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Denise Calderwood, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview

| October 20, 2014

Denise Calderwood is an Independent candidate for District 4. (© FlaglerLive)

Denise Calderwood is an Independent candidate for District 4. (© FlaglerLive)

Denise Calderwood is an Independent candidate for the Flagler County Commission, running against Republican Nate McLaughlin in District 4. (Calderwood was a previously registered Republican.)

In District 2, two-year incumbent Frank Meeker is facing Independent Howard Holley in the November 4 general election. No Democrat chose to run in either race.

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

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

The Questions in Summary: Quick Links

CANDIDATE: The Basics:

Place and Date of Birth: Philadelphia, Dec. 28, 1967
Current job: Owner, Calderwood Consulting Inc.
Party Affiliation: Independent
Net Worth: See the financial disclosure form and Calderwood’s tax return.
Website: Facebook

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

I am the only candidate who has a Master’s degree and it is in the discipline of Public Administration so I know that government is supposed to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible to provide for the needs of all its residents. I am not a developer, a builder or a real estate agent, but I have been involved in many projects as a grants consultant, that I understand their limited value. I will bring a diverse background to the commission and a broader perspective to it, since I was raised and educated in Flagler County, since 1974 (attended Bunnell Elementary School and Flagler Palm Coast High School and I am  proud to say I am a Bulldog) and call myself a first generation Palm Coaster. I was one of the first to attend college while still in high school (dual enrollment before there was a program) and attended local classes at Daytona State College Palm Coast campus and then had to commute to Orlando to complete the rest, all while being a police dispatcher, police officer, and fire fighter/civil defense member in Flagler Beach. I was also a deputy sheriff with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Department and worked as a School Resource Officer and then became a Child Protective Investigator/juvenile justice officer working for the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Juvenile Justice. I then went to work for the Department of Children and Families and then worked for the Flagler County Health Department

I then moved out of the state and worked in Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts, as a consultant and a college administrator and worked on statewide projects and worked with various statewide and county governments and learned how other states and counties managed their budgets and their big projects, like economic development through Brownfield redevelopment, transportation, public safety, social services, arts, and historic preservation and returned home to find out that Flagler County wasn’t doing any of that. Yet, we have the same resources and opportunities. So I contacted the owners of the old hospital, signed a lease and literally rolled up my sleeves and got to work with several volunteers, many of them youth, and moved into an abandoned building at the old Memorial Hospital and opened up the People Helping People Center and now that collaborative effort will become homeless due to the county’s purchase of the old hospital.

You’ve given us a resume but not an answer: understanding that most adults work and have varied careers, few choose to run, fewer still win, and even fewer are qualified to be elected officials. The question remains: since we have an understanding of your work background, why do you think you are so qualified as to compel voters to unseat an incumbent with the one sort of experience you don;t have: service in office? 

I have service in office and the record of my opponent, the incumbent, speaks for itself. He voted for several major expenditures, the hospital, the jail expansion, Bull Creek campground, and giving away our county’s assets, the Courthouse, without doing his own research. [Editor’s note: Nate McLaughlin has not voted to give away the courthouse, which remains a county property under study by a committee that will recommend how to deal with it next.] I am a servant leader. I believe in giving back and I have volunteered over 35 hours a week to various county sanctioned recommendation committees and for service projects, in this county, Volusia County and in Tallahassee. Committees, groups and projects range from the old hospital renovation and cleanup, Arts, Public Safety, Emergency Management, Juvenile Justice, and Carver Foundation Committees, Community Cleanups, Feed Flagler, Access Flagler, United Way, Kiwanis, and volunteer case management for the elderly, youth and homeless populations, all while working full time. What kind of service has the incumbent done besides his church obligations and his sometimes real estate work besides his Commission committee appointments, and he receives a salary for completing those hours paid for by me and you. And his project, the water system in Daytona North- it has major problems, just ask the residents.

Again, I possess a Master’s degree in Public Administration and I don’t believe my opponent has any college. I am the only candidate or Commissioner who has worked for Flagler County government as a Deputy Sheriff and for the Flagler Health Department and for the Flagler County Schools and Sheriff’s Department as a consultant and for numerous community organizations. And I have received National, State and Local recognition for my commitment to the Flagler Community and the state of Florida.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

Click On:

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

As a person, I have been described as an energizer bunny. I have the energy, enthusiasm, the creativity and willingness to make a difference. I believe that the citizens know what is best for their community and I am willing to listen to what they have to say and I feel it is important to do so- since government belongs to the people and not to the bureaucrats. If I cared what my enemies think, I think it would be the same as my friends think about me. I am passionate about keeping Flagler County a great place to live and work and I am willing to do my part to keep it that way, whether it is for pay or through volunteerism. I believe by working together and by asking for our share of our dollars, we can make Flagler County the best county in Florida.

