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Commissioner Alan Peterson Logs His Last Meeting, But Not Without One Last Showdown

| November 19, 2012

Alan Peterson’s final hour on the Flagler County Commission Monday evening. On Tuesday, newly elected commissioners will fill two empty seats after their swearing-in. (© FlaglerLive)

Alan Peterson, a New Englander, is not a sentimental man, at least not in public. But he’s not a man without sentiment. When fellow-commissioners bid him their official farewell toward the end of a Flagler County Commission meeting this evening, Peterson furtively wiped evidence suspiciously like tears. From both eyes. His colleagues’ eyes had moistened, too, making it by far the wettest commission agenda item involving Peterson, ever.

For four years, Peterson, a retired banker, had been the commission’s ablest bean-counter, but also its prickliest, mercilessly detecting and tearing apart inconsistencies in budget requests, whoever was the source. He could stare down a new fire truck—and did, last summer, when he denied Flagler County Fire Rescue a new engine—with the same resolve that he denied employee raises for his entire one-term tenure.

He had memorably abrasive encounters with Kimberle Weeks, the supervisor of elections, and Gail Wadsworth, the clerk of court, over the years, whenever either sought a few dollars more. Suzanne Johnston, the tax collected, and Jay Gardner, the property appraiser, never provoked him because their budgets were always Peterson-like—lean, minimalist, unassuming. And Don Fleming, the sheriff, made sure to appear before the commission as rarely as possible, if at all, thus avoiding Peterson’s line-item demolitions.

Fleming self-destructed this year, but Peterson’s loss to Charlie Ericksen by an extremely narrow margin left him smarting over an electoral process that had been gamed against him: his primary election against Ericksen (both are Republicans) was supposed to be open to all voters, regardless of registration status, because they were the only two candidates in the primary or general race, making it an open primary—until someone (whose name no one remembers even now) filed as a write-in candidate. That created the false impression that there’d be a general election after all, thereby (by Florida law) closing the Peterson-Ericksen race to all but Republicans. Some 40,000 Democrats and independents were disenfranchised.

Ericksen is a conservative Republican who had the backing of the county’s more right-wing factions, and the cheers of Commissioner Nate McLaughlin (whose campaign Ericksen had run two years earlier). Peterson is a moderate. He lost by 139 votes out of 8,200 cast. The write-in, of course, never bothered running in the general, the job of ensuring Ericksen’s election done. Ericksen takes his oath of office on Tuesday, along with Frank Meeker, the former Palm Coast City Council member, who won the seat Milissa Holland vacated to run an unsuccessful race for a Florida House seat.

For all that, Peterson wasn’t done Monday. You can always tell the lazy politicians who never read their meeting packets from those who do. With Peterson, you could almost sense the volume of marginalia that filled his meeting packets, which he read like a law student preparing for an LSAT. And Monday evening, with Wadsworth sitting in the audience—and after Peterson questioned write-offs in the county’s ambulance budget—he again took out his scalpel against the clerk of court’s budget when talk turned to giving all county employees a one-time bonus, at a cost of $275,000.

Curiously, neither Peterson nor his fellow commissioners questioned County Administrator Craig Coffey not placing the item of the bonuses on the agenda. Coffey brought out the matter during his portion of the meeting. The details were not included in the meeting’s back-up materials. Yet Coffey had penned a letter to commissioners on Nov. 16 outlining the issue of the bonuses, and noting candidly: “Staff recognizes that this is a hypersensitive issue versus rational discussion and chose not to bring this up for clarification during the election season.”

The commission had agreed in principle to some form of one-time bonus during the budget season, but had never discussed particulars. The memo provided six alternatives. But all that information about what Coffey described correctly as a “hypersensitive issue” was never publicized in the public documents in the run-up to tonight’s meeting. Commissioners got that memo individually. And none of them, including Peterson, questioned the method, though Peterson had, in the past, openly criticized Coffey for slipping in items on the agenda at the last minute. In this case, nothing was slipped in until Coffey’s time to speak, at the end of the meeting, even though the item entailed a considerable expenditure, and a vote by the commission.

Peterson chose to focus on a different side of the equation.

Wadsworth already gave most of her employees actual raises ranging 1 to 6 percent, with one promoted employee getting 13 percent. She did so, she said, by merging two departments into one and leaving two vacated positions unfilled. Some of her employees were slated to get the additional county-funded bonus. The moist-eyed moment had already taken place, but Peterson had no sympathy for her, though he didn’t mention her by name.

“It’s very disheartening,” Peterson said of the clerk’s raises, awarded independently of other county employees (as is every constitutional officer’s right, though other constitutional officers had so far mostly refrained from awarding them). “It’s very unfortunate that some people are being treated differently than others.” Peterson wasn’t opposed to the bonus plan. He backed one proposal that was eventually approved: a one-time, net payment of $400 to employees making $60,000 or less, and $200 for employees making $60,000 or more. And he wasn’t opposed to the bonus going to Wadsworth’s employees, either. But he found Wadsworth’s raises unfair.

Wadsworth then turned the tables. She told commissioners that she could not accept their bonus offer—not unless all her employees received it. Some of Wadsworth’s staff is paid by the state, some paid with county dollars, depending on their duties. “I would ask you to exclude the clerk’s office,” Wadsworth said. “I can’t give to half of my staff and not the other half of my staff.” But by the time her intercession was done, the commission had agreed to extend the bonuses to all her staff, assuming the law allows it.

When the meeting was over, Wadsworth walked up to Peterson, shook his hand, and told him: “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Peterson said.

