Kathy Austrino, 50, is one of six candidates in the July 27 special election for Palm Coast mayor. The election was required by charter following the unexpected resignation of Milissa Holland in mid-May, less than a year into her second term. The candidates who filed to run, all of them paying the $1,140 qualifying fee, are: David Alfin, Austrino, Carol Bacha, Doug Courtney, Alan Lowe and Cornelia Manfre.
All but Austrino have run for office before, though none successfully. The mayoral term will run until 2024. This is a non-partisan, at-large election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast–and only Palm Coast–regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for Palm Coast mayor. But this being a special election, there will not be a runoff. The winner needs only to have one more vote than the candidate next in line. Theoretically, the winner could garner as little as 17 percent of the vote, with the rest of the field splitting the balance.
The mayor is paid $11,400 a year. Like the four council members, the mayor also gets a $1,200 car allowance and a $910 communication allowance each year, so in sum the mayor’s total pay is $13,510.
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. All candidates with the exception of Lowe agreed to participate. Lowe had initially said he would do so as well. He then did not answer a follow-up email to confirm.
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 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
- Comparison with previous mayors
- Coucil dynamics
- Mayoral power
- Continuity or change
- Commercial vehicles
- Next city manager
- Rap sheet
Place and Date of Birth: Boston Massachusetts November 19, 1970.
Current job: Real Estate Broker.
Party Affiliation: Republican.
Websites: www.TAGVenturesRealEstate.com, https://www.facebook.com/PalmCoastRealEstateBroker https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathaustrino, https://www.instagram.com/kathyaustrino
The 2021 Special Election for Palm Coast Mayor
1. Palm Coast has had just three mayors, the last two, Jon Netts and Milissa Holland, accounting for 14 of the city’s 21-year history. We assume that with your interest in being mayor, you are familiar with Netts’s and Holland’s years as mayor and their legacy. Tell us how you would compare yourself to them, and whether you see your mayorship as a break from that legacy or as a continuation of it, understanding of course that you’re your own person. Put another way: would Palm Coast residents see your mayoral style in a recognizable light, or would they discover in you someone quite different—radically different?—from your predecessors?
Certainly, I don’t compare to them. They did the best they could with the resources they had in their time. I believe the structure of the City Council suited the city as it was, however, this is no longer the case. This council, in my opinion, needs to come together and reorganize for the next council. We need to pay the next council inline with what we ask of them. This will also make it feasible for others to consider taking on these roles.
But do you see yourself as more a continuation of previous mayors or as a break and redirection? If it is a break, how so?
I do not see myself as a continuation. For example, I felt that concerns were not addressed as they should be and I certainly experienced being treated as if I didn’t matter by our most recent mayor. I had to push the issue until Jim Landon corrected the mayor. That is not how I want our residents treated. All questions are valid and deserve follow-up – we won’t all like the answers all the time, they should be answered though.
2. Of Flagler County’s five major government boards (the cities, the county and the school board) the Palm Coast City Council right now is the most splintered, the most unpredictable—not in a constructive way, but a loose-cannon sort of way—and the most prone to doubletakes, to put it gently. First, give us your impression of council dynamics. Second, tell us how you as mayor intend to bring consensus, and whether your aim is to work primarily toward a majority of three, or toward the consensus of the entire board.
The current Council are doing well in response to Milissa’s resignation. The behavior of the Council in prior recent months had been disappointing. Sometimes great passion is misinterpreted as great anger. I think listening to each other with the intent of gaining an understanding of each person’s perspective would go a long way. We need to have whole conversations and everyone’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas be respected.
Has there been specific instances where ideas and opinions have not been respected? What do you bring to the table to ensure that the meetings you’ll run will be more consensus-oriented rather than the contentious meetings we’ve seen?
I’d like to see that all members of the council are listened to without having felt disrespected. And the same for the public. Not one of us is above the other; neither is anyone beneath another.
3. What is in a mayor’s power, and what isn’t? What is your understanding of when and how, if ever, you may direct or in any way exercise any authority over administrative staff other than the city manager and the city attorney? How would you deal with a problem, perceived or real, regarding a city employee, a manager (not the city manager) or a director?
The Mayor’s position has the power of 1 vote out of 5. I’m having trouble with this question – we can’t take the city manager and attorney out of this since the Mayor is to only direct those two. All communication of concerns must go through the city manager and or the city attorney.
4. You will have a somewhat abbreviated term of a little over three years, coming in—as all candidates in this election do—without prior experience in office, which will steepen your learning curve. What three specific goals, in that shorter time span, do you think you can realistically achieve as mayor before the next election.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on the council to reorganize for the next council. Gain an understanding as to how we have $165M in debt when anything over $15M needed to go out to a vote by the people – that is a lot of little loans, in my opinion. Were they all necessary? Maybe, let’s look very closely and get a handle on this spending. By the time these debts are paid in full we will have spent over $40M in interest alone – was it necessary? What is necessary, I am sure, is to put money into economic development. Since the county relieved their Economic Development Department the City of Palm Coast needs to put great focus on their own within the budget.