Most of your original answer, not included here, was again a resume rather than an answer to the question: who you are as a person and what your temperament is like, or what your worst fault may be, in so far as it will play into the dynamics of the commission. 

I am not afraid to say what I am thinking and what I have been told. I do my research and I attend meetings and listen and watch what is going on and I see it all. As a Commissioner, I will listen to the voters, do my own research and I will ask for input from staff, when warranted and from other communities who have faced similar issues and I won’t be afraid to question Mr. Coffey or Al Hadeed, the two people, the commission supervises directly or question the Flagler School Board.

You are still not telling us what you consider your worst fault to be.

My worst fault is to give of myself more than I give to me. I am a caretaker type of person and one who is always willing to help those in need. I have the temperament of  an “energizer bunny” who happens to be introverted however one who has learned to be an extrovert due to having a public life.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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

Accountability-I feel that the citizens are not holding our elected officials or our county staff accountable for their actions. Statements are made in public and the actions that are taken are quite different and it is happening in numerous areas, from economic development, community redevelopment areas, transportation, employment, healthcare and public safety. For example, I used to participate in the Human Services Allocation Committee, the one that the Flagler County Administrator says we still have but it has not met in several years. I have asked on numerous occasions at the commission meetings and the issue has never been addressed, never even placed as a workshop agenda, and our social services needs in the county have only gotten worse.

Growth-  We still have the Volusia/Flagler issue where most of our state and federal allocations go and that money, nor the services, ever seem to appear in Flagler County and nor is it ever discussed. Sharing of services with the bigger Volusia County was fine when Flagler County was a small, rural community, however, we are not small any more, we have our own Metropolitan Statistical Area- Palm Coast-MSA   and we talk about regionalism. Partnering is fine when you have your fair share but it isn’t when your not getting your fair share and then they expect you to give up more of what you currently have available.

Unemployment- we still have the second highest unemployment rate and it has been #1 or # 2 consecutively for the last six years and still is and all I hear is excuses.  We have high poverty levels and the homeless numbers are up dramatically and we have no comprehensive program addressing these issues, which affect us all and eventually our tax dollars, whether we pay for them now or later. We have a band aid approach- Access Flagler, and that has been ongoing now for three years and we have only sponsored two job fairs during this same time.

What, beyond reviving the allocations committee, do you propose to do to make the commission more accountable, and what, specifically, would you do–and with what money, from where–to address homelessness as a commissioner, to take one of the issues you raised? Every candidate complains about high unemployment, but what’s in your power as a commissioner to do to bring that down, specifically, faster than the market is bringing it down? 

With this question, you seem to want what everybody in Flagler County keeps asking me: where are the grant sources or what is my solution. When I say that the answers to these questions are directly related to my work as a grant consultant and you need to pay for the information, people do not show me a contract. I was working on two major projects and the results will surprise you–the renovation of the maintenance building on the old hospital-People Helping People office and we had been working actively on having the old hospital become a one stop social services center, like St John’s County did, and the other old hospital was going to be the permanent new home of the Flagler Free Clinic. I received a Brownfield grant for the old, old hospital, $25,000 and I lobbied and then challenged Flagler County staff to resubmit the Brownfields grant and they received the $650,000. And we brought in a prospective purchaser of the old hospital and one national social service agency from out of the state was extremely interested in it, and then all of sudden, we, the taxpayers bought the hospital and again without a funding plan to support the cost of renovation.

We need to bring unemployment down by securing one job after another, and hiring and training Flagler County citizens first for the job. As a citizen, I recently brought in a federal program that will be hiring 10 Flagler residents, age 55 and above who have been long term unemployed, and the agency will be hosting a job fair at Career Source on October 30. The program is called Experience Works.

The question was not about grant sources. Nor was it intended to elicit gripes about the current administration, which have been edited out. It was about you, as a commissioner, and how you aim to make the commission more accountable and deal with homelessness financially. Both questions remain unanswered.

