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Despite Warnings of Corruption, Palm Coast Council Approves Meeker’s Job “Posse” Scheme

| May 30, 2012

One of the slides council member Frank Meeker used a year and a half ago in his original pitch of the jobs posse program to the council. It was not taken very seriously at the time. Meeker--who, of course, was not referring to canon law, but to cannons-- persevered.

When Palm Coast City Council member Frank Meeker proposed the idea in September 2010, it was practically laughed at. “We create a posse of 75,000 interested citizens by offering a financial incentive to go and seek out individuals interested in moving their business to Palm Coast,” Meeker had proposed in a slide presentation using Wild West imagery for background. “They scatter to the four winds in the hopes they will be one of the lucky ones to find a willing prospect that meets the city’s strict, but as yet undefined requirements.”

Twenty months later, and despite repeated warnings from the city manager and the mayor about the program’s potential for corruption and administrative headaches, Meeker’s posse is about to become policy.

“Recruiters” who are instrumental in creating local jobs will get a $1,000 reward. Realtors are eligible. Most government workers are eligible. Employees of economic development departments are not. Owners and part owners are not. Home-based businesses don’t count. The business must be a new one, or one that’s expanding or relocating from outside the county (though that clause is rife with confusion), and it must be located in a commercial or industrial zone. It must employ a minimum of three full-time employees.

The recruiter gets $500 after six months, and another $500 after 12 months, assuming the jobs created are retained. That’s a flat fee, regardless of the number of jobs created. And it doesn’t accrue in subsequent years. There’s no incentive for recruiting more jobs. But from the city’s perspective, there’s also less incentive to fudge job-creation numbers. The program is considerably scaled back from Meeker’s original vision, which entailed $300 per job created and retained for a year, plus $200 per job at start-up.

Far less clear is the definition of “recruiter.” The council did not narrow it down, leaving open the possibility that someone will claim to have encouraged a business to move to Palm Coast, without necessarily being directly affiliated with that business, and seek out the reward–ahead of, say, the someone else involved in that business. It’s just as possible that the owner of a expanding business could himself invent a recruiter as a front, cook up a good story and cash in on a free $1,000.

The city is pledging $10,000 for the remainder of the year, assuming the council ratifies the plan by vote next week. Meeker is looking for $50,000 for the program next year.

“What I was thinking of,” Meeker said, “is mom, pop and a daughter move down, they had a business that was–they didn’t like paying the high taxes up north and they decided to go to, you know, ‘find your Florida’ and come up with a better way of life.” Meeker was citing Palm Coast’s new tag line. “Part of the purpose of this was to fill up empty storefronts in Palm Coast, and this is why I was asking for three years up front. I’d like to have seen that their business was successful someplace else so I was reducing my risk of throwing good money after bad.”

The program never had the most enthusiastic support of the whole council or the administration. Mayor Jon Netts was reluctant all along. City Manager Jim Landon, initially turned off by the idea, repeatedly reminded the council that city staff will end up not only administering the program but also dealing with its unintended consequences. Those could potentially be an administrative and legal nightmare, since the city is not equipped to be an arbitrator.

“I will tell you, this is the only one I’m really opinionated about,” Landon said of the process that actually picks eligible recruiters. “This will get your city manager fired, because we won’t give money to somebody and somebody won’t like it and we’ll find out that oops, there was something behind the scene. This needs to be full disclosure, it needs to be all done out in the public.”

“I have no problem with full disclosure, I have a problem with city council voting on it,” Netts said, “for the same reasons.”

“I will tell you that this is fraught with corruption, but when you di it at a staff level you’re more likely to see that corruption occur versus if it has to come for a full disclosure. If you don’t want to approve it then I’ll at least bring it to you and let you know it’s happening. You can veto it if you like. There has to be something here that is not just behind closed door.”

“I don’t want to pt city council in a position where we have to pick this guy and not that guy,” Netts said, essentially leaving it to the administration to do just that.

