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As Mayor Netts Gives Up On New City Hall in Near Future, Tea Party Wants a Referendum

| June 20, 2011

We'll always have Versailles. (Delusion productions)

There’s no new city hall in Palm Coast’s near future, Mayor Jon Netts says. And when one might be proposed again, voters would get to decide whether to endorse it.

“If there ever is to be a city hall, it will probably require a bonding issue and it will have to go on referendum, without a doubt,” Netts said on Monday. “There’s nothing to put on referendum now because there’s no proposal.”

Both points represent a significant shift. That’s the first time since the council has been discussing a new city hall that Netts has spoken of it no longer as a cash-funded project, with money already in the city’s reach—as City Manager Jim Landon has been presenting it—but as one financed in the same way that the 2005 proposed city hall would have been financed. That proposal was rejected by 82 percent of voters. It’s also the first time that Netts was ruling out a new city hall for the foreseeable future, after speaking favorably of one until last fall. Just before Thanksgiving last year, he said hard data should be produced to enable a proper analysis of the project’s costs and benefits. The data has not been produced.

The council has distanced itself from the matter by way of wrapping it in silence for now. Netts, who is getting closer to making his run for reelection official, distanced himself more explicitly from it after conceding last November that championing a new city hall would be “political suicide.”

“Everybody took a preliminary possibility and converted it into a certainty,” he said Monday. “It was a concept, it was a possibility, it was something that might have happened. Does it look like something that’s going to happen? No, it doesn’t.” Netts specified: “I’d have no problem putting it on referendum if and when there is a proposal.” But there isn’t one, Netts says, and there isn’t about to be one.

Nevertheless, at the Palm Coast City Council’s meeting Tuesday morning (at 9 a.m. at the Palm Coast Community Center), the Flagler County Tea Party will submit a petition of 540-some names with a request to put the matter of a new city hall to voters as part of the summer’s municipal elections. The tea party has been gathering the signatures for more than two months.

Netts said he wasn’t aware of the coming petition. But his new thinking on the city hall matter enables him to  outflank critics and cauterize what would have been one of his most serious vulnerabilities in the coming election.

The tea party still intends to make an issue of it, however, as have several candidates in the elections.

“It sends the message to the city council that while they don’t have to send it out to referendum,” Tea Party Chairman Tom Lawrence said, “we think the right thing to do is to send it out to referendum, because this is kind of an optional expense. If a road needs to be repaved, it needs to be repaved. A lot of things they have to do because they have no option. But this is one they have an option.”

Lawrence isn’t so sure the matter is dead. “It’s gone underground I think because of the election,” Lawrence said. “This is an issue that the people running for election don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole. It’s a third-rail issue.” But, he added, “The thought process hasn’t stopped, the background work hasn’t stopped. When the election is over I expect it’s going to pop back up to the front burner pretty fast.” The city bid out architectural services last December and bid out construction services in February.

Most tea party members are opposed to a new city hall, which Landon outlined to the council last year as a $10 million, 40,000-square-foot proposal that would not require the city to bond money or raise taxes. The building would go up in Town center, enabling the city to move from the offices it now rents at City Market Place, for $240,000 a year. The city moved into City Market Place after ceding its former city hall, a 70,000-square-foot building, to Palm Coast Data as a sweetener in a deal that the city claims helped keep the company in town. (The company has not held up its end of the deal, however, as it has failed to create the 700 extra jobs it promised then, shedding jobs instead and appearing to struggle for life.)

When Landon made his city hall presentation to the monthly tea party meeting several months ago, a show of hands revealed that about a quarter of the 200-some people in the assembly favored the proposal—a surprisingly high number, Lawrence said, for such a fiscally conservative group.

Ironically, it was Lawrence himself who championed a referendum in favor of a new city hall six years ago. He reconciles his opposition today this way: “I was in favor of it, but it was a referendum back then. I wasn’t saying city council go do it, I was saying leave it up to the people.” Circumstances, Lawrence says, have changed. “Our economy was booming, we were doing very well.” Not anymore.

