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Dennis Cross: The Live Interview

| November 5, 2011

Dennis Cross (© FlaglerLive)

For background on the Live interview, go here. For the Jason DeLorenzo interview, go here. And if you’d like to take the Palm Coast City Council election poll, or see those results, go here.

The Questions in Summary: Quick Links

Candidate Basics

The Candidate: Dennis Cross

Date of Birth: March 10, 1934.

Principal jobs: 30 year career with AT&T in both technical and management positions. Directed a workforce of 1,700 people and managed an annual budget of $175 million.

Party Registration: City Elections are nonpartisan. Therefore, I cannot campaign based on party affiliation. However, I am registered as a Republican.

1. Palm Coast has 18,000 undeveloped lots; the city has also approved four DRIs (Developments of Regional Impact) totaling 17,000 homes and 9 million square feet of commercial and industrial development. Set aside Flagler County’s and Bunnell’s own ambitions to grow, and assume, generously, that the housing market recovers reasonably well soon. First, was it smart to approve such an abundance of residential development in the rubble of the great housing crash. Second, given that abundance of approved developments, how is Palm Coast to avoid another damaging housing glut? Third, how are property values going to recover when, assuming the rules of supply and demand haven’t changed, that abundance of supply will naturally keep prices low?

Property values are not going to recover when there is an abundance of existing homes and there is widespread construction of new homes. Therefore, it is not smart to build large tracts of residential housing at this time. Concentration should be on the commercial and industrial development opportunities at this time.

The answer is incomplete. The first question was not about construction, but the approval of several DRIs. You do not address the matter of property valuations.

Cross responds: You said I did not address property valuations. I said property values are not going to recover when there is an abundance of existing homes and widespread construction of new homes. You may not agree with my answer, but it is an answer. The tax appraiser says the assessed value normally lags one year after the property value increases.

DeLorenzo Responds: Seven homes per month is widespread construction? From a purely economic and property value standpoint building a tract of homes would actually be beneficial. For one, every 100 homes built produces the FTE (full time equivalent) of 300 jobs. (250 direct and 50 indirect) Those jobs could help keep people in their homes and reduce the foreclosure rate which is the primary reason we continue to lose property value. Second, comparable new homes have a higher value then existing homes. As each one is sold it would set a new comparable value and raise the sales price for all existing housing and in turn raise property values. The reality is no one would even consider building a tract of homes with the current inventory already on the market.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

2. What defines a great city—beyond its employees, its manager, its council, its great people and its beautiful medians—and what will you do (or, in Moorman’s case, what have you done) to make it so? Please give at least three specific examples within the scope of what’s doable by you as a member of the council. Also, give at least two examples of where Palm Coast is failing as a city, outside of infrastructural or economic issues.

A great City is one where essential services are provided and taxes and fees are low enough so people can afford to live there. Police and Fire services to protect people and their property is my first priority. Essential services such as sewer, water and trash pick-up are also a priority. My third example is well maintained streets and roads so transportation times to workplaces or shopping centers are reasonable and less frustrating.

The City recently failed to involve the stakeholders (baseball, soccer, etc. leagues) and proposed higher fees on parks and fields that would restrict children’s participation. The fields were built with taxpayer’s money and the objective should be to increase activities, not restrict them, so fees should be minimal.

Another failure that has been temporarily stopped was the planned construction of four lanes on Bulldog Drive by the high school to the Town Center. It will be a long time before Town Center is fully developed and requires four lanes. The legal costs to continue the eminent domain case against the landowner is also a mistake in my opinion.

[Note: the city only threatened to pursue eminent domain, but never actually did.]

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

3. City Market Place, Roma Court, St. Johns Plaza, Palm Harbor Shopping center, Town Center: Every one of those commercial areas, old or new, is suffering from gaping vacancies or inactivity, or, in two of those cases, decay as well. If you’re the incumbent, this happened on your watch. What has the council done, and what can the council do, concretely rather than rhetorically, to improve matters, keeping in mind those 9 million additional square feet of commercial space in the city’s future?