But there was also a desire, on Netts’s part especially, to let Meeker have a signature achievement on the council, especially now that Meeker has decided to run for the county commission, where economic development is perennial campaign fodder.

“I still have problems with this whole thing, I don’t love it, I’m not married to it, but if we pick this thing to death it will never happen,” Netts said. “Let’s get something in place, and as Frank points out, if nothing ever happens, it’s only cost us a lot of time, trouble and effort. We can modify the program any time we want. We can expand it, we can narrow it, we can eliminate it.”

“I’m not going to spend taxpayer dollars to reward anybody for bringing a business here that doesn’t address the fundamental issue that we’ve been talking about, and that’s unemployment, and empty storefronts. Any business that goes into business will fill an empty storefront, but to use Frank’s example, mom and pop and one daughter, and they each have a third share in the business, they’re the only ones that benefit, the landlord benefits. If we’re going to do something like this I want to see how it affects our unemployment status, so I would like some kind of exclusion for ownership.”

Netts was also cautioning against bringing, say, a new pizzeria in town only to create competition for an existing one and putting it out of business. “So we’ve hired three people here, we fired three people there,” Netts said.

“We don’t put anybody out of business,” council member Bill McGuire said. “The consumers do that. If you come in with a pizzeria and you make a better pizza at a competitive price, you’re probably going to force somebody out of business, that’s the nature of the beast.”

“Absolutely true,” Netts said. “Absolutely true Bill, I agree with you completely, but do we want to pay somebody to indulge in that process? Government does not create businesses, consumers create businesses,” Netts went on, citing almost word for word the iconoclastic conclusion of Nick Hanauer. But he stressed that existing businesses will raise hackles the moment taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize competition. That’s why he wanted the money more focused on so-called “primary employers,” that is, employers who produce more goods or services than can be consumed locally (manufacturers, for example, or call centers). But those jobs are less likely to be created in the first place.

“It’s not going to work unless we loosen up,” Jason DeLorenzo, another council member, said. “And I don’t like the idea of having another pizza place that’s going to interfere with our current pizza place, but maybe we’ll get an Indian restaurant, which we don’t have, and I wish we did. There’s plenty of other businesses, and if businesses look and do their due diligence, they’re going to find the niche that works for them.”

But at every turn, Netts raised potential scenarios to illustrate how “this thing is fraught with opportunities for abuse.”

“This is a business decision that they’re making,” Netts said, trying not to demolish the concept. He preferred limiting the incentive to Meeker’s original idea: recruiting from out of state. “If I have a business somewhere else, I’m not going to move to Palm Coast so my good next-door buddy can pick up a thousand bucks. I’m going to move my business because it makes business sense for me.”

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17 Responses for “Despite Warnings of Corruption, Palm Coast Council Approves Meeker’s Job “Posse” Scheme”

  1. Nancy N. says:

    So sick of the discrimination against home based businesses from the government in this town! Once again they declare that a home-based business is not a “real” business through one of their policies.

    Which is odd because the businesses I shop at in this community seem to think the money I spend with them – which I bring into the community from outside through my business – is real enough for them to accept my business.

  2. anon says:

    “Whether You Think You Can or Can’t, You’re Right”–Henry Ford

    Why is there a number of yeah buts from the council and city staff. Get your heads out of your…xxx I mean the sand.

    Yeah it might work but……? What about competition? That is called capitalism.
    Landon says “that city staff will end up not only administering the program but also dealing with its unintended consequences”. Isn’t that part of their job, to administer programs?

    These folks make me laugh. They don’t have idea or clue the first, however they are ready to shoot down everything that doesn’t fit into their little round peg holes.

    We know that the City of Palm Coast isn’t responsible for creating business. We have heard it over and over again. The City is responsible for creating a climate to develop business.
    So what if 100 pizza places decide to open up in Palm Coast is that any sweat of any of the councilors noses?

    I could go on and on. Some of these elected officials and hired government staff live and work in silos.