He also dismisses the notion that by going to referendum on the matter regardless of the means of financing it, it would open the door to requests for referendums on all sorts of other, more minor issues. The city hall matter is “unique,” in Lawrence’s view, because of its history and what it has come to represent in the city’s relationship with voters. “The fear is that the people would say no again,” he says. “That’s the obvious fear, right? If you really have a good case, then you shouldn’t fear the public, who by the way are paying all the bills.”

Lawrence won’t be presenting the petition (he has a private family matter to attend to). Vince Ligouri, who has frequently spoken on behalf of the tea party, will do so.

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21 Responses for “As Mayor Netts Gives Up On New City Hall in Near Future, Tea Party Wants a Referendum”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Unforced errors by the boat load. What a farce is the Palm Coast council and the rest of the elected officials in county aren’t far behind.

  2. rickg says:

    “Most tea party members are opposed” should be the mission statement for all tea bag organizations. I guess they would even be opposed to Santa Claus should it require a bit of city money.

  3. Jim J says:

    I think the article says it well – the City Hall concept is just underground. This City Council and City Manger need to be watched very carefully.

    They can come up with money whenever they want to – but if they do not want to fund something they cry poor mouth and say employees will have to be let go.

  4. Art Woosley says:

    This is the same guy, who also held the highly influential position as chair of the counties recent (manatee speed zone committee), the same committee which basically gutted a well meaning, and much needed FWC proposal put forth simply to protect these creatures.

    None of our talking heads, including the media, or general public for that matter, so much as mentioned the fact, that this same mayor also captains for a local tow boat business, which by the way, just happens to operate in the very location of those proposed speed zones ?

    Residents will therefore, need to pay close attention to this issue, and remember, that this mayor only stepped away from the Taj Mahal, after learning that 82 % of the voters opposed it.

    Too bad, that he and his committee, did not meet such strong opposition, when they came out against our manatees, an issue that was clearly in the best interests of our residents, as well as all the creatures which also inhabit our unique environment.

  5. Dorothea says:

    Jim J., the folks that need watching are members of the tea party. This tea people’s proposed unneeded referendum is just a ploy to get their like-minded minions to the polls in order to get their candidates elected.

  6. Merrill says:

    If, in fact, a new $10 million city hall “would not require the city to bond money or raise taxes” and thus yield a 2.4% return on investment, it behooves the tea party to explain where we could get more for our investment dollars. Alternatively, the tea party should explain to the taxpayers the benefits we all get from collecting $240,000 a year in rent receipts!

  7. Bill McGuire says:

    Dorothea: The Flagler county Tea Party does not have any candidates, nor will they endorse or support any of the candidates running for a local office. This is their policy.

  8. Dorothea says:

    Bill, I beg to differ with you. Officially the tea party doesn’t support or endorse local candidates, but that doesn’t stop members from organizing for and contributing to, as individuals, any candidates they approve of. Believing that the tea party doesn’t support local candidates is as naive as believing that nonpartisan races are nonpartisan.

  9. Bill McGuire says:

    Dorothea: If you have knowledge of candidates for whom the Flagler County Tea Party has organized and contibuted to please share this information. Tom Lawrence, Chairman of this group has stated that they do not do this and will not organize for and support local candidates, in any fashion, for local office.Other Tea Party groups do, if fact, support various candidates. But The Flagler County Tea Party emphatically do not. I’ve been called many things, but Naive really stings.

  10. Dorothea says:

    Bill, I stated that tea party members contribute individually, not as a PAC or other political entity. I wasn’t calling you naive. I was calling anyone who believes you naive. If Tom Lawrence is unaware of his group’s activities, he isn’t paying attention.

  11. SAW says:

    What possible good is a tea party that is not willing to endorse, one with no strength of conviction, for sure ?