The Council needs to find a way to convince business to use an existing space before construction of a new strip mall. Existing shopping centers could become abandoned and blighted areas. I propose the business owner who selects an existing store front be “Grandfathered” from paying impact fees. For example, no $12,000 transportation impact fee since the original owner paid for putting in the street or the road twenty years ago. The new construction site would pay the regular impact fees.

Also, the Business Assistance Center should be funded and supported by the Council. This joint venture with UCF is demonstrating that 75 to 80 percent of new jobs are created by small or medium size businesses.

DeLorenzo responds: This is the current code! Any commercial building built previous to the city’s incorporation in 1999 does not pay any additional impact fees even if there is a change in intensity. For post incorporation commercial buildings, additional impact fees are only collected if the new business has a higher intensity than the previous use.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

4. What have you done for culture lately? How have you supported the arts locally (beyond, say, signing your name to a proclamation or attending a show)? What have you done to support the arts as a member of the council, or what would you do as a member on the council? Palm Coast’s budget for the arts has been declining: $33,000 in 2009, $24,000 in 2010, and $20,000 budgeted for this year and next year. Why the decline, and should a city of this size be so stingy when it comes to the arts?

I have done nothing for culture lately aside from attending shows or events. When unemployment is high, it is hard for volunteers to convince people to make contributions. It is also hard to explain to the unemployed why taxpayer dollars should be increased for cultural events under current economic conditions. When property values increase and the resultant ad-valorem taxes increase, the City budget for cultural needs should be addressed.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

5. Palm Coast is already a consolidated city: it contracts with the sheriff for law enforcement services, in effect ensuring that it maintains the higher level of law enforcement services that it wants through that contract while avoiding the cost of a police department of its own. Would you support a similar model with fire and EMS services, if it was shown to save the city money?

I would always consider opportunities for consolidation of Fire and EMS services. However, I would require it pass two tests. First, the service must be improved rather than lowered. Second, the final cost must be thoroughly studied. For example, moving employees to the County will reduce the City budget. In some cases the County cost per employee for healthcare, pensions, etc., are higher than City costs. If in the end the taxpayer pays more for the same service on a different line on the tax bill, it is not a good economic trade-off.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

6. When and where will, or should, Palm Coast annexations stop? Would you support a Duval-like government for the entirety of Flagler County?

When the water supply is no longer available or affordable, annexation should be stopped. When schools are overcrowded and there are no funds to build new schools, it should also be stopped.

Are you suggesting that as long as services and schools can be built concurrently with development, the city can keep annexing? You did not answer the second part of the question.

Cross responds: If you had explained your interpretation of what a Duval-like government is as it pertains to our city, I would have tried to answer this part of the question.

DeLorenzo responds: How does annexation affect schools? It does not matter if you live in unincorporated Flagler County or Palm Coast you still need to send your children to school.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

7. The argument has long been that the city’s lopsided dependence on residential property taxes is unsustainable. Yet council members happily tout Palm Coast’s tax rate as the second-lowest in Florida, for cities Palm Coast’s size, while the administration recently put out a long list of accomplishments and council members repeatedly speak about the bang for taxpayers’ buck. Explain the contradiction.

If the Palm Coast tax rate is actually the second lowest in Florida, it is not a great recommendation in my opinion. In my mind it means the other cities are so high it just makes us look better. This is sometimes referred to as the “Queen of the Pigs” comparison.

Also, the tax or millage rate seems low because only $26 million is collected via property taxes. The total budget of $120 million is primarily collected via fees we all pay.

[Note: While all residents pay some fees—those “fees” including utilities, garbage pick-up (most of which goes to a contractor) and stormwater—few residents or businesses pay all fees. For example, only tennis or golf players contribute fees to the city’s tennis center and golf course, impact fees are levied only on new construction, various park and facilities fees are paid only by users, and so on.]

