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In Flagler Beach, a First Friday Flare-Up Derails a Hot-Rod Idea, Cautioning Businesses

| May 13, 2013

Commissioners Jane Mealy and Steve Settle have a serrated history. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioners Jane Mealy and Steve Settle have a serrated history. (© FlaglerLive)

The new biography of Thomas Jefferson Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy has been reading lately devotes a few pages to the political enmity between Jefferson and John Adams that, in the two men’s retirement, turned to one of the most ennobling friendships in American history. It is unlikely that Mealy and fellow-Commissioner Steve Settle are heading down that sort of Casablanca conversion.

The latest flare-up between the two commissioners took place toward the end of last Thursday evening’s commission meeting. Just as had been the case with their most public and bitter disagreement three years ago, it was over the consequence of questions commissioners pose their staff outside of commission meetings, when issues cannot be resolved more openly.

In this case, the disagreement was itself a consequence of a misunderstanding that caused a local business owner some grief, the loss of $1,000, and the cancellation of an event originally scheduled for the next First Friday, on June 4—all over whether city commissioners should be judging a Hot Rod car contest without first noticing their participation in the event as if it were a formal commission proceeding.

It sounds a little ridiculous, as disagreements on the Flagler Beach City Commission can be, but the source of the conflict was not: it was City Manager Bruce Campbell’s caution—or excess of caution—while ensuring that no laws were broken, however remote the possibility. And the conflict reveals to what extent businesses’ attempt to do exactly what the city asks them to do—get more involved in special events like First Friday—can backfire, through no fault of theirs.

Several months ago Christina Hutsell, the co-owner at Kokomo’s, one of Flagler Beach’s newer restaurants—across from City Hall, where the Beachhouse Beanery used to be—floated an idea: why not bring hot rods to the city for one of the First Friday events, and have the cars judged, with judges including some commissioners? Mealy was briefed on the idea, which she liked. Campbell develops those ideas through a First Friday committee that involves city staff and businesses.

According to Mealy, the idea went far enough that Hutsell invested $1,000 of her own to secure accommodations such as hotel rooms for visiting car buffs. Then it all fell apart.

“First I got a do you want to be a judge and five minutes later it was cancelled,” Mealy said. “So I’d like to know what happened.”

What happened was that Settle had raised questions with Campbell over the propriety of the judging, because he’d heard that the winner was to receive something called a Commissioners’ Cup, and he was concerned about the way First Friday committee meetings were being conducted. If that were so, it could be interpreted as official business, which would require public notices. Campbell would later explain that that had only been a working title for the cup and not necessarily its real name. But also that Settle’s questions were legitimate. (Campbell never mentioned who the commissioner was who’d questioned him.)

“I thought it was a great idea,” Campbell said of  Hutsell’s initiative. “I personally don’t think anything has been violated. To me we’re just trying to get the businesses involved in this whole effort of First Friday, and trying to get them to do something. We’ve sat here time after time after time and said gees, if we could just get the businesses to do something, we’ve all said that, we’ve all heard that. We’ve got them very minimally involved, but almost a thousand times more than maybe before, so I think it’s all good. I just have to make sure that we’re handling it correctly. That’s all I’m trying to do. So we took a pause with that. We can probably do the Hot Rod thing some other time. I don’t think there’s any big deal about it. It’s just the way it kind of played out.”

That’s when Mealy brought up the manner in which the discussion behind the scenes led to the hot rod cancellation. “I think part of what bothered me if it is only coming from one commissioner, that it’s something that should have been brought to all of us,” Mealy said, virtually echoing what she’d said, and about whom she’d said it, three years ago.

Settle tried to interrupt. “I’m the one who brought up the comment, so can I finish?” Mealy snapped back.

“You’re belaboring something that can be answered in about two seconds,” Settle said.

“Well, it cost the lady across the street $1,000, her investment personally,” Mealy said. “So it’s not just a tiny thing. As Bruce just said, we’ve been asking that the businesses get more involved for First Friday or other events. Here we had a wonderful opportunity. It wasn’t just Kokomo’s, it was Oceanside and some other restaurants,” she continued. “But my point is, if one commissioner has an issue, that has that kind of an effect, I think it’s something that should be brought to all of us at a meeting where we can all talk about it.”

Settle: “OK. Are you through lecturing?”

Mealy: “It wasn’t a lecture.”