Financially, Flagler County currently has $300,000  sitting in administrative monies at the Volusia Flagler Homeless Coalition and we have had it for several years. it is our base allocation and it does not come here, it stays in Volusia County and we just started getting a response when the Flagler Homeless Solutions Task Force was formed. The group has been meeting for over six months now and Commissioner McLaughlin just attended the first time two meetings ago. The committee has several members and community groups such as DAV and VFW attending, however  County Staff is not at the table.  The city of Bunnell has two staff that attend regularly so how are we going to come up with a solution. Palm Coast does not attend and they received CDBG dollars for affordable housing.  And Volusia County is spending a lot of county dollars combined with HUD dollars to attempt new solutions when we don’t even have the old solutions here because we share our resources with Volusia agencies.  And we have the wings of the old hospital that could be converted to housing whether it be temporary shelter or small cottage style living now that we the citizens own the hospital. I hear they will be knocked down to make the area nicer but who knows? Because others are saying the free clinic will be housed there….the truth- who knows? The Sheriff says to ask the County Administrator and he says the Sheriff wants the wings removed. I haven’t seen a plan and the plan for the hospital has not come up for any kind of discussion at a county commission meeting or workshop.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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

I think county government is having a lot of meetings and a lot of workshops.  I will build on that model by having open meetings, where citizens can speak without feeling like they are trouble makers and I would ask for citizen involvement and welcome it when they get involved and I will respond to their comments and I will not belittle citizens and say that “they do not know what they are talking about” or “this isn’t the time to discuss this issue.” When and where is the appropriate time and how do the citizens become informed- through the newspaper, through the internet? It’s not through public information since the county does not provide information as to their projects until the time it is happening.

I think the same is true that the meetings that are being held appear to be for show only and that citizen input is not important.  I think county government is not informing citizens appropriately about the meetings that are being held and when decisions are made. I am confused when the county posts that a workshop is being held and then immediately following a special meeting will occur for a vote, if necessary–when the citizens are hearing the information for the first time.  Citizens can get easily confused about the process and it appears the county is on a slippery slope when it comes to the Sunshine Law and conducting business in an open manner. It appears that there are too many closed door meetings or meetings that are only advertised on the website and one has to know where to look to find the meeting schedule. And in our busy lives this can become quite difficult and not everyone has access to the internet.

You cited accountability in a previous answer. Candidates should surely be held accountable to the claims they make on the campaign trail. You are making claims that are either baseless or wildly exaggerated: county commissioners can be blamed for a lot of things, but the conduct of meetings, all of which are open, is not among those: while some meetings are more tense than others, depending on the issue, successive chairmen and chairwomen extend broad deference to members of the public, including reserving a segment of meetings when all subjects can be discussed, as opposed to another segment of the meeting when only items on the agenda may be discussed: that’s where some of your confusion may be coming from. If you can cite instances of “belittling,” we’re all ears. The issue of scheduling business meetings immediately after workshops is more relevant, and has been an unfortunately legal way for commissioners to rush decisions. But with Internet access above 90 percent in the county, and no other medium reaching as many people, what, precisely, do you suggest for the county to more broadly advertise its meetings? And given the dearth of people who attend meetings, what evidence can you present that more notice would make a difference? 

Changing the culture and behavior of county leadership would go a long way in mending the relationship that the citizens have when it comes to dealing with them and maybe more people would participate. And do you really believe 90 percent have access all the time to the internet. I miss meetings if I don’t check the back wall of the government services building at least every three days. And try finding information, if you lack computer skills and if you don’t have your own computer you only have thirty minutes at the library, if you can get there to use their computers.

You did not answer the question with the required specifics, documenting your claims, or explaining what more you would do, specifically, for accessibility and advertising of meetings.

I would bring the information from meetings to the people. I would go to their communities more that a quarterly town hall-that approach would be a minimum. I would attend neighborhood meetings, CDD Boards and specifically I would re-establish the required Daytona North Service District Advisory Board- which is required by law because its a taxing district and the Human Services Allocations Committee. 


See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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.

I do not support the county’s major big works, the acquisition and redevelopment of the old  Memorial Hospital into the Sheriff’s Operation Center and the expansion of the jail and the cost            overruns. And now we have a lawsuit to contend with the Hospital purchase and cost overruns at the jail that can’t be explained. [Editor’s note: the lawsuit was thrown out after Calderwood turned in her answers.]   As a person who got her hands dirty on the old hospital, by that I mean I took an old part of the hospital as a volunteer and turned it into a social service center, I would have loved for the county to purchase it for a one stop social service center, including temporary housing,  like they did in St. John’s County when their hospital went up for sale. And now that property was bought by Lowe’s and they are  building a brand new social service center at their expense in  the St. John’s County Government complex area.

