Anne-Marie Shaffer, Palm Coast City Council Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | August 23, 2014
Anne-Marie Shaffer is a candidate for the Palm Coast City Council.
Two seats are up this year: District 2, an open seat, as incumbent Dave Ferguson chose not to run, and District 4, where incumbent Bill Lewis is running again.
District 2 has drawn three candidates: Joel Rosen, Shaffer and Heidi Shipley. District 4 has drawn four: Woody Douge (pronounced DO-jay), Lewis, Steven Nobile and Norman Weiskopf.
Maria Barbosa (Dist. 1)
Andy Dance (Dist. 1)
Toni Baker (Dist. 2)
Lynnette Callender (Dist. 2)
John Fischer (Dist. 2)
Janet McDonald (Dist. 2)
Michael McElroy (Dist. 4)
Trevor Tucker (Dist. 4)
County Commission Candidates:
Dennis McDonald (Dist. 2)
Nate McLaughlin (Dist. 4)
Frank Meeker (Dist. 2)
Mark Richter (Dist. 4)
Palm Coast City Council Candidates:
Woody Douge (Dist. 4)
Bill Lewis (Dist. 4)
Steven Nobile (Dist. 4)
Joel Rosen (Dist. 2)
Anne-Marie Shaffer (Dist. 2)
Heidi Shipleyu (Dist. 2)
Norman Weiskopf (Dist. 4)
If a candidate wins at the Aug. 26 primary by more than 50 percent, that race is over: the candidate is the next city council member representing that seat. Should either or both races fail to produce a winner by outright majority, then the top two vote-getters will go on to face each other in a run-off in the Nov. 4 general.
Though delineated by districts, all residents of Palm Coast who are registered voters may cast a ballot in the election, regardless of where they live, regardless of party affiliation, including independents. It is a non-partisan election. Council members serve four-year terms and are paid $9,600 a year.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all council 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. When a candidate fails to answer a question, that’s noted in red. The questions and follow-ups attempt to elicit precise answers, but the candidates don’t always comply.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Candidate Basics
- Economic development
- Town Center CRA
- Red-light cameras
- Medical pot
- Home-based businesses
- Palm Coast’s Business friendliness
- Making Palm Coast great
- Arts and culture
- Tax revenue
- Water and desalination
- Council dynamics
- Evaluating Jim Landon
- Other candidates’ questions
The Candidate: Anne-Marie Shaffer.
Place and date of birth: Indiana, March 6, 1973 (did not provide a town).
Current job: Homeschool mom, Owner of Freedomschoolers Academy, a private school for homeschool families in Florida.
Net worth: None listed. See financial form.
Party Registration: Republican.
Websites: Webside; Facebook.
I am a concerned 17-year resident with an 11-year involvement in current local politics, possessing a comprehensive understanding of the issues in our city and the capability of finding solutions for the problems.
Can you describe your local political involvements beyond party politics more specifically?
Anne-Marie Shaffer did not answer the question beyond a reference to her website and campaign literature.
2. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the council, 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 us real-life examples to illustrate your answer.
As it concerns the position of city council member, I am logical, analytical, ethical, uncompromising, and direct. When I need to I seek clarification to be sure I have the fullest understanding of a subject or situation. My principles and integrity cannot be bought and sold. I weigh the facts of everything, even from my closest friends. I admire advice, but I make decisions based upon the evidence I see with my own eyes.
What faults might you have that would have a bearing on your way of doing business on a board?
I serve and have served on several boards. My way on doing business is to get the job done. Though it might be considered a fault to Mayor Netts and Mr. Landon, I ask a lot of questions and expect satisfactory rather than dismissive and perfunctory answers.
You are being quite accusatory about the mayor and the city manager, but without evidence: in our coverage of the council for the past four years we notice a good deal of collegiality that may verge on rote unanimity on many issues, but at no point, on issues where the council has been more divided–DeLorenzo’s opposition to red lights, for example, DeLorenzo’s and Frank Meeker’s advocacy for home-based businesses, most council members’ questions about the financing of City Hall–have either the mayor or the city manager been dismissive of questions: entire workshop presentations are routinely the result of council members’ questions on issues they want to know more about (the tennis and golf course’s unhappy history are, again, examples). Can you cite examples of either the mayor or the manager being dismissive? That aside, asking questions is not a fault on any council, but a quality. You appear to still not have answered the question.