Settle: “No, I’m the commissioner that raised the question, so let me explain to you what the question was, then maybe you’ll understand.”

Mealy: “OK.”

Settle: “I received an email that said there was going to be a commissioner’s cup and that several commissioners were going to judge. My question was, does that violate the sunshine law? Would we have to notice a commission meeting because three commissioners were acting in their official capacity?”

“We do it all the time,” Mealy said, referring to commissioners’ involvements in special events, when they may cook something or participate more directly in the event.

“You can do things as an individual, but if you’re representing the commission—maybe I’m being anal, or maybe I was going to far, and Drew, if you want to jump ion,” Settle said, referring to Drew Smith, the city attorney, who sits next to the city manager on the commission meeting floor. Smith did not jump in. “My question was, does this have to be noticed, do we have to do something more formal, because you’re calling it a commissioner’s cup, because commissioners are judging as commissioners, more than one. That’s all. The answer is, we don’t know. No one was suggesting that something be cancelled. No one. Just, do we have to be concerned about the sunshine law. That’s all.”

“Because I’m asked to judge a car?” Mealy asked.

“Because you’re acting in official capacity with other commissioners, that’s all,” Settle said.

Mealy disagreed, saying she was merely going to judge a car with whoever else might be there, without conferring.

“If that’s the answer I would have received, there would have been no problem,” Settle said.

Ironically, that may have been closer to a sunshine violation—by a hair—than any of the matters under discussion until then, since one commissioner cannot have a conversation about city issues through an intermediary, outside of open meetings.

Smith, at any rate, had no issue with the judging. “The calling it a commissioner’s cup lends it an air that it otherwise might not have,” he said. “If it’s their cup, if it’s their award, it’s not the city giving an award—if it’s the city giving an award it’s a different story. But if it’s just you acting in a non-city capacity, no sunshine law.” Smith noted that cautionary questions were not unwarranted, adding: “I know it seems trivial, but there are people, and you’ve all read the articles, you’ve probably dealt with some, there are people who are just waiting for a reason to sue cities or commissioners over sunshine law violations,” Smith said. “It’s the reality of it. I won’t fault anybody for being concerned, because if I just heard it, I would probably have the same concern.”

Campbell took responsibility for the cancellation. “I guess I need to be more careful as far as the directions that I give and the latitude that I give the private citizens, the businesses that are part of this committee,” Campbell said.

“No, that’s what I was afraid you were going to say. I don’t think there needs to be a change, unless other people do,” Mealy said, not wanting to alienate businesses. “Back to we’ve been saying we wish the businesses would get more involved. Back to what the purpose of First Friday is. Back to the purpose of what the CRA is. I don’t think you’ve been doing anything wrong, nor has anybody who brings these suggestions to the city done anything. I don’t think you need to do anything differently. Unless other people disagree with me.”

That prompted another round of sniping between Settle and Mealy.

Settle: “Commissioner, the only area of disagreement was try to get as much—if you’re going to ask for help, invite help from anyone, not just selected people.”

“He didn’t ask her, she brought it forth,” Mealy said, dating the original idea of the hot rods to six or seven months before.

Settle: “OK, if you want to belabor this, go ahead, I knew you were going to make a big deal about it.”

Mealy: “Well, it is a little more than a disagreement, it cost people money, it affected other businesses.”

Settle: “OK, then let me explain something to you, if I have a question I’m going to ask our city manager whether you like it or not.”

Mealy: “No, you should ask him the question.”

Settle: “OK, I’m going to continue doing that.”

Mealy: “Nothing wrong with that.”

Settle: “I have no idea what someone is going to do in reaction to a question, and if someone lost $1,000, I’m sorry.”

Mealy: “I was not criticizing you, I was criticizing what happened as a result. It was not against you.”

The end result is that there will still not be a hot rod show at the next First Friday event, and businesses may be more leery of proposing ideas that may founder on the city’s hazy procedural shoals.

When the matter was over, Settle, who chairs the commission, turned to Jane McGrew and said: “Commissioner McGrew, do you have comments?”

“You don’t want to hear them,” she shot back. She did not address the issue.

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24 Responses for “In Flagler Beach, a First Friday Flare-Up Derails a Hot-Rod Idea, Cautioning Businesses”

  1. BlueBoy says:

    This what happens when everybody thinks they are a lawyer.

    And when everybody IS a lawyer, things get even worse.