You’re right, if the city were to borrow to build, say, a senior center, as it attempted to do at the beginning of the last decade, it would have to seek voter approval. Voters rejected that. So the city’s general fund has no debt. The debt you’re referring to is the accrued total debt from stormwater and utilities, which are not part of the city’s tax structure but supported by user fees on your utility bill, themselves approved by council at public hearings. Those funds (and loans) finance stormwater projects (and swale maintenance), water and sewer plants or the continued financing of the city’s 2003 acquisition of the utility. Is any of that spending unnecessary or out of line? Do you see any other way of financing these projects? Are you suggesting that millions of dollars should be spent on economic development?
Not necessarily out of line but before going into the loans are we looking very close at every line item on the budget within every department? It is not uncommon for large organizations to have waste where it could be avoided – I’m not saying this is happening, though I can only know by asking to see everything. I want to be sure we don’t have that unnecessary waste as this isn’t just a large organization, rather, it’s other people’s money – regardless of what fund it’s in. I’m not suggesting a particular dollar amount in economic development, though the current amount seem small when weighed against the many residents calling for economic development to bring more employment options in; rightfully so.
5. Former Mayor Milissa Holland had a direct imprint on bringing about the Town Center Innovation District and Arts District and luring the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University to Town Center. Assuming you agree—you may tell us if you do not, and explain why—what are your intentions either in fostering or retrenching from these initiatives, and what will you, as mayor, leave us as imprints of similar consequence?
These should be fostered, we need the opportunities for employment, expression, and gathering. While these are all important for all of us, the most needed, currently, is confidence in our City Council. I hope to leave Palm Coast with a sense of trust and harmonious relationships between the Council members and the citizens of Palm Coast.
We’d think a sense of trust and harmonious relationships is expected of every elected official on every local board, but the question is about your vision: what sort of ideas on the caliber of UNF and JU coming to Palm Coast would you propose as mayor?
This question is difficult as these projects are a gift of the prior mayor. I didn’t envision a college town, though it seems that’s where we’re headed. Specific to Town Center my vision was always something compared to St. Johns Town Center in Jacksonville. That has clearly changed as we move into the future. I’ll need to adjust with the change – this is what was chosen.
6. Three initiatives have drawn considerable attention: Palm Coast Connect, the expansion of the tennis center, and the relaxation of commercial vehicle rules in residential parkways. The first two are in the books, but could see revisions with a different council. The third is in the proposal stage. Tell us your [position on each: would you vote to continue with PCC and the expansion of the tennis center? Would you vote for or against relaxing the commercial-vehicle rule, say, to allow one such vehicle with uncovered commercial lettering be parked in a driveway?
I like PCC, however, I don’t make the best use of it. To continue with it would come down to its user rate. The tennis expansion is clearly desired by many residents – how much to expand is the concern. My personal thoughts with the relaxing the commercial vehicle rule is that it should be slightly relaxed. However, how I vote is determined by what the majority of our citizens tell me to vote after they have been fully informed.
Your last point raises an interesting question about how you’d vote in general: will you always peg your votes to wherever way the public majority falls? If a majority of the public were to voice its opposition to–for example–owning a water utility, adding a firehouse, having a city-run golf club–would you then vote against those? Are there no instances where you’d see your responsibility as a mayor overruling a popular majority on certain issues?
No, I truly don’t. However, in hearing from all experts on each topic and having brought all information possible to as many as possible – having whole conversations is vital. As a team, if we (the council) inform all and take in as many perspectives as possible we should all be coming back to cast a vote that represent the majority of what we’re hearing from those willing to have those whole conversations.
7. If you’re elected, you will be responsible with your four colleagues for hiring the next city manager. Looking back at the sort of city and county managers there’s been in Flagler over the past five years or so—Jim Landon, Matt Morton, Larry Newsom, William Whitson, Alvin Jackson, Craig Coffey, Jerry Cameron (and what a boys’ club it’s been)—which of them do you think reflect the temperament and managerial style that most closely aligns with what you’re looking for? How do you define that style in your words?
We need someone kind, yet assertive. Patient and understanding while also decisive. Though it’s been a very short time, I would like to take a close look at Interim City Manager Denise Bevan remaining in her current role.
8. Apartment housing in Palm Coast: Too much? Too little? What would you do about it? By what criteria other than zoning would you approve or reject apartment complexes? Would you approve raising the density and height of multi-family, or apartment, structures in select areas of the city zoned for the purpose? Same question regarding residential construction (too little? Too much?), keeping the following graph in mind, which shows the highest number of monthly permits for single-family and duplex homes in Palm Coast since August 2005:
With what is already in progress I think we need to slow down and put some serious attention to our economic development so that we can afford to live here. Landowners have a right to do with their land what they want, however, it must fit into the current zoning. I am not delighted by the thought of re-zoning any residential site under 10,000 square feet. As for height, it would depend upon where the site is and what the surrounding residents want for their area.
Benefiting from your background as a Realtor, do you consider Palm Coast underserved in apartments–as even city development officials do? If so, what would you do about it?