I think the County Administrator and Commission overpaid for the hospital property and did so without  regard for the cost of the acquisition nor did the citizens know that the deal was done. And maybe with some collusion on the part of the Realtor and her husband who assisted the county administrator with the selection criteria used to analyze available property for sale or       redevelopment.  Several community members found out after the vote was taken so again the  transparency issue became apparent and a plan for how the property would be redeveloped        should have  been openly discussed before the purchase. It appears the purchase was rushed without doing due diligence. I am concerned with the purchase price- we overpaid and we have  no true idea of the cost to redevelop the property- Just like the cost overruns with the new jail I feel strongly that the Sheriff’s Department should have moved into the old courthouse annex or     moved into the Government Services complex at the existing Emergency Operations Center. And they could have used the purchase dollars to develop either property to meets its needs, especially since we already own the building.

As far as the jail, there were several citizens who voiced their concerns and demonstrated to the county administrator and sheriff that there were other alternatives than embarking on the   expensive jail expansion and it could have been done in phases when the population increased and not done all at once, at substantially less dollars. No one listened and again they stated to these people that they did know what they were talking about.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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

I believe in providing for quality services. Sometimes you have to pay more money to get the best service or the most innovative idea. Cheapest is not always the best. The goal of public administration is to provide services in the most efficient and effective way, not the cheapest way, as some staff and elected officials seem to think and the Brownfields issue can be used as an example here.

And another example that occurred almost two years ago, the Flagler County Commission almost gave our county senior services away to Volusia County. The citizens were not informed of the issue and when they did find out, they were told that the idea came from a proposal that the Volusia Council on Aging submitted to Flagler County government. The proposal had numerous flaws in it and the budget did not make sense and County Administrator Craig Coffey even admitted that he took several hours to examine it. However, the County Commission almost voted to allow the services we currently provide to go to Volusia County. We would have given the Volusia County Council on Aging almost six times the amount that Volusia County Council gives them and it just so happened to be the same amount that the Volusia Council on Aging’s budget was showing they were withdrawing from their reserve account to make their existing budget. So it appears that Flagler County citizens would have been funding their deficit. How would this approach have been good for our citizens, located in Flagler County, allowing another Volusia agency to come to Flagler County and take from us without providing an adequate level of service.  And I forgot to mention that Flagler County was not even allowed by law to give away this state allocation of funding and that Volusia County Council on Aging would have to put the bid into the State Department of Elder Affairs in order to serve Flagler residents, which they did not.

Flagler County Social Services should not be eliminated. We need to refill the Social Services Director spot. This position went unfilled when Linda Link retired and that has been almost three years ago. Our social service level has been in decline ever since, while our numbers of those in need are on the rise. And our attendance at various Volusia/Flagler meetings has substantially been reduced and when you’re not at the table, you do not get your fair share and no one is held accountable.

There’s no arguing your second point, but your raising the matter of senior services almost going to Volusia is puzzling: did the commission not do its job, albeit after a public outcry, by reversing course and voting down the shift of senior services to a Volusia agency? 

Yes, but look at the process that the citizens had to go through and we had to have the Agency Director from Jacksonville come here to inform the Commissioners that what they were trying to do was not in compliance with the grant. And what changes have occurred in senior services since then? nothing. No active step besides what we had done. A group of concerned citizens have been organizing trips to St John’s County to see their senior center on River Street, at a great expense and we can’t even use the county’s bus transportation system to take them and the money to pay for those buses comes from the Elder Act. The only change was a change in Commissioners-when Melissa Holland left.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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?

It is hard to evaluate the efforts of the county’s Economic Opportunity Council (EOC) when we didn’t   have a baseline as to how things were before they were formed and what that baseline cost previously to what it is costing us now with the establishment of a whole new division and now three new staff positions later. And with one staff person making a lot of money for the responsibilities they have.  I have attended most of the EOC‘s meetings and I have participated in both of their strategic planning and economic development summits. For the most part, the meetings are about educating the council on the strengths that Flagler County has now and then on occasion listening to presentations about new businesses that are considering Flagler County.

If you evaluate the Council on their strategic plan then they are successful since the first plan was about the steps needed to form the council and the second strategic plan was to seek out new businesses.  The second plan did not outline how many businesses and how many jobs we would be bringing in so it is not measureable. And Flagler County still is a small county that does not have the ability to give incentives out that Volusia, Duval or Orange County can. So can we compete with them? I don’t believe we can. We have to sell Flagler County’s high quality of life, and its relatively low tax base.