  2. Sandi says:

    Dang! Thanks to Kokomo’s who tried to bring an interesting event to FF – let’s take up a collection to reimburse them for the $1,000 they lost to this ridiculous non-issue. Steve, I think you should kick in the first $5.

  3. long time flagler beach says:

    Wow! And this folks is who is in charge of our city…..

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why does our city commissioners continuously want to be stuck in the last century. Stable minds cause a dull and inactive approach towards growth. Creativity and vision allows rewards.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is a really big waste of time! Way to Go Kokomo’s!! Welcome to failure(Flagler) county . . . .

  6. Chenzo says:

    Back door politics if you ask me. I think it would be interesting to see what a business is to do, to better our community when you have close minded individuals calling shots.

    The best thing we can do is support Kokomoswhich luckily isn’t that hard to do considering their love and passion not only for the community but their product.

    Wish our city heads could do the same.

    Your pal,

  7. Anonymous says:

    Another hot rod or car show? PU LEASE! These car shows have become a virus multiplying beyond control. How many times can you look at these cars??? The more shows, the less interest and the less novelty. Glad they nixed the car show nonsense.

  8. Ron Hubbard says:

    Another hot rod or car show? PU-LEASE! These car shows have become a virus multiplying beyond control. How many times can you look at these cars??? The more shows, the less interest and the less novelty. Glad they nixed the car show nonsense.
    Politicians are going to have to learn to start actually thinking to figure out how to spend less and use the taxpayer’s money MUCH more wisely.

  9. Nikia says:

    I think I will go to Kokomo’s just because…

  10. Robert Lewis says:

    Maybe Settle would have not put up a stink of this were a pie eating contest. This guy is the cause of many problems on the commission. He also makes too much of a fuss about ethics. I’m starting to wonder if he has something to hide. I don’t trust him.

  11. Truth of the matter says:

    Truth is, Commissioner Mealy for many years now has seldom been far away when confrontation and controversy, raise their ugly heads often to the detriment of our city. Please try to remember, you are no longer the chair Commissioner Settle is.

    It is the opinion of many, that our city Fire Dept is just one recent example of this commissioners meddling. That example became clear when that department, it’s chief and firefighters brought harm and embarrassment to both our city and themselves, with their truck buying fiasco.

    One might even suggest, that this could have come about simply because Commissioner Mealy and Commissioner (fire volunteer) Shupe, both elected officials, got far to cozy with that department.

    Shupe as a sitting commissioner, was then and still is on thin ice with the current issues concerning this department’s future now front and center, he should certainly move recuse himself from that issue asap.

    It was inferred during the time prior to the shopping spree, that Commissioner Mealy made numerous visits to the fire station, and even viewed videos of new fire trucks which they the F.F. ‘s had on their wish list .

    Question is, could such involvement by two elected officials, Commissioner Mealy and ( fire volunteer) Commissioner Shupe, have given the chief and his firefighters the idea. that the commission had all but endorsed the buying trip ?

    A trip in which they visited several cities across the country in order to look at new fire engines etc. All done without the courtesy of notifying the city manager, or the other three commissioners for that matter.

    That poor decision to take that shopping trip, might never have even taken place, if these two commissioners were not so intimately involved at the fire station.

    As for fighting over special events, I would guess the majority of residents are probably not against visitors coming to town for First Friday events, or the fact that our business community prospers from these events.

    They would however, ask Commissioner Mealy that instead of your petty bickering bouts with fellow commissioners including the chair, that your time might be better spent giving our residents a full accounting of just how much of their money you are spending on these never ending events.

    Yes, the very same people who must cough up their taxes to pay for police protection, fire rescue / cleanup and so on, for all these events would like to know. What do all these bright ideas you keep coming up with actually cost us, and how do they impact our life styles as residents ?

    Oh yes, and while you are at it, you may also want to do the accounting on the CRA, you may not realize it, but there are a lot of people in our town that are not as fortunate as you and I, and each dollar wasted impacts their lives.

  12. FBSurferGirl says:

    This is why I don’t attend FB Commission meetings.

  13. hmmm says:

    ais a idea to ask Drew the city attorney, to give a refresher on the ‘sunshine law’ do’s and dont’s. Also, this needs to be in a hand- out form available to all who attend these council meetings. I think the parking prdsdntation did not provide adequate support materials and other presentations as well were lacking as well. Also, this City Council is way too petty. I find an o erall la k of perspective and civility. No Bonaire

  14. fla native says:

    this town will climb a tree to make things difficult when it could stand on the ground and have things easy. it just keeps happening like a bad movie. I need a vacation.

