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Frank Meeker, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview

| August 24, 2014

Frank Meeker is in a re-match with Dennis McDonald in the Aug. 26 Republican primary. (© FlaglerLive)

Frank Meeker is in a re-match with Dennis McDonald in the Aug. 26 Republican primary. (© FlaglerLive)

Frank Meeker is a candidate for the Flagler County Commission, running in District 2. A two-year incumbent, Meeker is in a rematch with Dennis McDonald in the Aug. 26 Republican primary. Only Republicans get to vote in that contest. No Democrats are running. The winner will face Howard Holley in the November 4 general election.

In District 4, first-term incumbent Republican Nate McLaughlin is facing a challenge from Mark Richter. No Democrat chose to run. The winner will face Denise Calderwood, also a Republican who chose to run as an independent in the general election. Holley’s and Calderwood’s interviews will run after the primary.

Commissioners represent specific districts, but they are elected by voters across the county, including every city’s voters. A county commissioner is paid $50,222 a year. The salary is set by state law, based on county population, but paid out of local dollars.

FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all four commission candidates, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked, and that all exchanges would be on the record. Each candidate was also given the opportunity to ask his or her opponent questions. Follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in italics.

The Questions in Summary: Quick Links

The Basics:

Place and Date of Birth: Newport, Rhode Island, 1955.
Current job:Flagler Board of County Commissioners, District 2
Party Affiliation: Republican
Net Worth: Including my house, 543K. See financial disclosure form here.
Website: None provided.

1. What makes you qualified to be a county commissioner?

Because nothing prepares you better for serving Flagler County’s future, than having served Flagler County’s past. I’ve lived in Palm Coast for almost 30 years. Debbie and I raised two children here, dodged numerous hurricanes, dealt with two countywide fires, a sleet storm, rattlesnakes, water moccasins, high gas prices, the burst of the “bubble” and drought conditions like many of you. I’ve devoted those same years to making the county a better place through establishing or working in a number of volunteer organizations, as listed at the Facebook page.

I’ve been helping and working in and around Flagler County Government gaining knowledge and firsthand experience for almost 30 years. Flagler County Landfill Selection Committee, Palm Coast Utility Advisory Committee, Palm Coast Community Service Corporation, Palm Coast Planning and Land Use Regulation Board (Chairman twice).

I Became a Certified County Commissioner in less than a year. I holds the “Advanced” rating and “standard” rating for a Certified City Commissioner. This creates governmental management experience no other District 2 candidate has.

I have a strong Florida based education in environmental sciences and coastal zone management. I Have worked both sides of the fence, private and public. City Councilman in Palm Coast for five years. I have strong contacts within state and local governments. I have also served on numerous state committees such as the Senate and Natural Resources Wetland Action Committee, Senate and Natural Resources Solid Waste Management Committee, Senate Wetland Action Committee. I understand how local governments work, how budgets are set up under governmental and financial accounting standards, and more importantly, why. I am able to offer a solid bridge for discussion of initiatives that benefit both the cities and the county having established strong working relationships with the Palm Coast City Council members and the current Commission. In a similar vein, I’ve developed strong personal working relationships with the cities within the county and am capable of offering support and dialogue based on those relationships to work for improvements that benefit all.

As a current Flagler County Commissioner I have an understanding that government is different from the private sector and for profit corporations. Government is not designed to be profitable as that would come on the backs of the tax payers. It is designed to provide services in the most cost effective manner. County government has alternative needs for services with limited sources of revenue in order to provide the basis for a high quality of life in Flagler County.

Those making foolish election promises to garnish votes now translates into tax increases to pay for those miss-steps later. In short, I have knowledge and proven experience to help Flagler County move forward.

Click On:


2. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, what your temperament is like: what would your enemies say is your best quality, and what would your friends say is your worst fault? Give is real-life examples to illustrate your answer.

I research and bring solutions with the willingness to collaborate with others working for the good of the whole, and not for the special interests of a political niche. I make my judgment based upon facts, not political ideology. I’m not a political bomb thrower, I don’t do frivolous legal challenges or make political threats.

I don’t particularly care about what my opponents have to say about me. They will never, ever, stretch out the hand in friendship and I suspect that the current crop would not be able to point at me and find any best quality.

What is of more interest to me are those who would have considered me an enemy a year ago, have gotten to know me better, and now consider me a friend. That is the measure of the kind of man that I am. I’ll discuss any issue or decision with anybody who has an open mind relative to decisions I’ve made. If I’m proven to be wrong, I share a positive trait to something attributed (sometimes questionably) to John Maynard Keynes who was quoted as saying, “when the facts change, I change my mind. And what do you do sir?” Get your facts straight, let’s sit down over a cup of coffee, and we’ll talk. Convince me you’re right, and I’ll do what I can to make it right.

Lastly, when I see something I believe is wrong, I stand up and try to fix it. Examples? The African American Cultural Center grant denial of 10K$ by the Palm Coast Parks and Recreation Board about six years ago. The denial was not based upon policy, and could have been corrected easily. Council Member Mooreman was strangely absent that night, and I’m the guy who got the city council to send it back to the recreational board, make the necessary change, and turn the denial around and into an approval.

By challenging outside consultants, I fixed an unworkable stormwater ordinance with fees being charged creating inequities that would send us to court against land owners and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars ending with a losing battle in court.

You have not told us of any faults about yourself that you or your friends perceive. Surely, like Keynes, you have a few.

As a goal oriented leader, my personal frustration level interferes with my ability to think cogently and wisely at times, especially when I’m not on “heightened alert”.  I alluded to this in another answer. I get frustrated seeing how poor the county is at getting the message out, especially “facts” on why we do things the way we do them.  I get frustrated if people see something negative in an email and they just accept it without going back and fact checking it.  I get frustrated at having to explain the same issue over and over and over to the same person with “Just Market Value” discussions being one of the current favorites (see the discussion “again” below).  Here’s one more personal frustration.  People hear a rumor, assume it’s the truth, and don’t check for the facts.  An email, a personal meeting, and very little additional effort would help clear things up most of the time.

3. What are the three most critical issues facing the county, and where do you stand on each?

    1. The long wait for the private side to gain more confidence in the local economy, kick into gear and initiate more hiring of local talent. Part of this is due to the strange political climate that deters and permeates our community seriously impacting our economic development efforts.
    2. Diversification of commercial and industrial opportunities.
    3. Important to constituents within my District is a drainage, flooding and groundwater quality issue that has been kicked down the road for the last 50 years.

Where do I stand? We need to demonstrate that we are here to help. Continue to expedite permits and approvals. Continue to advertise the life style values available in Flagler County in print and electronic media. Work on relationships with the site selectors. Bring prospective businesses into our Chamber of Commerce and introduce them to the board. Let other businesses help sell the benefits of Flagler County. Continue to support and unleash the economic opportunity folks. Achieving these goals requires unconventional thinking, strategic planning and motivational speaking as we find ways to share what we all love about Flagler County, without wrecking what brought us here in the first place.

We’ve made improvements in diversification, but the pace is slow. We need to continually dialogue with our existing businesses regarding their needs and search for innovative ways to meet those needs, especially in the dearth of trade workers. Continue to make improvements and investments that enhance the value of the Flagler County Airport. Continue to partner with our colleagues within the local city jurisdictions, combining our strengths, to attract new businesses and while retaining those we have. Maintain our strong financial position and hold on to our solid Standard and Poor’s rating.

On the Malacompra North Drainage Project, I’m providing the solution, not mere talk. We will complete the design and get the permit. During the legislative session, I will lead a three pronged attack to secure funding under the  Total Maximum Daily Loads program with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, seek additional stormwater retrofit funding from the St. Johns River Water Management District, and secure financial assistance from the House and Senate by leveraging my strong relations with our legislative delegation. Further, I’ve already solicited support from two St. Johns County commissioners in laying the groundwork for this project, which incorporates the headwaters of their Class II Shell Fishing areas. This project helps support needed improvements in St. Johns County (mainly taking large areas of septic tanks off line and moving them to a central sewer collection system) in their Districts and I’m pleased they have offered me their help and assistance.