I do think we are underserved in apartments. I need to be open to developers/investors interested in helping us meet the needs of those interested in apartment living and insist on high standards with the management of those apartments.
9. At the June 8 Palm Coast City Council workshop, Councilman Ed Danko said: “I will not be voting for any tax increase. I expect our taxes to be the same. So that’s going to mean a millage rate rollback. That’s the only thing I’m going to vote for.” His statement prefaces budget season, so the city administration had not yet had a chance to present its budget numbers or any evidence, and the statement precludes so much as accounting for new revenue from new construction. Do you agree with the statement as an a priori position? Is it responsible as a matter of governance? The county is seeking to increase the small-county sales surtax by half a percent, which would double Palm Coast’s current revenue of around $3.3 million from that tax. The county is seeking palm Coast’s support for that increase. Would you support or oppose it?
No, I don’t agree with the statement. I’d love to say there will be no tax increase, however, who am I to say such a thing without having all facts in front of me. As far as increasing any tax: it will always depend upon what it will be used for (if economic development, then yes) and what the majority of the people of Palm Coast tell me they want after we all have been fully informed regarding the issue.
Do you support the county’s half-cent sales tax as it was presented to the county this month–with the revenue going to fire and police services? You have repeatedly made reference to economic development, and now make reference to it in relation to supporting funding for it. Can you define what you mean by economic development in the scope of city government–a new department? A recruiting agency? What in your view would be an example of effective economic development in the last two years by a local government agency?
What I’m seeing is a lot of spending on recreational areas (that are needed) while many homes are being added – if almost half of our population now is our workforce then we can’t call this a retirement community; where will everyone work? It just seems to me that the economic development department needs to be a major focus at this time and supported in anyway possible. Perhaps incentive, perhaps a recruiting agency. As for the half-cent tax – I don’t know that I would have supported it – our Sheriff is telling us that we need more Deputies (he would know), however, I was recently reminded that the Sheriff is of the County – why do we pay separately for an area he is required to cover? Shouldn’t that fall upon the County? The other side of that – Palm Coast is a large area. There are a lot of conversations needed here.
10. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Is there anything you would change about the contract? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future? After the city manager in July 2019 challenged Sheriff Rick Staly’s request for additional deputies in Palm Coast that year, calling the request “nebulous,” the sheriff commissioned a University of North Florida study that by one measure found last June that Flagler would need 70 more deputies by 2025. The sheriff has said that even if 70 is unattainable, a sizeable addition to the ranks would be necessary in Palm Coast and the county even as crime is at a historic low. Do you agree? If so, how would you fund the additional deputies, especially if you take a no-tax approach? What would you cut to fund what would cost well over $100,000 per deputy per year?
Oh my, this question is tough. I do want to see the city have its own police department. When that can happen is not clear to me. For now, we need to trust the current Sheriff to bring us fact/evidence-based information and let us know what is needed from his expert opinion. As for the funds to support the Sheriff, I want to see the budget drilled down to the pencils we pay for.
11. Would you agree to a rainbow flag-raising ceremony on city grounds on par with, say, those for the Portuguese or Filipino flags? What would you do as mayor to ensure inclusion and diversity—not only of the LGBTQ community, but of all groups, equally?
Everyone should be respected for whomever they are. I would have no issue with doing for one group what we do for others. We all desire to be respected for who we are, therefore, we need to respect others for who they are.
I don’t like this question: discussing myself is outside of my comfort zone. My headstone could probably say “How can I help” as it seems to be a regular response from me. I work very hard. I’m very concerned that everyone is heard and considered. I’m not the best with Robert’s Rules. If I feel someone is taking advantage of myself or others, I will be very angry. If someone tells me that I cannot do something, I’ll work my hardest to do it. I believe integrity is everything.
We appreciate the candid and heartfelt answer, but the clause about Robert’s Rules is concerning: as mayor you’ll be running the meetings, and Robert’s Rules will be your guide. Will you be uncomfortable with that? And if not Robert’s Rules, then what?
No, I’ve been running meetings based on Robert’s Rules for years, I’m comfortable with the process. What I meant was those meetings where some go out of their seat, call names, argue rather than discuss, show great disrespect for their fellow members are not common and certainly not while under the public microscope (I am probably mixing city & county in this). What I need to be sure I am doing is keep my response and actions in line with Robert’s Rules beyond the process of a vote. Fortunately, that’s a matter of self-correction…I have that at my fingertips.
I hope this was a little clearer. Truly, I’m just a regular person who saw things looking a little messy and trust diminished within the community. I just want to live in a community where all voices are listened to and folks know that their thoughts and ideas for our home are honestly considered.
13. 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, a medical board or real estate ethics and other such professional supervisory boards? If so, please explain in detail, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.
I have no felonies, no misdemeanors, never arrested, never sued, I have filed bankruptcy. I have never been investigated (that I know of), never been disciplined by any professional or ethic board. I have had two agents who no longer work with me that had complaints filed against them. In both scenarios I stand by those agents. Further, I believe both cases were dismissed before ever going to any board for action.