A citizen had complained in July to the Flagler County Commission about a closed-door meeting on beach dredging proposals between the county administration and the U.S. Corps of Engineers that had nevertheless included three elected members of the Flagler Beach City Commission. Monday’s meeting was a redo for the public’s benefit.
In mid-July County Administrator Craig Coffey and his staff held a meeting with engineers and planners from the U.S. Corps of Engineers to discuss a possible dredging project for the Flagler shore. Coffey termed it a staff meeting. But two Flagler Beach city commissioners and the Flagler Beach mayor attended, and Coffey turned away a private citizen interested in the issue—Dennis McDonald, who was running for a county commission seat at the time.
McDonald raised a ruckus over the closed-door meeting, subsequently complaining about it before the Flagler County Commission, several of whose members termed themselves uncomfortable with the closed doors. Coffey defended his actions saying, correctly, that staff meetings are typically closed to the public. But the invitation of several elected officials from the same panel muddied his case.
When two or more members of an elected government panel gather in the same room for official business, especially business that their government is dealing with, the assumption is that the meeting is public. Strictly speaking, the law does not forbid elected officials from attending staff meetings as long as they remain silent and do not, before or afterward, speak with each other outside of their own public meetings. But the appearance of impropriety, and the sense that the public was excluded from a matter of great interest, made Coffey’s position more difficult to sustain. And the county attorney advised that he try again.
Monday morning, Coffey, the Flagler Beach officials and the same half-dozen Corps of Engineer staffers gathered at the county’s Emergency Operations Center for what was literally a re-enactment of the July staff meeting. This time the meeting was advertised. The public was welcome. Minutes were kept. And the staffers around the table went through the motions of what amounted to a formal mulligan.
“I didn’t really feel the need to have it again but we did,” a clearly uncomfortable Coffey said after the meeting. He explained it as “an abundance of caution,” and legality: “We talked with the attorney,” he said.
The meeting itself was not remarkable. It lasted 37 minutes. The original meeting, according to Jason Harrah, the Corps’ project engineer who led both meetings, lasted 37 to 40 minutes. Virtually the very same people were sitting around the table, including Bruce Campbell the Flagler Beach city manager, Linda Provencher, the Flagler Beach mayor, and Kim Carney, the Flagler Beach city commissioner. Commission Chairman Jane Mealy had been at the original meeting but wasn’t at this one.
McDonald was in the audience, half-satisfied that his initiative got the meeting re-enacted, and half-skeptical that the exercise was as transparent as it appeared.
“I saw a condensed version of what went on from back in July. They told us what they wanted us to hear,” McDonald said. The reason he was able to make that judgment? He’d acquired Carney’s notes from the original meeting, and saw disparities between the two. “What I do know is that having gotten Kim Carney’s notes from the city clerk in Flagler Beach, there was a discussion about the fact that the cost-benefit ratio did not work, so they couldn’t do the project. In other words the zip code 32136 wasn’t valuable enough to save according to their modeling.”
There was a lot of technical talk at Monday’s meeting—about dune extensions, the segmentation of the Flagler shore into four sectors, or “reaches,” each with its own projected costs—and the presenters were clearly going through motions, as a favor to the county, rather than engaging in earnest work. But it came down to laying out a timetable of mere possibilities rather than certainties.
The heart of the matter is a study of the dredging project, which has been slow-going, but that the Corps is now accelerating. Seven reviews of the study will take place concurrently rather than consecutively, so the study will be made public by February, for public review, with a meeting scheduled then to discuss what tentative plan may be adopted and what environmental impacts it might have, Harrah said.
As always, who will pay what, should it come to dredging, remains in question.
McDonald has more than a personal interest in the matter: his wife Janet is involved in save Flagler Beach, the organization backing a proposal by Dick Holmberg of Holmberg Technologies to install underwater “stabilizers” along the beach that would, according to Holmberg, rebuild the beach naturally. The Flagler Beach City Commission has voted to give Holmberg Technologies a try—assuming the commission can get the $50,000 necessary for a study of Holmberg’s project (Holmberg himself is requesting the $50,000). And assuming that Holmberg cooperates with local governments’ requirements of detailed explanations of what he would do with the money. So far, Holmberg is not cooperating fully: the information he’s sent Flagler Beach and the county falls short of answering either government’s questions.