What is that “strange political climate that deters and permeates our community” specifically, and what have you actually accomplished in terms of economic diversification in your two years on the commission?

Part one – I’m a scientist so I look at things analytically.  Primaries are prone to the far sides of both parties who rally the troops to go after someone or something that rubs them the wrong way.  These people come up with a litmus test for candidates, or chose any warm body that will go after an incumbent, who is willing to support a message laced with vitriol and malice, and only support a narrow view at the expense of the opinions of the other side and the middle because they are not open minded.  I believe we have to represent all of Flagler County, not just a narrow few.  I try to work effectively with all.

Part two – As a solitary commissioner, I try to build consensus to achieve common goals for the betterment of the constituents I represent.  I promote policies to accomplish that task, and the manager hires staff to implement those policies.  Considering the Department of Economic Opportunity is basically two years old, projects like Aveo Engineering (LED lighting products/high tech), WP Rawl (vegetable growing/agricultural along with regional shipping), Coastal Cloud (IT/Technology Strategies), TBD Partners (technology solutions), Designs for Health (high quality nutritional supplements), and Gioia Sails South (boat and yacht canvas) which all are diverse in the areas they specialize in, demonstrate that I am contributing to successfully meet the goals and objectives set by the commission through the support of staff as they implement our policies.

4. What do you think county government is doing well, and how will you build on that? What do you think county government is doing poorly, and what will you do to improve matters?

We’ve done a good job fixing budget problems from the last couple of years.  Operational differences at the start of the fiscal year 2013-14 budget was $3.3 million, just to stay even without having to address any new challenges. Previously made up with reserves, which have now been spent out, and are lower than recommended, if for example, we needed cash on hand to fund a cleanup after a major storm.

So we cut and cut, discussed some more. We looked at possible additional revenue sources (property taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, special taxing districts, and increasing fees), cutting more services, reducing expenses and using what little reserves remained. We froze some new capital projects, reduced capital equipment, reduced health insurance benefits and raised premiums. Focused more efforts on grant funding before approving capital projects. After exhausting those options, we settled on a property tax incraese if  $0.975 per $1,000 in taxable value.

Result: The County Budget is back on track to become fiscally sound, and our efforts were rewarded by Standard and Poor’s changing our bond rating from A+ to AA-. 

What are we doing poorly? We don’t advertise our success as well as we should. We’ve been getting better at that.

How is a downgrade in your rating a positive accomplishment, and what does it say about your credit? Saying you don’t advertise your successes very well says you don’t, as a county, do anything poorly in terms of policy, execution or management of projects and so on. Are you telling us that the county does things perfectly except for advertising that perfection? Surely not. What are the county’s weaknesses?

You are talking about the Standard and Pour’s rating going from A+ to AA-?  That is not a down grade, it is a higher rating.  The more “A”s the better and this means borrowing costs should be lower whenever we need to go out and bond something.

As for a stated weakness, you asked for one, and I gave you one.  We don’t advertise to my satisfaction the success we have in lifestyle improvements, growth, keeping services going through difficult economic times, etc.  Nor do we crow about the symbiosis between the city councils and the county commission that has occurred since I joined the commission.  That’s a weakness and I called us out on it.  

5. Give your critique, loving or not so loving, of the county’s major big works: the acquisition and re-development of the old Memorial Hospital into a Sheriff’s Operations Center, and the expansion of the jail, miscalculations about the cost included.

Sheriff’s Operations Center

Let’s clarify a term or two first. Assessed value, most of the time aka “just market value,” is a number the property appraiser places on the property for the purposes of “assessing” a property tax, and has nothing to do with the selling price of a piece of property. That is clearly stated on Mr. Gardner’s website. If any of your readers would like to sell their property for the “assessed value,” just post their phone number and contact information in the comments section on this website, and I suspect people will flock to your door. Why bring this up? Because my opponent doesn’t get this, and I read papers and blogs too, and to say that we purchased the property for three times the assessed value, while true, does a disservice to your readers who think you’re talking about “appraised market value” and not “assessed.” But there’s more.

I’m trying to remember the entire discussion, but it is my recollection that Jay Gardner’s assessed value shown on his website of $750,000 or $700,000 was in some ways an incorrect figure. For example, the assessed value did not include anything for the building that year because when a property undergoes some type of remediation, in this case for asbestos, it is placed on the tax rolls for one dollar. Obviously, the building’s value was more than a buck. As best I understand, what we have here is an attempt to place a commercial value on the property, but I believe it is blended with a variety of factors.  Jay’s assessed value is not a market appraisal, which is based on specific market conditions, entitlements, condition of the building, etc. 

Once we start talking about an “appraisal for sale” or “appraised value”, or “market value” or even “market appraisal,” all which are related to an anticipated selling price, things change. For this project there were two separate market appraisals for the property to determine a “selling” value, one came in at $1.49 million, and the other at $1.5 million and both were peer reviewed by another independent third party and found to have been done according to the correct methods for a market based appraisal. We paid 1.23 million, almost $300,000 less than the market appraisal. I think the previous owners had a loan on the property of around $1.4 million.

Another way to look at the purchase prices is comparables. There weren’t too many in Bunnell at that time but consider this. The old hospital property is 6.75 acres.   Dollar General paid $265,000 for less than an acre of land just a few blocks away. So using the “comparables” method, you take that raw land cost of $265,000 an acre (I rounded it up to an acre in size for ease of calculation) and multiply it by 6.75. You’d get just a land cost approaching 1.8 million, without any value to the building.

Now, a bit of history. The first option I asked to be considered was the Old Jail (across the street from the GSB). I lost that vote 3-2 with Commissioner McLaughlin siding with me, and Commissioners Hanns, Revels and Ericksen voting not in favor of that site. We then received the next Cost Comparison, initially based on just the Courthouse Annex and the Old Hospital. I balked at only considering those two while other viable options were out there, and Commissioner Ericksen joined me in dissent. Our County Manager always tries to bring our board around to consensus and so, working collaboratively with the other commissioners and staff, the list expanded to include the Old Jail, EOC and the Government Services Building (Kim Hammond Justice Center).

Numerous options were discussed, but each had drawbacks. There were extensive discussions with the city of Bunnell regarding their desire to secure the old Court House and Annex for their needs. In fact, in a letter to the commissioners, after a unanimous vote of the Bunnell Commissioners, the City of Bunnell asked us to give them the Old Court House, saying they could receive grants to rebuild it, stressing how important it was to the history of Bunnell, and how great it would be to have it in time for the 100thanniversary. We complied with the request, which took that option off the table. All five commissioner’s felt the Old Hospital ended up being the best option. There were only two issues remaining: demolish it, or rehab it. We went with rehab (which I’ve discussed in great detail in a previous FlaglerLive article).

Once I made all of the adjustments that seemed reasonable in my mind, with the exception of demolishing the building, all other projects came in around $6.5 million.

New Jail

We’ve carefully analyzed our priorities, determined how much revenue we could realistically expect to receive (for example from the ½ cent sales tax, a tax voted on before I got there) and prioritized projects based on these conservative amounts. The new jail falls into this list. 

The jail is overcrowded and severely limited in addressing such responsibilities as juvenile and female detention.  We are also required by law to segregate types of inmates such as those convicted, not convicted, misdemeanor, felony, etc.  We’ve got a problem as we can’t segregate at all in the female wing and in the male wing we can only segregate three types. How would you like it if your child or grandchild fell afoul of the law, and was forced to be transported out of county or commingled with the general population within the out dated jail? The need is apparent.

The following chart helps demonstrate the need (with thanks to Becky Quintieri, M.S., CJM at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for the data that I asked for a week or so ago anticipating this question). Here’s the demonstrated need for service in this area.

