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From Washington to Palm Coast City Council, Elections Herald Less Change Than Advertised

| November 5, 2014

The new forces on the Palm Coast City Council: Heidi Shipley and Steven Nobile. (© FlaglerLive)

The new forces on the Palm Coast City Council: Heidi Shipley and Steven Nobile. (© FlaglerLive)

From Washington down to the Palm Coast City Council, the mid-term elections may herald less change than advertised.

“It’s not a revolution,” Palm Coast Mayor said of the council turnover. “It may be an evolution.” The same analysis applies to elections across the board.

Despite a Republican take-over of the U.S. Senate, the dynamic of opposition is unchanged. It was divided government before the election. It’s divided government after the election, despite a less divided legislature. Florida’s state government is almost intact, starting with an entire cabinet of incumbents reelected and a GOP Legislature slightly redder than it was before the election, with Republicans regaining a supermajority in the House. In local legislative races, Rep. Travis Hutson was unopposed, and even Sen. John Thrasher, the closest equivalent to a dead man on a ballot, got re-elected: Thrasher has already announced his intention to resign to take the Florida State University presidency job. He stayed on the ballot only to force a special election. That will take place once Gov. Rick Scott sets the date.

Similarly, the Flagler County Commission saw both its incumbents—Frank Meeker and Nate McLaughlin, who ran campaigns as each other’s mirrors—re-elected, and by the widest margin of all elections to local offices, not counting the 60 percent Andy Dance got in August to keep his school board seat. One of two seats changed on the school board, that of on-term incumbent John Fischer, who lost to Janet McDonald. But that hardly heralds a major change on the board. McDonald is radically different from Fischer: she brings an educator’s sensibility and an activist’s—if not an ideologue’s—sharpness  to the job, and she’ll make her voice heard on substantive issues as opposed to the more cheerleading-type of involvement by Fischer. But she’ll still be just one vote among five. Meetings may become more interesting, but don’t expect significant policy changes just yet.

Bill McGuire. (© FlaglerLive)

Bill McGuire. (© FlaglerLive)

The biggest change has taken place on the Palm Coast City Council, with incumbent Bill Lewis voted out in the first competitive election of his career. (He was appointed to the seat and was unopposed in his first election. He was ill and didn’t campaign for most of this election.) Steven Nobile, like McDonald a candidate fielded by the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies, won by about 308 votes out of 24,440 cast in the closet of local elections. Heidi Shipley won the open seat by defeating Anne-Marie Shaffer, another Reagan Assemblies candidate, but by wider margin.

Still, the city council election was almost identical to the last election to the council, in 2011, when two seats also turned over—in expectations, results and types of candidates. Jason DeLorenzo beat Dennis Cross for an open seat. Bill McGuire defeated incumbent Holsey Moorman, who, like Lewis, had been perceived as less than fully engaged at the council. DeLorenzo (like Shipley) was backed by the business community against a tea party candidate (like Shaffer). McGuire (like Nobile) was backed by the more radical Reagan Assemblies against an establishment incumbent. Both elections were very close. DeLorenzo won by 36 votes, McGuire by 55.

Both winners were seen as agents of change, McGuire more than DeLorenzo. But then as now, their election looked like more change than it really was. McGuire’s pragmatism and principles led to a falling out with the Reagan Assemblies, and both he and DeLorenzo found out relatively quickly that the wheels of government don’t move quickly.

Altering the course of the Palm Coast City Council did not happen in 2011 when two seats changed, nor is it likely to happen this time.

“If you think you’re going to come here and single-handedly eliminate red light cameras and lower the utility rates, you can take your best shot but you’re not likely to have any success,” McGuire said, referring especially to Nobile. “If he shows himself willing to work in a harmonious fashion, it’ll be a pretty good council, because I think Heidi Shipley will come to the table with an open mind. If Steven Nobile shows himself to be a stalwart Ronald Reagan Republican I think it’ll be difficult for the council to get anything meaningful done.”

McGuire and Nobile had a sit-down meeting not long ago when McGuire, who seldom hides his antipathy for the Reagan Assemblies, says he cautioned Nobile “about the old story, if you lay down with dogs you get up with flees.” Nobile has repeatedly said that he would not be beholden to the Reagan Assemblies, though so far he’s been little short of a faithful lieutenant. Then again, so was McGuire before he got on the council.