The Corps of Engineers doesn’t like Holmberg much, either, and is unlikely to permit his project, even if local governments approve or fund it, though to McDonald it’s the more viable alternative to dredging.
“We can’t afford to wait, we can’t afford their prices, and we can’t afford the devastation,” McDonald said of the Corps’ very lengthy process of getting its projects through, and the project’s’ big price tags. “We’re in favor of anything that brings back naturally the beaches.”
Jim N says
How about putting some teeth into it!
I appreciate a meeting was reheld but it can not and was not and will not be the same as unfettered public access to a meeting that should not have been closed in the first place. I think Mr. Coffee should be issued a public written reprimand by the County Commissioners for the closing of the first meeting, especially since a citizen was there and wanted to listen. Any government that operates in secret is suspect… Any official who encourages, condones, and orchestrates said secret is even more suspect.
pamala zill says
I agree with Mr.McDonald.
Sorry to have to say this but its only going to take 1 hurricane that hits Flagler Beach head on and we will not have anymore beach or anything else standing east of the intra-coastal waterway. Spend a trillion dollars and put magic underwater seawalls up and down the beaches and it still will be TOTAL devastation.
This is a meeting that affects EVERYONE so it so be open.
I think the whole thing is silly, but, as usual, The RR people stir up trouble. I believe the first meeting was a “staff meeting” but more than one FB commissioner showed up. I do not think there was any intention of keeping secrets from the public, of whom hardly anyone ever shows up anyway.
I applaud Mr. Hadeed for taking measures to have another meeting for the public because it is well known how the RR people are quick to sue people and make trouble over nothing, and now Flagler Beach and the county have done everything legally. If McDonald thinks it was “transparent”, so be it. The RR putting in WRI’s into Primary races was transparent also. At least the Flagler Beach one was “beneficial” while the WRI trick was unethical.
McDonald could’ve gotten the transcript of the meeting and, after reading it, had any questions he could have called the appropriate people.
I didn’t see where the article said a substantial amount of residents showed up either.
RR people? Didn’t the article say that Mr. McDonald was a candidate for the commission when he filed the complaint?
You’re right, if they won’t show up, why should we follow the rules?
I don’t care how many show up, if we don’t force our local government to follow the rules, especially when it comes to action on saving the beaches, we deserve what we get.
Maybe that’s good enough for you, Tulip. Not for the rest of us. RR people are not alone in this thinking.
The ONLY reason you close a door …. so no one will hear what your discussing!!! How can we trust our leaders when they do things like this???
@ Magnolia—-We know that McDonald and his wife are members of the RR club, and was a candidate, and his wife is a write in on Fleming’s race .
I am totally in favor of saving the beaches, but this article is about a “staff meeting” that was held, some kind of rule was unintentionally broken, and McDonald was the only resident who showed up and the only one to complain, at least publicly.
@Jim N————–This issue was publicly brought up at a BOCC meeting, which I watched. The Board was not pleased and did “speak” to Mr. Coffey. In watching the meeting, and listening to the explanation of how it happened, it was apparent that it was NOT deliberately done to hide something from the public.
Janet O says
@ Tulip – Biased thinking and judging of anyone or anything because you happen to ‘know’ about one aspect of that person or subject is dangerously limiting. I suggest you not smear with a broad brush that has too much of your mixed and limited information to conclude what you do.
I encourage you to participate in all levels of this County’s government for ‘in person’ awareness, understanding comes from thinking & researching beyond what is presented, so that will take more effort.
I think if you revisit the tape of the BoCC, the issue came up because the commentary in favor of a public meeting was made at the planning stage by 3 of the Commissioners, and several made similar comments at the ‘complaint’ meeting. Much less energy wasted if things are done ‘in the Sunshine’ from the beginning.