Click on the chart for larger view.

Click on the chart for larger view.

Next issue, cost. Have you ever built a home? You sit down, come up with your list of what you’d like to have, talk to some experts about stucco, T-11, vinyl, brick for siding. Then, is it metal, tile or asphalt shingles for the roof. What about the types of lights, high end appliances or low end, three cars garage or two, etc. It’s a custom house, so you may pay for some architectural renderings and you discuss the options and costs with the architect. You think some more, and after the deliberations, hand the project to a contractor. He says it will cost X, and you thought it would cost Y. You either pony up with more money to reach X, or you start cutting your wish list down to Y. We’re cutting the wish list down to Y.

The budget we set (around $16 million) is the budget we’ve set. The Sheriff and his staff, working with the county staff, the construction manager, and the architect, will do what’s needed to work the project estimates back within the budgeted amount set by the commission.

A point of fact: the just market value of the old hospital, not its assessed value, was $345,000 when the county was negotiating the purchase. The value was subsequently, and conveniently, doubled for its final 2013 figure, to $661,000. 

That is correct, and I thought it was further refined to the 700K-750K figure but regardless, my point was it (the just market value) has nothing to do with the value of the property and many people see the term “value” and think that is the value of the property.  It is not.  That is what a market appraisal is for, and the two appraisals that were peer reviewed by a third independent party both indicated the market value of the property was around 1.5 million, and we paid 1.23 million, almost 300K less.  To make my point stronger, I’ll quote from the Flagler County Property Appraiser’s (Jay Gardner’s) website.  “Just (Market) Value” description – This is the value established by the Property Appraiser for ad valorem purposes. This value does not represent anticipated selling price.”  I’ll stop on explaining “Just Market Value,”….I don’t want to get frustrated on this one.

 The only other way I know to come up with a “value” of a piece of property is the “comparable” method, of which I offered the only example I could come up with due to the lack of sales within that local area.  The comparable method example I gave also indicated the purchase price was reasonable.  Does somebody have something better?

6. If you have a choice between providing quality services or providing the cheapest services possible, which would you choose? Please cite examples. What services would you eliminate, what services would you expand?

I’d provide the best quality service at the cheapest price possible. I’m not willing to eliminate any of these services and for a very good reason. Good economy or bad, we still have to provide every day, every year, at minimum these 24 services due to the State Charter which we operate under:

  1. Veterans Services  
  2. Judges  
  3. Emergency Management
  4. Elections 
  5. 800 Megahertz Radio System  
  6. Courts and Legal System  
  7. Clerk and Official Records  
  8. County Jail  
  9. Juvenile Detention  
  10. Tax Collector                  
  11. Property Appraiser
  12. Regional Parks – i.e. Princess Place, Graham Swamp, Lehigh Trail
  13. E-911 Call Center
  14. Senior Center and Meals  
  15. Meals on Wheels  
  16. Senior and Social Services  
  17. Adult Day Care     
  18. Public Transportation     
  19. Library       
  20. Countywide Ambulance
  21. FireFlight Helicopter (very valuable, but not a requirement of the state charter, but those of us who lived here during the 1985 and 1998 wildfires know the value of the piece of equipment) 
  22. Ag Extension Service     
  23. Housing Assistance Programs
  24. Sheriff’s Office – Law Enforcement

 

And while the state keeps throwing unfunded mandates down our way (The Juvenile Justice program alone will add a cost to our budget anywhere from another $185,000 to $220,000 next year), we continue to hold to our principles being that we focus on what’s best for Flagler County and all 100,000 residents, not catering to any one specific group or ideology. Just to keep things in perspective, last year, the total budget was almost $170 million dollars. Of that, the General Fund, the place where your property taxes are collected, accounted for almost $66.8 million (for comparison, Palm Coast’s general fund is around $24 million).

7. The county has been talking about economic development since the bursting of the housing bubble, and in 2011 established its own council and department. Evaluate the jobs council’s performance. What measurable outcome would point to a successful economic development effort, and what do you intend to do, as commissioner, to get to that outcome?

Considering the Department of Economic Opportunity is basically two years old, yes I think it’s been successful with projects like Aveo Engineering (LED lighting products), WP Rawl (vegetable growing, shipping), Coastal Cloud (IT/Technology Strategies), TBD Partners (technology solutions), Designs for Health (high quality nutritional supplements), and Gioia Sails South (boat and yacht canvas). Helga van Eckert is doing a fantastic job in representing Flagler County and I have complete faith in her abilities. Recent numbers indicate that the one area of the employment pie that was still in decline in Flagler County was government jobs. So the reason we’re still number one or two in the unemployment rate, is because we’re relying on the private sector, rather than government employees to pump up the local economy. The county cut back staffing considerably after 2008 but still, I’m not really interested in increasing the size of government to make the unemployment number look a hair’s breadth better unless it’s for public safety issues.

We need to get our population over 100,000, target business sectors that mesh with existing businesses such as aviation, agriculture, high technology (especially bio-sciences and health), agricultural product manufacturing, and advertise the fact to make us more attractive to other commercial interests (which is how we got Gioia Sails). Continue improvements and investments at the County’s economic hub, the Flagler County Airport,  which just landed us the Florida Army National Guard’s use of the repurposed CAP building, meaning that I think every building at the Flagler County Airport is now rented out.

Lastly, demonstrate that we are here to help, not hinder. Continue to improve our visual appeal, expedite permits and approvals. Further demonstrate that Flagler County is open for business by continuing our efforts to expand our key relationships with local business partners, SCORE, the Chamber, Career Source Flagler/Volusia, JAXUSA, the utility companies and the High Tech Corridor Council.

8. No one seems to want the old courthouse anymore. What would you do with it—continue to pay for its upkeep until a tenant or more are found? Demolish it in whole or in part? Other ideas?

I think the County has been more than fair in trying to find a use for the old courthouse.  When the Government Services Building was built way before my watch, the need for that building evaporated. We tried to help the City of Bunnell secure the building for their needs based on their beliefs they could handle the task. It was their request. We met that request, and based on our giving the building away, moved in another direction. Time passes, we have a change over election within that city, the departure of the Vice Mayor, loss of key staff, financial realities and we’ve got it back. That doesn’t mean I see a need to do something with it anymore now than when I voted not to take it back in the first place. I’ll give our special committee the opportunity to present something, and there is nobody better at turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse than Commissioner Barbara Revels, who chairs that committee. But if they can’t find somebody with cash to take it over, then I don’t see any reason to change my mind with my current level of understanding of the issue. However, the John Maynard Keynes concepts still reign supreme with me when it comes to new facts that could persuade me to consider a different view. So I’m not going to answer the final part of the question as we all know this will come back to the commission for a decision and those decisions, by law, should be made in the “sunshine,” at a noticed public meeting, with public comment weighing in, and after a full hearing of the facts. 

9. “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said. Do you agree? Do you consider local government taxes to be too high or too little? Do you favor increasing the local gas tax? If there was one tax reform you could implement locally, what would it be?

It’s a nice statement, but no, I don’t necessarily agree. I think taxes are what we pay local government for services we cannot necessarily provide for ourselves. Are local government taxes too high? Some people like a manicured look and are willing to pay for it. Some don’t mind looking at weeds. I’m on the side of keeping our towns and the county clean, free from unnecessary clutter, attractive, with regulations that hopefully protect values without being overly restrictive. If I thought my taxes were too high, I’d move. Would I prefer them lower? Sure, if I can maintain the same level of required services I’m getting now.

Am I in favor of an increase in the gas tax? This one is kind of funny. It showed up either on FlaglerLive, or in the paper, and I don’t recall us mentioning we were in some kind of lock step and considering it at all. We did ask how much do we as citizens pay now, and the answer was 7 cents. I think it was stated we could go another 5 to a 12 cent max. The idea was not warmly received by us as a commission for a number of reasons, and I’m going to be very blunt here.  