3. Candidates for city or county government routinely speak of bringing jobs if elected. Do you think it’s in your power—and your job description–to bring jobs? If so, how would you? Are you satisfied with the city’s economic development focus by way of the Business Assistance Center?
First of all, governments don’t create jobs. What governments can do, what is in the purview of the council, is to promote an atmosphere that attracts businesses. Businesses bring jobs. With all of the empty store fronts, it is not hard to conclude that something is flawed with the city’s economic development plan. While the rest of Florida is recovering economically, we’re near the very bottom. When I am elected to city council I will look to promote an attractive business atmosphere through cutting regulations, fees, and taxes. It’s not enough to say we’re business-friendly, we have to demonstrate it by taking actions that are business-friendly.
4. The Town Center CRA has had its share of controversies over the years, not least the way it was designed as such. It subtracts about $1 million a year in county government revenue. And it hasn’t lived up to its development promise. Do you think it’s time to sunset the CRA? If so, why, and if not, why not?
The CRA is $11 million in debt. When I am elected I will make it a priority to have a thorough review of it conducted.
Can you document that $11 million figure, and if so, what would a review achieve, as opposed to a re-evaluation of whether it should exist?
Shaffer attributed the figure to the city administration, but the city’s latest audit indicates total liabilities for the CRA fund of $5.8 million. Shaffer did not answer the rest of the question.
5. Red-light cameras have divided the city between ardent supporters and ardent opponents. On which side are you? Explain your defense or opposition to the cameras. If you support keeping them, would you support adding more or reducing their numbers? If you would repeal them, how would you propose to break the contract with ATS before the contract’s end date in 2019? How would you then address safety concerns at intersections?
The cameras were installed as a revenue scheme, not as a safety measure. The city never conducted intersection studies, independent or otherwise. The number of violations is directly related to the shortened yellow light cycles. The yellows might be “within legal standards,” but they are much shorter than anticipated by drivers which is not what one would want if they were seeking safer intersections.
Still, the question is: would you repeal the cameras, end the contract with ATS and pay ATS what indemnities it may demand, and if so, how would you address intersection safety issues?
One way to address the red light cameras, the ATS contract, and intersection safety is to lengthen the yellow lights. It might be more economical for the taxpayer for the city to cut our losses with ATS up front than to continue the abusive practices until 2019. The red light cameras must go. If they are about intersections safety why do they not exist near city hall and most of our schools?
Critical Voter Information:
6.Evaluate the level and quality of policing in the city. What changes, if any, would you push for, and how would you pay for them, if those changes entail an increase in services? Would you favor Palm Coast having its own police department?
I’ve been a proponent of better policing in Palm Coast for a long time, hence my previous position as campaign manager for a sheriff’s candidate who believed that community policing was paramount to our safety and security. The contract between the FCSO and City of Palm Coast should outline measurable goals to be reviewed annually. It makes no difference how many deputies our $2.6M are paying for if we are not proactively addressing the concerns to make Palm Coast a safer place for everyone.
You are referring to Ray Stevens, whose candidacy was twice rejected by voters, but do you see lags in the sheriff’s office’s public safety responsibilities in Palm Coast, and if so, where?
The FCSO does not appear to patrol Palm Coast. Often they do not take or file reports when called about incidents. Response times are horrible. There have been gang-related incidents at the Flagler County Public Library in broad daylight during early voting. Yes, there are definite lags in their public safety responsibilities.
7. Where do you stand on Amendment 2, the constitutional proposal to legalize medical marijuana? Palm Coast is considering regulating eventual medical marijuana dispensaries—assuming the amendment passes—in similar ways that it did pill mills or would less-than desirable businesses, through restrictive zoning. Do you support the approach? If so, explain why, or why not.
Flagler Beach and other cities in Florida have taken the right steps to prepare and protect their cities for the possibility of the passage of Amendment 2.
Can you explain why those are the right steps, if Amendment 2 is to legalize medical pot?
When I have a cold and need medicine that actually works, I am treated like a criminal. I must go to the pharmacy, present my driver’s license, sign a legal statement that I am not abusing drugs or making meth. Not only that, but I am limited to the amount of that medicine I can buy. When our family of 6 gets sick at once, we have a tough time buying enough medicine to get us through it. So, do I think that medical pot under Amendment 2 should have restrictions within the city as to where and how it’s sold? Yes. Emphatically, yes!
