Howard Holley, Flagler County Commission Candidates: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | October 20, 2014
Howard Holley is a candidate for the Flagler County Commission. He’s been a lifelong Republican but chose to run as an independent against first-term Republican Frank Meeker. There is no Democrat in this District 2 race. Meeker beat Dennis McDonald in the Republican primary. Holley has never run for office before.
In District 4, first-term incumbent Republican Nate McLaughlin is facing a challenge from Independent Denise Calderwood. No Democrat chose to run in this race, either.
But all registered voters in the county, including city voters, get to cast a vote in both county commission races, whatever their party affiliation.
John Fischer (Dist. 2)
Janet McDonald (Dist. 2)
Denise Calderwood (Dist.4)
Howard Holley (Dist. 2)
Nate McLaughlin (Dist. 4)
Frank Meeker (Dist. 2)
Palm Coast City Council Candidates:
Bill Lewis (Dist. 4)
Steven Nobile (Dist. 4)
Anne-Marie Shaffer (Dist. 2)
Heidi Shipley (Dist. 2)
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 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, and may be awaiting answers.
Holley posted his answers to the FlaglerLive questions on his campaign website before they appeared here, without FlaglerLive’s permission. He was asked to take down the posting until his answers appeared here first and complied, with apologies.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- What qualifies you to run?
- Critical issues
- Good and bad of county government
- Old hospital purchase, new jail construction
- Between quality services and cheapest services
- Economic development
- Old courthouse
- Environmentally sensitive lands
- Same-sex rights
- Evaluating Craig Coffey
- Evaluating the commission
- Who’s your model commissioner?
- Background check
- Opponent’s questions
Place and Date of Birth: Norfolk Virginia, August 17, 1947
Current job: President & CEO of The Holley Group, a marketing firm in Palm Coast
Party Affiliation: Independent
Net Worth: $2.8 million. See financial disclosure form here.
Website: Campaign website; Facebook
The complexity and scope of my strategic, operational, and financial responsibilities over the course of my career and my lifelong dedication to community involvement make me exceptionally prepared to take on the role of Flagler County commissioner and to provide leadership, accountability, and vision. As a senior vice president for Xerox Corporation, I was responsible for running operations with over $1 Billion in revenue and included 6,000 employees throughout the United States. In this role my senior team included the heads of human resources, finance and marketing though they didn’t directly report to me. As a result, I developed a valuable skill-set by learning to lead without direct authority through consensus building and teamwork. These skills will be needed to work with commissioners, community leaders and other elected officials. At other points in my career I was chosen by Xerox to lead far-flung global operations across 30 countries. One of the experiences that exceeded my expectations and created a unique set of experiences was being in charge of and accountable for complex end-to-end country operations on Mainland China. That experience in particular gave me an opportunity to start virtually from scratch in a foreign land to build a viable and successful organization under a challenging situation. Navigating the business and political landscape in China, where unique government interests and pressures exist, gave me an opportunity to gain a robust appreciation for the political elements that often is a barrier to attempts to change the status quo.
I have lived in many cities throughout the United States. In every place, I have taken a keen interest in the community around me with the drive to leave some small legacy of my time there as an improvement from when I arrived. As a result, though not a goal, I have received several awards and recognition from many organizations. Xerox’s CEO, Ann Mulcahy awarded me Xerox’s Diversity Leadership Award for being a role model in building organizations that represent the diversity of our communities. I also received the Xerox Individual Excellence Award which goes to an employee each year who makes the most significant contribution to the Corporation. For my contributions to the community, I received recognition from, among others, NAACP, Junior Achievement, Urban League, National Conference of Christians and Jews (now National Conference for Community and Justice), Women’s Leadership Council, and the National Association of Minority Employees. I am, perhaps, proudest that the City Council of San Diego named August 22, 1992 as Howard Holley Day in San Diego for my contributions to that community.
Where do you see your lack of government experience, and conversely your executive experience in the private sector, hampering your learning curve as a commissioner and perhaps tripping your experience with decision-making, and how do you intend to overcome such obstacles?
There are quite a few examples throughout the country of business people who have successfully made the transition to being an elected official at city, county and state levels. Likely a common denominator is having previously assumed many diverse assignments that require developing the ability to come up the learning curve quickly. I don’t see this as an obstacle as I have quite a bit of experience in assuming new assignments that required coming up the learning curve quickly such as becoming the senior vice president in Xerox China.
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.
