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Jason DeLorenzo: The Live Interview

| November 5, 2011

Jason DeLorenzo (© FlaglerLive)

For background on the Live interview, go here. For the Dennis Cross 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: Jason DeLorenzo

Date of Birth: December 6, 1970

Principal jobs: 17 years in retail management, one year as a Florida Licensed Mortgage Broker. Currently, Government Affairs Director, Flagler Home Builders Association, 32 hours per week.

Party Affiliation: DeLorenzo did not answer, citing the text of House Bill 1355 instead: “A candidate for nonpartisan office is prohibited from campaigning based on party affiliation.” DeLorenzo is a registered Democrat.

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?

Private property owners have a right to develop their land. How the land is developed is ultimately governed by City Council through the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code. The four DRI’s, due to their size and impact on the region as a whole, were also reviewed by the state for compliance, which included addressing future housing need. Most DRI’s are 25 to 30-year projects. The University of Florida’s medium population estimate for Flagler County is 197,000 in 2035 and 215,000 by 2040. The 35,000 undeveloped lots will produce approximately 82,000 new residents; add that to our current population of 95,000 and we will be able to sustain a population of 177,000. Though it may seem that we have an abundance of approved residential development, by understanding the growth projected by UF and how long it takes for DRI’s to be developed, you can see that it was prudent to plan for the future, and because of this forward thinking, we are actually close to matching the future need.

The housing glut was produced by a perfect storm of reduced regulation, ultra low mortgage rates, and fast rising values based on speculators. I hope we learn from history and will not see a repeat. We will avoid another damaging housing glut by diversifying our economy, and better managing regulation, rates, and home values. Property values will start to recover as soon as the market is no longer dominated by foreclosures and short sales. Some areas of the country are already experiencing this improvement. Locally, housing inventory on the MLS [Multiple Listing Service] has dropped to less than 1,000. Until we increase our local employment opportunities and diversify our economy, we will continue to see foreclosures which will hinder the recovery of values. As our economy returns to its once vital state, housing values will follow.

Jump to Cross’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.

It is about the great people that make up this community, but the quality of life that Palm Coast offers also defines its greatness. Quality of life is more than just pleasant surroundings; it includes everything from safe neighborhoods to healthy lifestyles, a variety of housing options, unique local shops, and secure employment. As a councilman I will continue to support Prosperity 2021 which focuses on cleaning up and improving our neighborhoods and business districts. I support the BAC (Business Assistance Center) that has been tasked to help local businesses thrive and grow. I would not reduce our fire-emergency level of service. In fact, I am concerned that we do not have a station south of Station 25 (Belle Terre/Town Center). I am also concerned about the location of parks and the long term costs to maintain those parks. Palm Coast has 450 acres of parkland, nearly four times that of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, but none in the P, W, or Z sections to name a few, where we have a great concentration of residents.

Jump to Cross’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?

I would incentivize infill; particularly at Old Kings Commons and Palm Harbor Shopping Center. As new commercial properties come online we run the risk of having older shopping centers like those continue to suffer or ultimately fail. To ensure that we do not have vast empty spaces in the middle of the city, we should encourage renourishment of these areas. Forming CRAs [Community Redevelopment Agencies such as Town Center] to redevelop these areas is a potential solution. However, their mission and goals must be specific enough to prevent other issues in the future.

Jump to Cross’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?

We may be a relatively large community but we are still young; yet the arts are alive and well in Palm Coast and it’s exciting to see. As of late, I have taken my family to productions held at the Flagler Auditorium and the Flagler Playhouse. It’s encouraging that we have these opportunities for arts and culture. I’m proud to say that my daughter’s first introduction to the arts has been in our great community. More recently, I introduced a local artist to a local contractor to help him find scrap metal for an art project.

I have enjoyed touring the Hollingsworth Gallery. The concept is fantastic and now with the addition of the City Repertory Theater we have a great place to see local artisans practice their craft. I remember hearing some time ago a concept to have sculptures from local artists displayed around Central Park in Town Center. I would support that plan.
While I cannot confirm, I suspect the budget for the arts has declined with other budget pressures. Another cause for the decline may be the increased fees to hold cultural events in the city have actually deterred them, like the Hispanic Heritage Festival or they just moved outside the city; either way they would not request or be eligible for arts and culture grants thus less would be expended.

Note DeLorenzo’s answer about lowering fees for cultural events, in question 9.

Jump to Cross’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?

If it could be proven to save money in the long run, I would be in favor of it; however, I think it is a much more complicated issue than just money. How would the equipment and capital improvements Palm Coast residents paid for be integrated? How would you ensure Palm Coast residents receive the same level of service we currently have and if there was a matched level of service, how would it be fair to other residents of the County that do not receive that higher level of service that we currently have?