8. In 2012 the council was sharply divided about home-based businesses, finally voting 3-2 to deny a low-impact home-based bakery business from going ahead. Since home-based businesses are a growth industry, the matter may arise again, and your vote could decide it one way or the other in Palm Coast. Understanding that the city already makes room for certain home-based businesses “where information-oriented business activities are limited to paperwork, computer, mail, telephone, and filing,” for example, what’s your position on home-based businesses—how would you liberalize or restrict them?
Not only do I support Cottage Industry businesses in Palm Coast, but when I am elected I will make sure that it is brought back to the council for another vote. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services already regulate these activities under Florida Statute 500.80. Annual gross sales are limited to $15,000.
Have you run a cottage industry out of your home?
No. We conducted a lot of research and development to facilitate the operation of a family business making hand-dipped chocolates to continue the tradition of my husband’s grandma’s candy-making legacy. We looked at store fronts, shared kitchen space, buying property for multi-use purpose, and the cottage laws. We developed a business plan to include marketing materials and a website that we now use as a prototype website in our IT business. However, with no realistic options in Palm Coast for starting a small business with room to grow, we have shelved the idea for either a later date or another city.
9. Along the same lines of business and the business climate in Palm Coast, there are often-repeated claims, some of them documented, that the city is not business friendly (recall Panera’s retreat from two planned stores to one), businesses speak of too-restrictive regulations down to the sort of landscaping and buffers they’re required to have or a laborious inspection process. On the other hand, the restrictions ensure that the city doesn’t turn into replicas of stretches of U.S. 1 in south Florida. What is your analysis of the business climate in the city and the city administration’s management, in step with council direction? What concrete changes would you call for? Alternately, what would you build on that you see is working?
Several weeks ago at the FCAR Mayor’s Forum, Mayor Jon Netts said that Palm Coast is a “bedroom community.” That means we have a large commuter population who sleeps here, but works elsewhere because we have few commercial or industrial opportunities. Given that attitude about Palm Coast the current unfriendly business climate is in line with the city management and city council. Additionally, Mayor Netts has resisted suggestions to make Palm Coast a commercial and/or industrial hub. Jan Gage of Gage Publications once outlined such an idea talking about the purple elephant (meaning something that is memorable just like you wouldn’t forget seeing a purple elephant). Mayor Netts decried, “I don’t want to be the purple elephant.”
As an IT expert, my husband has often remarked that with the trunk lines running along I-95, Palm Coast could be the Silicon Valley of the East Coast, so to speak. Of course, that takes vision and the desire to be more than a bedroom community. We need to embrace our potential before we are overrun with blight and debt.
Do you see anything working well in the scope of the city’s business climate and initiatives?
What business initiatives? Making everything as painful and unwelcoming as possible? No. That is definitely not working.
10. What defines a great city—beyond its employees, its manager, its council, its great people and its beautiful medians—and what will you do to make it so? Please give at least three specific examples within the scope of what’s doable by you as a member of the council. Also, give at least two examples of where Palm Coast is failing as a city, outside of infrastructural or economic issues.
A great city has a strong economy, is committed to safety for the community, and has a government that operates in the least intrusive and a most fiscally responsible manner. Palm Coast is failing to build community with its abusive code enforcement measures treating residents like unwanted guests and wasting money annually, encouraging bickering and griping among neighbors. Palm Coast has failed by ignoring the citizens. The citizens do not want an expensive city hall building. The citizens want the city council and the city manager to stop pilfering the citizen’s utility fund and stop burdening the citizen’s families with more rate increases. The citizens want the red light cameras gone. The citizens want fewer restrictions on the use of their personal property. The citizens want deputies patrolling to make areas safer. The citizens want a responsible government. The citizens want their issues to be heard and thoughtfully considered rather than rudely dismissed.
You’re giving us a clear campaign list of gripes, but you’re not quite answering the question: what would you do, as a member of the council, as initiatives you can point to after four years, rather than criticisms?