In the corporate environment we speak of “opposing views” or “competitors” not “enemies.” I think this is important because the implication is that all deserve to be respected, even if we disagree. We generally accept the fact that there is no one right answer. Those who have views different from mine feel that I tend to win in face-offs by securing the support of my colleagues through “seeking first to understand in order to be understood.” My friends would say that my worst fault is being consumed by the challenges and priorities facing me to such a degree that we have lost touch with each other. As an example my life long friend from kindergarten and I haven’t talked since my campaign kickoff in March. But the reality is that over our last 62 years we have sometimes gone much longer and whenever we get together the time apart is soon forgotten.
I rose to the level I did at Xerox because they established a level playing field – which was results-based. As a result, I am about delivering benchmark results, taking full accountability and exceeding expectations. As County Commissioner, the voters are my clients, and I will exceed their expectations.
It’s unusual for a prospective public servant to refer to his eventual constituents as “clients,” as if the relationship were to be transactional and to your eventual profit–as clients usually pay their service provider–as opposed to being in your constituents’ employ, a quite different thing. Again, it speaks to your years of corporate leadership, in an environment–to go back to the first part of your answer–where euphemisms can sometimes mask the reality of bitter opposition, enmity, and an expectation from constituents that they are definitely not your clients, but that you work for them. How prepared are you for that relationship if you are still perceiving it through corporate prisms where you’re the boss?
My point is that one of my key business principles is exceeding expectations. In my role as county commissioner I will do the same for my constituents, residents and voters, of the county. I think most people see county commissioners more as elected representatives versus employees. I will represent the constituents of our county using the same focus I have used in exceeding expectations in the past. I’m not clear as to why treating them as my #1 priority is a contradiction.
1. Vision for the future – We need to answer some critical questions to ensure we point Flagler County toward a successful future: Where are we headed as a County? By 2030 what will Flagler County look like? How will it be different? What are the implications for our citizens? What must we do now to ensure we get there and minimize any negative ramifications? Some people have said that no one cares about the future. I have not found that to be so. People do care. They understand that doing the same thing and expecting different results is insanity. Most of us want a tomorrow that is better than today. If so, we have to work for it.
2. JOBS AND ECONOMIC GROWTH – Economic growth is not just an issue for the county it is an issue for every city, county and state. Services that are provided, quality of life, employment and career opportunities are all determined by economic growth. I have talked to hundreds of residents over the last 2 two years and they generally agree (in fact 99% agree) that economic development is critical to our community. They also say that the primary outcome of economic development that they want to see is jobs. What they are asking for is:
- More Jobs—More jobs are necessary to reduce our unemployment rate faster than the state and the other counties.
- Better Paying Jobs—We must grow jobs outside of retail and hospitality faster than has been our pattern.
- Career Jobs—We want our loved ones to be able to come here and find jobs, we want our children and grandchildren to have the option to stay after graduation. Jobs that offer career opportunities will be needed to do that.
- We also know that we must do a better job of matching skills to job opportunities. This isn’t a quick fix, but we must work across organizational boundaries to achieve a “classroom to careers” model that solves this problem.
3. REDUCE OUR DEPENDENCE ON RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY TAXES TO FUND THE COUNTY BUDGET– 83% of our property taxes come from residential properties. If we expect that residential properties will grow in the future as it did from 2000 – 2007 we don’t have a problem. But if we expect a more moderate growth and an increasing demand for services, we must begin to achieve growth in commercial, industrial and agriculture property investments at a rate faster than residential in order to maintain and grow our Quality of Life responsibly into the future.
Your “vision for the future” hits all the right notes of an optimistic mission statement, but it lacks specificity, especially in light of what the county does, in fact if not by law: it has a comprehensive plan, it has a land development code, it has several advisory boards, among them for jobs and economic development, that by nature of their own mission define what the county considers to be its long-term priorities. So what do you mean by “vision” that is not being accomplished now? Your four points about jobs and your point about diversifying the tax base are indistinguishable from what every candidate and existing commissioner has laid out since commissioners have been running for office in this county in the past 40 years, Meeker included. Beyond such things as creating an economic development department and council, cutting taxes (i.e. the impact fee moratorium), improving infrastructure, developing the county airport as an industrial park, what are you proposing to do, more specifically, than the general points you just proposed?
A vision should not contain specificity. I see alignment on a vision for growth as one of the major issues facing the county. Alignment across the county commission, across the other municipalities, across the community, etc. Only when we agree that this is a priority can we begin to develop the specificity needed to produce a game plan for moving forward. I believe my response to your initial question is adequate in defining he other issues of jobs and economic growth and reducing our dependence on residential property taxes.