Cross adds: My answer was intended to point out most of the City’s revenue comes from fees and charges not associated with Ad-Valorem property taxes and the millage rate. For example, about 20% of the total City revenue comes from property taxes and about 80% comes from other sources such as charges for sewer and water, solidwaste, stormwater, building permits and inspections, franchise fees, fuel and sales taxes and impact fees for roads, fire and parks. Special assessments, business taxes and earnings on investments are also sources of revenue.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

8. The Palm Coast City Council often appears to be in lockstep: unlike other local governments, dissent is rare, discussions and decisions, even in workshops, often appear pre-determined, and closed-door, one-on-one meetings with the city manager appear to play a large, and largely invisible, role in decisions. Please give us your assessment of council dynamics and transparency.

The City Charter prohibits Council Members from interfering with duties of City employees under supervision of the City Manager. Thus the City Manager becomes the primary contact for questions and explanations. Often times this can lead to confusion between Council policy decisions and City Manager operational decisions.

There does appear to be too much lockstep or rare dissent at workshops or Council meetings. There should be more debate or presentation of alternate ideas at workshops. A little confrontation when discussing alternate views can be a good thing so long as they are not personal attacks.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

9. Please give us your assessment of race relations in Palm Coast, where improvements are needed, and what you’ll do to push those improvements along.

Equal opportunity complaints against the City are minimal. However, I recently learned our Fire Department has a significant shortfall of African American employees when compared to being 12 percent of our City population. When instances like this are identified, action plans should be established to correct the inequity.

I also believe one of the redistricting plans, after the 10 year census, could have resulted in racial boundaries being established. We did not need a Palm Coast east versus a Palm Coast west.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

10. Give your assessment of the city manager’s and the council’s handling of the renewal of the city’s garbage contract. Explain what and how you would have done things differently. If you’ve accepted any contributions from any garbage haulers, cite how much and from which company, and explain how you don’t see that as a conflict of interest, given the timing.

The original decision to not go out for competitive bid for garbage services could never be accepted by the public. The bid spec sent out to the vendors should state our specific mandatory requirements so vendors reply in a uniform manner. The City should tell the vendors what we need. The vendors should not tell us what services they want to provide.

I have not accepted, nor would I accept a waste company contribution knowing that a 5 year contract for $7 million per year is going out for competitive bid. The acceptance of a $500 contribution from Waste Pro by my opponent displays a serious lack of ethics in my opinion.

Florida Statutes do not allow a Councilman to abstain from a vote unless there is a conflict of interest. Accepting a $500 contribution from a vendor prior to a vote is a conflict of interest. The conflict of interest form must be filed before the vote and made a part of the minutes. Since my opponent is a paid lobbyist for the Builder’s Association and 160 some businesses, it would be the first of many conflict of interest issues to be voted upon.

DeLorenzo responds: I am an employee of the Home Builders Association.  In addition to my government affairs work I have duties that include maintaining our five websites, assisting with special events like the Parade of  Homes and Flagler Green Expo, and sweeping the floor and taking out the trash. The members are primarily small local businesses including plumbers, electricians, roofers, real estate professionals, and landscapers. Working closely with them give gives me a strong understanding of what all businesses in Palm Coast are dealing with.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

11. What makes for an effective council member, what makes for a lousy council member? Give examples of both and rate or evaluate yourself.

An effective Council Member is one who owes no allegiance to any contributor or association. The Councilman should have an open mind and listen to all alternatives before making a decision. At times this means putting your personal preferences aside and selecting another plan that best meets the public needs.

A lousy Council Member is one who thinks they are the only one with a good idea. A lousy Councilman will sometimes abandon a good plan because someone presents a special interest position in a loud or confrontational manner at a meeting.

I evaluate myself as follows: A) I try hard to listen to all ideas. Over time I have been known to state that if anyone has a better idea, I will openly adopt it or “steal it” so we all can benefit. B) I also know I can be abrupt with people if they only know how to object to something and have no constructive ideas or recommendations for a solution to the problem.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

12. Evaluate Jon Netts as mayor. Understanding that no one is perfect, what more would you like to see of him as mayor?

The Mayor’s job only pays $11,400 a year and is considered a part-time position. I don’t think it is fair to expect the Mayor to attend so many ceremonial functions which could detract from his regular duties. Also, I would like the Mayor to limit government’s role and avoid involvement in personal choice issues.

