Flagler Beach City Commissioner Steve Settle is angry. He’s angry at fellow-commissioner Jane Mealy in particular for publicly charging that, as Settle sees it, other commissioners—including Settle—are in breach of the city charter, a charge that Settle says could be grounds for forfeiting office.
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At the end of the July 9 city commission meeting, Mealy blistered the commission for “doing things that are above and beyond what a role of a commissioner should be,” including meddling with the administration, piling up work on staff and causing the commission itself to become “very fragmented.” Mealy singled out Settle for criticism over what she termed as his habit of challenging the administration publicly. “It makes it sound like you have no trust in the staff of this town,” Mealy told him. She asked for a commission workshop on the matter to work things out. The commission agreed.
That’s not where it ended.
Settle, the same evening, wrote a fuming letter to Mayor Alice Baker. The one-page letter, which was not cc’d to fellow-commissioners and may itself be a violation of the state Sunshine Law (if it elicits responses either from the mayor or commissioners before the commission’s next public meeting, on July 22), is replete with language even stronger than that used by Mealy. He wants Mealy either to substantiate what she claimed or that she apologizes in writing.
Referring to Mealy’s claim that commissioners are “ordering the city manager or staff around,” Settle wrote that he “cannot, and will not” allow those allegations “to stand before the public, causing irreparable harm, without substantiation.” He did not explain what irreparable harm was being done anymore than Mealy had explained how the fragmentation of the commission was harming the city.
Watch Jane Mealy’s Speech and Settle’s Response
(Courtesy of PCMA-TV)
Settle went on: “I am therefore demanding, in writing, the immediate delivery of an official city document: (1) fully substantiating these charges, or (2) containing a formal apology, signed by Commissioner Mealy.”
Mealy’s answer, when asked about the letter by a reporter: “Hell no. I have nothing to apologize for.”
Settle doesn’t just want substantiation or an apology. He wants the city to put its weight behind what would be nothing short of a witch hunt: “Further,” Settle wrote, “if these unsubstantiated, hurtful allegations came to Commissioner Mealy through any third party(s), I demand that each such party be identified so that it can be clearly demonstrated to the public that these third parties are also incapable of substantiating these allegations to the degree supporting such damaging public utterances.”
Settle then puts Mealy’s honesty in question, calling it “an unconscionable act to falsely charge any elected official with the breach of their sacred oath of office.” He ends the letter by “strongly” suggesting that “it is in the city’s best interests to fully resolve this matter immediately.” On that count, Mealy and Settle agree: they want the matter resolved, which is why Mealy called for a workshop, though the two diverge over the substance of the matter.
Baker had no idea why Settle sent her the letter. “It’s not up to me to tell her to apologize on this,” Baker said, noting that her position is ceremonial: she signs documents and sits with the commission, but doesn’t vote. She does, however, speak her mind: “Our commission is not fragmented,” Baker said today in a phone interview. “We have a very good commission and we have accomplished a lot of projects, and we all get along very well. We agree and we disagree but in the end we do have good results.”
The city commission will be discussing Mealy’s request for a workshop, and presumably setting a date and time, toward the end of the July 22 meeting, which begins at 5:30 at city hall.
The city is not on strong grounds when it comes to sticking by the letter of the charter, however. The charter also requires the city manager to live in the city. Bernie Murphy has been city manager since 2006. He lives in Ormond Beach. To get around the requirement, the commission stuck the word “interim” next to Murphy’s title and let it stand there all those years. Murphy’s tenure ends on Sept. 30, and the process of replacing him is adding to the commission’s various pressures, such as severe budget constraints
Murphy had the letter copied and circulated to every member of the city commission, though not posted publicly. According to the state’s open-record and open meetings law, members of an elected board may not exchange information by mail, or email, or by phone, outside the public eye. All their exchanges must be public. One member of a commission may circulate a report to other commissioners on a matter that may be coming before the commission. Circulating such a report would not be a violation of the Sunshine Law—as long as other commissioners do not comment on the report with each other, in writing or verbally, because the law forbids written reports or correspondence to be used as a substitute to the open-meetings law.
The letter from Settle to Baker is not a report, but a request for action directly related to a matter before the commission. Settle did not circulate it among other members of the commission. The administration, wisely, did. As of this morning (July 19), the administration said no exchanges had been received, at least not through the administration.
Settle and Drew Smith, the city’s attorney (who is contracted through Smith’s firm, Maitlan-based Shepard, Smith & Cassady), had not replied to messages requesting comment by the time this story was posted. Settle, in fact, was out of town today.
In the course of reporting this story FlaglerLive was told that the commission had directed the administration not to release Smith’s phone number at his law firm—also a violation of open-record laws. Smith’s phone number is 407/622-1772. His email address at the law firm is [email protected].