Actually, I have laid out plans elsewhere to address the issues and concerns. Here are some of the some of those items: When elected to City Council I will propose a Citizen Town Hall meeting to be held at regular intervals, separate from council meetings and workshops to encourage public participation in their government, propose a trap, neuter and release ordinance, insist on a forensic audit on all of the city’s financial books, work to remove the abusive red light cameras.
11. How do you support the arts locally (beyond, say, signing your name to a proclamation or attending a show)? What would you do as a member on the council? Palm Coast’s budget for the arts has been declining: $33,000 in 2009, $20,000 in 2011, $25,000 this year. Why the decline, and should a city of this size be so stingy when it comes to the arts?
The answer to funding the arts is found in the pages of history. In every culture, on every continent, there is one common denominator that always affects the arts…the economy. A decline in local arts funding is a reflection of the poor economy under which we are all struggling.
12. It is almost certain that during your tenure, the city will need more revenue: in the last two years, it increased the stormwater fee from $8 to $11 a month for the typical house, and it increased water rates 22 percent, spread over three years. If you have an issue with those raises, please explain how else you would have addressed the city’s needs. Looking ahead, where would you seek additional revenue—an increase in the property tax? The addition of a utility franchise fee? Any other ideas?
Instead of looking to increase taxes and fees, we should look to trim the budget. That’s what families have to do and our local government should be leading by example in this poor economy. The reason our city utility bills keep increasing is because the city has mismanaged the utility funds. The utility was purchased to keep our bills lower and give us more control. Instead, under poor city management, the utility that generates enough to adequately sustain itself and future enhancements if it had not been mismanaged is $157 million in debt.
In your previous answer you blamed the economy for the city’s decline in funding. Has the economy not negatively affected the city utility fund, as even independent auditors conclude? Your $157 million figure appears to grossly mis-characterize the debt as a result of alleged mismanagement, when in fact, according to the latest audit report, $141 million of that is bonds that have nothing to do with management or mismanagement and everything to do with the ordinary financing of such public works. Can you more clearly explain that $157 million figure, and more precisely address what you mean by mismanagement?
The Utility was purchased to keep the water and sewage rates low and give the residents more control. The Utility is actually profitable when it is not being pilfered by Mr. Landon to pay for special interest projects such as moving property boundaries and the widening of Old Kings Road South for the Wal-Mart that was never under contract.
13. Assuming strong growth resumes on your watch, and the half-dozen odd DRIs in the city begin to build up. Would you support reviving the city’s desalination initiative to ensure the city’s water supply in the future?
Under the favorable conditions posed in this question, I would support a review of the initiative to see if any positive advances had been made in other desalination efforts.
14. What makes for an effective council member, what makes for a lousy council member? Give examples of both, and give us your analysis of current council dynamics. Who on the current council does your philosophy most closely aligns with?
A lousy council member turns his back on the principles he espoused to win at the ballot box. An effective council member never compromises integrity.
And the two other questions?
Anne-Marie Shaffer did not answer the question.
A raise? Jim Landon is paid twice as much than the average city manager with experience across all 50 states. What he needs is a pink slip. He has not done a good job managing the taxpayer’s money.
You’re calling for the firing of a city manager of seven years who shepherded the city through the deepest recession in memory with little damage, a still-envied property tax rate for cities this size, and, overall, a financially sound city, relatively speaking, indisputably steep recent utility and stormwater fee increases aside. Might you be confusing Palm Coast with Bunnell? Alternately, having made such a charge in a single line, might you at least elaborate and explain it more fairly?
Mr. Landon is extremely overpaid. He is arrogantly dismissive of the residents, the people for whom he works. His office is anything but transparent and when faced with questions from concerned citizens he sourly turns them away and will not provide answers. The finances are shrouded in mystery categories; some even change location from annual budget to annual budget, year to year. Shepherded the city through a deep recession? Preserved a financially sound city? He is still spending like it is 2003! The special interest projects never end. He prides himself on median landscaping, parks, and bike trails. Whoop-dee-doo. We just lost a major retailer out of the Town Center after only a few short years. Blight lines Palm Coast Pkwy from one end to the other, new and old buildings alike. And yet, your financial shepherd can’t wait to soak the citizens for an unnecessary and unwanted, brand new, expensive city hall.
Note: Palm Coast maintains the most transparent and publicly accessible financial disclosure records on its website, all of which can be accessed here, or from that page.
Candidates in District 2 chose to spare each other further questions.