David Alfin 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: Alfin, Kathy 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
- Media and Trump
Place and Date of Birth: Teaneck, N.J., February 20, 1953.
Current job: Commercial Real Estate, Associate Broker.
Party Affiliation: Republican
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?
I am a leader committed to protecting our Palm Coast values. For me, that means ensuring our quality of life is protected through public safety, a strong economy, and smart managed growth. As mayor, I promise to build community confidence through collaboration and consensus.
No doubt. But you’re not answering the specific question so much as restating boilerplate campaign language. Please give the question another try.
The last two mayors were consensus builders and problem solvers. Palm Coast will see the same from me. A favorite quote of mine from Eleanor Roosevelt comes to mind, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”. I will always be my own person and my leadership style will reflect that. Town Center and the Medical Nexus are legacy projects that I will continue to grow and expand. I remain committed to ensure quality of life while managing growth.
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 Palm Coast City Council members have motioned and voted with a pattern of self-interest that have sometimes rendered the Counsel ineffective. The current composition of the Council predicts a pattern of 2 votes vs 2 votes reminiscent of a nil vs nil soccer match refereed by a reluctant official, the city attorney. I will accept the role as Mayor and lead the City Council in public discussion communicating each member’s opinions clearly on important agenda items and initiatives. My leadership role will identify and prioritize items of agreement and disagreement. Facilitating discussions that negotiate majority votes will help create balance and consensus with the Palm Coast residents.
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 may not direct or exercise authority over administrative staff. All direction and authority must be communicated to and through the city manager. Respect and adherence to the City Charter is integral to the proper performance of city government. The City Charter is approved by residents and must be obeyed as written until amendments or changes are enacted by public forum and resident vote.
How would you handle other council members overstepping bounds and meddling in administrative realms?
As mayor, I will uphold the City Charter. Overstepping or violation of the Charter will not be tolerated in any capacity on my watch. If the Charter does not offer a remedy, I will propose appropriate changes that include disciplinary action.
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.
My goals include ensuring our quality of life is protected through public safety, a strong economy and smart managed growth.
Again, you’re not telling us much. Every council member who’s ever run or served has, we hope (and observation shows it to be the case) held those basic goals as a minimum. We’re asking what you, David Alfin, will bring to the table that others will not, or cannot, as effectively as you will. Your answer suggests caretaking rather than vision, which would be a significant letdown from Holland, the previous mayor. Are you satisfied with just caretaking?
As Mayor my vision is an exceptional Palm Coast, a Palm Coast able to handle the inevitable challenges and changes our community will face. The life we enjoy at home in Palm Coast is only one or two bad decisions away from changing forever. As Mayor my vision is to steer Palm Coast in the direction of new opportunities that provide a benefit to our residents and environment. I want my children to be able to raise their families in Palm Coast knowing it is the best place in Florida to live, work and play. I believe smart managed growth is the answer to guiding Palm Coast down the right path to ensure an exceptional future.
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?
Creating a medical nexus by attracting Universities and related resources represents a foundation for a renewed initiative in economic development. I propose the creation of an Economic Development Council responsible for identifying opportunities that support a strong economy and smart managed growth. I support increasing the number of quality jobs while benefiting from economic multiplier effects as secondary businesses arrive to support R&D. New commercial businesses will offer and consume additional local services which will add to the tax revenue rolls.
In January 2020 the county scrapped its Economic Development Council for being ineffective, promising much, achieving little, and spending a lot of money–half a million dollars a year–with little to show for it after nearly decade. How would a Palm Coast version be any different? How will you pay for it? Why is the current near-full-employment rate not an indication that the private sector is coping with the job market without need of government interference in the economy (presumably something Republicans aren’t fond of)?
Under my leadership an Economic Development Council will provide insight into the future of Palm Coast. I recommend appointment of a group of board members selected by the Council and made up of experienced stakeholders. The board will be specifically tasked to identify commercial gaps, locate businesses to fill gaps, and recommend plans to recruit and welcome business to Palm Coast. As our city continues to grow, we will be facing issues including housing and jobs. In order to put our city in the best possible position we must be proactive in drawing businesses that can create the healthy economic environment Palm Coast needs, as unprecedent growth continues.
But you’re still not telling us how that differs from the county’s near-identical development council–or how you’d pay for it administratively.
Palm Coast must grow a strong economy and take advantage of current opportunities. We begin by focusing on the city’s strengths and weaknesses. Economic development happens when extraordinary assets are supported like our Flagler School District, arriving higher level educational institutions and technical schools. Our local employers understand and continue to support Flagship growth strategies. We must also focus on our small businesses who are the lifeblood of our economy and deserve a voice that helps make doing business easier at City Hall.
