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Missing Key Ingredient—“People”—Charter Review Storm Evaporates as Quickly as It Came

| May 19, 2015

charter review palm coast

Where are the people? There were a few more to the left of the frame, but this morning’s meeting was thinly attended, and the push for a charter review appears to have died. (© FlaglerLive)

It was nothing more than an early-summer storm, dissipating as quickly as it gathered.

Palm Coast City Council member Steven Nobile had claimed last week with as much insistence as conviction that “the people” wanted Palm Coast’s charter reviewed. He said he’d even bring the people to the council to make their case, and got help from two local pressure groups—the tea party and the Ronald Reagan Republican group, to the right of the tea party—to spread the word ahead of this morning’s council meeting.

But this morning, no people showed up.

None, if by “people” one means the sort of sizeable group that would suggest interest in making something happen. There were all of 34 people sitting in the council meeting this morning, including city staffers and regular audience members at these meetings. There were a few Nobile supporters, to be sure, but if body language spoke pro forma, that was their loudest message of the day. By the end of today’s Palm Coast City Council meeting, even Nobile sounded as if he was ready to be rid of the issue: “We’re not going to be talking about this at the next business meeting, I hope,” he said.

He was discovering one of the first lessons almost every novice politician discovers soon after an election: elected officials don’t move mountains. They can barely move someone to pay attention, unless an issue has a direct impact on people’s finances, their property or their pride. Ideology and opposition for the sake of opposition isn’t enough.

But that’s what Nobile’s charter-review initiative came down to. His colleagues on the council pressed him to clarify last week what he had in mind, regarding a review. He couldn’t say. Nor did he say today. The most he did say was that other cities do it, so why not Palm Coast. It was a call for a charter review for the sake of a charter review. Council members were perplexed, wondering why trigger an involved, costly and political process—ahead of a colossal election year, no less—when nothing in particular compels it. Nobile tried to portray the council as standing in the way of people’s wishes, but that fell flat in the absence of people, and the absence of concrete issues that could bear a charter change.

It was left up to Jack Carall, the council member emeritus who, despite his age—he was already 5 years old when Herbert Hoover was elected, and is old enough to be the 72-year-old mayor’s father—continues to attend every meeting, to deconstruct the last seven days’ charter convulsions: “Mr. Nobile,” Carall said, “you made a few comments at the workshop. You said ‘people’ want it. Well, I don’t see the people. Now, when somebody wants something, they come in with their shirts, the green shirts, the blue shirts, and they ask for it. Now, you’re saying that the people want it. But I don’t hear the people. I don’t see the people. You get two people that came up, out of 56,000 people. It just gets to me that you’re saying ‘people’ but you’re not saying anything. You’re saying they want to change but you’re not telling us what they change. You’re just saying the people, the people, the people. I’m part of the people, and I don’t see anything—the real change I would prefer is more city council members. Instead of five, seven. That’s one. But you’re saying people want it, and you’re not telling us what they want. You took up a lot of time, I’ll tell you that. But I want to hear specifics.”

He added: “Let’s see a face and let’s see someone come up and say this is what I want.”

Two people did. The first, Vincent Ligouri, a one-time member of the tea party who left it in part when it got too extreme even for him (as many others did), just wanted to set the record straight on his time on the home rule commission before Palm Coast’s creation, and propose two charter changes: that the percentage of petitions necessary for a charter change initiated by the public be dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent, and that the council be expanded to seven members. Steve Wolfe, a member of the Reagan group, also spoke on the matter, but most of what he said was to compliment the council. And what he said of the charter was that a review was a good idea, though he had no specific proposals. “This is the city council that is proactive enough to do that and is strong enough to withstand whatever may be suggested,” Wolfe said.

A seemingly controversial matter deflated as effectively as a Patriot football.

Three other people spoke in favor of a charter review, one of them suggesting ideas that are not in the charter’s purview, and another speaking in more general terms. Carol Mikola, a bane of the Reagan group, criticized the manner in which Nobile presented the issue. Without diminishing the value of charter reviews, she said, “I would have expected that any council member bringing this up would have done some research on the topic and would have been willing and able to respond to other council members without getting agitated.” (In his defense, Nobile said his demeanor had been mistaken for agitation, when it was, in fellow-council member Jason DeLorenzo’s word, mere passion. “When you come to my house you think everybody’s fighting but it’s really just a  conversation,” Nobile said.)