  15. Realty Check says:

    This may be the political joke of the year; the BS in this issue should show that politicians should be left on an island by them selves. Please commissioners get over your title and just judge a car show, a chili cook off or any other event with out all the BS, or change the name of the cup but for the love of Pete just stop all the nonsense.

  16. Donna Heiss says:

    And this is one of the reasons I closed my business in Flagler Beach. No opportunity to move foward.

  17. JL says:

    Personally, I hope everyone that is a registered vote writes to the Commissioners, particularly Settle, and tells them how ridiculous this whole thing was. OMG, can we say “Blown out of proportion!” I think Settle was upset because he wasn’t asked to be a judge. Kudos to Kokomos for coming up with a wonderful idea. I think First Friday’s needs something to get more people involved. It could be so much better than it currently is. And businesses need to help. And this is what they get for it. Thanks for nothing Settle. How about next time, you just remain silent. You guys ain’t no Miami or NYC. You’re little ol’ Flagler Beach. Give me a break!!

  18. Interested Observer says:

    Well, here we go again! The all knowing and concerned “BIG FISH in a little pond” city leaders squabling over whether or not they are engaging in an official act and causing yet another local business to lose money because of it! They all need to pull their propective heads out of their asses and get a grip on reality!! They want local business to get involved in “First Friday” then they once again make it impossible to conduct business. Can anyone say, INEPT? All that first friday has become is a place for parents to come and plop down on the grass and turn the kidsa loose to run through the vendors booths and reck havock. The local businesses aren’t able to sell anything because they are baby-sitting! I applaud Kokomo’s for their effort and will make sure that I drop in and buy something from them to help them recoup the money that was lost because of stupidity! BTW, has anyone noticed that the entertainment is not “local”? Other than booking David Lane, their choice of music is not the local folks, who are also “local businessmen” trying to earn a living as well. Why not give those folks a chance to promote their talents and the local places that they play? NAW, I guess that would be too easy to think of for our high minded and concerned civic leaders!

  19. Jackie Mulligan says:

    Well everyone, I see we are all on board for changes.

    Where are you when these items need to be addressed at a commission, don’t just write it on Flagler Live,
    Do both, attend and speak and share your concerns and put it on F.L.
    This is your community, if you want it different, get up and say so.

    I have attended Commission meetings for the last 30 years, and most of the time there are only a handful of people, you can now view it on the computer .
    Don’t just wait till something is in your back yard, we are such a small town what happens in someone else’s backyard will effect you eventually.
    Please,get involved, especially the younger generation, this will be your town soon, talk to your elected officials, tell them how you would like to see the town grow.Run for office! be involved.Speak up!

    Thank You,
    Jackie Mulligan

  20. James says:

    Truth of the matter,

    Let me fix some errors for you:

    – Ex Chief
    – Former Firefighters.

    With that being said those issues are behind the city and the local fire department. All this talk of moving forward and you’re sitting here reminiscing on the past. The Flagler Beach Fire Department is not what it was when the ex Fire Chief ran it. I take pride in my city and attended the open house at the fire department just a couple weeks ago. It’s obvious there has been major improvement and that there are quality firefighters, both career and volunteer, running the department now.

    — James C.

  21. BeachLvr84 says:

    This is the EXACT reason we need to get people out to the polls when voting season strolls around to get these morons out of office! Flagler Beach needs LEADERSHIP and these people don’t know what the heck they’re doing. I’m sorry but if you are risking a local business owner’s PERSONAL FUNDS over a quabble regarding whether you are performing an official act, you need to drop your participation completely. Get other people to judge – stop feeling so darn important because quite frankly, you’re nothing more than a talking head and a poor example at that.

    So sad for this town – as citizens we DESERVE BETTER! :(

  22. JonQPublik says:

    Though far removed from the area, and notably the individuals involved, this article had me laughing! I thought I was reading a script from a television dramedy. But to be serious…

    If personality clashes prevent the city moving forward, well, time for some new personality. If your car’s engine only runs when it’s in neutral– or reverse– then it’s time for some work. It’s a shame that the businesses, event planners and the community itself have to struggle to move forward.

  23. Agnese says:

    and you wonder why no one wants to be involved with this event you need to back away and let real people plan it with no agenda

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