The Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area in Flagler Beach will not lose its name. The Flagler Beach City Commission last week agreed to drop the plan, following a unanimous vote by the Flagler Beach Economic Development Task Force to do so after fierce resistance to the plan emerged, as did opposition from a legislator Flagler Beach officials had portrayed as a supporter of the idea.
Monday evening, the Flagler County Commission, which on Sept. 3 had voted unanimously to give Flagler Beach its support for the name change, reversed course just as unanimously.
“I was very uncomfortable with going along with it in the first place,” Commission Chairman George Hanns said Monday. The commission had agreed to include the name change as part of its legislative priorities for spring’s session. The commission wasn’t entirely clear about whether to take a vote on the matter Monday.
“If your intent is to make the record clear, that Flagler County does not support a name change, if that is your intent, then you would be best served by having that stated as part of the motion that deletes it from this list” of priorities.
The Legislature changed state-owned and managed recreation area in 1992, four months after the folk singer Gamble Rogers died trying to rescue a tourist in the surf. The tourist, too, drowned. Flagler Beach contended that, even though the name of the town appears in the complete, official name of the recreation area—and appears in the largest letters on its signs—it gets lost, for being at the end of the name. The city wanted to revert the area’s name to Flagler Beach State Recreation Area as a way to “brand” the park and improve its attraction in the mix of tourist draws the city can bank on. The park, however, is not lacking for visitors. Its 30 camping sites are booked about a year ahead, for example.
The economic development task force met on Sept. 8, five days after the original county vote.
“I did receive a phone call from Nate that they were withdrawing their support, so I did share that with the Economic Development Task Force,” said Kim Carney, who chairs the Flagler Beach City Commission and is a member of the task force. She was referring to Nate McLaughlin, a member of the county commission.
It’s not clear how McLaughlin knew to tell Carney that the commission by then was withdrawing its support, as it had not met since voting to support the name change and commissioners are not supposed to discuss live issues outside of meetings.
“They didn’t, they did it last night,” Carl Laundrie, a spokesman for the commission, said today, confirming that the commission had not discussed the matter again until Monday. In the interim, it’s had only one meeting, a hearing on the tax rate, on Sept. 4.
[Tuesday evening, Carney clarified that, while she did say that McLaughlin had called her and that the county commission was withdrawing its support, she had mis-characterized the specifics of what McLaughlin had said. McLaughlin, she said, “just said there was going to be more discussion about it because of the feedback from the community.”]
Speaking to her fellow city commissioners last Thursday evening—Sep. 11—Carney attributed the retreat on the name change to “outside influences, let’s say, although the citizens of Flagler Beach seem to be all in favor, or many of them in favor of the renaming. It is overwhelmingly against the renaming of Gamble Rogers, therefore the Economic Development Task Force voted unanimously to stop pursuing the renaming at this time.”
She added: “It was a hard bite but considering what our county is looking for in the future it did not appear to be worth the fight.”
In a presentation before the commission earlier this month, Carney and others had described Rep. Travis Hutson, who represents Flagler in the Florida House, as a supporter of the name change. Hutson subsequently countered that characterization, saying he’d merely agreed to hear the issue as a legislative priority if it could gain unanimity from all Flagler communities–not that he would himself introduce such a bill.
A clearly disappointed Carney had written FlaglerLive a few days before the task force meeting: “For the over 18 months the EDTF has been dealing with this subject there has been no mention of the issue, nor when the Commission approved the goals for the EDTF, nor when the resolution was written, nor when the letters were approved to send out to the legislature. It only gets public recognition when it goes before the County Commission. Give them a break, they did what we asked. They get two emails against it and that is supposed to influence them not to support what Flagler Beach’s leadership unanimously asked them to do. I will admit I had no idea this issue would be so controversial and I’m not sure 33 comments and over 300 recommends for the story constitutes a ‘majority.'” Carney was referring to the Sept. 3 FlaglerLive story on the county commission’s original vote. The story at last check today had 820 “likes” and 53 comments.
The county commission Monday bundled its retreat from the name change with its approval of three legislative priorities–gaining $2.5 million in state support for drainage issues around Malacompra Road, for more state aid to the county library, and for $2.5 million in aid to the Agricultural Museum, though the state last year awarded the museum a generous grant.