Steven Nobile, Palm Coast City Council Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | August 23, 2014
Steven Nobile 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.
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)
District 2 has drawn three candidates: Joel Rosen, Anne-Marie Shaffer and Heidi Shipley. District 4 has drawn four: Woody Douge (pronounced DO-jay), Lewis, Nobile and Norman Weiskopf.
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. That was not an issue with Nobile.
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: Steven Nobile
Place and date of birth: Brooklyn, N.Y., Feb. 21, 1961.
Current job: Retail Shop Owner, HSDS Guns in Palm Coast.
Net worth: Including Home, Business Assets, Vehicles, Cash, Stocks, Bonds and personal items approximately $500,000.
Party Registration: Republican.
Running a city requires proven management skills such as leadership, organization, managerial, financial, communications and negotiation. Over the past 25 years I have proven that I possess these skills and advanced these skills with my work in the Information Technology industry for large corporations in Florida, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force, for which I currently provide Senior Systems Engineer support. My career has given me experience in starting up multi-million dollar businesses and divisions from the ground up, maintaining companies of several hundred employees and restructuring technology divisions of fortune 500 and 1000 companies.
I have obtained and honed my management skills working with projects, people and budgets up to half a billion dollars. I have been trained and spent many years executing negotiation skills with partners, vendors, unions and customers. I have executed my leadership skills many times getting buy-in to my ideas and plans by partners, employees and managers. My training and experience have helped me lay out plans that detail the goals, timelines, milestones and achievements and over 80 percent of the time coming in ahead of schedule and under budget. I have managed budgets and in many instances was able to reduce the following budgets without sacrificing output. All-in-all I am an experienced individual from operational business sectors and divisions. I have applied my skills to both the private and public sectors and I have been doing so since 1989.
You attribute your qualifications for the council job to your experience in private enterprise. Such claims have been an issue in a county commission race. Can you tell us specifically where and when–company names, time span–you worked with projects and people involving half a billion dollars, where and when you have negotiated with partners, unions and so on, and what were examples of the 20 percent of the times when your planning did not come ahead of schedule and under budget?
Let me start with the latter question. I was managing a project for Rayonier here in Jacksonville in 1995, that was a software development effort for a wood procurement system. It including a full accounting systems, contract system and a weigh station system . We were eager to get the project so we may have promised a little more than we could deliver. That coupled with poor communication between the people I was managing and the Rayonier folks caused the project to exceed its original cost and come in 30 percent beyond the delivery date. Another was with a project I managed for Georgia Pacific. This was a silviculture project managing hundreds of thousands of acres and tree growth patterns. I allowed the client to cause the project scope to creep without documenting it and this forced the project to go beyond the delivery date. That’s when I learned, “Do what you say and say what you do.”
This may get long and boring but here it goes. When I was 14 I was accepted to a very prestigious high school called Brooklyn Technical High School. I found high school boring and unchallenging so I dropped out and immediately obtained my GED. At that time, (16 years old) I engaged in my first business venture which was in the Blue Jean industry. Blue jeans had just come to be and I made contacts with Sassoon, Faded Glory and others I can’t remember and I started a blue jean distribution center in Brooklyn. There were blue jean stores popping up every block it seemed. I learned a lot from this, especially that you should save money when things are good. The business soon flattened and I took a job with Metra Electronics which was my uncle’s manufacturing business where I was a department supervisor over 10-12 employees. At this time I learned a lot about managing people and working with union officers. I was then offered a job with Cushman and Wakefield a New York real-estate management company by a neighbor where I was called an engineer helper. I based my exams and became an Operating Engineer. That’s someone who deals with the HVAC system in a building. I worked at 1 United Nation Plaza building which is a hotel and office space for the United Nations delegations to the United States. This is a 500,000sqft building. I soon became the chief engineer where I was over the budget of several million dollars and people to operate this building.