Can you cite examples? What do you mean by personal-choice issues, relevant to Palm Coast?

Cross responds: A personal choice issue such as the City telling a grieving parent what they can put on a brick or marker for a deceased child at Children’s Memorial Gardens at Waterfront Park is an example. Internet Cafes are another example according to some people.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

13. Evaluate City Manager Jim Landon’s performance in your view, citing strengths and weaknesses. His total compensation package is close to a quarter of a million dollars. Is that appropriate for a city this size the city weren’t under budget constraints, would you give him a raise?

The City Charter requires a strong City Manager role. I would not give him a raise under the current economic conditions. I know salary was reported at $183K, but I do not know his benefit package value.

His compensation should be based on:

  • Job description duties, not individual traits
  • Determine salary range for similar jobs in the marketplace
  • His annual performance should be measured against pre-established objectives. I don’t know if he was given cost, quality and service objectives.

Much of the public opinion is that he is making policy, which is the Council’s job, rather than carrying out Board’s policy. I share this opinion at times although he is a very knowledgeable person.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

14. With Frank Meeker’s exception, the council is made up of individuals well into retirement, working either part-time or not at all (council duties aside), and living off of pensions, Social Security, and government-subsidized health care. How are you representative of a majority of residents who don’t fit in that category (though a large portion do), and how can you relate to the unique issues and stresses facing working-age residents facing unemployment, foreclosure, lack of health insurance and other similar everyday strains?

First of all, most of the City’s population is made up of individuals in their retirement years, so a more mature Council Member can better understand those needs.

A young person has no experience in living on a fixed pension or the increased costs of medical care as they age. However, an older Councilman has experienced the stress facing working age residents and the costs of raising a family. I think the phrase “Been There, Done That” best describes this concern. I know I will do my best to help people in the workforce of Palm Coast.

[Note: the characterization of Palm Coast as made up in majority of retirees is a common mis-perception. Only 24.5 percent of the county’s population is 65 and older. In Palm Coast, the proportion of people 65 and older is even smaller, at 23 percent, according to the latest, 2010 Census figures—almost equal to the proportion of children in the city (those younger than 18), which stands at 21 percent. When children and working families, and working-age adults who are unable to find work are taken into account, retirees are a distinct minority in Palm Coast and Flagler County.]

Cross adds: I was incorrect when I said population. I did not include infants or children in my answer. I was referring to the voting population. Based on my observations after 12 days of early voting at the Library, the voting population is mostly in the 50 plus age group.

DeLorenzo Responds: Perhaps most of the population of Grand Haven, where my opponent lives, is made up of individuals in their retirement years, but the rest of the city is not. According to the 2010 census, 76% of residents are under the age of 64. Many workers in Palm Coast, including myself, have experienced severe pay or benefit cuts or have lost their job altogether. Those are the stresses facing the majority of Palm Coast.

Jump to DeLorenzo’s answer

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15 Responses for “Dennis Cross: The Live Interview”

  1. Layla says:

    We are a day late and a dollar short with this, as usual. Give it up, folks. You are at the mercy of Landon and the developers.

    Anybody remember Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago? That was designed to be a show case and look at what it is today, what it has done to surrounding neighborhoods.

    Palm Coast is overbuilt right now and have no intention of stopping. YOU WILL have to pay for that and the taxes to support it.

  2. rh says:

    You have my vote Dennis so don’t go on the take like your opponent, the city manager and other politicains or you’ll be a one term person just like our president.

  3. w.ryan says:

    Although the news of an ill accepted campaign donation was noted the most aware and seemingly best candidate is Mr.DeLorenzo. Honestly Mr.Cross hasn’t gotten past the well known fact that this is not a retirement community any longer. This shows that he has not a clue as to representing all of Palm Coast. What is more disturbing is that he doesn’t support culture in this city. I’m putting myself out there since the younger voters don’t seem to show up on election day.

