It was the first election of the year in Flagler County, and it was over before it started.
Flagler Beach City Commissioners Kim Carney and Marshall Shupe were re-elected each to a second three-year term today (Jan. 16), as 5 p.m. struck and no other candidate filed papers to challenge them. Flagler Beach would have held an election on March 4, which of course won’t be held, saving the city a few dollars and the two candidates time, money and energy.
It is the second election in a row in which two city commissioners have been re-elected without opposition. In February 2013, Steve Settle and Jane Mealy were re-elected to three-yer terms automatically.
In both cycles, the two candidates up for re-election had generally represented opposite poles on many issues that had animated the commission: mealy and Settle had clashed repeatedly in the three years before their re-election, and over the past 12 months in particular, Carney and Shupe had clashed as well, namely on matters involving the Flagler Beach Fire Department: Shupe, a volunteer fireman with the department, is its most ardent champion. Carney, witnessing the department’s many controversies stretching back to 2012, pushed the commission to at least explore consolidation with the county’s fire department. Carney did so even though she said at the time that it could be political suicide.
It wasn’t. The department stayed intact. But so did Carney’s political fortunes.
The controversies of the last few years sharpened opposition between commissioners, but clearly not to the point of triggering any desire among the electorate to bump one commissioner or another off the panel, or to shift the direction of the commission. Despite a political constituency that can be intensely political–albeit with intensity focused on numerous single issues rather than on the city’s politics or direction as a whole: nobody shows up at the city’s budget hearings, for example–the electorate voted with its silence, to some dismay for Carney and Shupe.
“I’m not saying I’m happy about it. I think every municipality should have an election,” Carney said. “If they don’t come out, they don’t come out, so you can’t make it happen.”
Neither Shupe nor Carney speculated too broadly about why no one ran against them, though they suggested a few theories: the town’s retirement-based =constituency may be in an especially pronounced mode of retirement. The difficult economy is causing more people to have to work harder, and dividing their time between a job or two and the commission may not be feasible. And always, the suggestion that perhaps the electorate is, after all, satisfied with the job the commission is doing, thankless as it often is, and poorly paid as it always is: a commissioner’s salary is $610 a month.
“In one way it’s gratifying, the fact that you don’t have to go out and beat the bushes, maybe the people are satisfied, or have some degree of happiness, the willingness to agree that Kim and I are doing the job,” Shupe said this afternoon, moments after he had officially been re-elected and moments before he celebrated by cooking hot-dogs on the grill in the backyard, with his wife. “The other side of the coin is you don’t get to go out and meet people if you are not beating the bushes.”
Shupe says his next three years won’t be different from his previous three: “Be fiscally prudent and try to keep costs the way they should be but at the same time not let the city lag behind technology wise or personnel wise,” he said. “We want the best people we can get.” Shupe is also happy with the job Bruce Campbell, the manager, is doing. “I think Bruce has done a good job. I don’t see any disruption with any of the town personnel within the next who knows when.”
The automatic re-election is cause for relief for Campbell, too, as that sort of non-change on a local government panel always is for a chief executive in relatively good standing: without a political change at the top, it means that the existing majority that has been happy with his job remains, automatically extending his tenure.
Carney, too, despite pronounced differences on some issues with Campbell–such as his handling of the fire house matters–is also satisfied with his job performance. He made two difficult hires, she said–filling the top posts in the police and fire departments–and so far the hires have worked out well.
Carney was quite expansive about her priorities in the coming years: “The biggest thing I’m looking forward to,” Carney said, “is the beach. I have this beach management plan project I started. I wanted to see that through. If Flagler Beach takes a firm position on the effects of the beach on our economy as well as our natural environment, I think we’ll be OK. So having a strong document, a strong buy-off from the commission, that we need to own, or be responsible for our beach, that’s probably my Number 1. I’m working through some of the holes in the land development code. I look forward to seeing that project through where we’re going to ‘fix’ some of the ordinances that need to be fixed. I want to work on that project. It’s going to take a while.”
Referring to Drew Smith, the workman-like city attorney on whose counsel many commissioners’ decisions pivot, Carney continued: “I also think our legal counsel right now gives a lot of stability to the commission as well, mostly in his advice. He gives us the advice we need, he’s very consistent, and I believe he’s very thorough. He’s very level-headed and I think he’s added to the consistency in the commission.”
As for the future beyond the current three-year term, Carney is reserved. Though just 57, She has two grandchildren in Texas and one in Orlando and a retired husband. Family matters may eventually take precedence. “So we’ll see,” Carney said.