almost eight minutes Barbosa read from a prepared statement that cited numerous code enforcement issues, Morton allegedly tracking him, listing his name as the complainant then telling him there was no way to track code enforcement complaints by name. The documents Barbosa submitted show him around mid-March to be a copious complainer as he goes around the city, noticing unkempt yards or lawns or driveways overrun by vehicles. Barbosa then tells Morton of the issues, presumably expecting code enforcement action. Barbosa’s complaints follow closely on code enforcement’s own action against him over the truck he kept in his driveway, with its “Man Cave” insignias showing, in violation of city policy. (Barbosa owns a barber shop called “Man Cave.”) His case was about to be taken to the Code Enforcement Board before the city found him in compliance, and dropped it. But Barbosa had been upset by the case having made it that far.
Nothing in the documentation he submitted remotely points to anything that could be defined, even by the most liberal interpretation of the word, as “corruption.” But the word echoes a similar smear during the election campaign that Barbosa and his acolytes repeated frequently about City Hall in general and the mayor in particular.
“I think he needs more proof than that,” Branquinho said after the meeting, “and my advice to him, is if he thinks there’s corruption is go to the feds.”
In a March 15 email, Barbosa complains about a house with six cars on Smith Trail. He sent Morton a picture and wrote: “You told me that you didn’t want Palm Coast to look like surrounding City’s your just clearly not looking around here I have many more homes to go.”
City council members are not supposed to act as code enforcement officers, though like anyone else, they’re free to forward complaints. Currently complaints to code enforcement are filed anonymously, though a bill pending in the Legislature this session would require the complainant to be identified. There’s nothing in law that forbids the administrative agency from keeping track of certain complaints by name, internally: in Palm Coast specifically, the late Bill Lewis and then-council member was a notorious code enforcement stickler, driving around town and noting violators.
The gist of Barbosa’s issue appears to be an email Morton sent Barbara Grossman, the code enforcement manager, telling her to “make sure that every one of these that I forward from Victor are coded from him being the complainant–as he is. I want to be able to keep track.” The statement appears to apply to the emails or directions Barbosa was sending him about code enforcement.
Barbosa then wrote Morton, asking him why that was the case. The document is undated, and veers between hectoring and baiting Morton: “I am not directing staff to take action,” Barbosa wrote Morton, “however I am directing you to take this information to the correct department when necessary for proper action. I just received your text that has me Councilman Victor M. Barbosa directing staff. I think we have an issue. The issue is either you or code enforcement are not following their own policies and procedures. Unless I’m wrong counseling upto discipline and or termination maybe required for not following procedures.” (Barbosa’s text is reproduced here as he wrote it and submitted it for the record. I want a complete detailed report as to what’s happening here, I want it before the next City Council meeting where I may be bringing this up for discussion.)
Barbosa then put in a request for any code enforcement complaints that may bear his name. Virginia Smith, the city clerk who handles public record requests–and who would have had no idea about Morton’s request to have Barbosa’s emails coded–replied as she would to anyone, suggesting the search parameters might be very broad and bear some cost, as she is legally required to advise requesters. This evening, Barbosa misinterpreted that as an attempt to keep him from the information he was requesting. “As of today, there are many violations out there with my name fraudulently listed on it as a complaint that I did not complain about,” he said tonight, as he addressed the council, saying his name was being tarnished. “He wanted to charge me to figure out what his staff had done. Another clear sign in which he was attempting to hide this matter,” Barbosa continued.
“If you don’t vote against corruption,” Barbosa concluded, “which I have clearly shown proof, then you, you’re in favor of corruption, and mismanagement in our city. I’d like to make a motion to terminate City Manager Matt Morton.”
Council members stayed silent. Council member Ed Danko, no recent friend of Barbosa, suggested taking the time to study Barbosa’s claims. But his motion to table the motion was sidetracked by a procedural issue: City Attorney Bill Reischmann said it would have to be an amendment to the motion already on the table. But Danko’s proposal, too, did not get a second. Holland was not interesting in entertaining the debate. “We’re not doing this,” she said.
The mayor then turned to Danko’s own closing comments, which had to do with possibly changing the scheduling of meetings and the proposed tennis center expansion, which he’d favor reconsidering at a subsequent meeting “to discuss it further.” That motion got no second, and the meeting ended.
Morton marks his second-year anniversary with the city Thursday.