During all this I got married at 19 and had my first child. My wife’s parents decided to move to Florida so a few years later we followed. This was in 1981. The economy here in Florida was very bad and we struggled. I managed hotels in Daytona, flipped pizza and did whatever I could to survive. During this time the first Home PC was introduce, the VIC 20, then the Commodore 64. I started a business and became the southeast region authorized Commodore service center working with the likes of Kmart, Sears, Montgomery Ward, JC Penney and any other retailer that sold Commodore products. This catapulted my career into the Information Technology industry. I even did a stint here in Palm Coast as a computer science teacher at Flagler Plam Coast High School.
I helped start ups like Advanced Computer Training in Jacksonville and Baywood Technologies in Jacksonville where I became the Director of Operations and then Executive Vice President. In this role I managed many projects and hundreds of employees.
Through this role I started yet another business in 2000, ACTS542, LLC which is still active where I provided companies consulting services for managing their IT departments and divisions. I worked for companies such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, American Trans Tech, Citi Corp, Barnett Bank, First Union, Bank of America, Department of Defense all of which had budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, large employee counts and projects plans that required extreme and agile management.
Today I work for a consulting firm, Array Information Technologies, where I am a Senior Software Engineer. I took this position because I wanted to continue on a project I was working for the Air Force when the contract came up and was won by Array. I have had a very long walk in my career and worked in a kitchen to an executive vice president and no one job gave me more experience and wisdom than working on a local project for kids called Saturday Night Live. Working with volunteers changes your prospective and really helps you learn how to motivate people.
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.
I am passionate in everything I do. I believe trust, character and integrity are most important to any relationship from marriage to colleagues. I have also been called animated or passionate in my communication style with others which sometimes comes off wrong. My intentions are to allows be fair to all parties. I am always looking out for the people around me, my family, friends and colleagues. I am told I am a generous, compassionate individual almost to a fault. I believe there is always multiple sides to every situation and a compromise can be obtained by simple listening and understanding we have to comprise because that is the very reason we are different.
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?
Critical Voter Information:
It is not the responsibility of the City Government to bring jobs into Palm Coast. However, it is the responsibility of the City Government to develop an environment that is conducive to business development. I am currently a local business owner and I speak to many business owners and managers both inside and outside the city and our greatest problem at this time is that the City Council is not doing its job. There is a very negative perception in regards to how our city officials view business both new and existing. I will not attempt to respond to a subjective matter of whether or not this is true, however, negativity perceived is negativity achieved.
The current City Council has taken the position that they will support existing businesses but will leave the business search outside of Palm Coast to the County. In my opinion, this is a grave mistake. As I see it, we basically are the county, Palm Coast makes up about 75 percent or more of the workforce in Flagler county.
Outside the fact that the City Council has decided it should have a role in existing businesses success, the council’s policies say something different. The ordinances alone on small business visuals in town make it hard for businesses to get noticed. I own a retail shop on busy Old Kings Road North and day after day I have customers entering my store stating, “I didn’t know you were here! I drive by this place every day.” After three years of newspaper, radio and magazine ads it still happens. The required trees and shrubbery and signage regulations by the city make it difficult to display your goods.
One of the first things I will do as a council member is introduce a resolution to create a board that is dedicated to business development. This would include creating partnerships with capital investors, nearby training and educational entities, develop a branding plan to reverse the negative blemish on Palm Coast and then use the partnerships that will have capital, personnel and city backing being searching for businesses outside the county that will move or build here and bring in dollars from outside the county. Many people state this is not possible, but I know of technology companies that are moving into Detroit. If they will move to Detroit, I think we have a shot at getting them here.
As far as I am concerned, organizations such as the BAC, SCORE and others do a great job in training people to understand what it takes to run a successful business and provide quality one-on-one opportunities for potential and existing businesses. However, they are not a tool for economic development. All the training in the world will not help without capital to support your business.