Nobile has big plans. He wants the city to be more accommodating to business, more community-minded and less draconian with code enforcement. He plans to put together his own ordinance-review board, what he calls “a private team,” to come up with ways of amending or eliminating certain ordinances (though he may run into a sunshine issue with that, as any such review boards must comply with the Sunshine and open government laws.) He is interested in seeing how a recent appellate court decision declaring a part of the process of ticketing red-light violators illegal could be used to allow the city to withdraw from its contract with American Traffic Solutions, which runs the local camera system.

“I think we have in place now a council that can invoke some change that will bring us a little forward in time,” Nobile said in an interview Wednesday. “As we went through the forum I kind of  noticed what I was getting from Mr. Lewis a lot was the idea of what Palm Coast was 20 years ago, and the claim that we’re a retirement comm. We never were supposed to be a retirement community. We’re right now at 40 percent retirees. I think what we have to do right now is change the mindset of the council.”

Shipley’s agenda is less ambitious. She wants a more nurturing environment for existing businesses, but she’s already evolved during the campaign to the point of seeing a working relationship between government and business and economic development. Unlike Nobile, she’s not bothered by the perception of Palm Coast as a retirement community. She wants to preserve its focus on sign regulations and other types of restrictions, in contrast with Nobile, who considers code enforcement “too restrictive.” The changes she wants are more about personalizing relationships with business and constituents than revamping policies and visions. “We just want to get in there and let people know that there’s somebody there that’s going to listen to them,” Shipley said.

When summing up the election results from the council’s perspective, Shipley said the electorate split down the middle, going for more change with Nobile and less change with her.

Alan Peterson. (© FlaglerLive)

Alan Peterson. (© FlaglerLive)

“It’s obviously going to be a change with two new members and both of them without any prior political or committee background or experience,” said Alan Peterson, who served several years on the Palm Coast City Council before winning election for one term to the County Commission. But he doesn’t see campaign promises translating to much for now. “My guess is you won’t see too much of a change for a period of time. Lewis never spoke all that frequently, and the other seat was relatively new, so I wouldn’t expect a lot of change immediately. I would think that there might be more emphasis or interest in looking at the Palm Coast rules and regulations for businesses. At least that’s what one of the candidates said was of interest to him. Beyond that I don’t see any significant changes for a period of time.”

That period of time will stretch to two years, until 2016, when three seats, including the mayor’s, are up. Netts is term-limited. Both McGuire are DeLorenzo are considered possible contenders, opening at least one seat for a newcomer, though if both end up running for mayor, they’d both have to resign their current seat, opening them both. McGuire says he hasn’t made up his mind, and he may look at running for a county commission seat.

From a voters’ perspective, Peterson said, “There’s clearly a feeling out there that the council as it was before the election was perceived by many people as a rubber stamp.” That may have changed with Tuesday’s election, he said.

Netts saw things similarly, at least regarding the election’s effects on the council.  “If political allegiance means anything you tend to associate Steve Nobile with the conservative Republicans, and Heidi Shipley you don’t,” Netts said. “So that looks like a split there. I’m not sure that there’s any huge political significance.” Both new candidates will have a long learning curve, the mayor said. And one of the first things learned is a reality check. “There’s a huge difference between your perceptions of what reality is when you’re on the outside campaigning, compared to what you find when you’re on the inside. Things you thought were easy to accomplish could be extraordinarily difficult to accomplish.”

Netts is the longest-serving member of the council. He was first elected as a councilman in 2001, making him—behind Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson and County Commissioner George Hanns—the third-longest running public servant in the county. He’s seen the council turn over entirely over the years. He was asked whether he had any trepidations when seats turn over.

“That’s the nature of the beast,” Netts said. “I waffle back and forth on the issue of term limits, good thing bad thing, good thing bad thing. But it’s always nice to have an infusion of new blood, new ideas. You get complacent I think if you listen to the same ideas over and over and over again. You start to take it for granted or you dismiss it. I think new faces, new ideas renew discussions. The whole idea of having a mayor and four council members or a mayor and seven council members is to promote discussion.” Tuesday’s election, he said, reinforced that. “I’m not saying it’s not a shame we lost Bill Lewis. It is. But on the other hand we’re all going to be replaced eventually.”