The charter matter did serve to clarify one thing: Palm Coast’s charter does not, on occasion, know its left hand from its right. Put simply, the charter leaves readers with the impression that it takes 25 percent of the registered electorate’s petitions to trigger a charter proposal initiated by voters. That’s what it says explicitly: “At least 25 percent of the qualified electorate of the City shall have the power to petition the Council to propose an ordinance or to require reconsideration of an adopted ordinance, or to propose an amendment to this Charter.” And that’s what this and other news services have reported.

But it’s not really what it says, city attorney Bill Reischmann told the council. Or at least it’s not what it should say, because that wording is in conflict with state law, even though it appears to be what Palm Coast’’s founders wanted it to say.

“In 1999 the folks or whenever it was that did this felt it was appropriate for 25 percent of the electorate be required to get together to do those three things,” Reischmann told the council, referring to initiating a charter change, recalling an ordinance or proposing one. (None of the three has ever happened, because the 25-percent threshold, which, to the council’s convenience, is what people have always thought it to be, has always been insurmountable. The council has never thought to correct people’s perceptions.)

“But the charter also says, with regard to charter amendments, you have to look at chapter 166,” Reischmann said, referring to that section of state law. “Chapter 166 is very clear, says that municipality may amend its charter pursuant to this section, notwithstanding any charter provision to the contrary.” Reischmann never explained whether that “notwithstanding” provision meant that the local charter’s wording had precedence over the state’s, though generally state law precedes local law. “For purposes of adoption of an amendment, or consideration of an amendment, 166.031 subsections 1 and 3 can only be read, with our charter, to require 10 percent,” he said.

“So what you’re saying is the current charter is out of line with Florida Statute and should probably be reviewed to correct these differences, in correct statements,” Nobile said. “Because what we have is a charter where the newspaper and the media think it’s 25 percent, but in truth, it’s 10 percent. Is that true or not, Mr. Reischmann?”

“I didn’t say–that is my legal opinion–that the charter needs to be reviewed,” Reischmann said. “It’s definitely 10 percent.”

“But the people in Palm Coast are being misled by reading the charter and by our media who read the charter,” Nobile said, seemingly seizing on a life raft for his original review proposal. “So a charter review seems in line.”

The likelier approach, the one Reischmann proposed to the council and the one the council will likely adopt, is a scrivener’s correction to the city charter, changing the 25 percent provision to 10 percent—but also putting that change to referendum at the next election.

The proposal to expand the council to seven members got as tepid response from the council, with Netts speaking of the complications it would cause, including changing the charter and redistricting, the possibility of having one or more existing council members lose a seat for being districted-out.

By the time it was Nobile’s chance to speak, the charter-review matter was as deflated as a Patriot football. “But I still do not understand the reluctance of allowing for what a very large majority of cities already do on a regular basis, which is a charter review, which is done by the residents of that particular city,” Nobile said. “That’s all I have.”

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14 Responses for “Missing Key Ingredient—“People”—Charter Review Storm Evaporates as Quickly as It Came”

  1. Groot says:

    Give it time. As I have said, I’m no teabagger, not even a republican. Not a bad idea. We’re not talking the Constitution here, just a municipal charter. A seed was planted and it generated some discussion, maybe some greater accountability and it’s a learning process for all.

  2. Will (#1) says:

    The question I asked in the first Flagler Live story about this bears repeating. Who are the people who Councilman Nobile claims to be his constituents? Those of us in District 4 or exclusively the members of the Tea Party and/or the Ronald Reagan Republican group. It would seem to be the latter, and going forward, we should all be listening to what he says.

    I realize that council people are elected city wide, but they must live in the districts they represent. In the charter, is there any direct obligation that the council people actually have for the people in the districts where they live?


  3. Vincent A. Liguori says:

    Dear Editor: Your comment that I left the Tea Party ” when it got to extreme” is incorrect. Family health problems precluded my taking an active roll. Thank You

  4. Brad W says:

    So I took a moment to visit Steven Nobile’s Facebook Page ( yesterday expecting to see some explanation maybe of what was going on with this Charter business and why no one showed up, and the is a quote from his post on 5/20/15:

    “One last thing. All this unnecessary excitement regarding the city charter has given cover to what I believe to be an even more serious matter, ECONOMIC GROWTH.”