You seem to have a clear purpose from a business owner’s perspective, and the length of these follow-up questions is only a reflection of your willingness to seriously engage in the original question, which we appreciate. So here goes: the city has made an effort–like other cities such as Port Orange and Ormond Beach–to avoid turning into a South Florida sprawl of sign forests by regulating signs to a degree. Would you want to retreat from those regulations, which include such things as green buffers and tree regulations? Palm Coast considers the county’s economic development board to represent the whole county, including Palm Coast, and the two governments have cooperated through it and through the Business Assistance Center. Why would yet another board be necessary? Finally, you agree that the BAC and SCORE are fulfilling their aim, in line with what you said earlier–that government is here to facilitate, not create jobs. Yet you say they don;t provide capital: surely you’rte not suggesting that government would in any say do so? And if not, what more would you want the BAC to do?
Retreat No. However I am a firm believer in the “and” not the “or.” We can develop policy that both keeps our appearance satisfactory to the public and at the same time provide businesses with the proper space. This is an issue I have had with the current council and previous council’s attitudes towards working on problems. It is very simple to say no and create strict, inflexible rules. We must get over and past the one-size-fits all mentality. It takes work, creativity and compromise to come up with solutions to community issues that are fair and effective for all. I don’t have specific fixes for this issue yet, but I will make sure that we work on these issues to solve them, not just shut them down.
The county Economic Board, BAC and Chamber have focused themselves on current businesses in the County and the development of very small businesses in the county. They have not been effective in reaching out of the county to bring in businesses. I am not going to judge there efforts further, but I will say, they do provide many good programs for local businesses to grow and prosper. The businesses that take advantage of these programs however are very small and likely to remain that way. These businesses are money management, small retail, real estate, construction and the like. I myself, not having recent experience in small retail, took advantage of a class that SCORE had presented through the chamber.
With Palm Coast representing over 80 percent of the county workforce it seems almost unfair to levy the county with this task. That was my political statement. The county has just not invested enough time and energy into this matter which is heavily affecting Palm Coast negatively.
The board or committee I am looking at starting and hopefully becoming the council member assigned to it, would have very specific tasks, timelines and most importantly measurable results within those time lines. The tasks would include the steps necessary for the city to shake it’s business unfriendly image and the steps to project that new branding to nearby and far potential businesses. It would be tasked with gathering a package of services that can be presented to potential businesses and start-ups. This would include tax incentives and impact fee incentives keeping in mind the pennies the city loses from these incentives we will get back in dollars. We need to show in this package a relationship with universities and schools to help build a work force for these businesses. We need to show in this package a relationship with capital investors and banks who are looking to help their business in our community. (This is what I meant when I was talking about capital. Not providing it, but showing relationships with those who provide capital who would favor a company moving in to our community). There is more, but you get the point, we can’t just expect them to come because we are here, it’s going to take a lot more.
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?
First, I agree with those who believe that this area should have never made it passed any test of creating it as a CRA back in 2004. These were basically wooded areas that, at the time, made up a large portion of Palm Coast. As for the promise of the CRA, it is missing the one thing I believe is a failure of all our City’s plans which is no real plan. No timelines, no measurable items, not milestones, no responsibilities, just pie in sky here is what we want and boy I sure hope it turns out this way. Well, it hasn’t and it is time to drop the CRA and allow this area to develop through the private sector. The city council and manager need to focus on making Palm Coast a more welcoming environment for business, do more outreach to the retiring sector up north and allow our community to grow both economically and in its citizenry. Then this area known as the SR100 CRA will build up with the businesses and services to sustain the community.
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?
In a nut shell, I believe the red light cameras installed throughout Palm Coast are a disastrous solution of epic proportion to a seemingly unsubstantiated problem.
The two questions that should have been introduced into this debate are:
- How does this benefit the people of Palm Coast
- Is this a financially sound and effective solution
I was told by a previous city councilman and advocate of the cameras that the city did a 90-day analysis and through the findings of that 90 days analysis decided to go forward with the project. 90 days is by far an unreasonable amount of time when studying driver behavior and the effect on that driver’s behavior by having cameras installed. So question #1 could have been answered at this time. The debate is still open as to whether or not these cameras are providing safety to the people of Palm Coast.