I am so happy to hear that you are interested in saving the beach! It is our County’s identity, in spite of the new rebranding, and our most valuable treasure. I encourage all who are interested in becoming more informed about the current situation, the measures already tried and failed, here and elsewhere, at great cost to all of us as taxpayers with nothing even hinting at ‘dune and beach restoration,’ let alone stability for our A1A lifeline to visit http://www.saveflaglersbeach.com You will see some of what an incredible group of folks have done over the last 8 + years – volunteering time and talent for the benefit of our natural resources. More information can be found at http://www.erosion.com for a real solution that will restore beach, dunes, provide expanded habitat for flora and fauna on the beach and in the water, and protect the stability of A1A
And for those of you with time this Saturday, please come to north beach or to the pier to help south beach in the Beach Clean Up effort! All political persuasions are welcome – we all love our Flagler Beach!
@FlaglerLive – Mr. Holmberg has given detailed information about his work demonstrating effectiveness at more than 100 sites worldwide ( check out Googleearth to see how his projects are still building dunes, beaches, natural habitats and fauna on the beach and in the waters, and making safer shorelines for swimmers and surfers, and more of a buffer for storm occurrences ). Copies of his uniquely requested documentation are available if you have not gotten one. We might look at the story under the surface of the tri-board meeting. When have we ever asked the Army Corps to provide examples of their successful projects with demonstrated benefits 5, 10, or 15 years after installation? Mr. Holmberg did supply that in every site he produced – other than the successful one on Captiva that the Army Corps required be removed when they got a nearby project – which has subsequently failed…Captiva is left with less protection than they started. And what is the cost : benefit ratio of all of our taxes to the product we’ve received from the Army Corps to this point? And Federal $s are our $s, too!
@ All – If you prefer your information in dvd form, please check out The Big Uneasy from the Flagler Beach Library …a documentary on how Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans was a man-made disaster….by the Army Corps of Engineers and marginal construction.
Tulip, you know so much about this. Are you an elected official? What difference does it make if he is a member of the RR? Who are they stirring up trouble for? And why?
@Magnolia I am definately not an official, elected or otherwise. I am just a retired citizen who cares about the county and it’s cities and towns, and people’s rights.
For a few months before the primary it’s been very obvious what the RR did to some of the Primary races and why. It is also obvious that it deprived many hundreds, if not thousands of voters from voting in those races, or forced people who wanted to switch to decide which was more important, those races or the sheriff’s race, and a lot of people were very upset.. To me, and many many others, this was an unethical and mean to do. I have no respect for people who do that, nor the members and candidates who go along with it; They themselves, wouldn’t like it if they were deprived the right to vote in a race. I don’t want to hear about “party purity”, and there was at least one sheriff candidate in your group that was a Democrat.
I do know what a closed race is and that if the candidates in the race are all or both of the same party, than that race is “open” for anyone to vote in. Many voters didn’t know that. I didn’t either, until I started hearing about write ins and looked up Florida voting laws on the internet.
Ronald Reagan was once a democrat from what I understand. A lot of people respected him and the RR club uses his name to get people to join, and then a number of them resign because they find out it is not a club with Reagan’s ethics. I personally know a few people who resigned because they didn’t like the way the club is conducted. Now, since the Primary, many many more people are aware of the differences between RR and the “regular” Republican clubs.
Also, RR executives have NO right shoving another person such as happened recently. It’s real “manly” to shove a woman, especially. (not) I have also heard stories about other minor “disturbances”, but not 100% sure they are true. I do know the pushing incident is true.
I don’t care to go any further on this matter. I will be voting in November but knowing this controlling write in incident will happen again in the next partisan election, I have lost interest and probably will not vote at all. To me, candidates should be able to run their own races and win or lose on their own merits.
So that’s about all I have to say and hope I answered your questions satisfactorily and, quite frankly, I’m tired of the whole local election, and getting even more tired of the Presidential race. Can’t wait until it’s all over so I can enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas! (smile)
Tulip, My group? Where do I sign up?
I think I agree with Janet O’s comments re this article. You have gone far afield to smear Mr. McDonald’s reputation when he was absolutely correct in this case. And you obviously don’t care too much about this town, making a comment that “you have lost all interest and probably will not vote at all” is exactly why we are having problems in this town and in this country.
I did not intend to put you on the spot, but I think you have some thinking to do and I certainly hope you will vote. I enjoy reading your comments.
[Magnolia, a couple of points: please don’t go around making assumptions about other commenters’ identity when you yourself are not willing to post yours; and please don;t make assumptions about what they think. Stick to the issues. Thanks.–FL]