I believe the Flagler County Airport is a valuable economic development asset that we have in the county and all of the commercial land we have in it and surrounding it for future development.  And we have the airport director who is responsible for completing that work and using the airports enterprise funds to fund those efforts, so is there really a need for the EOC and its paid staff? As commissioner, I would support the airport and its infrastructure needs in order to bring more businesses to the county and when it comes to bringing in the National Guard and Aveo Engineering, the credit goes to the Airport Director and not the EOC.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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

When it comes to the Courthouse, I have numerous ideas for its reuse.  However, before I present any of them I am curious to know what the sitting commissioners want to do with it (that is one of my questions for my opponent since he has changed his opinion on more than one occasion and said different things to various groups and then again in public and in the press) and I am confused as to what staff feels is appropriate. I have attended the Blue Ribbon Commission meetings and I am confused as to their role and then what the Commission will do with their recommendations.    I am concerned about the misinformation out there about the state of the building, the mold level and the cost of upkeep and the cost for redevelopment.

I think it would be shortsighted on the part of the county to make a quick decision about the courthouse’s reuse.  It took Tampa Bay over fifteen years and at a cost of $100,000 a year to maintain their facility until a good fit was found and then it was redeveloped for Cultural Historic Tourism. (“Historic Tampa Courthouse to be Rebuilt”, Tampa Bay Tribune, 2-13-13), which can be done in Flagler County, especially since there are over 284 historic properties surrounding the courthouse.

I have spoken to several hundred citizens about the Courthouse and most feel that it should be saved, especially since it is listed in, A Guide to Florida’s Historic Architecture, published by the University of Florida Press and because it is 50,000 square feet of usable space that can be redeveloped again for public or private use.

To me, the courthouse is just another example of the County rushing to do something without thought or expectations.  For instance, no one involved with the county knows how much they would sell the property for- its value is listed by the Flagler County Property Appraiser for $2.2 million and the two realtors on the Blue Ribbon Commission say its only comparable is the old hospital, now can the two be compared?

Are you willing, as a commissioner, to keep footing the $75,000 to $100,000 annual maintenance bill for the courthouse, not including broader repairs, until it finds a proper use, even if it takes more than a decade, assuming a use is ever feasible? A lot of buildings are listed in guide books that don;t survive the next edition: what makes the courthouse that special, other than its age? And are both portions of the building equally valuable in your view? 

It is our obligation to make use of the facility. We can make better use of it by allowing not for profit agencies or for profit agencies move in there and help with the costs of upkeep, maintenance, repair and operation until a plan can be designed. And yes, I found a grant that can do all that and so did Doug Courtney. I have participated in Courthouse meetings, they are a smokescreen while work is being done behind closed doors. Apparently, we, the citizens, paid for a consultant to prepare a historic preservation grant on the structure and that information has not been shared with the committee- per a terse conversation with Mr. Coffey on October 15. I have not had the time yet to ask for a sunshine request to obtain the information. I know the building has significance to me and the numerous Bunnell residents I listened to and the space is large. It has more character than the green dome.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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?

Yes, I agree with the statement.   I think our taxes are a little high for what we are getting in return as far as the service level being provided. I do not agree with increasing the local gas tax. I think we are paying too much already. As it is now, we are higher than St John’s and Volusia County.

The one tax reform I would implement locally, would be the Volusia ECHO program. According to their website, ECHO “was a grass roots initiative, that resulted from a citizen approved referendum passed November 7, 2000, which provides grant funds to finance acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of facilities to be used for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreation purposes.”

Volusia ECHO raises about $4.2 million a year, at today’s valuations, through a surtax  on property tax bills. Are you suggesting that as a commissioner you will propose a property surtax for environmental and cultural purposes? 

Maybe, depending on what the citizens want and what the spending plan would be used for, not to keep Business as usual. I have been going door to door and listening to the citizens and they don’t mind paying for quality- just look at our communities, Hammock Dunes, Grand Haven, Plantation Bay, and look at our free parks. They can’t be sustained for free and still have high quality.

Hammock Dunes, Plantation Bay and Grand Haven are gated communities for relatively well off residents, overwhelmingly sustained by those residents’ dollars, not tax dollars. Are you saying residents beyond those gates can afford to pay in taxes what gated community residents pay privately?