He may not be. Looking a very young 74, Peterson said government service is his way of giving back. He’s leaving the door open to another run at public office, either in Palm Coast or in the county. But his next chance in either jurisdiction is in four years (he was re-districted out of Palm Coast City Council member Bill Lewis’s district, which is up in two years, and is now in Bill McGuire’s district). Peterson said he’d welcome service on either the county’s economic development council or its library board, but seats must come open on those boards first.

After each commissioner had spoken his and her piece regarding Peterson’s tenure, Peterson said, with characteristic discretion: “I don’t think I’ve done anything special that somebody else wouldn’t have done.” He then gave a brief state of the county address, predicting a better economy ahead, lower unemployment, and a county administration staffed capably and more efficiently than in the past. “Hopefully the new commissioners will be able to do some of the things that are needed and hopefully keep future tax rates close to the current tax rates, which all of us have worked so very hard to achieve.”

He then wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving “and a very happy, healthy holiday season.”

Alan Peterson, right, shaking hands with George Hanns, along with Barbara Revels and Nate McLaughlin this evening, right after getting a plaque recognizing his service.
(© FlaglerLive)

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14 Responses for “Commissioner Alan Peterson Logs His Last Meeting, But Not Without One Last Showdown”

  1. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    Sorry guys, I’ll get a little sentimental when these types of Public Servants (who have had successful careers in the past and retired) do these jobs for free. Than we’ll see how much they like being public servants or the public being their servants. Until then – nothing but Narcissist.

  2. Will says:

    OK Anonymousay…

    You can be the Grinch if you want, but personally I want to thank Mr. Peterson for his diligent service for the past four years on the County Council. Whether you disagree or agree with some of his positions, he did his homework and voted his conscience. I admire his approach to government. And I don’t feel badly about one cent he earned for his time on the commission. Instead of golf, tennis, or fishing, he chose to engage and give back to Flagler County. There’s nothing wrong with golf, tennis, or fishing – but there’s something right about public service the way Alan Peterson does it.

  3. Lonewolf says:

    Irritable old conservative grouch

  4. PJ says:

    Please run for Palm Coast………….we need you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! enough said.

  5. Henry says:

    Mr. Peterson, we need you back in Palm Coast and put Landon where he belongs!!!

  6. Donna Heiss says:

    Mr. Peterson will be greatly missed. You have served us well sir.

  7. kmedley says:

    Neither Peterson’s salary, nor that of the other Commissioners, was sufficient to endure Kimberle B. Weeks’ arrogance and obstinance and her complete contempt for the Board. I wrote many letters to Mr. Peterson, about her budget, and I’d like to thank him for not only taking time to read the letters; but, for following through by holding her accountable. They all need a bonus for having to tolerate Weeks!

  8. tulip says:

    @ Kmedley I can’t wait until the next budget entertainment season comes! It’s kind of unnerving though, because how persistent will the new commissioners be with her? I think Meeker and Revels will stand their ground if she goes overboard, but Ericksen and McLauglin might be weaker. Well, that’s down the road a bit.

    I just hope that we are going to get hit with higher taxes now that two of the strong commissioners, Holland and Peterson are no longer there to say “no” to a lot of things. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.

    • kmedley says:

      Tulip –

      The budget season, especially when its Weeks’ time to appear before the Boad and explain her budget, is entertaining and a sad commentary at the same time. We hear hours of back and forth, and bottles of Tylenol are passed around and emptied among the Commissioners. There are minor cuts here and there; but, at the end of the day, she is not held accountable; and yes, I’ll say it, thanks to an uneducated electorate, we now have four more years of this “must see FCTV”. Seriously, when the payment of bonuses was finally proven, what was she required to do? Pay the money back? The answer is “Nothing”, an description fast becoming synonymous with government action. The Board has the power, as outlined in the statutes, and fail to use it for fear of appearing as a bully against Weeks. Now that’s just rich in irony.

      • Beachgoer says:


        Why are you again high-jacking a story to rant? According to the supervisor of elections website you are not competent to manage your political campaign finance reports because your last report does not balance, so why do you feel compelled to bad mouth our supervisor of elections for the fine work she does managing hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars while running the elections office? You and others have made false accusations against Weeks regarding bonuses. You may send our commissioners letters, but I’m sure they consider the source, and find such correspondences of no value.

        Kimberle weeks won her reelection by the largest margin of any candidate in the general election.

  9. tulip says:

    @ KMEDLEY, yes the Week’s budget confrontation is entertaining, sad and can hold one can become aghast at what they are seeing and listening to. I just wonder if the new BOCC will hold her to the fire as much as the last one did. I hope so, because give Weeks an inch and she will take over the whole issue and turn it to her side and win.

  10. confidential says:

    @kmedley. By the way, the Mr. Meeker I know, for sure will have better things to deal with and resolve than waste time witch hunting our overwhelming elected constitutional officials, specially when like Mrs Weeks received a mention from Tallahassee on her excellent performance.
    As far is concerned Revels I think she may not want to upset the electorate either using again selective micro management. The rest of the BOCC including Mr. Ericksen know well that we are all very conscious of budget strains and the use of our taxes, but also that we want constructive and not destructive critique based on frivolous facts.

    • kmedley says:


      Before touting Tallahassee’s findings as a tribute to Weeks, you may wish to invest a little time and energy into actually reviewing the criteria used in establishing the rankings. By the way, if you define “witch hunting” as a methodical process of reviewing Weeks’ budget, researching data, and disputing her findings and reasonings in a professional and respectful manner, then the Frank Meeker I have come to know will be extremely interested in participating.

      • Get a Life says:

        I did my homework and am impressed with the accomplishments Weeks. The Governor designed the ranking and it wasn’t designed for Weeks and 12 other supervisors to rank the highest.

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