I think the county did a good job of minimizing the potential tax implications we could have incurred as a result of the decline in property tax value, which began in 2008. Of course reserves were used to fill that gap along with expense reductions but I feel that when we go through a financial valley, responsible use of reserves is acceptable. I also think that the County did a good job in sourcing a new Economic Opportunity Department leader. Helga Van Eckert brings the skills we need to the job.
Economic growth must become a major focus. I do not believe that it is at this time. As an example, I would like to see the Board of County Commissioners and elected leaders of each of our municipalities including the school board meet on a periodic basis to assess our county wide economic development progress. As I have stated previously here, while I feel we have the right leadership in our Economic Opportunity Department and also with Joe Roy at Business Expo, I do not feel that we have achieved the level of results that we require and expect. I also feel that the resources we have deployed to this effort at the county level are inadequate to achieve what should be our ambitions. We cannot compete at this level of resource commitment. At the same time, I don’t feel there is an appetite among the taxpayers to invest more money into economic growth. Therefore, our only choice, given our situation, is to return to a “public /private partnership.” This doesn’t mean to return to Enterprise Flagler. Instead it means to learn from that experience and build something better than we had. I want Flagler County to become the benchmark for other communities in planning and executing strategies for economic growth.
Are you suggesting that the economic development council should be disbanded or folded into a private-public partnership? How is such a partnership, which would entail a level of secrecy not presently in effect, to the greater benefit of residents, particularly in light of Enterprise Flagler’s decade of wheel-spinning? How would your version of such a partnership be different?
It will not be my version of Enterprise Flagler I am suggesting. This will need to be a part of an extensive process to define collectively how we need to move forward. We can not ignore successful public/private partnerships that are leading economic development efforts across the state or around the country based on our experience with Enterprise Flagler. This is especially true in bringing in new businesses. As I stated in my response let’s learn from it and create something better. I acknowledge that returning to a public/private partnership model will require time. However, I believe that ultimately will must get there to achieve our collective ambitions.
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.
During the public comments section of one of the BOCC meetings on this topic, I asked the BOCC to make a “fact-based decision”—One not tainted by predispositions and the loudest voices but, instead, one that is completely defensible. I said this approach would require courage on their part, but that was why they had been elected – to act courageously and with accountability. If in fact, as you stated in the question above, costs have been “miscalculated” then the BOCC and the County Administrator should be held accountable. On the other hand, it is still too early to fully evaluate what costs will actually be expended, and I would give them the benefit of the doubt that they can bring these costs back in line and within expectations. No other solution is acceptable.
Would you have voted for the acquisition of the old hospital, and the building of a new jail?
The question asked for my “critique,” which I provided. I do not have enough data to answer this question so specifically. Is it expected that as a private citizen that I would have the same data as a county commissioner? Without the same set of information I can’t answer this question. Clearly there appears to be quite a bit of public concern about how the old Courthouse and old Hospital decisions have been made. It appears to me that changes in BOCC decision making needs to explored which I will evaluate as a member of the county commission.
Actually, yes: as a private citizen you are entitled and have access to the same data as the county commissioners, all of which was made available on the county website. If they have data not made accessible to the public, that would be illegal. Are you expecting to have data, as a county commissioner, that you will not want publicly available? Isn’t that precisely the public concern over such things as private-public partnerships, discussed above?
I have quite a few responsibilities currently and evaluating and assessing Craig Coffee is not one. Right now I’m running for County Commissioner. I would hope voters aren’t looking for me to take a position on Craig Coffee to determine whether to vote for me or not. When it becomes part of my responsibility on Nov 5th I will be very diligent in focusing on it. My opponents response to this question in 2012 and in 2014 seem eerily similar as if the last 2 years serving as a member of the BOCC has not added much specificity in evaluating Mr Coffee. I look forward to sharing my assessment and evaluation of the County Administrator following my first 100 days.
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?
This is an age-old question and one, which I have had to answer in real life hundreds if not thousands of times. When you are providing services it generally means you are touching the recipient directly, for example Senior Services – Meals on Wheels. When there are only two choices, choosing between quality services or cheap services, I always chose quality if I can afford it. But quality has its limits. It shouldn’t mean most expensive or extravagant. Often we have more than one choice—that is, we face a continuum of options of varying quality and costs. When faced with a limited budget the goal is to obtain the optimum level of quality for value. Quality should be measured by total life cycle costs and measureable value. In some cases making an additional investment for a higher quality solution costs less in the long run.
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?