With our high unemployment and low pay for the service industry economy that we have here the last statement is absurd. What I am saying is accountability with the money that the average homeowner pays- like those in Daytona North have no input into how their extra dollars are spent. 

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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?

I think this question depends on which commission you are speaking about. Each commission has had their own opinion and views as to how the money should be spent. For instance in 2010, the commission didn’t use the money wisely when it came to the 980 acre purchase of the Ginn property and the transparency of the purchase details- a similar occurrence that is happening now with a lot of recent purchases.  But the purchase of Bing’s Landing was a responsible purchase.

According to county Environmental Planner and ESL staff Tim Telfer, the county currently has $1 million in the unreserved ESL account with another $500,000 million in the reserve account for the pending purchase of the Barber property on CR 2006 and the land next to the Betty Steflik Preserve.  However, no other purchases have been discussed recently due to the large amounts of lands that developer’s donated to the county in the 1990’s and the land that the Water Management District is donating back now.

[Editor’s note: The county’s audit report closing the 2013 fiscal year showed that the ESL program generated $988,000 in revenue and had $1.04 million in debt payments, thus running a deficit of $47,000, made up by reserves, which stood at $430,000 at the end of 2013.]

So this raises a few questions from me since the decision to buy property rests with the County Commission but they are guided by the Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee and some of the members have been on it for more than twenty years. So I ask: doesn’t the county have term limits on participation on committees and if not, why not, and does the county commission have expectations set aside for ESL purchases and if so what are they so we can measure the impact of our purchases?

To me, a good ESL acquisition would be one that fits within the Flagler County Comprehensive Plan, the Parks and Recreation Plan and the expectation that the Land Acquisition Committee has pre-determined to be good purchases, whether they be based on water front access, bird watching, adding parks, or unique individual characteristics that the land offers. And I think it should be a purchase that helps define what Flagler County is about- a high quality of life.

We were not aware of “a lot of recent purchases” under the ESL program, since it’s in an operational deficit, not to mention purchases similar to the Pellicer Creek one you noted. Can you give us some examples?

I spoke to Tim and he advised me of the purchases and the status of current projects and some future suggested project purchases that the Scenic A1A committee wants to buy. But we have no long term plan for maintenance.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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?

Yes, I would be supportive of such a registry in Flagler County. I feel that as a County Commissioner, there would be better advocates to lead this effort and I would support their cause.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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

I believe that it is the sole responsibility of the current county commissioners to evaluate the performance of their staff person, Craig Coffey and to hold him accountable.  However, I believe that the commissioners should complete the evaluation of their employee by soliciting feedback from county staff and citizens as to how their boss and his staff, the assistant county administrator and the department heads, are doing their jobs.

When I worked for the Department of Children and Families I conducted an Upward Appraisal evaluation. We had a committee that developed a form that asked line staff to evaluate their supervisors and their supervisors. The comments we received were well thought out and constructive and we learned a lot about how line employees felt about our operations and we learned new ways to streamline operations- ideas that had been shared with their supervisors but never passed onto the Board of Directors and of course, blame was placed on the Board for not taking action.

As a citizen, I have concerns about the performance of Mr. Coffey and the way he treats people like me. I feel it has to be different than the way he treats developers, real estate professionals and business owners.  Or maybe it is just me. However, I have heard from numerous people that the administrator has been curt with them and that in his opinion, he feels that the citizens don’t understand the operations of government.  Ok Mr. Coffey, if the citizens don’t understand, isn’t it your responsibility to explain the way government works to us? I feel strongly that government operations should be open and transparent. I support the Sunshine Law and I am glad Florida has it. I just wish the county staff and the county commissioners would have a better understanding of it. And I think it is important for county staff to know that they work for the citizens and not just for Mr. Coffey.

Your answer suggests a misunderstanding of commissioners’ responsibilities and raises questions about what lines you’d be willing to cross as a commissioner. The commission, since it only hires and fires the county administrator and the attorney and focuses on policy, may not appropriately solicit input from staff that would go toward the evaluation of its administrator, nor may it legally interfere between an administrator and his staff, where the sunshine law does not apply as broadly as it does to the commission. Are you looking to change those parameters? That aside, your criticism of Coffey raises another question: would you fire him?