That being stated let us move to the present where we now have 43 red light cameras throughout the city. A better solution may have been to possibly expand the sheriff’s traffic division to handle this problem. In this way, the deputies would be handling the traffic areas that are a problem and can be moved on a day to day basis. If you want to control driver behavior, the fact that a driver doesn’t really know where the deputies are today would be much more effective. The dollars collected by the deputies would fund this project and the penalties would be real in the sense that people would get points on their license, the actual driver would be the one getting the summons and it would also affect their insurance. This would make people more aware of the driving habits.
Also, in the name of safety, I would have the yellow warning lights at all the traffic lights lengthened and all directions stay red for a few seconds to help prevent accidents. I would also attempt to address the real issue which is driver distraction, texting, cell phone use, eating, etc. In conclusion, the illegal use of the red light cameras installed prior to July 2010, and the red light camera increase should never have happened. This was our city officials lunging for dollars lost in the economic downturn. Poor planning is what got us in this situation when the economy faltered, and then what followed was poor policy and management. If we wanted to solve the real issue we would have included a fight for banning distractions while driving, increasing yellow light times, slowed the transition from red on one side to green on the other and implemented what I proposed above.
This is the first we hear of a 90-day “analysis” that was ever done: none such has been mentioned in council discussions, and we hope you were not being misled. Taking the city’s claim at its word that safety was the goal, how would you pay for more sheriff’s enforcement of traffic, unless you are willing to divert deputies from crime patrol to traffic enforcement? State law addresses driver distraction, specifically texting (if weakly). How would you address it locally, when the state pre-empts local governments from doing so? And it’s still not clear: would you repeal the cameras by ending the contract with ATS?
I will investigate this further because the name slips my mind. I was at a meeting that Bill McQuire was speaking and the subject of the red-light cameras came up. I asked Councilman McQuire if there was anything being done to measure the results of the cameras and whether or not there was a positive effect. At that point another gentleman who introduced himself to me (everyone else knew him) as a council member at the time of the initial red-light cameras. He stated the city did a “90 day analysis” and found that the red-light cameras worked”. Those were his words and I hope he was not misleading me.
If in fact we have a safety issue, we need to allow the Sherriff to deal with it. I would propose a separate squad of deputies that is devoted to this. Like the cameras, they can be set up at various locations throughout the city to help curb this problem. The revenue from the tickets issued should offset the cost. The difference would be that at least the money would stay in our county at least. Also, the deputies can be mobile and prevent unsafe drivers from knowing where they are today and they would also provide a benefit to our community in the event of disasters like the tornado we experienced. They could easily be moved into another role in moments.
Flagler county plays a large role in getting state representatives elected and we need to use that to apply pressure to the state to get this issue dealt with. We need to work with our counter-parts in other counties and cities and become proactive in this matter. The fact that we don’t have control over what we can implement to prevent distracted drivers shouldn’t have use implement things that don’t help the matter and pretend we have done something.
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?
As for a Palm Coast police department, I believe the startup, maintenance and liability costs would all make it prohibitive. I believe our relationship with the county sheriff’s department is currently adequate to serve our needs. However, I do believe we need to focus the Sherriff’s office more on visibility in our residential sections, parks and trouble areas and a more proactive approach to these trouble areas. As I stated in my red-light camera rant, I believe a separate squad of deputies for traffic is worth the investment and can be covered by traffic violations. This would free up current staff to provide a closer residential relationship between deputies and residents.
Palm Coast has an inflexible approach to residential ordinances and this is creating a negative perception of the community as a whole. I think it is time to back off the authoritative; one policy fits all, mentality. Various sections and neighborhoods don’t mind if their neighbor has a boat in their driveway. I am for a more neighbor-to-neighbor approach to policy when it comes to homes in our community. Neighbors should understand that they need to work things out with each other and if they can’t the City can provide a panel of residents to act as a mediator and resolve those issues that neighbors can’t.