  4. Emile says:

    Mr. DeLorenzo has done his homework!

  5. Layla says:

    Emile, how is that? how has he done his homework? by taking money from a company involved and bidding on a $35 million contract?

    That’s fraud, not homework.

  6. Riley says:

    He gets my vote because he wears a paisley tie. Good a reason as any I’ve heard.

  7. Will says:

    Layla – taking an openly given campaign contribution from a company wanting to do business with the city is not “fraud” as you say, or a “bribe” as was said elsewhere. It was ill considered, and on reflection (with help from the public and his friends) – DeLorenzo pledged to return the $500.

    As I said before, I know DeLorenzo and he’s learning from the experience. The story in the Observer explained the history – and he now knows that the public perceptions of some things are different for office holders than others. He won’t make that mistake again.

    I agree too with W. Ryan above – DeLorenzo understands the population shifts in our city and will represent not only the retiree segment. Cross doesn’t know the city well. As a group more retirees do vote, and younger voters need to turn out to balance things out.

  8. Layla says:

    And I’m Mary Poppins. He has just disqualified himself from the Waste Pro vote or any other involving them. State law.

  9. Lin says:

    Someone in their 40’s has never been 50 ot 60 or 70. Someone 70 has lived those years and learned from those years and experiences. I’m almost retirement age and I have raised a family and had a small business and I didn’t forget those experiences or how to face those challenges. Look at the candidates and what they have faced in their lives. It is very disheartening to hear so many posters and also those in the media discount a candidate because they have lived longer. That experience is valuable.

  10. Layla says:

    To Will and Ryan, DeLorenzo attends all the council meetings. He sat there, listening to the council stress SINCE JULYT NOT to have ANY contact with this company due to the sensitivity of the $35 MILLION contract.

    Is he deaf? He would not be returning it now if he hadn’t been caught. He saw nothing wrong with taking it in the first place.

  11. PJ says:

    Cross has huge business experience. With such a long career with ATT speaks very positive for Mr. Cross and his past life. Yea he is older but he has the knowledge and it seems he would question the likes of Landon and his heavy handed ways. I don’t believe he will be leashed and walked down to the dog run like the rest of the council has been by Landon.

    I believe also that the reason why the current garbage contractor picked deLorenzo to get a “donation” is they saw the weakness and inexperience and of course they took advantage of it. Too bad for deLorenzo but this says a lot for Cross. I bet he was not even approached, because they knew he would not take it.

    Good Luck Mr. Cross!!!!!

  12. Layla says:

    If you look up the Flagler builders list, Waste Pro is a client of Mr. DeLorenzo’s. This needs to go to the State Ethics Commission for a ruling.

    According to state law, there is a conflict whenever a business interest is paying you a fee to influence government policy, whether it is a government agency or elected official.

    Not sure how they gave him the ok to run. He needs to think seriously about giving up the builders if he wins. Otherwise, I think his career will be one full of constant ethics charges.

  13. rh says:

    I agree with Layla. You supporters of Jason must be relatives. No one else who has an interest for the well being of this GREAT city would consider this person for anything.. He’s on the take and has only one thing in mind ( What’s in it for ME )

  14. Will says:

    Layla – you really need to step outside and take a breath of fresh air. Members of the Home Builders Association are not “clients” of their government affairs director, Mr. Delorenzo. He’s an organizational employee directed by the HBA board. You’re implying a conspiracy where it doesn’t exist.

    rh – no, Jason isn’t a relative, though it might be nice if he were. I strenuously object to your categorization of Jason being “on the take”. I’ve worked with him in several community activities, and I’m convinced that his approach is “What’s best for the community”.

    You’re both entitled to your opinions of course, but neither one of you has any clue of what a good citizen Jason DeLorenzo happens to be, the current minor flap which is being corrected, notwithstanding.

  15. Layla says:

    Saw the latest filings for all candidates. No indication he has returned the check he said he would return. Does anyone know?

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