Just like the ½ cent sales tax issue, which happened before I got here (so when reading the political mailers, just know some people are trying to cast a very broad net on this subject that just isn’t true), if the commission passes it, they take all the blame. If things run true as they have in the past, cities take the funds generated and often do little to provide public support for the Board.  Further, the funds can only be used for capital projects.  We could use some capital for roads but we are in much better shape on the capital side. In truth, we really need more operational funds to accomplish more with what we’ve got. Gas is higher here than other places and higher than those that already have the full 12 cents. I’ve heard a number of explanations as to why but I don’t know which ones ring true. People are driving less, hence the revenue stream would seem to be in decline. Lastly, based on the existing interlocal agreement, we would get about 19 cents on the dollar back from the state, or we could go with the State Formula which is very strange and based on the past 5 years of expenditures, or we could do a new interlocal agreement. In all honesty, it’s just not worth the pain and political hand wringing for 5 cents more.

The taxing process for the county is what is allowed by the state constitution so I’m not going to argue “fair tax” or “no tax” or “flat tax” here. Tallahassee has been very good at telling us what we can and can’t do and I’m sure they’ll cover that issue in time. The economy is improving and unemployment is far lower than it’s been (although we’d all like to see it even lower). I’ll continue to be focusing on capital projects and those areas of the general fund where a percentage reduction can have a real impact on the total budget.

Just to be clear then: you oppose raising the gas tax? And would you have voted with fellow-commissioners for the sales tax surtax two years ago? 

Yes, I would oppose raising the gas tax, and thought I was pretty clear on that along with my reasoning.  Too much pain for too little gain.  As for the ½ cent sales tax, I don’t have all of the information they (the commission)  had when that decision was made other than everybody said they were just renewing an old tax that the voters had already approved.  I was on city council at the time.  We discussed the issue at city council workshops, but I don’t remember us taking a stand for or against it and that was my point on the gas tax issue.  There is little value to the county commission for an additional 5 cents under that scenario, and I’m against it.

10. Has the county commission managed the taxpayer-funded Environmentally Sensitive Lands program well? Can you cite examples of good land acquisitions, and examples of not-so-good acquisitions? What is your definition of a good ESL acquisition?

This program, started in 1988 and reaffirmed in 2002 and 2008 by referendum, has been a popular program using funding from voter approved property taxes to secure and purchase environmentally sensitive lands. It is having the same problem that all programs relying on property tax dollars are experiencing right now, a lack of funds due to lower property values, and what I’m concerned about is having over-committed on purchases based on a booming economy that doesn’t exist right now, limiting what the program can now accomplish when property values are low. Slight improvements in property values will start to give this fund some breathing room, but not yet. As to what is my definition of a good ESL acquisition? It is one that fully meets the requirements of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Land Acquisition Policy Manual.

Property values fell, but so did the price of choice properties the county could have acquired had it managed the fund properly. You allude to that over-extension during the boom years, but don’t give us your usual analysis of whether the program was administered as you would want it to be. Beyond the manual, what, in your analysis, makes for a good acquisition? Are there recent acquisitions you would have voted against?

This “fund” is based on a small tax on property values.  When the property values plummet, so does the available money in the fund so even though values of land the county might want to consider dropped, the piggy bank shrank a bunch too.  And let’s not forget the existing purchases out there (6.6 million in ’05 and 14.5 million in ‘09/10).  The ‘05 bond will be paid off in 15 or 16, but the ‘09/10 bond has farther to go.

In 13/14 the ESL fund only generated just over 1 million dollars, but the fund is carrying a reasonable amount of debt already.  In my mind, I think it’s pretty well tapped out right now.

As for a bad purchase, I’ve discussed that before.  The Ginn Purchase of some years back (09/10) took around 14.5 million.  Part of the “benefit” of the sale back then was a promise on significant mitigation bank credits we’d get to sell and offset the cost of purchase.  I stated at that time I thought the number of anticipated credits available for sale, both freshwater and saltwater, seemed “high” based on my experiences with mitigation banks.  It’s the end of 2014, we still don’t have the permit to sell credits, and I’m still dubious as to whether we will get anywhere near the number of credits that were discussed.  You can place this issue up above under question 4 if you’d like.

11. Some counties and cities in Florida have approved a domestic partnership registry, granting unmarried couples, including gay couples, the same benefits as married couples. The Flagler County School Board recently extended benefits to same-sex couples. That means partners can visit each other in hospitals and jails and can make funeral arrangements for each other. Would you be supportive of such a registry in Flagler County? If not, why not? If yes, would you be willing to lead the initiative from the commission?

First off, I’m not here to pander for votes in a closed primary, and then flip around and try to be more generic at the general. I’m not an expert on how the courts have been making the call on this from a federal or state standpoint. I am not a personnel manager. My understanding of the issue is very general. I have to start any discussion by clarifying the question.

It wasn’t clear to me, but are you implying a level of parity between what some counties and cities have approved regarding domestic partnership registries, and what the Flagler County School Board recently did? The School Board did not provide full benefit protection as may have been done in some of the other counties or cities mentioned. To the best of my knowledge, the elements adopted by the Flagler County School Board seemed to be fairly narrow in application as I thought the domestic partnership issue was only added to the bereavement policy. I need to check that to see if I’m right and I’d have to wonder if a legal “power of attorney” wouldn’t have accomplished the same thing. I’m a biologist, a problem solver and a coastal management guy, not a lawyer.

The current county policy, while broadly defining “immediate” family, does not include domestic partners in the very broad list (Immediate Family– Includes spouse, children, grandchildren, parent, step-parent, grandparents, brother, sister, father-in-law, mother-in- law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, legal guardian, or any relative living in the same household). This definition is for purposes of medical leave and funeral leave.

On the matter of leading and championing equality of marriage here in Flagler, I am guided by my own strong beliefs regarding protections and accommodations for all including the needs of an affected segment of our community.  How best to move forward in the most sensible, compassionate and effective manner best serving all is challenging in that emotions and ideologies run deep and strong on both sides of the issue, more often than not obscuring the simple realities in favor of pandering electioneering. Courts are presently at the center of marriage equality and have been pro-actively striking down restrictive legislation at all levels across the country. There has been similar action in Florida. On July 17, a circuit judge in Monroe County rejected Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages. The decision, which only affected that county, has been stayed while the case is appealed. On July 25, a Miami-Dade County judge rejects Florida’s same-sex marriage ban. The ruling is expected to be appealed. The key word in both sentences is, “appealed”.

I’m willing to wait for appeals process to come up with the final call, and then see what legislative direction we get that includes a full set of definitions based on the courts decisions. To jump in too early risks providing something now, which I may have to take away or alter in some way later. I’d rather create something that meets a test of law, approved by our law makers whatever that law may be.

Let’s make it simple Commissioner, and forget where the courts, ideologies and electioneering candidates are. Let’s ask you, commissioner, where you stand in your heart: Would you extend full  benefits to same-sex partners in Flagler County government?

Again, I thought I made this one clear.  It’s not a question about what my “heart” says or doesn’t say, it’s a question about law.  I’m not in favor of granting something if I might have to take it back at a later date.  The courts are wrestling with this right now, and when the decision is made, we will adjust our policies as necessary as required to by law. 

12. Evaluate the performance of County Administrator Craig Coffee, listing strengths, weaknesses and areas of concern.

What I have seen is that Craig Coffey represents the commission well in public meetings, is very personable (although by consuming Mountain Dew at times can talk a bit fast), is responsive and timely in his communications with me, very knowledgeable about our county issues, has been polite and as factual as he could be with the information available, and represents the position of the commission well, even if it places him at the pointy end of the spear. That’s what a good manager does. He presses his “point” fairly and keeps an open mind when dialoguing back and forth with me.