Again with the misunderstanding. Yes, it is true that I am not a certified Commissioner since the training is only open once you are elected. I will uphold the roles and expectations of the job and I will fully comply with the Sunshine law and I will continue to answer questions raised from the residents. And I will hold the two staff that that commission supervises accountable. And remember, I have a Master’s degree in Public Administration and I concentrated on Policy development and project management and I know how to follow the law and policies.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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 that the county commission form of government is effective, however, I think it would be more effective if Flagler County was a Home Rule-charter form of government.  In my opinion, a charter form of government is more responsive to needs growth and it allows for changes in legislation without going to the state for permission.  A charter form also allows for more autonomy and for local decision-making and a charter provides for leadership, which I feel is lacking on the current commission. I am not satisfied with the way the commission and the current administration relates to the public–that is the primary reason why I am running for office.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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

No one, I would use myself as the model and that is why I have chosen to run for office. I have concerns about each of them and I feel I can do a better job that is why I am running for the District 4 County Commission seat.

It’s difficult to imagine that you don’t find some affinities for one of the commissioners. They’re not aliens from Vulcan, after all, but your neighbors and representatives, some of whom you probably voted for. 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.

If you must force an answer, it would have been Charlie Erickson or Barbara Revels, however, ethically and morally I am still struggling with the issues that have recently come to light under Sunshine about their behaviors. And the mannerisms that Frank and Nate have demonstrated on the campaign trail have been deplorable, especially since they are incumbents. And then there is George, a long term Commissioner who has given a lot to the community and a so little in the long time he has been on the Board.

See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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.


See Nate McLaughlin’s answer.

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24 Responses for “Denise Calderwood, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    Ms Calderwood.

    At this time you claim to be an independent.
    You are registered with the State of Florida as a “Republican”.
    You are seeking Office as an “NPA”.
    You have accepted the support of the Ronald Reagan Republicans, a group that strictly believes in Party Purity – as supported in the 2012 Shaffer v Pollinger.

    When Governor Scott visited town, you were seen seeking a photo opportunity with the Governor and have been backhandedly seeking Republican Support. Minutes after his departure, you were seen outside standing with Democratic Supporters/ Crist Supporters holding signs protesting the Governor.

    You have attempted to campaign on every side of the issue, much like Charlie Crist.

    Without beating around the bush, can you please set the record straight. Which political party do you align yourself with and support. The answers are Republican or Democrat; independent is an inapplicable answer as it just a baseless as your integrity.

    Ms. Calderwood will you please be honest with the voters of Flagler County and state where your political ideology is aligned?

  2. intheknow says:

    Nate McLaughlin is much more qualified and my family is backing him.

  3. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    It would appear this candidate thinks we should elect her based upon her Masters Degree in Public Administration and the fact that she can find a grant somewhere to fix every problem the commission faces. Education is great, but I would never hire or elect anyone with an MPA.

  4. intheknow says:

    But Robert…she has an MBA!!

  5. Palm Coast Pioneer says:

    I NEVER vote for someone who, instead of telling us why she should be elected, relies solely on ATTEMPTING to defame her opponet. Clearly Ms.Calderwood dances as much around direct questions as she does committing to a Political party.

  6. politically correct says:

    Her joint tax return doesn’t speak of a whole lot of success as a “business consultant” with an MBA

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      MPA… not anywhere close to the same thing as an MBA… but other wise I agree with your comment.

      • Devrie says:

        As someone working on an MPA, I would hope someone would hire me for my experience as well as my educational background.

        You’re right, though, it is clear that Ms. Calderwood seems to be putting a lot of weight on that education. Unfortunately for her, the incumbent really has the experience that she seems not to have. Her volunteer work is laudable, but it’s not proof of ability.

        She seems passionate, but she’s almost too opinionated. It scares me a little, in that she has these “brilliant” ideas without truly matching public opinion to reality.

        On the water thing in Daytona North…as a resident, there were problems. Commissioner McLaughlin responded to our inquiries. It’s great water. We had nothing but our well water. Now we have free bottled water. That’s a pretty good thing.

        I think the revenue issue is more complicated than a newbie can contend with. She’s got a lot of ideas and knows about grants and funding, but she’s not really been knee deep in the books dangling from restrictions and budgetary constraints.

        Anyway, don’t dismiss someone with and MPA, but we don’t elect or hire them purely because of it either.

  7. commonsense says:

    Any other canidate would be the better choice.

  8. FairWarned says:

    Nate McLaughlin has got my vote. He is a far better choice in my opinion.

  9. tulip says:

    @ politically correct Have you seen McLaughlin’s financials? He has a net worth of only $12,855!! Also has relatively high debt. Seems that even though he’s making about $1000.00 a week he can’t get ahead for some reason.