Jump to Cross’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?

Other than a few missing parcels scattered throughout, I believe that the initial phase of Palm Coast’s annexation is complete. Due to the high cost to extend infrastructure to any additional parcels, the city is financially restricted to continue. Annexations that have occurred were voluntary and primarily were used to gain services or to restore lands to the city that were lost during incorporation. There has been much discussion over the years regarding the consolidation of government. I believe it has some merits, but the citizenry overwhelming decided to incorporate in 1999 and I think most residents still think incorporation was a good idea. Until the council and citizens of Palm Coast can see a cost-benefit relationship of consolidation, I think that we will continue to work collaboratively with the county, yet still remain separate entities.

Jump to Cross’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.

I don’t think there is a contradiction. While residential growth was high, we experienced few millage rate increases because new construction value covered the costs of the growth of services. Over the past few years with little growth, we have witnessed the pressures our low rate has put on the budget and elected officials have had similar pressure to keep the tax rate down. Because of this pressure to maintain a low rate, our infrastructure, such as storm water, has suffered as excess funds have not been available to perform regular maintenance. The cost of services will continue to rise and if we do not increase our commercial tax base, which uses less services, we will continue to have to make difficult choices when it comes to the budget and taxes.

The low millage rate is still touted as one of the lowest in the state for a city this size, and infrastructure problems have been evolving over many years, not just since the burst of the housing bubble, suggesting that the insistence on lower taxes was at least a contributing factor. Short of a burst of commercial activity, which appears unlikely, would you raise taxes to keep up with services—or cut services?

Jump to Cross’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 transparency of council is concerning at times but I think it is primarily a function of all the workshops that are held. The thorough presentations by staff, under the watchful eye of the City Manager, produce few questions from council members and when questions arise, they are reviewed in the workshops and it produces much less discussion at the council meetings. I’m not sure of the extent of one-on-one meetings with the manager. Is it a weekly meeting or just at the request of the councilperson? I plan to ask a lot of questions and I hope that will lead to more discussion among the council.

You sound surprisingly uncritical, considering that you’ve appeared publicly before the council to complain about the flow of information, such as the administration’s withholding until the last minute of key documents relevant to those meetings. The practice continues. Are we to expect you’ll accept it as a council member rather than seek to change it in line with other local governments’ readier transparency?

Jump to Cross’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.

When I went campaigning door to door I found my Palm Coast neighbors to be incredibly diverse and friendly. Since I had never campaigned before, I was surprised by the number of people of all races and ethnicities that invited me into their home to sit down at their kitchen table. It was a very rewarding aspect of the campaign and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting my fellow residents. The diversity of Palm Coast is a real asset to our community. I believe the best way to improve race relations is to educate yourself about other cultures. I would reduce the fees for cultural events and try to lure them back to the city to continue to showcase our diversity and promote education.

The question has to be asked, based on how you answered the initial question: why would you be surprised that, say, a black homeowner would invite you into her house? And are you suggesting that there are no racial tensions in town, no racial issues that might compel local governments, including the council, to act?

Jump to Cross’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 contract renewal was poorly handled from the beginning. A competitive bid process should have been the only option considered. In my August 18th letter to the Palm Coast Observer I included this quote from Henry Ford: “Competition is the keen cutting edge of business, always shaving away at costs.” Competition for our lucrative solid waste contract is the only way to get the best price. I would like to see the qualified bidders make timed presentations at a City Council meeting, then follow the presentations with public comment after which council could then discuss and finally vote. This will ensure a fair process and will provide the best outcome to the city. I would also like to see the elimination of the franchise fee as it is just a hidden tax on each home owner. That would have to be addressed in the ordinance, not the contract.

I received a $500 campaign contribution from Waste Pro. This will not affect my decision if I am asked to consider it. I am a candidate with integrity and I’m running for the right reason; to make my community better. No amount of money will ever change that. I will always do what’s best for my community.

[Note: DeLorenzo has since pledged to return the $500.]

Jump to Cross’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 needs to be engaged in the community, have an understanding of the issues facing the majority of the community, and needs to be able to communicate his or her concerns in a logical and rational way for the other council members to consider. Most of all an effective council member must always have what’s best for the citizens at heart by being impartial.

Obviously not being fully prepared for discussion at workshops and meetings and not having the previously listed attributes could make for a lousy council member. Moreover, not reaching out and receiving input from stakeholders being affected by an issue, would make you a lousy councilman and is simply bad government.