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17 Responses for “From Washington to Palm Coast City Council, Elections Herald Less Change Than Advertised”

  1. Jason Driggs says:

    The very fact that Steven Nobile was elected is already a victory. It makes it crystal clear to the council that the citizens of Palm Coast want some significant changes made in this city, not more of the same.

    If the rest of the council won’t play ball then in time we’ll just vote them out too. Eventually we will have a city council who works FOR us, not AGAINST us.

    • kmedley says:

      Sometimes facts get in the way of an argument, leading to a fallacy.

      As reported by Flagler Live, Mr. Nobile experienced victory with a 308 vote margin, campaigning against an incumbent who had been ill throughout the primary and general election processes. This is not a “crystal clear” mandate by any stretch of the imagination. Remember the victories by President Ronald Reagan? Now, those were “crystal clear” indications that the people wanted change. Following your logic, all of the RRR endorsed candidates should have won by decisive margins. With the exception of McDonald, God help our School Board, the exact opposite happened.

      As for those who continue to chastise voters who chose to not vote, their voices were also heard. While silence may be considered golden; silence can also be quite telling. According to the SOE’s website, Flagler County realized a 53.38% voter turnout with 38,349 of 71,835 registered voters choosing to exercise their right to vote. That means 46.62% did not. It could be due to apathy; but, what if their decision to not vote was simply because they were content with our elected officials and saw no need for change?

      A win, as was experienced in the Palm Coast City Council District 4 race, is not a “crystal clear” mandate by any stretch of the imagination. It will; however, be interesting to see if the RRR and Dennis McDonald control Mr. Nobile or if his decisions will be based on his own assessments and research. It’s a bit too soon to tell.

      Both Flagler County and Palm Coast will have a front row seat for the RRR and their candidates, McDonald and Nobile. Will we have reasoned decisions, or lunacy for all the voters to see? Time will tell.

      • Johnny Taxpayer says:

        “but, what if their decision to not vote was simply because they were content with our elected officials and saw no need for change?”
        Then they could vote to reelect the incumbent!

        • KMedley says:

          When voters believe a change is needed, yes, they will get to the polls and vote. We saw that on a national level this past Tuesday. Look how many Democrat seats, once considered safe, were upended by voters who wanted change. When voters are content and feel incumbents are doing a good job and moving the community in the right direction, the sense of urgency is simply not there; hence one explanation, other than apathy, for the more than 40% who chose to not vote.

  2. Brad says:

    This was by far the worst election season in the 10 years I have been here. The Ronald Reagan candidates were absolutely terrible and brought absolutely nothing to the table. I think Mr. Nobile is in for a rude awakening and I don’t expect to see anything positive come from him. Most likely, we will see him tied up defending lawsuits regarding Sunshine Law violations in the near future. He is already planning on a personal website (according to his campaign Facebook page) that will focus on Council and City affairs outside of what is communicated on the official City website.

    Then layer on top of all if the appalling and disgusting behavior of our Supervisor of Elections. She is obviously so consumed with personal “hit lists” that the integrity of our elections now take a back seat to her personal agendas.

    This election was the perfect opportunity to attract more voters from the addition of a new Early voting location locally, a very competitive Governor’s race, and Amendment 2. Instead of dumping money and energy into fighting childish and made-up battles, our Elections Office could have given an extra marketing push to bolster voting in the community now and moving forward. Likewise, we could have had the red light cameras on the ballot but the local group that gathered enough names on the petition backed out from putting it up for us to vote on.

    The bottom line for me after it all . . . nothing has changed, nothing will be gained, and I have no faith left in the integrity of our elections locally and how they are handled. Sad and disgusting.

  3. Seminole Pride says:

    Steven Nobile was the reason I voted. The city council was becoming unproductive and no changes or new ideals were being set forth. The citizens had out grown the old city council and was ready for new people with a determination to move forward.

  4. Groot says:

    I have to agree with Jason about Nobile. I communicated with him regarding some issues, especially regarding city management, I liked his responses and that’s why I voted for him. I’m hopeful for some changes at the local level and a more responsive and respectful city government. Many of the city employees, especially at the top levels, are not accessible, aloof and arrogant. They are way to comfortable and have been in their positions way to long. There is one who is not civil service who needs to be shown the door. Regarding change at the national level, the POTUS seems to think the change is significant or he would not be on the front of today’s Washington Post saying “I hear you.”