Communities that thrive economically also have thriving cultural art opportunities. Boeing stated that the number one reason they selected the new home for their headquarters was a thriving community. To create true career pathways, we must create a pipeline of collaboration and take advantage of who we are and recognize what we are not. We are geographically positioned to offer affordability, proximity, and a very high quality of life. We are not Orlando, Miami, Tampa or Jacksonville and we shouldn’t strive to be.
I believe that bringing the right people around the table can create opportunities that will have a lasting impact that creates a sustainable model for years to come. It is essential that this be accomplished without degrading our environment or taking away the magic and spirit that brought everyone to here in the first place. Palm Coast has so much economic potential. We can start with a clean industry like technology. Let’s help foster environments where tech businesses, who can exist essentially anywhere in the world, choose Palm Coast. Boston Whaler has brought new career opportunities with diverse skill set needs. We can take advantage of our STEM and Flagship programs as well as our technical schools to offer career ready programs that include locally trained trade workers to help construct and build our beautiful community.
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?
The Palm Coast Connect and Tennis Center initiatives have been voted and approved by a past City Council. The majority vote indicates a collaboration and consensus developed through workshop(s), council discussion, staff presentation. Any discussion regarding revision of previously passed initiatives should begin with the city attorney to understand legal and financial liability associated with change. The Council should only consider change when the majority of residents favor revision understanding related liabilities and costs.
Since you note the importance of majority voice, do you consider the degree of public involvement sufficient in the decision that led up to the tennis center expansion, considering that the only members of the public consulted in its run-up were self-selected members of the club itself? Can you tell us where you stand on the commercial-vehicle rule in residential areas?
As a private citizen I was not privy to the circumstances of selecting the tennis center expansion, but I can assure you as Mayor, every resident of Palm Coast will experience complete transparency on every decision that is made. I will always be available to discuss any issue or idea. We are after all, hired as public servants, and I consider myself a voice of the will of the people. In regards, to the commercial vehicle rule: The rules went through a survey process reported by many outlets, your included. I think we have much to discuss. The results appear inconclusive and do not offer a clear majority for change. Our community needs to decide on the parameters that may be acceptable in residential areas.
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?
I am running for mayor because I believe Palm Coast is at a crossroads. I further believe we are presently confronted with a “fierce urgency of now” that defines a unique and special moment in the history of our city. The city manager is the chief administrative officer of the city as written in the city charter. The upcoming special election will be a defining moment for the future. The city manager must possess the qualifications, experience, expertise, and management ability to run the government with skill, care, and diligence.
Eloquence is not specificity: what the city manager does and what qualifications are required are no secret. But tell us which of the manager listed in the question hews closest to your idea of an effective manager: it gives voters a point of reference and tells us what temperament you are looking for in a manager–what sort of manager Palm Coast needs now.
I believe past city managers demonstrated merits that benefitted our community. My vision for Palm Coast includes a city manager ready to bring a fresh perspective to the job and ensure we prioritize what is best for our residents and city. Managerial style is built upon many experiences and qualifications. A few important skills include, but are not limited to leadership, communication, community engagement, financial/budget analysis and most importantly, a vison for the short-term, mid-term and long-term success of Palm Coast.
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:
I believe in smart managed growth. I will never be a rubber stamp for development. I will review each project based on (1) the benefit to our community and (2) the benefit to the environment. Considerations regarding density, height, and configuration should be evaluated on an individual project basis and approved or disapproved based on the net benefits to our community and our environment.
The question about heights and density goes to existing ordinances: would you be willing to re-write those ordinances to accommodate greater density or heights in certain areas? Do you consider the level of growth at the moment too rapid or not, and how do you reassure voters that your role as an active commercial Realtor won’t cloud your judgment about growth?
I believe every project should be judged on its merits and what it can provide for our community. A blanket approach to density and heights simply does not make sense. The state of Florida continues to grow rapidly and is something, even as Mayor, I could not control. Palm Coast is where I chose to settle down and raise my family. And why wouldn’t we? Palm Coast is the best place to live, work, and play. I believe that smart managed growth will ultimately be a huge benefit to our Palm Coast community, but that means we need to do it right. We must be intentional and selective in order to protect our quality of life and leave Palm Coast better for future generations to raise their families. I believe my role as a commercial realtor is an asset to the mayor’s office as I know first-hand how the economy and infrastructure will be impacted by continued growth, especially if it goes unchecked.
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?
Budget preparation is a data driven process that is dependent on prior period performances balanced with consideration for future initiatives. Deciding an outcome before data analysis may lead to an incomplete and false conclusion. I respect the budget process having served as Treasurer for several local organizations that enjoy healthy financial statements today. Predetermining an outcome based on incomplete data analysis is a recipe for mistakes on a $230,000,000 budget. Skill, care, and diligence are required.