I am raising a family in Palm Coast and feel many of the same pressures as other families that are trying to thrive here. My wife and I are both lucky enough to work and volunteer in the community, which allows us to be very in tune with the pulse of the community. My age is closest to the average age of a Palm Coast resident which gives me a unique perspective of being able to understand what the majority are looking for from their city. My work is based on effective communication and I believe that will aide me when discussing issues that can sometimes be very complex.

Jump to Cross’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?

I think Mayor Netts is a great statesman for Palm Coast, with an incredible base of knowledge to draw from. I believe he understands how Palm Coast fits regionally and he ensures that our city is not bullied by the big boys like Daytona and more so Jacksonville. I would like to see him wear socks more often.


Jump to Cross’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 manager and I have not always seen eye to eye, and that’s not just because he is considerably taller than me. I think in some ways he has been a tremendous asset to the city. He brings a lot of experience and his planning background has been helpful for a young city like ours. I’ve been told he works nearly around the clock with council members often receiving emails in the middle of the night. He has handled the staffing cuts well by reorganizing the operational makeup from the top down and has improved communication to the council and citizens. I believe he has a tight grip on his staff which seems to make them afraid at times to make decisions but I do think that attitude is improving. I’ve noticed recently that he does not interrupt them as frequently during presentations, and they appear to be very well-rehearsed and come across with a unified message. I would like to see him direct staff to seek more input from stakeholders before bringing items to council. For example, his handling of the fees for athletic clubs utilizing city operated fields could have been avoided if the clubs would have been engaged in the conversation from the beginning.

I was surprised and disappointed that he did not turn down his last raise. I believe that could have gone a long way in showing empathy with the issues facing the majority of the citizens. Before we consider raises for upper management we need to try to adjust the wages of the staff that have not received a raise for the past few years.

Jump to Cross’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?

The average age in Palm Coast is around 50 years old with 76 percent of the population’s age being under 64. At the age of 40, I am 37 years younger than my opponent and I feel many of the same pressure as other families trying to make it in Palm Coast. I don’t live in a gated community, I have a mortgage, I have neighbors with kids that get up in the morning and get them ready for school before hurrying off to work, and I have an empty home next to me that the city mows on a regular basis. My mother, who is in her 60s, also lives here and works full time so that she is able to afford her health insurance. Though different from those in my age bracket, I have an in-depth understanding of the issues she and her peers face everyday as well. I am part of a typical Palm Coast family, raising my daughter, volunteering my time, and working alongside my neighbors to make this beautiful place we call home the best it can possibly be.

Jump to Cross’s answer

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16 Responses for “Jason DeLorenzo: The Live Interview”

  1. Layla says:

    It is NOT SMART to keep approving additional residential building right now. You are killing our property values. The more vacant housing there is, the lower they will go.

    In Detroit, the value of homes fell as low as $8,000 before they had to bulldoze because property there is worthless.

  2. Layla says:

    This is very confusing to follow, FlaglerLive. I don’t think most will jump back and forth. Suffice it to say that one candidate represents the buillders here and that couldn’t be more obvious.

    He wants to build, build, build and keep building. I wonder how many are aware the city is busy approving low income apartment units to go up in single family home neighborhoods? That golf course home you bought in Palm Coast is about to be worthless.

    These low income units will destroy the value of our neighborhoods. Why are they continuing to build when we have so many empty properties? DeLorenzo sits on that Planning Committee. He was the newest apppointee.

    We need to find out who is approving and building all this junk that is killing property values. If you don’t, your property will be worthless.

  3. Will says:

    1) In my opinion, most of DeLorenzo’s answers showed greater knowledge of government and community issues than did Cross’. That’s understandable since DeLorenzo is part of the working community.

    With all due respect to Mr. Cross, with a full term of service ahead, at the end of a first term DeLorenzo will be 44 or 45, and Mr. Cross will be over 80. A good productive council person is often retained for a second term so his or her knowledge isn’t lost. I wish both candidates the blessings of excellent health, but in four years, I’d guess the younger candidate might have more energy for four more years than the older. I highly respect my elders including friends in their eighties and nineties who are as sharp as a tack, so I’m not making that comment lightly.

    2) Pierre, you did well with both the range of questions and with the technical ability enabled to switch back and forth between candidates’ answers. Using that system, it was much easier to read, comprehend, and compare the answers, which led to my conclusion in item #1 above. Thank you for your efforts.

  4. rh says:

    Jason, you have shown to accept bribes such as Waste Pro so I’m not surprised that you are for further developments which will allow you more opputunities to line your pockets.. You’ll have to stand in line, the city manager comes first.