If I would have any concern, it would be the same one I have with any manager and that would be occasionally charging off in some direction without securing buy-in from the commission. I previously had a concern with committing significant funds to design projects without having an approved buy-in from those that will have to pay for it down the road, especially if we’re talking about the creation of a special taxing district. This is probably more of a policy issue, but I’d rather have the buy-in from the property owners first, and then go spend the tax payer’s dollars on the fix, not the other way around.

But with that project as the exception, I find that he keeps me well informed and up to date on those issues I have brought to his attention. We have a good working relationship, and I feel he is one of the best county managers I’ve known, and I’ve known quite a few working in 18 counties. However, I’d like to see the professional staff do more design work taking fewer projects out for bid. If you have a professional staff, they should be providing this kind of professional service for our citizens, not merely performing project management work. We have a good staff with a lot of knowledge.

13. Evaluate the workings of the county commission: do you consider it an effective local government? Can you cite specific examples of its effectiveness—or areas of concern that you would deal with differently? Are you satisfied with the way the commission and its administration relate to the public?

I think we bend over backwards to relate to the public. We offer two opportunities at every business meeting for citizen input. Even at workshops, we allow citizens to speak. The current county commissioners favor open government and are champions of public participation. The citizen’s academies are a wonderful way to learn very basic government 101 issues and is very well received by those that have attended. We are all available to the public at any time.

A specific point of success is the county’s team approach to addressing a very serious problem, found mostly within my District. That was the Short Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs) issue. Coffey was the Coach, County Attorney Al Hadeed was the quarterback, I was the fullback, and Commissioner Charlie Ericksen was sometimes the tight end, and at other times a running halfback. Working together, collectively with our legislative delegation, we took a local issue, made it a statewide issue (actually, I heard it also reached national attention), passed some legislation to return a reasonable amount of control back to local government, and are in the rule drafting mode right now. We will hold public hearings, take comment on the rule, make necessary changes, hold another public hearing, make additional changes as necessary, and ultimately, adopt a rule that will provide protection for single family neighborhoods while allowing STVRs to co-exist. A long process but made successful through a collaborative effort starting with the legislature, and working our way down to the local level.

Dennis McDonald has documented the thousands of dollars homeowner association members spent on lobbying to push the issue. Did that sort of lobbying not play a significant part in securing the bill?

What does the decision of a private POA have to do with the concerns citizens brought to the commission and our legislative delegation?  As was reported, short term vacation rentals were taking over single family neighborhoods and destroying property values and the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.  Why does he care if they elect to spend their money to protect their neighborhood and homes?  And did somebody say the lobbying effort didn’t play a significant part?  I don’t recall saying that as of course they did, as did the efforts of citizen groups from Flagler County and many others from across the state.  I applaud the POA (and any other POA or HOA across the state) for taking such an aggressive stance to be self-reliant on this issue and would add that the $10K paid for by the POA helped, but there were many more lobbyists both for (League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties) and against {short term vacation rental association) changing HB 883 running around Tallahassee all trying to win the point for whoever they represented.  Getting things done in Tallahassee also has a lot to do with relationship building and demonstrating/arguing your constituent’s points face to face with those that will have to make the decision.  There were a lot of balls in the air, and I took the lead spot in juggling a number of issues while working with our team specifically going to and talking to every member of every committee that would have a say in this matter.  I enjoy that element of the job and that is exactly the type of efforts Charlie Ericksen and I made on behalf of our citizens.  When you blend the entire effort together and it works, you get to claim success.

14. Who, on the current commission, would you most closely model yourself after and why? If you’re an incumbent, please choose from the remaining four commissioners.

I don’t try to model myself after anybody. My life history experiences, the places I’ve lived, my family, both extended and near have all had an impact on who I am and what I do. Every person’s life experiences are different and for that reason, commissions are comprised of multiple personalities with different knowledge points all brought together for the common good of Flagler County.

We’ll follow-up the same way we have with every candidate who has tried to evade this question, and almost every candidate does, to the disservice of voters. The question fairly goes to your philosophy in relation to your colleagues and to the dynamics of the board, which voters have every right and expectation to understand as much as possible in order to make an enlightened choice going into the voting booth.  Please try again.

Sunshine limits our ability to really get to know what each member’s philosophy is really like.  I have the sense of humor of George, maybe a bit more droll (as in amusing in an odd way), even sarcastic/ironic at times, but still a sense of humor.  I like Barbara’s get down to business with the issues approach, but I feel I tend to get into it, make the point and get out faster.  I share a sense of fairness with all of them, as we don’t let politics get in the way of making an informed decision.  I’ve gotten to know Charlie quite well while we worked together in Tallahassee and admire his strength at being there in the background, and then coming forward if he senses an issue needing clarification.  I share Nate’s big heart for the citizens of Flagler County and temper it with the responsibility and realities of being careful with the money trusted to us to accomplish those things by the voting public.

15. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies? If so, please explain, including cases where charges did not lead to conviction.

No.

16. Dennis McDonald’s questions for Frank Meeker: (answers forthcoming)

1. In July of 2012 you sponsored and passed res.l2-644 constructing 37 more red light cameras in Palm Coast in your linal days as a City Councilman. This April on WNZF while co-hosting with Jim Landon you defended the red light cameras. Why do you continue to support the most unpopular action ever taken by the council that sucks millions of dollars from our economy when national statistics do not prove and increase in safety?
2. The old hospital purchase, August 1r 2013, you voted to spend $1.23 million. It is noted in the minutes of the meeting that “Commissioner Meeker mentioned he had an issue with staff trust.” One day later you wrote in Flagler Live that you felt that you were being led by the nose to the conclusion to buy this hospital. How can you spend the Flagler taxpayers’ $1.23 million while having these reservations?

 

Meeker answered both questions as follows:

I’m trying to decide where do I even start?  Do I mention that he takes comments out of context (like in this question) and then tries to play them up to the public trying to make people look bad without offering one positive element to any discussion?

 

In the “Why I voted for the Old Hospital” article that he and his “pals” the “watch dogs” quoted in that bogus law suit against commissioner Revels, I explained in great detail why I voted for it.  And if he bothered to read the entire article, he would have understood the quotes he takes out of context above, were introductory comments that then lead into as factually based discussion as I could present, referenced to the actual studies when necessary, on a subject I thought the citizens of Flagler County would want to know about. I thought the public deserved some transparency on the discussions and I provided it.

 

Show me any other commissioner now, or in the past, that would or did make that kind of effort on a complicated and contentious issue such as this and do it as many times as I have.

 

I offered my understanding of the facts, and offered to be corrected by facts if contrary ones could be produced.  I know my factual discussion had to be a bother to him because it didn’t match his or his pals’ perception of the effort.  I’ve explained the facts.  He’s offered plenty of off base opinions, but no facts back in rebuttal.  In fact, my opponent offers less facts than a stopped clock as he isn’t right even twice a day….I’m done on this one.

 

My discussions in my first response to Flaglerlive, with a bit more repeated above, already covered the 1.23 million and how he keeps trying to use the Just Market Value or even the “assessed value” number (which is not the way to do it) to try and make the Commission’s decision look “bad” when the truth is the market appraisals from two different professionals, peer reviewed by a third party, showed we “did good”.  I know it doesn’t fit his distorted reality, but I can’t help that. I’m done with that one too.

 

And now the favorite, Red-light Cameras.  But my first comment…regardless of what my opponent says above…I didn’t sponsor it.  When a motion is needed and all I hear is crickets, I’ll move something just to hear the sound of people breathing, knowing by doing this, at least a decision will be made.  That is how you get a decision on a council or commission.  So I moved it to see if there was a second, there was, and we took a vote.  I hate just kicking something down the road.  Second, this is a city council issue, not a county commission issue.  They will decide what happens to RLCs, not the commission.  Third, he has also stated I’m the father of red light cameras.  As a biologist and a scientist, I know that to be a physical impossibility.

 

My opponent wanted National figures (not that they have anything to do with Palm Coast as just about every one of those major studies were early studies, some with suspect methods, in big cities in big states far away from little old Palm Coast), but here is some data he could have found with some late night reading or even a “google” search or two that is a bit closer to home.  And folks, I’m just reporting what I found, so don’t kill the messenger.

