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Dysfunction in Flagler Beach: Jane Mealy Rails at a “Fragmented” and Meddling Commission

| July 9, 2010

Rumble in the chambers: Commissioner Steve Settle talks personality differences with Jane Mealy. The discussion took place after the meeting had ended, long after sunset. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy often goes first when commissioners and the mayor make their final comments at their meetings. Last night, almost four hours into the commission’s bi-monthly meeting, she asked to go last.

Then she laid it out. She was unhappy with the commission’s conduct on and off the commission—chronically challenging city staff during meetings and requiring staff to generate what Mealy thinks is an undue amount of work outside of meetings on their behalf.

Mealy’s brief speech is a more public expression of a city on tenterhooks lately. Not only is City Manager Bernie Murphy leaving by the end of September, but his last budget, not yet presented to the commission, is expected to include severe cuts to most or all departments. Employees will go on three years without raises. Several employees are said to be looking elsewhere for work. “The city is in a bit of a chaotic state at this point in time,” Commissioner Ron Vath said today, only indirectly challenging Mealy’s contentions. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s been going on,” Vath said. “I’ve chosen not to bring it to the sunshine. I will, if she chooses to bring it out.”

Mealy cited one commissioner by name during her speech Thursday: Steve Settle, who’s been on the commission since March. But Vath, a commissioner since March 2001, was clearly in Mealy’s sights, too. She didn’t mention him by name, though when she asked that the commission hold a workshop later this summer to debate and better define commissioners’ roles, Vath said: “I look forward to that.”

“This is not something I’m comfortable with,” Mealy started, “but I see us becoming a very fragmented commission. I see commission members doing things that are above and beyond what a role of a commissioner should be, and I think that with us getting a new city manager, I think we have an opportunity to look at new relationships or the way relationships ought to be. I’m not trying to say that all five of us or six of us should agree on everything because that would be ridiculous, and we should only have one commissioner if that were going to be the case. But the last several months I’ve walked out of here—I sit under here with my hands like this”—she grips her hangs together—“and I’m going to get very bad arthritis, and I don’t think we’re doing what’s good for the city. It has nothing to do with how unhappy Jane is. I think it’s not for the good of the city.”

Watch Jane Mealy’s Speech and Settle’s Response (Courtesy of PCMA-TV)

Mealy researched how other cities’ elected officials conduct (or are supposed to conduct) themselves. A retired teacher, she handed out packets of copies of an ethics handbook from Mesa, Ariz., and articles with highlighted passages (“The relationship between a manager and the council is a critical factor in a community’s ability to meet the needs of its citizens,” went the highlighted portion of an article by a Colorado mayor from a trade publication. Mealy also clipped the Flagler Beach city charter relevant to commissioners—the part about “Interference with administration.”

“Steve,” she told Settle, who always sits to her left, “I don’t want to use you as an example but I’m going to. Today alone we had challenges on the Sinelli lot, on the water bills, on the police department, on the fire department and on the parking lot. And it makes it sound, and maybe it’s not your intention, but it makes it sound like you have no trust in the staff of this town. And I don’t want you to defend yourself now. It’s just a type of thing that should not be happening in this town and is destructive, I think, to this town.”

Other commissioners listened on with various forms of expression: high anxiety from John Feind, the commission chairman, who’s appeared increasingly tense in his chair in recent months, restlessness from Vath, and little to no expression from Joy McGrew, the most frequent swing voter of late (and on Thursday evening) and likely the panel’s best poker player, if she played.

Mealy wants commissioners’ duties better defined. “The charter isn’t clear,” she said. “In a manage-council form of government, we’re not supposed to be oversight people, and we’re not supposed to be ordering the city manager or staff around, and I see too much of that from several of us happening, and I just had to get it off my chest. I’m sorry. It’s been bothering me now for several months. I know people in the community are upset.”

In a soft voice, turning to Feind while pointing at Mealey, Settle said: “Mr. chairman, would you mind if I responded briefly?” He then went on: “I would welcome a workshop, but I think you might be misunderstanding the difference between oversight and asking questions. And as far as, one of the things I’ve talked to Bernie about and let him know, is it is very clear in our charter that we can talk to any of the employees of the city, we can talk to any of the people. I don’t believe that I personally have ever done anything that I haven’t let Bernie know what I was doing, have I Bernie?” He points at Bernie Murphy, the city manager counting the days before his last on Sept. 30.

“Now this gets to a question and answer,” Commissioner Joy McGrew objected.

“I just want you to understand that there is an instrumental difference between asking questions. That’s what I feel I was elected for,” Settle said.

Settle is right about the charter, though it does leave room for interpretation. The charter states clearly: “The Mayor nor the Commissioners deal with the City officers and employees, who are subject to the direction and supervision of the Manager, solely through the Manager and neither the Mayor nor the Commissioners shall give orders to any such officer or employee either publicly or privately. Notwithstanding the above, elected officials are not prohibited from discussing with any City employee any job or responsibility pertaining to their job description.”

That last sentence will be interpreted differently from different commissioners.

Feind put an end to the brief discussion. “I don’t think we’re going to accomplish anything worthwhile,” he said, at close to 9:30 p.m. “I think perhaps a workshop would be good. We can sit down and talk among ourselves, maybe at an earlier hour, and include the city manager so he knows where we’re coming from. I don’t have an objection to that. Does anybody else have an objection to that?”