  5. confidential says:

    Hope Nobile keeps his promises…because everyone of the candidates I voted in the past didn’t and after a while the status quo and the system in place took them over; examples; DiStefano, Holland, McGuire, Hanns, Revels, McLaughing, Ericksen, Wadstworth. The only one that keep his promise overall was former County Commissioner Hutch King.

  6. Downtown says:

    So glad the uninformed voters stayed home on the couch.

  7. Will says:

    It always amuses me when, in talking about a candidate or an elected government body, that some people say “They” don’t listen to “Us”, therefore, they’re no good.

    There are so many different groups of “Us” out there, it’s realy presumptuous of people to spout off that silliness. Officeholders always have to balance all the different “Us” sub-groups to decide on and vote on issues for the common good.

  8. Outsider says:

    I beg to differ with the notion nothing will change on a national level. Harry Reid kept 380 plus House bills from ever seeing the light of day on the Senate floor, thus protecting the Great One from having to make any decisions that might be politically difficult or keep him off the golf course. Now he will have do his job and the fallacy of the do nothing Congress will be exposed.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Now it is time for the City Council Clown car to be under way. Post election the only issue now is the seating, with the members fighting to see who gets to ride shotgun.

  10. Lin says:

    Us voted no on city hall
    Them did it anyway

    Thems pretend to be fiscally responsible and vote for projects so obviously not
    I presume it’ll happen again & again so it’ll always be us vs them
    If the tide really turned and the citizens of palm coast really decided we need a new building for city hall , then prove it — let us vote
    There is no balance — the citizens have no power if the council decides to vote it’s executive authority sort of like the federal branches of government

  11. Bob Hamby says:

    Flagler Live stated that in 2011 “McGuire (like Nobile) was backed by the more radical Reagan Assemblies against an establishment incumbent.” This fact would have been impossible since the Ronald Reagan Republican Assembly Flagler (RRRAF) only received a Charter to organize during 2011 and then held our initial organizational meeting in January 2012. McGuire was a proud charter member of our organization subscribing to the organization’s values: Respect for the Constitution, Respect for Life, Belief in Limited Government, and Belief in individual Responsibility.

    The organization has not changed its values or principles. If McGuire “…seldom hides his antipathy for the Reagan Assemblies” then I can only surmise it is he that has abandoned these values and principles. If these values and principles make in the make us a “radical” group to Flagler Live and its readers then we proudly wear that badge with honor along with the Frederick Douglas Republicans who share these values.

    • Shelby Lynn says:

      Mr. Hamby, You use your platitudinous ‘principles’ against anyone not towing your line and taking your directions while making it up for your convenience as you go. Your mantra is tired and your phony use of it discredited by you and those around you. You and your leaders have violated your sworn loyalty to our Republican voters this recent election. More later.

      Attacking Councilman McGuire is about as low as you have been. Again, on ‘principles’.

      You denigrate Fredrick Douglas to serve your own ends whatever those may be. Douglas was not a spoiler of elections nor a sower of ill will. Are you formally associated with the Douglas group to so freely indicate an affiliation?

      Tristam should apologize to you for missing your secret incorporation date by a few weeks? Not exactly the journalism error of the century you make of it.

      You need to get busy managing Mr. Nobile’s councilman career before he too figures out what you really want of him which is control. Ms. McDonald already knows your game and you will do well managing her. Fortunately, no one will need to worry themselves about dealing with your Ms. Shaffer. SL

    • Brad says:

      Mr. Hamby,

      You speak a lot about “values” and “respecting life”. The notion of respect for life by most respectful human beings would include being disgusted by racist remarks and bigotry. Yet we have nothing heard from your organization denouncing your members who circulated a racist message about Pierre Tristam this past election cycle. Why is that?

  12. Robert Lewis says:

    Please explain to me what are Frederick Douglas Republicans? I can not find anything online about a group in Flagler County by this name. It seems that this group of Nazi’s are at it again. They have found yet another admirable human being and infringed upon his name for a scam.

    I guess we can not expect much from a group that has become a party of their own.

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