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Palm Coast Civic Association to the Rescue: O’Donnell Crafts Creekside Compromise

| September 28, 2011

The county appears to be very a much a sponsore of the Creekside Festival, blurring the line between chamber of commerce rules and county policies on public land. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and the county commission are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the Flagler Palm Coast Civic Association pulled both out of the legally murky–and increasingly embarrassing–situation the chamber created with its two-tiered rule about politicking at the heavily attended Creekside Festival.

The civic association is making its 10-by-10 tent at the festival available to all political candidates (or one of their representatives), and inviting them to distribute their literature and speak with visitors. The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce gets to save face without having to provide a solution of its own. And the county commission gets to pull back from the legal and political mess it was trying to untangle.

“It falls within our charter to help people meet the candidates,” Tim O’Donnell, the civic association president, said this morning. “I thought of it Friday night, sent an email to the civic association board to initiate the thought, and I ran into Jason at a breakfast function Saturday morning and he mentioned he had this idea, so we both had the idea at the same time.” Jason DeLorenzo is one of the political candidates.

Tim O'Donnell, president of the Flagler Palm Coast Civic Association.

The candidates–there are just four left, for the Palm Coast City Council election on Nov. 8–welcomed the compromise and said they will participate.

“I think it’s perfect,” County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson said this morning. “It solves this year’s issue. Now everybody is treated alike, everybody gets a chance to be at the Creekside.”

The matter may be resolved this year. It’s not necessarily resolved for future years. “We still as a board need to sit down and discuss policies moving forward on the utilization of all our public facilities. This has raised a lot of questions in my mind,” county commissioner Milissa Holland said. Those questions, she said, have not been answered.

The chamber rents the Princess Place Preserve for the two-day festival, which last year drew 17,000 by the chamber’s count. It’s on Oct. 8 and 9 this year. Since 2008, the chamber has not allowed individual candidates to have a booth there, because of the very large number of candidates running that year. But it has allowed the two major political parties and the tea party to have tents, even though none of them are 501-c-3, non-profit organizations, as the chamber’s own rules require. And the chamber has clearly given some causes more play than others at Creekside, including opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment on growth management last year (the chamber opposed the proposal, and planted anti-amendment signs all over Creekside) and support for a school tax (the school board had its own booth to push that tax renewal last year).

When two candidates running in the non-partisan Palm Coast city election were denied booths this year–Dennis Cross and Bill McGuire–they took their case to the county commission, complaining of a double standard. It didn’t help the chamber’s case that one of the city council candidates, Jason DeLorenzo, who happens to have the chamber’s unofficial but very strong backing and that of Tea Party chairman Tom Lawrence, is married to one of the chamber’s vice presidents. Whatever logic laid behind past year’s rules at the Creekside, the rule this year, and the very small number of candidates involved, created the impression of favoritism for DeLorenzo. He wasn’t going to have a booth, either, but he was going to work many hours at the Home Builders Association’s Green Expo spread at Creekside–a de facto DeLorenzo booth. He works for the association.

The commission left its last meeting urging the chamber to reconsider its rule. The chamber retorted by reasserting the rule, without a hint of compromise and with more than a hint of arrogance, compelling the commission to investigate the legalities of its own policy regarding renters of public spaces who have seemingly discriminatory rules. Al Hadeed, the county attorney, was working on a memo summing up those legalities. But most signs pointed in the chamber’s favor, in the sense that the chamber, absent county sponsorship of the event, was not, in fact, breaking any rules: it’s a private organization. It sets its own rules. It pays for all the services it uses at Creekside, including police, ambulance, sanitation, equipment and entertainment. It was being obtuse about politicking. But it appeared not to be doing anything illegal.

The county would have been more liable for the chamber’s discriminatory rules if the county was a sponsor of the event, which the chamber and the county claimed wasn’t the case. That, however, is in question: the county administration had at least two staffers involved in planning for Creekside, and the county’s logo appears as prominently as a half dozen others among sponsoring logos in Creekside advertising for the event. In fact, one of those large advertising signs with the county’s logo is planted on county property in front of the Government Services Building in Bunnell. (See the photo above.)

And even if all legalities were on the chamber’s side, the chamber’s intransigence was making the commission pay the price.

Craig Coffey, the county administrator, spoke repeatedly with chamber officials, including Doug Baxter, the chamber president, urging them to find a compromise.
“It’s great,” DeLorenzo said. “I’m very happy a solution was found where everybody can be there.”

McGuire, one of the candidates, had no illusions about the way the compromise was reached, even as he speculated about the details: “What I think might have happened,” McGuire said, “was that the county commission got together with the chamber of commerce and said, hey, look, this is getting way out of hand, the citizenry is getting very upset, is there a way to get out of this without getting egg on our face.”

Lovebugs, too, are sponsoring the Creekside Festival. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

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13 Responses for “Palm Coast Civic Association to the Rescue: O’Donnell Crafts Creekside Compromise”

  1. kmedley says:

    I’d like to extend thanks to the Palm Coast Civic Association. This idea is a wonderful solution and hopefully the Board will be able to craft policies for future events so as to avoid debacles such as ww hae seen this past week.

  2. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    Great call Tim…

  3. SAW says:

    A civic association should never have been needed to bail those two out of this mess, a mess that was created by an arrogant (candidate) picking, Chamber of Commerce. All that was needed, was a strong county commission, with the guts to put the chamber in their place by insisting that they do the right thing.

