The second meeting of Palm Coast’s redistricting commission Thursday afternoon got rowdy. People walked out. The chairman, Louis McCarthy, got testy, and arbitrarily shut down public comment after three people had spoken and a fourth was asking to, mostly in disagreement over the commission’s perceived hastiness in redrawing the city’s voting districts—and its booting out a city council candidate from eligibility in the process.
McCarthy got vulgar, after the meeting, as he dismissed a question about a member of the public he wouldn’t let speak during the meeting. “I wouldn’t give two hoots one way or the other whether he filled out the sheet,” McCarthy said, referring to a sheet speakers were invited to fill out if they wanted to address the commission. “He sat down, he sat down on his right ass and waited until he could snap, and I can guarantee you he wasn’t the only one waiting in the wings. I can guarantee you. I’ve seen it before at the city council meetings. What they want is a debate.” McCarthy did not specify who they were.
- Final, June 2 Report of the Redistricting Commission, With Maps and Proposed Ordinance
- Minutes of the May 26 Redistricting Meeting (First Version)
- Minutes of the May 26 Redistricting Meeting (Corrected Version)
- Redistricting Map Recommended at May 26 Meeting
- Current Palm Coast Voting Districts
- Palm Coast Redistricting Plan Disqualifies Dennis Cross From City Council Election
- Palm Coast Charter
At city council meetings, Mayor Jon Netts, who controls meetings tightly, gives the public broad latitude and repeated opportunities to speak, once it’s the public’s turn, making sure—sometimes compulsively so—that no one is left out. County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson does likewise.
Peterson was in the audience Thursday. He said before the meeting he was trying to get pointers on redistricting, since the county commission will soon go through a similar exercise. “I think it was unfortunate that the public, that all the members of the public that attended were not given an opportunity to speak,” he said. “I would have gone by the rules that the city council has and that the county commission has, that anybody who wish to speak was given an opportunity to speak for up to three minutes. That was not provided to these people this afternoon.”
On the other hand, members of the audience called McCarthy a dictator, and one said she wouldn’t vote for him if he were running for dog catcher. “Me not being elected to dog catcher means a whole lot to me,” McCarthy said at the end of the meeting.
The disruptions may indeed have been planned. McCarthy thought so, and said so after the meeting, explaining that he was trying to keep the meeting under control. Some 40 people were seated in the Palm Coast Community Center for the 2 p.m. meeting, many of them supporters of Dennis Cross, whose candidacy is in serious doubt because of the redistricting commission’s decision. He is the local tea party favorite. Tea party supporters are no strangers to rowdiness at public meetings, and Cross himself said he’d persuaded many not to come to the meeting to keep down the volume.
But the rowdiness had as much to do with McCarthy’s heavy-handed chairmanship of the brief meeting as with its outcome, which had been foretold a week earlier at the commission’s first meeting: Cross was disqualified when the commission accepted a plan that booted Cross’ neighborhood—Grand Haven—out of a district with a contested seat. Cross lives in the district that would now represented by Frank Meeker, whose seat is not up this year, assuming the Palm Coast City Council ratifies the recommendation on June 14.
Redistricting commissioners claim they never took political matters in considerations—indeed, that they were told not to as part of their guidelines as redistricting commissioners. Those guidelines were set out by the city administration, on the city attorney’s counsel. Most of the redistricting and election technicalities are outlined in the city charter. But the city mishandled the matter to some extent by not informing several candidates, including Cross, that eligibility criteria might be in doubt once the new census numbers were in. Both candidates and the city administration are now playing catch-up, with the redistricting commission’s tenor, if not outcome, being one of the consequences.
Cross, who did address the commission, said he would take his case to the city council on June 14—and possibly sue. “I have people who want to start a legal fund-raiser for me,” he said. He had asked Sid Nowell, the private-practice attorney who also represents Bunnell, to attend the meeting and get familiar with the case, though Nowell is not working for Cross as of now.
Speaking to the commission, Cross objected to the redistricting recommendation on several grounds—the late timing (though that’s predicated by the city charter), the city’s contradiction of the Flagler Supervisor of Election’s certification of his candidacy, and the unbalanced way, he said, that the commission considered the various redistricting alternatives, giving two other alternatives short shrift even though they would have balanced district populations and kept districts compact, without eliminating Cross from eligibility. He also lamented a decision that reduces the potential number of candidates, which he said is not to the electorate’s advantage. “People want choices. They’re tired of elections with unchallenged and uncontested” seats.
Last week, in a 52-minute meeting, commissioners rejected two options that would have enabled Cross to still be a candidate, adopting instead the one that excludes him. The plans were prepared by the city’s planning department, which Cross had no issue with. Cross called the original meeting of the commission a “sham” for being too hurried and lacking deliberation. He was even more critical of today’s meeting, in which only McCarthy and one other commissioner spoke at any length as they explained why they’d gone with the plan they approved: in sum, geographic compactness and “natural boundaries,” among which McCarthy they included I-95.
It was after Cross spoke that the rowdiness began as McCarthy, without asking if anyone else wanted to speak, began deliberating with his fellow commissioners. Several people yelled out that the public comment period was never declared closed. Some walked out. Then, when McCarthy was explaining why the commission had settled on the redistricting option it had chosen, someone asked that the maps showing the other options be shown. McCarthy refused. “This is not a debate,” he said. “That isn’t what we’re voting on.” And when Cross himself later asked if he could pose a question, McCarthy curtly said no.
The proposal the commission approved on Thursday was essentially the same it had approved a week earlier, with a two-voter difference. The biggest winner from the redistricting commission’s recommendation so far is Jason DeLorenzo, who is running for city commission from the same district that once included Cross, but no longer. With Cross out, DeLorenzo, the government affairs director for the Flagler Home Builders Association doesn’t have to face what would have been serious competition from the Grand Haven voting block, always one of the most influential–because highest in turnout–precincts in the city.
Thursday’s meeting lasted 38 minutes.