Note: The current Palm Coast budget, including the water utility’s various funds, is $191 million. The general fund, over which council members have most control, is $43 million.
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?
I support public safety. Building a strong economy and managing smart growth are not possible without ensuring that crime is reduced to the lowest level possible. I respect the Sheriff’s expertise, experience, and leadership ability to know what resources are required to reduce crime. I recommend that the Sheriff’s budget be updated and linked to city growth statistics i.e., sales tax revenues and other fees determined by growth. The Sheriff should be authorized to determine how a budget is allocated under his responsibility. City Council members should yield budget line-item decisions to the expertise and accountability of the Sheriff. Let the Sheriff do his job to keep us safe as our city continues to grow.
The question isn’t about city interference with the sheriff’s authority to execute his budget or police the city as he sees fit, but about the city’s contractual agreement with the sheriff and the number of deputies the city is willing to contract for. The sheriff is projecting a sizable increase in the number of deputies he’ll ask for. Your answer suggests you’ll go along with whatever he asks. If that is so, how will you pay for these substantial increases?
The Sheriff is the best person to determine the number of deputies needed to protect our community. I assure you that city bureaucrats are far less qualified to make that decision. As I answered previously, I believe the Sheriff’s budget should be updated to reflect city growth statistics. Our vision for Palm Coast is simply irrelevant if we do not have sufficient public safety to protect our community. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.
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?
The mayor is elected ‘at large’ meaning responsible to every resident in Palm Coast. All groups, clubs, activities, etc. must be respected equally and without prejudice. Every group should be given the same opportunities and consideration as every other group. Comparing any one group to another is prejudicial by definition and should never be tolerated.
I am hardworking, engaged and an experienced leader. I subscribe to a commonsense approach to analysis supported by data driven decision making. I am realistic about expectations and understand that consistency combined with predictability best satisfies the demands of our electorate. Heated rhetoric and fear mongering are not effective in earning the trust and support of the public. I accept the obligation to practice qualities of collaboration, consensus, teamwork, and civility.
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.
Lesson well learned and never to be repeated.
2002 – Operating Vehicle Alcohol Impaired, Ulster County, Fine
2007 – Driving While Ability Impaired Alcohol, Ulster Fine
“If you don’t pay attention, there are those guys out there, those bloggers, those left-leaning publishers, that will absolutely spread a word that makes no sense whatsoever.”
What left-leaning publishers did you have in mind, in our community, and what, specifically, leads you to believe what you said? You followed those comments by saying that someone at the event had referred to you as a Democrat. Can you point to any publishers anywhere in the community who have misrepresented you? Or are you now comfortable misrepresenting local media, in tandem with the very type of elected official you have said are corroding this community with such tactics, to score points with a particular crowd?
You also said:
“You give a guy a microphone, and all of a sudden, he becomes a candidate and he starts to talk about his candidacy. We’re not here so much for that. But seriously to applaud Donald Trump and to make sure the world hears this. I think you probably all are familiar with what this project is about. There will be video and film shot today which will be sent out and it will be compiled and it will represent, not just a birthday gift, but a legacy, a legacy tribute to the greatest president that we’ve ever had.”
Do you, in fact, seriously believe that Donald Trump is the “greatest president that we’ve ever had”? Greater than Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, TR, FDR, to not get into the more contested post-war ones?
There were great things done during Trump’s administration, he focused on creating jobs for minorities, aggressively sought a vaccine for COVID, and began putting America first in foreign policy decisions. In the video you are referring to, much is lost in translation. It was early on in my campaign, I was invited to an event by a group I later discovered intentionally sought to harass me as they were supporting my opponent.
The crowd got louder and the heckling grew I misspoke at the end of my remarks. Now, more than ever, we need someone that is willing to listen to all sides of the issues that we are facing. I have said this before that we have a divided Council and that serves no purpose other than driving our community further apart. There are aspects of many Presidents throughout our history and you mentioned a few that I have agreed with some of their accomplishments and have disagreed with some of their styles or approach.
What I can say is that none of us are perfect and if we are to learn and grow we must try and accept that we all have strengths and weaknesses. I more than anything want to see us build a consensus and hopefully a compromise when we are debating issues that directly impact our residents. I, in no way would ever negate the role that our media plays in our society and our community and will be open and transparent as Mayor. I want to focus on solutions, how we work collectively to better our community for not only tomorrow but for years to come.
I am a better candidate today because I have learned from recent experiences and look forward to continually raising my performance bar in the future. I accept and applaud challenges directed at me because they make me better and inspire my efforts to become the best mayor our voters can choose.