  12. mara says:

    I have it on pretty good authority that the City is actually not bs’ing us about having given up on the City Hall idea. They have a seriously *large* hole in their upcoming budget due to property values plummeting and they’ll be lucky to not have to lay off even more employees.

    Even if everyone currently employed survives (ie. the city avoids further layoffs), there isn’t enough _manpower_ left in those offices to put forward any kind of new, coherent “plan” for a new City Hall. In addition, they did some minor rearranging/painting of a couple of the offices at the current City Hall, which says to me *they know* they’re not going anywhere any time soon. Mind you, I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep an eye on them anyway-I’m just saying that it’s realistic to conclude they really have given up on the idea.

    That being said, I don’t know if it matters what Netts has to say about it, insofar as it’ll get him more votes or less votes for another term as mayor. Seems to me that people pretty well have their minds made up already.

  13. Will says:

    Jim J said: “This City Council and City Manger need to be watched very carefully.”

    I want to know where the City Manger is. Do they keep cows and sheep there? Is it permitted by code enforcement? Do they decorate it for Christmas?

    People need to know!

  14. Will says:

    The related question for discussion is this:

    When does the current City ManAger’s term end, and what happens then? Keep him with the same contract? Keep him but change the contract? Or recruit a new city manager?

    I’d guess this will be for the next council to decide.

  15. popo3984 says:

    the tea baggers are what is making this country such a horrible place to live they really should be considered domestic terrorist as it seems they don’t want to do anything that helps the community out and only wants to end pensions and health care they seem to hate all county and city and state govt and probably wishes this was still the wild west with no rules or laws

  16. Justice for All says:

    Hmmm. Earlier this year the City Manager was still on the circuit promoting City Hall because a 40,000 sq. ft. building could be constructed for less than $10 mil, which is partially and conveniently available through the Town Center. Now the City claims it doesn’t have the money (here’s the important part) in the general revenue fund, but the Town Center money that can’t be spent outside of the Town Center boundaries) is still there! If it isn’t where did it go? And the Mayor now says he needs real numbers now? Then what does that make the City Manager’s numbers? Sounds like double speak to me! Has anyone actually seen the budget yet?!

  17. Layla says:

    Dorothea says: “Jim J., the folks that need watching are members of the tea party. This tea people’s proposed unneeded referendum is just a ploy to get their like-minded minions to the polls in order to get their candidates elected.”

    Unneeded referendum? Would you mind telling me why you think our City Manager and Council should be able to build ANYTHING THEY WANT without the permission of the taxpayers as long as it’s under $10 million?

    Dorothea, do you PAY TAXES?

  18. Layla says:

    To Merrill: How much is the City paying to maintain all the vacant land at Town Center and all the vacant nearby builder’s ghost towns in Palm Coast?

  19. Layla says:

    SAW: GOOD question about the Tea Party. Just what are they doing with their money if they are not supporting candidates?

  20. Layla says:

    To Popo3984, blaming it all on the Tea Party……Funny, I thought it was the administration in this country that is spending us into oblivion and not the Tea Party.

    Your taxes would be through the roof if it were not for the Tea Party. You’d better be glad SOMEBODY is paying attention to our local government. And they are doing it for you. What are you doing to try and help the country or Palm Coast?

    You DO pay taxes, don’t you Popo?

  21. Dorothea says:

    Layla, the referendum is unneeded because it was already decided by the Palm Coast City Council that they are not building a new city hall.

    Of course I pay taxes. Of course, I don’t get all the big tax breaks that the very rich and the mega corporations get. Those tax breaks come directly from tea party supported legislators. These same legislators, supported by tea party members, rob from the working poor and middle class, to give tax breaks to those who do not need them. My taxes were just fine and so was the economy back in the good old days before 2001 when the George Bush administration started this economic mess.

    Thanks, but no thanks, tea partiers. Your unenlightend and downright stupid view of the economy, science, and politics are fodder for the very rich and mega corporation to manipulate for their own very profitable ends.

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