There were none. At least not for the record.

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7 Responses for “Dysfunction in Flagler Beach: Jane Mealy Rails at a “Fragmented” and Meddling Commission”

  1. elaygee says:

    No one with half a brain would run for office in Flagler Beach. It’s not worth the aggravation, lack of respect and idiocy you’d have to put up with so instead we elect the Short Bus version of politicians.

  2. Charlie says:

    Ms Mealy has hit on what I think is the problem in the Manager/Commission relationship. I also see it with The City of Palm Coast and Flagler County. In all locations, the Manger can run the City functions in whatever manner they want, and is only accountable to The Council/Commission, not to the residents. In all cases, the manager brings only the issues , they feel appropriate, to the Council/Commission, and the elected officials will not micromanage ..Then they get so off track, and problems occur, we all as taxpayers pay for incompetence, ..Most Councils and Commissions set up broad,general action items, and never clealy define the objectives,,Thus it is the managers interpretation of the broad directives, that we the residents have to live with. The Council needs to be clearer with direction and measure more frequently, how results are occuring. In the case of Palm Coast, we have not heard any budget results, as to whether wer are on or off budget since last October. So if there are problems, we have wasted 7 months, abd have no chnce to change to a more positive result. The system at present, in my experience is broken, locally, just like Nationally. It just doesn’t work, no one is Accountable for results.

  3. Taxman says:


    Yes the town manager system does not adequately represent the citizens. The town managers are not hired, their salary set, don’t report to or are accountable to the citizens. They are; hired by, paid by, given raises by, and report to the town councils.
    The only way to remedy this situation is to change the charter to an elected mayor form of government.
    First there has to be enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot, then it has to be voted on.
    That being said, the citizens of Palm Coast are not politically active enough to accomplish this task and you can bet your last dollar that the town council would do everything in its power and then some that isn’t in its power to block any such initiative.

  4. Merrill says:

    We’ve all got to stand up and applaud Jane Mealy for her guts and her willingness to “call ’em” as she “sees ’em.” It can’t be easy or pleasant, but it’s got to be done. She’s putting herself in the line of fire because she cares–otherwise she’d just sit back and let it all go by! Call me Pollyanna if you wish, but I’ve got to believe that in the end, the people of Flagler Beach will get a better deal because of Mealy’s courage!

  5. dlf says:

    I guess I don’t understand all the rage about this women when the whole crew just voted to increase your property tax? I would think this would draw more attention then a little exchang of feelins between the two parties. I also do not understand why when someone questions others views point they are tagged as a bigot or a trouble maker. After watching the video I was of the impression that she was expressing her feelings; which we still are permitted to do in America, maybe for a short time only. If she hurt someones feeling and was speaking the truth why the big deal? I guess I would rather see a workshop on reducing spending or methods to lower our tax. This crew is aware of the jobless rate in Flagler, I hope that would not take a workshop, or maybe it should.

  6. RB says:

    This has been an on-going dispute since I can remember. The Charter is VERY clear:
    The City Manager is in charge of hiring, firing, and assigning tasks to city employees.
    Commissioners may speak to city employees and ask them questions about the city.
    If a Commissioner wants to know something specific that will take research time to generate information, then he/she MUST go through the City Manager — that’s the only way employee time can be monitored and prioritized.
    Citizens expect Commissioners to ask questions and probe into city business. Commissioners can ask the City Manager in his/her office or during Commission meetings in the Sunshine. It is their perogative but common sense should dictate the appropriate time and place.
    A workshop for this dilemma only generates additional employee time spent on useless conversation.

    Obviously, Commissioners who are thorough and respect their fiduciary responsibilities are getting to the Commissioners who either don’t understand enough to ask the right questions or would rather just leave city business to the City Manager’s discretion. This is also an age-old problem — which is why it is imperative that the Flagler Beach City Manager be a resident of Flagler Beach.

    Lastly, these isues always arise during the budgetting process. It’s not surprising that we’re hearing about personality conflicts right now.

  7. AACHMED says:

    Hey Elaygee, Have to Agree with you on that one, But I think Only 2 of the Present Commisioners Rode that Short Bus! Mr. Vath was definetly in the Front Seat ! This guy somehow missed his opportunity to Join Ringling Brothers Circus when they needed “CLOWNS”! Now here he is in Flagler Beach trying to be a OneMan Band going against the very things we have asked for and the other Commisioners have agreed with, Especially Our Fire Dept! He already ran the Chief Off, Who’s Next ? We need to get Mr. Vath a Replacement ASAP, but in the meantime the Rest of you Commisioners need to stand your Ground and listen to what we Citizens Want, thats why we voted you guys in, As you will see We can Remove you just as Fast ! Jane I think you just missed the Train and the Short bus just happened to come by and you jumped at the Chance to go for the Ride! Thank you Mr. Settles and Mrs. Mcgrew we know what you must be going through each time you have to meet with what appears to be a onesided Reality Show Starring the Termoil Twins with Mrs. Baker as the Ref, Kudo,s Alice dont know how you Do it! Lets see how long it takes for a new Episode in As Flagler Beach Turns, Once we Vote You out Ron it would allow you time to Help your inlaw Figure out a way of Paying Back all those Local People He Ripped Off!!

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