The Federal DOT and the Federal Highway Administration have this to say about RLCs on their website.

“Red-light running is a serious intersection safety issue across the nation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Traffic Safety Facts 2008 Report, there were more than 2.3 million reported intersection-related crashes, resulting in more than 7,770 fatalities and approximately 733,000 injury crashes in 2008.

NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) reports that red-light running crashes alone caused 762 deaths in 2008 (click here to learn more about how red-light running is defined and how crash figures are determined). An estimated 165,000 people are injured annually by red-light runners. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that half of the people killed in red-light running crashes are not the signal violators. They are drivers and pedestrians hit by red-light runners (Source: Status Report, Vol. 42, No. 1, IIHS, Jan 2007). The following statistics further amplify why red-light running is an issue that requires nationwide attention:

  • Ninety-seven percent of drivers feel that other drivers running red-lights are a major safety threat (Source: National Survey of Speeding and Other Unsafe Driver Actions, Vol. 2: Findings, Report No. DOT HS 809 730, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, May 2004. [HTML])

One in three people claim they personally know someone injured or killed in a red-light running crash (Source: A Nationwide Survey of Red-Light Running: Measuring Driver Behaviors for the “Stop Red-Light Running” Program, Old Dominion University, June-August 1999.”

OK, that’s from the federal perspective.  Down here in Florida…

Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Department 2012 annual report – 18% overall decrease in the number of traffic crash injuries in Florida from 2007 to 2012.

Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Red Light Camera Summary Report – 2013, stated that 95% of those drivers who received and paid a notice of violation in 2013 did not receive a second.

Florida Red Light Camera Programs report completed by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) – 2014, reported that in Florida, there was a statewide decrease of 49% in fatal red light running crashes at intersections that had red light cameras.

Tampa Bay Times reported in January of 2013 that when Tampa started levying fines back in November of 2012, a year later, that number decreased by 57% (from 8174 to 4729).

WFTV-TV, Channel 9 reported back in September of 2013, that in Orlando, there was an 11% decrease in crashes since 2011 at 8 of 10 intersections.

I’ve provided some Palm Coast specific data (see answer to 9c and 2d) below as well.

Ok, here are my thoughts.  Back in 2008, I participated in a deliberative group called the Palm Coast City Council, and the majority view based on the facts available at the time and after noticed public hearings, was Red Light Cameras would make Palm Coast a safer place.  I could duck this question like most politicians would, or I can give you the best answers I’ve got based on my convictions and research.  I’m assuming you’d prefer the later and are willing to read with an open mind.  If you’re not willing to read with an open mind, you won’t much like the rest of this and you might as well proceed to the comments sections and start the roast.

 

Short answer – The program has gotten out of control.  As I was leaving city council I publically stated I had reached the end of my tolerance for more red-light cameras (he never mentions that…hmmmm).  With Tallahassee’s implementation of the Mark Wandall traffic safety act in 2010, the program had morphed into something it was not intended to be.

While on the County Commission, I reinforced that position, by voting with the majority of the County Commission in a unanimous call requesting Palm Coast not install additional cameras on SR 100.  They decided to install them anyway. That’s not my fault.

My opponent never seems to mention that either…hmmmmm.

To be clear, we’ve gotten away from what the program was intended for which was to improve safety along the Palm Coast Parkway corridor, and to reduce traffic congestion at key points within the city.  If he would have been at any of those workshops, or late night meetings when we saw numerous videos of potentially deadly T-bone crashes, or videos of people driving through the red light when the light had been red for 3-4 seconds placing my family and your family at considerable risk of injury or death, he would have known why we were discussing this as a safety issue.  If he was there for the other big complaint at the time, the back log of traffic as people proceeded to plow through the intersections at Boulder Rock Drive and Palm Coast Parkway turning on to Cypress Point, blocking the entire intersection of Palm Coast Parkway so they could be first to Wally World, he would have grasped the other issue, traffic flow.

We would hear how the ripple effect would screw traffic up all the way back to Club House drive and have to listen to citizens’ complaints about how long it took them to drive to work while they were asking what are “You people on the council going to do to fix this problem”?  Had he taken the time to attend the meetings, he could have known that we were trying to address the citizens’ concerns regarding traffic flow by controlling access through the intersection.  But he wasn’t there, and therefore couldn’t understand how we got there in the first place.  And truth be told, most citizens don’t know how we got there either, so here is what I was considering when I made this decision.

I’ve spent considerable time researching this issue reading studies from Texas, California, Georgia and the Carolinas.  I know RLCs are not popular with people who get tickets and put our families at risk.  But back in 2008, while on city council, month after month we heard about the dangers from law enforcement professionals, fire/safety officers or Palm Coast citizens on the safety of certain intersections within the city.  We reviewed videos of horrendous crashes at intersections in Palm Coast.  One of the worst that stuck in my mind was a T-bone crash, caused by a red light run at Bolder Rock and Palm Coast Parkway that knocked a van over on its side.  It was my belief that red light cameras would ultimately save lives, reduce serious injuries, improve safety, and correct the types of behavior that was causing the problem and voted in favor of their installation.

It has since become the single most polarizing discussion in the city for a group of people next to the city hall issue.  I’ve followed the arguments for years now, and below are the various arguments against using red light cameras I’ve heard and my research on each issue that I relied upon in making my decision.  If I speculate on something, I label it as such.

1)       They are just money makers for the city.

  1. Sure, a great observation that as long as people blow through the intersections and get a ticket this can be substantial money maker for a city, county or anybody else.
  2. This report agrees

i.      see the OPPAGA Research Memorandum, Florida Red-light Camera Programs, February, 2014

  1. But if everybody just obeyed the law, they (cities, counties, states) wouldn’t make a dime.
  2. I also observed years ago that if you don’t speed, you don’t get a speeding ticket either.

2)      The city makes millions on our tickets.

  1. Millions are taken in, but millions aren’t generated for the city of Palm Coast.  Flaglerlive (November 1, 2013) said “In September, the cameras generated a total of $255,740 in fines, what would work out to an annual total of $3 million. Of the monthly total, the state took $131,555. American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based private company that runs the system for Palm Coast, took $94,085. Palm Coast was left with just $30,100, some of which goes toward administering the system and paying for the city’s magistrate, before whom drivers disputing red-light tickets may appear.”
  2. Doing the math, based on those numbers, the city “raked in” about a whopping $360K for the year.
  3. Even in the old days, the State of Florida and ATS made the big bucks on this deal, not the city, at least using the last data I kept back in 2011.  It was $158 for the ticket, $83 taken by the state of Florida and $75 split between the City (40%) and ATS (%60).
  4. I readily admit I don’t have the full current facts on the issue of how much money does the city make now, especially based on the new formula negotiated a while back.  I haven’t been following how much they bring in with the revised per camera cost as I don’t blow through red lights.
  5. But, data provided to the Palm Coast City Council back in 2011 showed the following.

i.      Monthly average for 2008 – $75k/month or $900K/year

ii.      Monthly average for 2009 – just under $60K/month or $720k/year

iii.      Monthly average for 2010 – around $40K/month or $480K/year

  1. The legislature started taking half for themselves in July of 2010 so that accounts for some of the 2010 drop.

iv.      Monthly average as of November for 2011 was less than $5K/month.

v.      Summation, revenues have been declining since 2008 based on the data I had available when on the council.

vi.      Current data may say something different and probably does.

3)      They cause more accidents than they prevent.