    However,when elected officials in this county wish to be re-elected, they know all too well, they do not want an angry chamber which is not on their side.

    Remember, the chamber is the big dog in town, and they see themselves as the king makers, they put many dollars and much effort into telling we the residents who is the best candidate etc.for us, and who we should vote for in any given election.

    In this particular case to their credit, the chamber did not even blink,but instead stood their ground. Our county commission on the other hand realized they had something a bit too hot to handle, as a result they are now the people breathing a sigh of relief.

  4. The American says:

    My feelings about the Chamber, they are a SOCIALIST GROUP, Where do the get off goling against our
    Constitution and placing Anti-Amendment signs on public property. Citizens open your eyes. These socialists have to go.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I do not see any “wonderful solution to the Chamber’s created saga”. Is a shame that this institution is allowed by our elected representatives in the county commission to get away with their refusal to back off, because they know well that the Chamber may be vital on their side, as incumbents one day. These political bias attitude has been in place all these years since 2008 and this time we learned thanks to Flagler Live as all the other past and present media outlets in this county will cover up on the Chamber’s favor.
    Totally agree with American here. The county commission should transfer the organization and management and/ or leasing of our (public) lands for festivals to the local county Parks and Museums staffs and their volunteers of Agricultural Museum, Princess Place Preserve, Friends of Washington Oaks, Flagler Beach Museum, Palm Coast Historical Society and others. Then the substantial profit of the event that is mainly kept by the Chamber now will be distributed to those parks and organizations that organize the event. Why our public lands are offered leasing , if so, for profit to a private entity? Then they utilize it as their private political manipulation tool? As a tax payer resident and citizen I oppose it. Myself family and friends no longer will attend the Creekside Festival as long as remains under this Chamber’s control.

  6. Yogi says:

    A brick in the face is change you can believe in. The Civic Association has more right to rent a space than a citizen running for office? This smacks of discrimination. Real discrimination. An organization is selected to have more free speech rights, more right to purchase, to pursue, more access to the public? Just because someone says so this time? What happens if one of the candidates isn’t really “desirable” in the eyes of the Civic Association? Then the Civic Association could just say no to all candidates and no one would have access once again? Think about what is going on here. Think deeply.

  7. tulip says:

    My impression is that the BOCC got this problem dumped on them quite unexpectedly just a few hours before the BOCC meeting. I also think that this situation has never been a problem before and that a decision had to be delayed in order to give Mr, Hadeed time to find out what all the legalities on both sides are. I’m sure all the commissioners have been dealing with this issue and giving it a lot of thought and waiting on the legalities in order to make the right and legal decision. JMO

  8. Chamber Member says:

    The Anti-Amendment signs were also used at one of the Palm Coast functions by Mr. DeLorenso while manning a Flagler Palm Coast Home Builders Association tent several years ago. Which is also public property. So the Flagler Palm Coast Home Builders Association is married to the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and one of the Flagler Board of County Commissioners (Barbara Revels) is Past President of the Florida Home Builders Association and a member of the Chamber. And a past County Commisioner (Jim O’Connell) is a member of the Tea Party and a Past Palm Coast City Councilman (Tom Lawrence) is also associated with the Tea Party and the Chamber………The music goes round & round! Where it stops nobody knows. See ya’ll at the BOCC meeting on Monday 10/3/11.

  9. tulip says:

    I am of the understanding that the BOCC got this issued unexpectedly dumped on them just hours before the BOCC meeting. Since this issue had never been a problem before, the BOCC postponed making a decision until Mr. Hadeed had a chance to look into all the legalites on both sides as to what they could or could not do.

    I am sure the Commissioners have given much thought to this issue and are waiting to hear what Mr. Hadeed has to say and will then act accordingly. JMO

  10. SAW says:

    American, Socialism is not the correct title for the chamber, socialism is a ” theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole “.

    Far from it in fact, as the chamber is mostly made up of people looking out for themselves, or what will benefit them financially as individuals, salaries, more strip malls, over built housing developments etc.

    This is the very reason they fought so hard, and spent so much money defeating Amendment # 4 the “peoples” amendment , they had to keep control of growth.

    This is also the very same reason they campaign so hard to stack every commission, and all other important boards in the county with chamber people, in order to have the votes when needed. Check it out as now they even have control of the tea party leadership, and the membership does not know, or does not care ?

  11. The American says:

    CITIZENS log onto And tell me, do you see any of this in Palm Coast and Flagler County?????? It is throughout the country. If you enjoy your freedom now, read this site and spread the word to everyone. This is not a Republican, Democratic, or non party issue, it is our FREEDOM which some of these parties seem to ignore.

  12. Jack Howell says:

    Teens-In-Flight will be at the Creekside event. We also will offer a space for any candidate to hang out with us and talk to perspective voters. I want my teens to become fully aware of the political process and their voting responsibilities in the future. What better for these teens to see the real deal in action as opposed to just reading about it in a textbook.

  13. Mary says:

    Tulip: I’m sure the commissioners are breathing a sigh of relief. But it never should have been necessary to wait for that legal decision.

    We all know what the right decision was. It should have been all or none, including the Republicans, Democrats and Tea Party.

    There should never be a hint of cronyism. If there is, our elected officials are not doing their jobs and we are all losers for it.

    This was an easy decision. Remember that at election time.

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