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.
I have no issue with Amendment 2. If we can ease the suffering of individuals with the diseases listed in the Amendment then I say it is a good thing. But like all other businesses whether medical or not, there will be those who try to exploit the situation. If the residents of the State of Florida pass this amendment then the city of Palm Coast should not work to block it. I agree that some form of reasonable regulation may be required, but to attempt to stop the sale in our city completely or make it very difficult for a business to open is a mistake. The business should be regulated as to hours of operation and location with strict monitoring as to the adherence of State regulations.
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?
My position on home-based business is pretty much the same as the City Council’s position. As long as the business does not impact the surrounding residents whether it is traffic, noise, excessive garbage, etc. it should be allowed. However, I see this as an issue that needs to be addressed by the private sector. I would put this in the same category as one-person businesses that need an office and support personnel, yet are not generating that kind of income. The solution, shared office and personnel facilities. With a large amount of retail space available in Palm Coast that is zoned for such businesses as bakeries, candies, etc., a shared space initiative could be pushed to help those trying to start a business, those with empty retail space and neighborhoods not looking forward to the possible impact.
The city does allow low-impact home-based offices, but the issue arises when it involves such things as home-based bakeries that don’t yet have the capital to take up retail space, but nor do they produce the sort of volume that would affect residential traffic. The sticking point, as far as the city is concerned, is inspections, which the city does not have the capacity to carry out, and the state carries out seldom, though business owners have argued that the inspection issue is a red herring. In light of that, how would you approach the issue, since Bill Lewis was the swing vote against such businesses, and your vote may again do likewise?
I firmly believe that very low residential impact businesses should be allowed to open and run in our city. The council again finds it easier to just say no and not really deal with or help the situation. If these businesses where to open elsewhere in town they would still need to be inspected so I’m not buying the excuse. We need to put together a real plan and real guidelines for these businesses to work in that will help us decide when a businesses is to large an impact. We need to think beyond the initial opening of the business also and look at other ways to help these businesses grow and get out of the house. I personally like the concept of shared space like that of an office. Instead of office space, it could be kitchen space, packaging space, whatever.
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?
I somewhat answered this in another question, but the climate of Palm Coast and its relationship with business is perceived to be hostile, negative and rude when it should be welcoming and appreciative.
The main problem with the city’s policies towards businesses is that they are one sided. They do not take into account the fairness or balance between keeping the city pleasant to the eye and at the same time providing businesses with freedom to do business, sell their products, and advertise their products. I read an article maybe a year ago and maybe on FlaglerLive where the city was talking about renovating the Palm Coast Community Center. The funniest thing I remember was that a big complaint for PCCC was VISIBILTY. All the tree and shrubs made it hard to see the PCCC find it or even know it was there. So the council found a problem and did nothing to fix it.
Inflexibility is a cornerstone to most the problems with our country today. My way or highway doesn’t make for progress. That’s not how you run a family, a business and most of all city, state or country. When I am a council member, I will introduce many ordinances and policies each month that need to be revisited and made fair to all parties involved.
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.
In a simple statement, what defines a great city to me is a city where multiple generations of families live, play, grow and retire happily and prosperously.
This was my vision when I moved to Palm Coast 32 years ago with my wife and son. Shortly after that my daughter was born. My plan was to grow a family here, send my children to college and then they would move back here, get married and have children. I would retire here with my family nearby and spend my time with my grandchildren. Well, that dream quickly started to crumble when after several years there was still no place for me to work in Palm Coast. I spent most of my time traveling to South Daytona, Melbourne Orlando, Lake Mary and Jacksonville for work. I finally settled in Jacksonville and spent the next couple of decades traveling back and forth. That took most of my time and energy. I didn’t to see my kids grow up because most of the time they were asleep when I got home and when I left the next morning.