  1. Not true for all cases (see the previously mentioned OPPAGA study and the Federal Highway Administration’s report titled “Safety Evaluation of Red Light Cameras, April 2005) and does not address the cost in lives and repairs.  What is true is that study after study has concluded there is a reduction in the number of T-bone crashes.  T-bones cost us the most in lives lost, and cost the most in dollars to repair because often the car is totaled.  This was a big deal to me.
  2. Most studies, including the OPPAGA one, show an increase in rear enders and angled crashes which do not cause as much monetary damage, and are not as deadly.
  3. There was a key statement in the OPPAGA study that needs a bit of discussion of three terms first.  Those terms are “Many” as in the majority of instances, vs “Some” as in to an undetermined amount, vs “others” meaning the remaining ones.

i.      OPPAGA report concluded “The experiences of other states and jurisdictions that have implemented red light camera programs vary widely” (my note: this was due to the quality, assumptions, methods and technical depth of the reports),…to continue,….”vary widely.  Many studies have concluded that red light cameras are effective at improving public safety, while some have drawn the opposite conclusion.  Still others have yielded inconclusive results…”  Keep the definitions in mind and read it again.

  1. But why is there an increase in rear enders?  My speculation would be:

i.      People are driving too fast for the conditions,

ii.      People are driving too fast for their abilities,

iii.      Some just have the mentality of trying to beat the light.

4)      States, Counties or Cities that have red light cameras intentionally shorten the time of the yellow in order to get more violations and make more money.

  1. True, studies have shown some localities intentionally shortened the duration.  That was not the case in Palm Coast as all have been set to at least the FDOT State standard of 4 seconds (even longer now, see note below).  If you can find one shorter than that, contact your city council member.

5)      Since they’ve shortened the yellow light, making the yellow longer by one second would reduce the number of violations by (pick a number between 36 and 50%) [see OPPAGA, 2014].

  1. This is an argument that takes some statistical data, and making an inference that goes like this:
  2. 20 people went through after 4 seconds, and 10 more went through between the start and end of the 5th second, therefore, if the light was set at 5 seconds, there would have been 10 less tickets issued.  Makes sense at first blush.
  3. Again, this is an intuitive argument and assumes that these 10 people really had no intention of violating the law, they were just slow to react which might be the case for some (and FDOT just changed their formula slightly on this subject, see 6c below).
  4. But others argue that even if the timing of the yellow was changed to 5 seconds, during start and stop time of second 6, the same 10 people would run the light because it is their nature to do so.
  5. Both arguments seem reasonable to me.

6)      What determines the duration of the yellow or rather, “who” determines the duration of the yellow, the city?

  1. The Florida Department of Transportation does for State Roads, and provides a manual to be used by local authorities to be consistent with the FDOT methods.
  2. The process to determine the yellow light time is a complex formula taking into account driver perception and reaction times, speed of approaching vehicles, deceleration rate, acceleration due to gravity and grade of road.
  3. It was argued that modifying the formula by at a minimum of 1 second for driver reaction time would give seniors more time to react, and therefore lessen the likelihood of a violation being issued. FDOT recently agreed, and modified the formula adding 1.4 seconds to the driver reaction time of the formula and intersections were required to be modified by December 31, 2013.

7)      Red light camera fines cause money to flow out of the county.

  1. Yup, and so do gas taxes, sales taxes and any number of other  fees,
  2. The state takes a hunk (so that cities aren’t making money on the cameras),….but that doesn’t stop the state from taking the cream off the top.  ATS makes a bunch. The city,….not so much.
  3. Of course if you don’t blow through the light,….you get to keep all of your money.

8)      Big Brother is watching

  1. And he watches you at Staples, and at Publix, and at the GSB, and at the convenience store, and at the gas station, and at…..

9)      It’s illegal to install red light cameras

  1. No, in 2010, the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Programs (see CH. 2010-80) specifically authorizes their use consistent with the Florida Department of Transportation guidelines to the state, counties and cities.
  2. Prior to 2010, the courts recently ruled local governments weren’t specifically granted the authority to install RLCs.  It’s kind of funny, the local governments argued back that since the Florida Statutes were silent on the matter, they believed they weren’t pre-empted and therefore it was OK.  The courts ruled against local government (surprise) and now everyone is figuring out what to do.  Stay tuned.
  3. I suspect there will be another run in the legislature to ban them.  It’s been tried twice (I think twice…) and maybe it will be accomplished this year.

10)  Red light cameras have no positive impact on changing drivers’ habits or safety.

  1. See the notes for Florida at the start of this discussion.
  2. The OPPAGA study stated that crashes resulting in fatalities decreased at red light camera intersections on state roads (local jurisdiction roads such as Palm Coast, were not included in this analysis).
  3. But rear-end, angle, and total crashes increased.  Why was that?

i.      I suspect that some are trying to obey the law, while the guy behind them continues to plow through the intersection.

ii.      Pure speculation again but would it be reasonable to conclude there are less fatalities because people are trying to slow down and stop, and the rear end guy isn’t paying attention leading to the increase in rear enders and angled crashes?

  1. But consider this with respect to other evidence that driving habits can be changed:

i.      City wide Palm Coast Data from 2008-2011

  1. 2008 – 965 citations on average per month
  2. 2009 – 744
  3. 2010 – 520
  4. 2011 – 341

ii.      Almost a 65% drop in citations from 08-11.

  1. If citations have been dropping while the number of cameras have been increasing (and I only have this data, so I don’t know if the trend is continuing, increasing or has leveled out), is it not reasonable to assume driving habits are changing? I don’t have “a study”, I’m just asking is this a plausible explanation worthy of further examination to explain this data up to this point.
  2. People have objected to red light cameras for a number of reasons.  I have yet to meet a person that likes a speeding ticket.  Yet, when a trooper is sitting in the median on I-95, drivers slow down.  No one enjoyed getting a ticket for the absence of a seat belt, yet a nationwide click it or ticket campaign changed driver behaviors and improved safety.  The City Council aimed for citizen safety and to change disastrous driving behaviors that caused serious injuries and deaths.  The data above seems to support the argument that the roads have become safer with the cameras as opposed to without.

11)  The Judge Craig argument

  1. Judge Craig argued that since you couldn’t prove he was the driver, it was inappropriate and an act of bad faith to charge him on the City of Palm Coast’s citation notice by stating that “he” specifically had violated the law.  Oddly for a judge, the question as to if the law was broken or not wasn’t considered.
  2. Consider a different scenario.  You place your garbage outside Sunday night for a Monday morning pickup.  Animals, or juveniles knock it over, and spread it out on the street.  Code enforcement drives by and issues you citation.  Who is responsible for picking up the trash?  Is it material that somebody else did it or because it’s your house, are you responsible for your trash?
  3. Your child is driving your car, loses control, and crashes through a neighbor’s fence, backs up and drives off.  They snap a picture of the license plate and the cops show up at your door.  Who is ultimately responsible for the damage?
  4. With all due respect to Judge Craig, where was he five years ago when these cameras were put in place?  Why didn’t he provide this kind of testimony to the city council five years prior to provide good advice from a citizen with detailed knowledge of a legal argument that the Palm Coast city council didn’t have and could have considered?   Why did it become an issue after he, or somebody in his family got a ticket?  What are the rest of us,…chopped liver?
  5. In my house, we don’t leave the scenes of an accident, we don’t do hit and runs, we pull over if caught speeding, in short, we try as best we can to obey the law.  My son got two red light camera tickets. We didn’t whine, we didn’t try to get a special favor of an elected official for his son, and we didn’t try to get him off on a technicality.  My wife and I believe the best lessons are those lessons that get learned.  He paid the fines, and decided to become a better driver.  We’re not part of the “it’s really not my fault generation” and wish more people agreed with us.
  6. And for the final answer on this, according to the OPPAGA report, the previously mentioned Mark Wandall Act provides the state law regarding notifications, the issuance of citations to the registered owner of the motor vehicle, and available defenses.  If Palm Coast’s form met the law and you want a change, change the law, and make Palm Coast comply.