  3. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Mr DeLorenzo is absolutely correct, “It’s not going to work unless we loosen up,” . This is a great idea, and it was a great idea 20 months ago, so approve the $10k already for the rest of the year and let’s see how it works. Don’t start hacking it apart by limiting this, or limiting that or deciding what kinds of businesses are or are not eligible. What is the absolute worse case scenario? The tax payers loose $1 or 2k because someone came up with an elaborate scheme to defraud the program? The city’s probably already spent $10k in staff time hacking it apart over the past 20 months, just get on with it already and tweak it as necessary in the future.

    As Patton said, a good plan violently executed today, is better than a perfect plan executed next week. It’s time to execute this plan today.

  4. What’s wrong with a financial referral fee for a financial gain? It’s not like a Saints bounty to injure another NFL player…

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Kudos to Palm Coast Councilman Frank Meeker and the rest of the council, the Mayor and city staff for their collaboration on the approval of this good proposal. Lets give it a chance and see if will work.
    Many of us got to know and settle in Palm Coast thru a resident invitation and we came with our bag of goodies (ask the banks) including a business and some of us even open new ones.
    Regarding the unfair competition that may be generated to our already existing businesses, is taking place right now big time. In our line of business, comes from home based businesses one man/woman band that sale to local private business or government, manufactured products outside our area so all those thousands of dollars create jobs and wealth elsewhere. In spite of that, we survive. Is a little financially worrisome the fact that out of slightly over 3,000 existing local businesses 1/3 of them are home based businesses…that do not generate local rent or sales of vacant commercial units, do not generate business insurance to our local insurance workers, do not generate revenue for city utilities, phone, Internet, electricity, maintenance work and fewer jobs. Good for all those home based businesses, but right now we need to attract some store front ones and this program may help..
    Maybe within the guidelines and policies to be set for this program somewhat a line could be made regarding the existing businesses protection, but if not, I still think that is more to earn out of this program than to loose. We need the jobs and the revenue to help our local residents, businesses as well and our local government budgets, so they can serve us better.
    Was presented as well by Mr. Meeker and backed by Councilman De Lorenzo an idea for potential exemption of those hefty $16,000 and over impact fees in new commercial construction in order to attract more new businesses maybe some free standing ones Panera style. I am in general not in favor of more commercial as we have enough vacant stores. But if the temporary impact fee exception will bring us more “local construction and retail service jobs”…we need them, I agree. Its time that we lobby for jobs.

  6. Maryjoe says:

    Are ya thinking the Realtors® aren’t already trying to do this? So you just gave ’em another $1K in commission. Do you not think that the difficulty with regulations and fees put out by the City are the issue here? Why in heavens name would you pay someone to recommend the put their business here? Most people already do that UNLESS they have had experience with the City when trying to open a business up. Correct that, lower ridiculously high impact fees, vow to NEVER again over charge for permit fees and ya just might get more businesses in here. This idea is kin to the fiasco post card campaign. A waste of money.

  7. ric says:

    Does this mean a prerson can open a lawn mowing service and put the pets on the payroll in order to qualify. I’m assuming these businesses will be run from their home. So start to look for decoracted car and trucks in your neighbors driveway. That should realy bring home buyers to Palm Coast. Weel maybe we’ll annex the Mondex..

    [As the story notes, home-based businesses are not eligible.–FL]

  8. palmcoaster says:

    @ric. My like was for Flagler Live clarification to you, not for your incorrect perception/interpretation.

  9. Jim N says:

    The problem is going to be when “Joe” calls his buddy who is retiring, and say’s “Hey come down here and open your store for a few years”. Joe’s Buddy comes for a visit, contacts say a realtor, decides it is a good idea, and upon signing the lease, the realtor applies for the “Bounty”.

    So to solve the problem, make a preregistration form, that identifies, the business, principals, and the referer.
    When the business get their license and holds the Grand Opening, cut the check to whoever had the business referral first.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    @ Jim N. Totally agree with you and that is the way that guidelines and policies will be written and also put for the residents of Palm Coast input on a City Council meeting agenda and discussion before final passing. Will be no hidden deals but totally disclosed even when the first and future rewards will be materialized and paid in regularly currently scheduled City Council Meetings.