Well my kids did grow up and went off to college as planned. One graduated from Stetson University the other from FSU. One found work in Orlando and the other in New York. My dream was shattered. To shorten a long story, I believe Palm Coast can be the place I dreamed about when I first moved here and I still have the hope of bringing my family together. That is what makes a great city. This can be done through economic growth and growth in our citizenry. The city must take up the responsibility of reaching out beyond the boundaries of Palm Coast by passing a resolution to create a board for economic development that will be directed to do this. We also need to start a campaign through the city departments and employees that the customer’s needs come first. A complete overhaul of the city employees attitude towards it’s customers, the residents of Palm Coast. We must become more agile and flexible with our ordinances to server both businesses and residents and stop demonizing business.
Two places that are not infrastructural or economic that the city is failing is a difficult question but I believe one area is in policing the city. We need to work better with the Sherriff’s office to direct them as to our requirements of better police visibility in our communities and parks. We need to address the gang issue in our town. I watched a video on you tube where a gang in our town were brandishing guns and the kids on the video were clearly under 21. We need to be more proactive on this matter. Another area the city council and management are failing at is listening to the people of Palm Coast. There is a seriously negative perception of the city manager because of this and the city council fuels the fire by passing votes that the citizenry is clearly against. I know you can’t govern by polls, but true leadership should have no problem showing the people of Palm Coast why something would be beneficial to them or the right thing to do. The lack of this shows the people are more than likely correct in their decision.
When big issues come up, we need several town halls to allow the people to give feedback and get answers to their question. The council also needs time to process and respond to the residents’ concerns before going to a vote.
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?
I saved this question for last, to be honest, because I really don’t support the arts much more than attendance and signing a check here and there. But in my defense, I did preform in the Nut Cracker at the Peabody in Daytona for a local theater group.
That aside, I don’t have young children, I don’t play soccer and I don’t play T-Ball, but I understand how important it is that these opportunities exist in our community along with painting, music, poetry, writing and theater. As a council member, I would look at this the same as I would a new park and throw the cities support behind it proportionately to the community it serves and maybe more to start up a cultural movement that can then be supported more by the private sector. A council member must be able to put aside their interests and likes and remember that there are many people in our city with different interests. He or she must be able to communicate with these people and bring them together to understand their needs and see how it benefits Palm Coast and how Palm Coast can support them.
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?
First I have to say that the utility increases last year and for the next two years again are due to poor management. The upgrades to the plants we were forced to finance were known about as many as seven years earlier. We did nothing to prepare for it and waited until the last minute and then borrowed $21 Million dollars to take care of it. At the same time we refinanced the outstanding bonds and dropped the interest some 500 Thousand Dollars. Where it that money going? The increases were part of the bond deal and the increases were to make the bonds stronger in the eye of the buyers. So yes, I have an issue with those raises but unfortunately we have them and there is not much we can do about it right now.
We need to pay down the utility debt, currently at about 160 Million Dollars. The debt service, the amount of money paid towards our debt, is more than 1/3 of the revenue taken in to the utility fund. Before we look into more revenue we need to look into cutting unnecessary spending and making our facilities and services more efficient. The last thing I am talking about here is cutting jobs or services to the residents, this would be the sign of a failing city and Palm Coast is not a failing city, it is a mismanaged city and I am sure there is wasteful spending that can be curtailed.
Another area I believe is hurting the city that is not being properly addressed is the numerous empty commercial and retail spaces in the city. The rates for businesses to startup are too high on the current floor space given the economic situation. There is a negative impact to our community by having these empty facilities and I would be looking at a surcharge/fee for spaces that have been empty for too long. We need to motivate these owners into getting involved in leasing these spaces.
The single best answer to revenue problems in a city is growth. We need to grow in population of retired and in the businesses to create jobs for the younger generation. This would also increase home ownership and the quality of lifestyle in Palm Coast.
You seized on the issue in your last paragraph: the single best answer to revenue problems is growth. Wasn’t the housing crash, as opposed to mismanagement, to blame for the collapse in the sort of revenue the city had been banking on to finance its utility system? The same question raises another: if growth is the best generator of revenue, and Florida has certainly made that a cardinal belief over the decades, at what point does growth become a liability–at what point does Palm Coast decide it won;t turn into Fort Lauderdale?