 

So, the final word.  The initial reason this decision was made back in 2008 was to address citizen complaints about the horrible traffic on the Parkway.  This blocked intersections at Belle Terre and Cypress Point, and Cypress Point and Palm Coast Parkway that reverberated all the way back to Club House drive.  It was also implemented due to safety concerns from videos shown to council at workshops and business meetings.  It was supposed to be an expensive parking ticket, but when Tallahassee implemented the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, it morphed into something council did not intend, especially with respect to a violation being a uniform traffic citation violation, meaning points can be assessed along with the fine.  That was not council’s intent, and again, thank you Tallahassee for your interference in local governmental actions.

 

Something else.  Many are saying take them down, and that’s fine but think about the results.  First off, I’m told (I haven’t researched it, this is just hear say) that to cancel the contract would cost around 6 million.  That means those of us who do not break the law are going to have to subsidize those who are currently blowing through these intersections and risking the lives of our loved ones to pay off the contract.  Think about that one.  Then after we take them down, do we expect crashes and red light running to start to increase over time?  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the number of red light runs to start to rise again, so now what?  We hire more sheriff’s deputies, and again, those of us not violating the law will subsidize those that can’t obey the law and drive safely.  My family’s safety matters to me but I don’t want to see my taxes go up to give these people who make the roads unsafe for the rest of us a free ride.

 

Lastly, and keep in mind, this is a city council issue, not a county commission issue, I’d rather see the city remove unnecessary cameras.  We talked about that in 2011 when we (as city council members) questioned the need for cameras at specific locations.  I’d say keep them for the top six intersections, and remove the others because as I said at the start, thanks to Tallahassee, it has become something it was not intended.

 

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19 Responses for “Frank Meeker, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview”

  1. Joe says:

    What a crock, I would never vote for you, here is a quote from your ” Why I voted for the purchase of the old hospital letter” “Honestly, I can’t help but feel I’m being led, at times by the nose, to a conclusion to support the hospital purchase” Red Light Camera Frank must go!

    • Samantha Claire says:

      Joe,

      You clearly didn’t read any of his submission to FlaglerLive. Kind of insulting to FlaglerLive, Meeker and Flagler Voters. Some of the best, most honest and well explained answers anywhere by any elected official / political candidate.

      I’m guessing the material is a bit too deep for you (certainly so for McDonald as evidenced by his poor performance on this forum with the same questions), so you just lash out with the same tired vitriolic talking points common to McD.

      Please come up with something intelligent showing you deserve a shot at criticizing this good fellow otherwise consider staying out of it or risk looking any more foolish than you have shown already.

      Go Frank! SC

  2. Moon Child says:

    Hi Frank, had a long discussion with you a while back. Aside from needing the $50k, what qualifies you to be a commissioner. I know you are an incumbent but what prior this gig did you do? What is your education? Do you have experience in government prior to this job? Do you understand the flow of funding in government and how to legally access federal funding? I have to add that one or two of the folks endorsing you on your Facebook page are at best “questionable” when it comes to looking out for the community as opposed to their own wallets. One more question, are you a part of the local “good old boy network”?

    • Carol Mikola says:

      I hope that you asked the same questions of his opponent but I doubt it. If you read Commissioner Meeker’s honest and detailed responses you would have the answers.

      Frank Meeker has been endorsed by the Flagler County Association of Realtors, the Flagler County Professional Firefighters Local 4337, the Florida Professional Firefighters and Senator John Thrasher.

      Mr. McDonald has been endorsed by no one except by the local Ronald Reagan “Republican” Assembly and he is a Director on their Board. Did you know that this group is not even affiliated with or recognized by the Republican Party of Florida? With good reason in my opinion. Don’t be fooled by this group’s name (they count on that); they are nothing like President Reagan.

      • moon unit says:

        Oh, I’d rather hear from Frank. Why are you answering for him? I’ll be requesting the same info from all candidates. We need to stop all possible graft, kickbacks, influence peddling and fraud/waste/abuse. I’m not accusing anyone, just asking basic info. At some point the State Inspector General’s Office and FDLE need to become involved in Flagler County politics. For now, I just want to know how qualified these folks are to hold public office. I mean, for gosh sakes, we have one who is a felon.

  3. Brad says:

    I don’t agree with you on everything, but you have done a great job for our City and our County. You and Nate McLaughlin are the model of what we need more in our local governments.

  4. KMedley says:

    Joe

    You, Weeks, and McDonald share the same affliction, sliveritis, the ability to take a sliver of a conversation and/or a statute, take it completely out of context, and apply it to your preconceived narrative. The man provided a detailed explanation, the original article supports the explanation; and, yet, you continue to mislead voters. Absolutely shameful!

    This man put forth more information and gave more thought and insight to the Red Light Camera issue than any of the candidates running for city council; and, unlike Shaffer, not only provided numbers; he provided accurate numbers. By the way, does McDonald understand he is running for County Commission and not city council?

  5. Joe says:

    If the model is wasting taxes on old hospital purchases and proposing more red light cameras sending money to the Arizona company instead of keeping it here, than I agree Brad!

  6. Joe says:

    You forgot to mention weather or not you were a yay or a nay after your motion to add the extra 37 redlight cameras. I love when someone uses the safety defense when trying to convince people why they bought in, but I am also confused. If these cameras were more about safety and saving lives than why isn’t there 1 camera on any light that are at our schools? Indian Trails has a light as well as Buddy Taylor, as well as Wadsworth Elementary, FPC High has a light at Bulldog drive, but no cameras. I guess putting 1 at Rymfire and Belle Terre or putting 1 in front of the hospital was safer.

  7. No Way says:

    A rat with yellow teeth. No vote for Meeker. County spending is out of control, and the county administrator and other county BOCC employees are not held accountable. We need a leader, not a follower.

  8. jennifer Lopez says:

    Sorry MR Meeker, I didn’t get to vote for you, they gave me the wrong ballot.
    and told me it was too late.

  9. Red Face says:

    Is this the Red Light Camera God Father?

  10. Stan says:

    I vote for all new candidates, Barbosa, Janet McDonald, Michel McElroy, Dennis McDonald, Mark Richter, Steven Nobile, Joel Rosen. Meeker must go. Time to change ,.

  11. buylocal says:

    A vote for Frank is a no brainer. The best candidate hands down.

  12. Yorkstermom says:

    Regarding your comment on Domestic Partnership. Mr Meeker you don’t even really know what it is about because if you did you would clearly know that a “Power of Attorney” does not even come close to affording partners (who buy the way, don’t have to be Gay ), all of the benefits being registered as Domestic Partner gives.

  13. Yorkstermom says:

    Let’s ask you, commissioner, where you stand in your heart: Would you extend full benefits to same-sex partners in Flagler County government? Mr Meeker, Domestic Partnership extends way beyond same sex marriage. Broward county has adopted Domestic Partnership and It gives each partner the ability to be on each other’s health insurance which is a big benefit to both partners even if they are not able to be married. Also, Power of Attorney ENDS at death so to say that Power of Attorney is blanket coverage for two partners is false. Registered Domestic Partnership also covers the registered couple upon death, so that any such benefits would be paid to the domestic partner. Also Florida does not recognise common law marriage but there are many opposite sex couples that have been partners for 20+ years that choose not to enter into matrimony for many reasons. Domestic Partnership affords these “partner” to share each others health and death benefits. The Registered Domestic Partnership law extends way beyond same sex marriage. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with this type of partnership.

  14. Yorkstermom says:

    Mr. Meeker, for your desire to continue with the Red Light cameras and your belief that they save lives where in fact studies have shown that they do not save lives but in fact cause more rear end collisions you have lost my vote.

  15. yorkstermom says:

    END RED LIGHT CAMERAS!! University of South Florida Study of Red Light Cameras concluded they do not work. They found at intersections with cameras crashes increased by 28%.

    Red light Camera review found that the Red Light Camera company placed cameras not at the most dangerous intersections, where folks are crossing through the intersections. Instead they placed them at intersections where there was the most money to be made on right turn on red violations. Unfortunately “Right on red turns” have no significant impact on road safety. They do however make up almost 90% of red light camera tickets

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