  11. Ambroz says:

    Mr. DeLorenzo is technically correct that there is no exclusively Indian restaurant in Flagler County. However, because this is such a tough economy to operate a food business in, I am posting this comment in order to clarify things and make sure the readership of Flaglerlive know that there is a restaurant in this county that does serve authentic Indian food. Europa Lounge & Bistro, located in the European Village has a menu that is International (American/Continental, Asian and Indian). One third of its menu is Indian with over 20 choices, including many Indian Thalis (combo platters). Europa recently participated in the Taste of Flagler at Town Center and chose to offer samples of its top selling Indian selections. Seeing that this article involves jobs, I also want to say that Europa added four additional part-time employees in the last few weeks. For the record, we love and appreciate Mr. DeLorenzo’s business and support, because he had his 40th birthday party, as well as his campaign kick-off and election victory parties at Europa. He was merely making a point, and an Indian restaurant was probably the first thing that came to his mind. The owner of Europa is a lady of Indian origin who has invested her life savings in starting this business, and the Indian menu items are her and her mother’s recipes. The latest issue of the Chamber’s Fantastic Flagler magazine has a small article on the owner and the restaurant. And in case someone wants to read an online article that mentions Europa’s owner and its Indian menu, here it is:

  12. Liana G says:

    True. Gov’t don’t create business. Gov’t creates bloated and cantankerous burreaucracies!

  13. JOHN R. says:

    The posse idea is just as silly as the sending of post cards to owners of vacant lots telling them about the way of life that Palm Coast used to be. In one year, The Business Assistance Center has assisted 15 employers and added 75 employees. Let the BAC do its job,Mr. Meeker, and stay out of its way. Personally I hope you bring your free-spending ways to Flagler County. You and Craig Coffey will get along just fine.

  14. palmcoaster says:

    @John R. Your mentioned achievements regarding BAC job creation and businesses numbers helped and I would like to be documented on that.. Lets see if are disclosed in the BAC web site….? Or maybe is all shrowded with secrecy? Are maybe all of those, just existing or new home based businesses?
    Thru out the years the “here say” has been the reality of the achievements of the county former Enterprise, ED and TDC and probably now city BAC. Meanwhile we spend like there is no tomorrow in those entities staff, consultants and programs with little achievement in reality. We have enough home based businesses we need some of the store front one’s now. Maybe BAC has in reality, been as successful as the city regarding PC Data and Centex ? Or the county regarding Ginn hangars or Cakes Across?
    No matter the failures we keep poring taxpayers funds in those deep pits while the high paid crews pat themselves in the back on public meetings. Now one councilman resuscitates (the original ITT program) a promising idea that will pay time over if successful and with only a $10,000 start up and downgrade it from the start… and only because maybe some taxpayers may be rewarded? What is the problem if a resident, realtor, business owner would be rewarded to bring a new business to open in the city, rents or buys a vacant store front and hires our unemployed? Maybe will take the shine out of the highly paid executives we compensate year around for little or none achievement? Are you one of them?
    Sure Meeker’s proposal cost pales given the salaries paid to the ones in the payroll for County ED, TDC and city BAC…as well as their hundreds of thousands in budgets assigned.

    • JOHN R. says:

      Joe Roy, the head of BAC gave out those figures this week, and the unemployment rate has been reduced to 11.2%. Yes, I realize those are mostly service jobs. Then, again, Palm Coast is primarily a service economy.

  15. Magicone says:

    Just another way for the city council to give away more of our money, and make room for more corruption.

  16. Anonymous says:

    It is wrong idea to offer these kind of incentives. You’ve got to be idiot & naive to believe of that solution. It only benefit the business owner by inflating the city with false promesses. we have business in the city with tax exempt & that is unfair.

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