A major problem in Palm Coast during the housing bubble was that 80% of the industry in Palm Coast was real estate related, so when the collapse occurred, it hit us very, very hard and made any kind of recovery almost impossible. Businesses MUST have a plan for these economic down turns and most do. The utility, being a business but running like a public entity was not willing to make adjustments when things got bad they simple applied more fees and raised the rates. Poor management by city leadership not understanding the threat of a single industry town and the lack of response to the down turn by the utility ie: debt for one, in my opinion made a bad situation much worse.
Who are we? Who do we want to be? These questions must be clearly answered and articulate for the population to view and understand. Once it is decided that we want to become a city of x, we can then understand what we need in order to supply this population the services a city must provide. Based on what we have already decided as a city we want in the way of services, we must have growth to get the break even point. From there, we can decide how far we want to go and I think, speaking for all of us, we don’t want to be a Fort Lauderdale. Blind growth without plan is bad for the city. A real vision of who we want to be aligned with a real, measurable plan will get us there. Then the plan changes to maintenance mode and keeps us in the lifestyle we as a city choose.
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?
The first attempt at this initiative was unsuccessful because of the same issues we face today. Those issues are poor leadership and poor management. We simple put large projects in the hands of third party organizations and let them run without any plan, timeline, milestones or responsibilities.
That being said, I would be very surprised if the DRI’s in Palm Coast were to expand at a rate that would make this necessary to implement over the next four years. However, if there is steady, upward growth that was sustainable behind a plan that would not do a complete flop on an economic turn, then maybe around the start of year four it would be a possibility to start looking it on the project again.
Would it be the plan that was proposed back in 2009 (I believe)? I’m not sure. There would have to be another investigation in to alternate water supply plans before a decision was made. All-in-all, though, when we do get to the point of turning the city’s growth, policy and perception around, we will need to be thinking of this to ensure future growth for future generations.
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?
An effective council member is one that listens to the residents of Palm Coast. An effective council member is honest, principled, selfless and a person of high integrity. He/she is also a person who can articulate a position to all levels of people and bring everyone together and focus them on a plan, vision or goal.
The current council does not provide enough public feedback to large and controversial issues. Before the council meets in a workshop for one of these issues, there should have been several town halls allowing the people to voice their opinion and questions and most importantly a place to get answers. Giving people a minor chance to voice their questions without the follow-up answers is useless. This is where the council member can show he believes in the policy and attempts to convince the residents it benefits them. In the end, however, we should heed to the residents if the council cannot get approval. The biggest example of this I can give would be the vote on City Hall.
I would perceive myself to be best aligned with Council Member DeLorenzo. Without working with him on any issues, this is just a guess from his interactions with the other members during workshops and meetings. The current council dynamics I see from public appearances is one that is not as adversarial as I would like. If everyone thinks the same and does not question the policies, programs and presentations adequately then the people of Palm Coast are not being served well.
We feel compelled to thank you for being the only candidate who answered the question fully on a first try.
Generally, I don’t like to evaluate people I have not had the ability to work with directly. All I have are decisions he has made, the outcome of some of those decisions and a lot of third party discussions including his decisions, work ethics and character. I am not privy to the process of his decision making nor do I understand his philosophy in conjunction to that of the council.
As a whole, Mr. Landon’s management skills, character and loyalty to Palm Coast have a very negative grade from the people of Palm Coast. The perception is also that most of Palm Coast does not trust him. This is not done through any scientific study just talk, but the perception is real. Based on the decisions I have been able to view where I can see outcomes and negotiations with residents on their community, I believe that Mr. Landon’s decisions are not in line with what is best for the residents of Palm Coast.
Given the negative perception and mistrust of Mr. Landon in our city, I would believe it best for Palm Coast look to refresh this position with someone the people will be able to back and trust. In my experience this is a must to get an organization working together in a single focus.