  10. Kendall says:

    Something about this woman reminds me of the responses provided by Maria Barbosa. She wants to coast along based on her credentials without providing any real substance.

    She’s got the politician thing down pat- she avoids direct answers very well.

  11. Denise Calderwood says:

    My integrity speaks for itself. I was raised in Flagler County and my political affiliations in the past were always Republican. I helped start the first young Republican Club of Flagler County and ran in a Republican primary for Sheriff. My integrity is one of commitment and loyalty and I don’t tell people what they want to hear, depending who my audience is…

    I chose to be an NPA candidate because I believe on the local level we need to support Flagler residents first, not parties.

    However, I am a trained community organizer and I know how to get disparate groups to work together- that is why I founded a not for profit called, Focus on Flagler Coalition to talk about specific Flagler County issues and that is how I formed the Teen Center in 1998 and ran it as a volunteer Executive Director for five years, without pay.

    My grant work and advocacy has basically been for free to help out Flagler County residents. I am the cheapest but most successful grant writer in Flagler County.

    And I know how to do my own independent research on issues and I am not afraid to hold anyone accountable for their actions that is why I became a police officer. And that is why I am running a campaign for a County Commission seat, to hold Nate accountable for his actions- the purchase of the hospital, the disposition of the Courthouse and the runaway jail costs- all items that happened when he was Chairman of the Commission.

    • kmedley says:

      The folks elected a “trained community organizer”, on a national level, twice. How’s that Hope and Change working? With regards to the subject of integrity, I would direct those voters, who have not yet decided, to conduct an archival search at for this candidate and review the headlines, regarding her experience as Executive Director at a local youth center.

      • Kendall says:

        Wow. Just wow. Do we really want a city councilperson that lost her job at a youth center for calling kids the N word?

  12. politically correct says:

    @ tulip….She is boasting about an MPA like it puts her above all the other candidates. I expected a much higher salary to be shown on her tax return if she is THAT good. That was my point.

  13. w.ryan says:

    Sounds like Nate has a lot of friends responding to this interview. Nate’s a great guy! My concern goes beyond friendships and alliances. Frankly we need new ideas and someone who is versed in creating new possibilities through grants along with finding other means to help fund and make Flagler a great place. The ECHO program that Volusia County runs is a great idea for the support of Art and Cultural projects. It’s funded numerous art buildings and programs. Having something like that here would be a game changer. The Palm Coast Arts Foundation would benefit as well as the Art League, the AACS, the Portuguese and hispanic societies and the Agricultural museum. Lets not forget the youth programs that are always in jeopardy. She is someone who knows how to achieve these things. Clearly she has done so in many instances as she has stated. As for all the new County digs, Public Art is supposed to go hand in hand with the structures. We need new approaches and not more of the same. She is NOT a Barbosa!!! My question to all of you is, What creative solutions and ideas have we had in the last couple of years?Denise has my vote!

    • Will says:

      You have excellent ideas WRyan, however I don’t think that Denise is the person to carry them through or win votes of other commissioners. She can’t do it alone. I think it may be more fruitful to sit one on one with the commissioners after the election, and to address them in public comments with a variety of people doing the asking. The squeaky wheel often gets the grease, as you know. If a strong arts coalition can be developed, with people from all sides of the arts community, it can have leverage.

  14. FairWarned says:

    I have no idea who Nate is…I never met him. however…I have known Denise for many years and that is why Nate has my vote. I do not believe Denise is a qualified candidate.

  15. intheknow says:

    How does she stake the claim of being the “most successful grant writer in Flagler County” when there are several non-profits that have run their businesses for YEARS with funding from grants they wrote?

  16. Shelby Lynn says:

    This is to FairWarned,
    Just because you know someone for years, does not qualify that person as the right candidate. Reading about the candidates, their platforms and accomplishments makes one an informed voter. Check into Nate’s goals, his accomplishments and ideas for this county and how he intends to achieve them, and then check into Denise’s. You will find Denise has no ‘hows’ when it comes to her platform, just baseless promises. And some of her promises are already being done by Mr. McLaughlin. Again READ before deciding. SL

  17. Palm Coast Pioneer says:

    Shelby Lynn, I think you need to reread fairwarned’s post. Nate has his or her vote because he or she has known Denise for years. I have as well and although I do not know Nate, he has my vote as well. Her entire interview is avoiding direct questions and putting down her opponet. I also would not vote for anyone that was fired from a youth center for using the “n” word, no matter what the circumstance. It shows poor judgement and that she has no idea how to act in an authoritive position.

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