As I stated previously, while I feel we have the right leadership, I do not feel that we have achieved the level of results that most voters require and expect. With regards to measureable outcome for jobs, we should aspire to reduce unemployment faster that the state overall and better than our benchmark counties. Ultimately, our relative position with other counties should be better than our ranking in population and GDP. With regards to residential tax base diversification, we should look to achieve a goal of growing investments in commercial, industrial and agricultural at a faster rate annually than residential. Lastly, we should see the average salary increase annually to reflect better paying and career jobs growth. To accomplish this we need a shared vision, agreement on the measureable goals I have suggested and a specific plan to achieve each goal. One Commissioner cannot get this done. The county and the municipalities will need to work together toward a vision of economic growth. Alignment and shared ownership will be critical.
There are a lot of “shoulds” in your answer, and at the crucial points, a lot of punting to “shared visions.” That’s fine. But you are not telling us what you, Howard Holley, as one commissioner, will do to get to the broader goals you’re describing. It is a recurring theme in your answers: wonderful goals, but the specifics are left wanting.
1. Reduce unemployment rate faster than the State and bench mark counties.
2. Increase job creation as a percentage of total jobs faster that the State and our benchmark counties.
3. Grow investments in Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural properties at an aggregated rate faster than Residential properties.
As a potential future member of the BOCC I do not want to prejudice myself prior to the committee making its report. However, understanding the costs to make it viably usable, its true market value and the community’s desires are three assessments that must be taken into consideration.
The committee’s report is not binding. It’s simply a report and a recommendation, which is not quite a secret: there are few options. Given what you know so far, and we assume you’ve kep up with the history and controversies surrounding the building, what is your best informed judgment on dealing with the building?
We have a group of citizens who have spent quite a bit of time developing a proposal to submit to the BOCC. I would prefer to not offer my opinion until their recommendation has been completed.
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?
Of course, taxes are necessary to help fund our infrastructure and ensure that basic services are provided to keep our community safe and healthy. Whether taxes are too high or too low depends on (1) what services our citizens want government to provide now and in the future and (2) whether our government is spending efficiently and effectively for those services. It is important to periodically evaluate both of these factors in the context of an overall vision and plan for our county to determine the appropriate balance and to hold government accountable.
I do not favor increasing the gas tax because I am unaware of transportation infrastructure issues that suggest such a tax increase. Also, when measured as a percentage of household income, gas taxes typically fall disproportionately on those who can least afford it. Instead, I think the focus should be on keeping spending flat while diversifying our overall tax base. With increases in property values and increased investments beyond residential, we should look to keep our expenses within current levels until we replenish our reserves. Any surpluses should be split between the reserve and the taxpayers. As a citizen said to me “we want you to squeeze the nickel.”
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?
Since its inception in 1988 and with continued voter support subsequently the ESL Fund has been used effectively to support and sustain the Quality of Life we enjoy today. The vision that led to the decisions that were made at that time, in the late 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s, set a foundation that today all of our residents enjoy. However, I am not as certain that that same long-term vision is still being maintained or demonstrated. I agree with most residents that the Princess Place Reserve acquisitions have yielded positive benefits to many residents on multiple dimensions. It should be a benchmark for other decisions.
Can you cite an example of a lousy ESL acquisition?
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?
I would not lead the effort because I believe there are more pressing issues that should be prioritized. However, I am supportive. I believe that public opinions have changed and a greater acceptance is definitely rising. I nonetheless believe that we must avoid intrusions of government into the private lives of our citizens. Treating all employees fairly and equally should be an expectation employees have their of their employers whether government or private.
How is the correction of a civil right denied since the founding of the nation not a priority for a government agency that can quickly achieve that correction for its own employees?
When I am elected it will be very clear that the voters would have responded to my message of jobs and economic growth, diversification of the property tax base and matching jobs to skills. I want to honor my commitment to make these my priority once in office. However, as I stated, I am supportive but will not lead the effort as I am entering office.
As I stated earlier, I believe the County did a good job of re-sizing the expense base as we entered into this last recession. I give Craig credit for that effort. I have not managed Craig Coffee in the past and therefore I am unwilling to assess his performance, as I would be uninformed.
Unlike a private sector CEO Coffey does much of his work in public, has to explain his decision publicly two or more times a month and more times than that to the press. His methods and accomplishments are a relative open book. We assume you’ve been observing the commission at least since deciding to run. Within that scope, your assessment of Coffey as a manager–especially as a manager yourself–gives voters an insight into your judgments and the way you make them regarding the only person you will hire and fire, other than the attorney. Please try again.