    Unnecessary? Who brought the Charter review up again and caused the unnecessary excitement? That’s right it was . . . Steven Nobile. This is exactly the sort of game-playing and childish behavior that needs to stop on our Council. It is not a place for those who simply wish to cause trouble. Their decisions effect our lives and our futures.

    Anyone can rally the naysayers. But it is a true leader that unites people and drives them towards a common vision and goals.

  5. Edith Campins says:

    No, Mr. Nobile, not all the people of Palm Coast. Not My husband and I, not my friends, not my neighbors, in fact not anyone I’ve spoken to about this.

    And for GROOT, we don’t need a “learning process”, when we have more pressing issues to focus on, not to mention the expense of such a review. As for accountability, what exactly are you taking about? Who hasn’t been accountable? Ms. Weeks is the most recent example of a public official who is being held accountable for their actions.

  6. Knightwatch says:

    I’d be very interested in Councilman Nobile’s real reason for proposing a charter review. We know his “constituency” is comprised solely of the RRRA. We know they absolutely hate our city manager. We know they think the mayor and city council are all corrupt. Are they thinking that while we’re all distracted by daily life they’ll change the charter and vote to put the RRRA’s executive committee in as the city’s leadership? The horror … the horror!

  7. Layla says:

    You can’t write a novel any better than this! People are arguing in favor of keeping a city manager who makes more than all but 5 governors in the US. Don’t believe me? Look up their salaries. The city manager in Orlando doesn’t make as much money as ours. Why is he being paid so much money? Can somebody tell me that?

    We also have a mayor who only makes about $9K a year. One might think he could use a better salary. We could improve that a lot and save ourselves the manager’s salary and put that money to good use helping families here.

    I have no earthly idea what a review would cost, but couldn’t somebody already on the payroll look up what other cities are doing and give us all a rundown?

    Jezzus, people……you are making this about politics when it is anything but… At least take the time to do a little research! I’ve never seen anything like this in my life! 10th worst city? Hell, yes.

    And why didn’t anybody show up at that council meeting? Let me take a guess…maybe that welcoming hit piece on this site? Talk about a hostile environment!

    Me thinks thou doth protesteth too much and I am sure I am not the only one in town, or out of town, wondering why.

    • Knightwatch says:

      Your response confirms what we intuitively know. The underlying purpose of the proposed charter review is to hold some kind of referendum on the city manager’s position. This is clearly an RRRA initiative brought to the council by the RRRA’s personal representative, Steve Nobile.

      Our city manager adds professional expertise to complex civic issues. He helps take some of the partisan politics out of city management. You and the RRRA would be more than happy to politicize city management and sow ever more divisiveness and polarization in our city. You need to stop tearing down PC and start enjoying life here. It’s really great!

  8. Commom Sense says:

    I don’t think anybody would disagree that there are serious issues surrounding our city manager but a full blown review over that?

    As for the 10th worst city comment, well it comes from an obscure web site that didn’t actually do a survey and the main issue was lack of employment. Well, since PC was created as a retirement community there was never a plan for major employers. Perhaps the lack of a skilled work force, lack access to major transportation and lack of infrastructure have something to do with that. No, you can’t lay the blame for that on Mayor Netts’lap.

    Lastly, it is the appearance of the extremists that has created a hostile environment in the council chambers not the other way around.

  9. Layla says:

    Palm Coast, the only city on the planet where those who speak before the council are considered to be extremists. Something kinda sad about that. Sounds to me like more people need to attend those meetings and be heard, no matter what your viewpoint. Don’t let that council bully you into staying home.

  10. Layla says:

    Intuitively knew? Are you psychic? I certainly don’t hate the city manager. In fact, I don’t hate anybody! I’m just trying to get somebody to answer my questions. I realize that our manager has professional expertise. I would hope that the mayor does as well, and we can get him for much cheaper! And I am pretty sure I am not the one sowing “ever more divisiveness” and polarization here…

    Talk about paranoia! Sheesh!

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