  5. PJ says:

    You had it made DeLorenzo until the cash deal. You have an integrity is an issue. Your judgement is an issue. You can try to back out during the heat of “I’m giving back the cash” to make your self feel better but you are tainted. I don’t see you as a person who can represent the businesses that you lobby for and work as a council member with the lack of judgement you seem to have or maybe your inexperience. You are never going to help the voters if you must excuse yourself at many votes because you have a cash income related to your lobbyist group.

    You my friend may seem to be a great choice but underneath your inexperiance has shown through. Mr. cross may be older but clearly way more experienced. Too bad for you as maybe you need to return in a few years or a decade or so may help you with your platform.

    You can’t make a decision for the betterment of the residents when you take cash, especially when you have the hot topic of a bid coming up in just a few month. It is sad to say your judgement is questionable…………………And YOU should maybe even step down before you get started.

  6. Will says:

    To “rh”

    DeLorenzo made a mistake, in my opinion, by accepting the money, however he’s returning it. It was not a “bribe”. It was a legitimate campaign contribution. Accepting it was not a bribe – but because accepting it made it appear improper – it had to go back – as DeLorenzo obviously understood.

    I know the man. He can learn from the experience, and he will, and I think he’ll be a better council member (if elected) because of it.

    How many of us have made mistakes in the past and avoided similar problems in the present and future? Quite a few I would think.

  7. Layla says:

    To Will, might agree with that if the council had not been warning people about this since JULY and he was there each time. The only reason he is returning it is because he was caught doing it.

    Now it will likely go to the state ethics commission.

  8. w.ryan says:

    Mr. DeLorenzo answered the building question and sited population growth from studies conducted. That’s not pro for anything other than for knowledge. Aside from the unemployment issue population growth is a given and future projections is a must.

  9. Lin says:

    I don’t want my Council representative learning ethics on the job — the best prediction of future behavior is past behavior

  10. Layla says:

    Again, to all, because of this conflict of interest this candidate will not be allowed to vote on this and many other issues involving his clients.

    You are either ethical or you are not. It is not something you “learn”.

  11. w.ryan says:

    You learn from your mistakes. As for the ethics you mentioned, there was no violation by DeLorenzo. He made an inappropriate ( bad perception of what it may look like). This amounts to farting at the dinner table. lol … Tell Scott and countless other politicians of choosing about the ethics you refer too. Floridians don’t seem to mind! Despite his fart he is the best equipped to represent the people of Palm Coast. If you can’t answer basic questions and concerns the people may have for the position how can you even think about Cross.

  12. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Entirely too much is being made over this $500 political contribution. Every election cycle we have people complaining that it’s always the same cast of people running, always retirees from “up north” who can’t appreciate what the non-retiree aged families of Palm Coast struggle with. We finally have a candidate who isn’t retired, and the same people complain because he’s “a lobbyist” or because he received one campaign contribution that was completely legal, from a company that does business with the city. Do you really think he’s the only candidate who received contributions from companies that do business with the city?

    About his “lobbying”… he works for the Flagler home-builders association, is that such a bad thing? An association made up almost 100% of small businesses that operate and employ people in Palm Coast! What are you afraid of, that he might vote on policy that helps small businesses and helps the city be more small business friendly?

    Jason’s not perfect, and I don’t agree with him on everything, but we could use a younger member on council, who knows how difficult it is to scratch out a living here and knows what small businesses are up against in this City, therefore he has my support.

  13. rh says:

    To Will and the other supporters of Jason. Yes he returned the money and is sorry. He’s sorry because he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.. He’s old enough to know right from wrong and you people defending him are WRONG and have a poor choice of characters.. He should NEVER be allowed inside the city or county system. We have enough of them already.. He has a lot of baggage and we don’t need him..

  14. Layla says:

    To all, someone just showed me a copy of the latest campaign report. There was no indication there that he has returned this contribution.

    Shouldn’t that have been indicated on the Treasurer’s report?

    And by the way, he raised the most money of all the candidates, no surprise there. He’s got cash to burn.

  15. Layla says:

    To Johnny Taxpayer, if ANY business is PAYING Mr. DeLorenzo to represent them before city officials or politicians, should that NOT be a matter of concern for those of us NOT paying him?

    Have you lost your mind?

  16. Linda says:

    Congratulations on your victory, Jason. I wish you well on the council but I am still concerned about those paying you to represent them. I know you represent them well, but it is US you represent now, ALL of us.

    I wish you the patience to continue being a good listener. Take the time to think your decisions through carefully. That is something that comes with age.

    Blessings to you and your family.

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