I believe in a 360 degree assessment as part of a performance evaluation of executives. I look to get feedback from his direct reports, other stakeholders and my personal observations, beyond his public appearances, etc. This statement provides insight about how I will approach this critical evaluation. I also will be spending the first 100 days to assess many aspects of the County’s operations. I will provide my feedback to Craig and the public at that time.
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 believe my previous answers respond to this question. However I would have to point out that the level of engagement by Commissioners during election time seems significantly higher. The BOCC must figure out how to more effectively communicate with its constituents and stakeholders on an ongoing basis. My background and experience in communications would be an asset to the County Commission.
I believe my executive work experiences; varied life experiences, beliefs and philosophies are not currently present on the commission. Therefore it would be difficult, if not impossible, to align with any one member. However, I hope to work across party and geographic lines to bring consensus on the vision, goals and plans that need to be developed as well as the key issues that need to be addressed.
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. And yes, candidates do their best to evade the question. Please try again.
I’m not being evasive but this question is not helpful in creating the environment that we will need to create to work together to gain consensus and to move forward
Almost every candidate has attempted to evade this question, usually saying what you did, that it’s not “helpful” to the environment needed to work together. We don’t ask questions to make it easy or helpful for you to work with your colleagues. We ask questions to reveal your accountability to the public, and to what extent you are willing to be accountable down to your beliefs and affinities. That you don;t have some affinity for an existing member of the commission strains credibility, though your second response regarding your wish to preserve a working relationship suggests you do have such affinities, but would rather keep them private. That, it seems, is being evasive. A more candid answer would still be welcome.
If “almost every candidate” tries to avoid this answer, it may advisable to remove it in the future from Flagler Live Candidate Q&A’s. For this cycle I defer to my previous answer.
Astonishingly revealing. You will find, however, that FlaglerLive, as we imagine any local news source, does not calibrate its reporting to the rhythms of politicians’ comfort zones.
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.
I was in a traffic accident and I received a citation for violation of 316.061(1). The case was disposed without prosecution.
There is more to the case, as you well know. While the case was disposed of as you describe, you nevertheless admitted to hitting another person’s vehicle with your company car, causing $600 in damages, leaving the scene, and having an expired registration, as the original citation indicates. (The full crash report is here, the citation here.) According to the crash report, you told the Flagler sheriff’s deputy that you “didn’t know why [you] left after the accident and that maybe it was just from being tired due to returning from a trip.” You then retained an attorney, and the leaving-the-scene charge was dropped (but not the expired registration issue). Beyond the case disposition, and if an expired registration is anyone’s honest mistake, the fact of your leaving the scene of an accident you caused remains, and in light of your candidacy for the commission raises a question of trust and probity that your original response to this question does not answer. A more expansive explanation would be welcome.
On August 10, 2013, I received a traffic citation for “leaving the scene of an accident with physical damage.” I made a mistake. I am fully accountable. There is no excuse. I acknowledged the error when I was notified by the officer that there was property damage in the accident. However, once I was advised of my error, I contacted the vehicle owner immediately and apologized. I made sure that things were handled as efficiently, responsively and completely as possible. It was resolved amicably and to his satisfaction. I think what is more telling about people is how they handle their mistakes. The courts dismissed the citation and it was removed from my record which reflects that all parties have been satisfied by my actions: the owner, the courts and the State. Your comment above about it “raising a question of my trust and probity” is totally unwarranted. I have hundreds of people who have worked for me and hundreds of people who have worked with me over my long and I believe distinguished career that will provide counter points regarding my character and personal qualities. I believe they are here in Flagler County as well. That you would use a single data point to judge me is beyond comprehension. I believe that everything that happens to us, good or bad, happens for a reason. I learned a valuable lesson from this incident.
In the larger scheme of things, more jobs, better paying jobs and career jobs are much more important than a citation that was dismissed, removed from my record and met the complete satisfaction of the other party. Let’s move on to the campaign and let’s not get distracted from the real issues.
You say “all” parties have been satisfied by your actions: “the owner, the courts and the State.” Where does the electorate whose vote you’re seeking fit in this equation?
My statement relates to the actions that were taken when the accident occurred The public was not a party to this when it occurred in August of 2013. I was not an elected official and neither had I even decided to run much less registered to run. At that time, there was no obligation on my part to satisfy the public’s needs to know what happened. I am responding to your questions now because I am a candidate for County Commission and they have a right to know what happened and what I did to resolve it. I have offered my response and feel it is adequate and appropriate. Again I urge that we try to stay focused on the issues at hand. Thousands of families are having a very difficult time struggling through this poorly managed County economy. I believe we need a new direction and new leadership. Voters have a clear choice.