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Overselling Flagler: How County Tourism and Government Zeal Lost the Spartan Race Before It Started

| August 26, 2015

matt dunn tourism

Matt Dunn, Flagler County’s tourism chief, in the center, wheeled and dealed heavily to get a Spartan extreme race to the Princess Place Preserve until the plan became public and unraveled. (© FlaglerLive)

A FlaglerLive Investigation

Matt Dunn, Flagler County’s Vice President of Tourism Development, had been working on bringing a Spartan extreme-sport race to Princess Place Preserve in Flagler County for almost a year. By the time the proposed race became public last week, he’d convinced Spartan officials that the preserve would be theirs, that they’d have a $55,000 subsidy at the county’s expense–$25,000 of it in cash—that the matter had been aired before the county commission, and that they could go ahead with taking registrations, beginning in July.

None of that was formally the case: The money had not been approved by the county commission, which hasn’t even passed next year’s budget yet. At least some of the commissioners hadn’t heard anything about the race. The organizers had yet to see a map of the 1,500-acre site. And the county administration was contending with serious questions about the event from its own attorney, who in July had been told to draft a contract as quickly as possible.

Most glaringly, County Administrator Craig Coffey said he never gave the green light for Spartan to take registrations in July. Spartan had opened website registrations to thousands of potential runners, but it did not do so until Dunn’s go-ahead.

At nearly every step, it was an example of an overeager but overselling tourism chief who, less than two years after being hired by the Chamber of Commerce on county government’s behalf, had built a reputation as a deal-maker for niche sports events that have filled many of the county’s weekends, and many of its hotel rooms, and as the golden boy of the Tourist Development Council and the Flagler County Commission.

Dunn’s dealings with Spartan officials, revealed through the emails and texts that chronicled his deal-making for the races over the past year, show a zeal for transacting the “get” but little awareness of, or apparent interest in, policy and protocols—whether budgetary or environmental—and virtually no appreciation for the political context that ultimately sank his biggest pet project to date: A majority of county commissioners were categorically opposed to handing over the preserve to the sort of event conducted by Spartan, and a large number of citizens registered their concerns about possible environmental damage to Princess Place. In fact, in an email to Spartan, Dunn contemptuously dismissed residents’ concerns as “a few environmentalists that are creating waves.” He went on to advise Spartan that environmental concerns are “All the same stuff you are used to dealing with and have proven Spartan’s sensitivity to.”

That was overstating the case. Spartan’s track record reflects that races in areas explicitly designated as environmentally sensitive are the exception, not the rule.

A Spartan spokesperson who declined to be on the record said in an email on Tuesday that Spartan had removed the Princess Place event from its website and was informing racers in a statement that “we’re working closely with local officials to relocate this event to a more suitable location.” When asked whether alternative locations included other places in Flagler County, the response was: “That’s not in the statement.”

That was barely 24 hours after the county announced on Sunday that it would pull the race out of the preserve. Meanwhile, the News-Journal’s Aaron London had reported on Tuesday that Spartan would be moving the race to Las Vegas, though by Wednesday that story had deleted references to Vegas and reverted to citing “some other venue options,” according to the race’s principal organizer. Though both the Spartan spokesperson and the race organizer said the race registration page had been pulled Tuesday, as of this morning—Wednesday—the Spartan page for the Princess Place Preserve race was still live and taking registrations. (Frank Barbuti, Flagler County’s parks and recreations manager, who was involved in site visits with Spartan and Dunn at Princess Place, told the county’s Parks and Recreation advisory board Wednesday morning that the race had been moved to Arizona. That was the first time the race was mentioned to the advisory board, some of whose members were surprised as to why the proposal had never been submitted to them before.)

A heavy-handed push to get the deal with little awareness of the political context or the history of Princess Place.

Dunn’s romance with the Spartan Race was born in Vegas. There, in November, he met Rusty Schellman, Spartan’s director of real estate and military markets, at the Events and Management in Sports conference, a leading expo for the tourist industry. The two hit it off. (Whether Dunn was at the conference exclusively to represent Flagler or also as the president of the Dunn Agency, a private sports events management company he runs despite his current job, is unknown. Dunn was at the Connect Sports conference in Pittsburgh this week and did not respond to an interview request, though he said he’d comply with a follow-up public-record request.)

In Vegas, Dunn and Schellman talked about bringing a Spartan race to Flagler. Dunn appears to have had no other location but Princess Place in mind: he immediately steered Schellman to Princess Place, sending him a link to the county’s page about the preserve a day after the conference ended—on a Saturday—and setting up a time to talk the following week.

Two weeks later Dunn met with the county administration and talked about the race for the first time. That was the first week of December, 2014. “They gave us a lot of ideas to think about, including the adjacent Florida Agricultural Museum property which is also owned by the county and includes the trail as well,” Dunn wrote Schellman on Dec. 2, a suggestion he did not take far.

In an interview last week Coffey said, “I was pushing for the ag museum early on because of the parking impact and if there were more obtrusive obstacles, so we were heaving in a different direction—the raping and pillaging of Princess Place was never on the agenda.”

In any case, soon after Dunn’s Dec. 2 email to Schellman, Heidi Petito, the county’s general services director, made clear to Dunn that the county was beginning to embrace his plan, telling him, “We are very excited about the possibility” of Spartan coming to Flagler.

Schellman flew in the first week of January (at the county’s expense, with a rental car and a stay at Hammock Beach Resort), toured Princess Place with Dunn, and had a “meet and greet” with the county administration, where Dunn planned to show an inspirational video of the race that features cancer patients, people with serious disabilities, and a homeless man (with an English accent) all talking about how the race changed them. That meet-and-greet is an administrative function, not open to the public. Coffey says he has many of those. They follow a standard scenario designed to welcome people and introduce them to the administration, but not much more than that.

On Jan. 8, a day after Schellman’s visit, Dunn told Petito and Coffey that Schellman “verbally committed to us,” but the prospective date was September 2016. “Thank you to everyone for yesterday,” Dunn wrote to the county participants, “displaying a united front really showed how we’re all in this working together.” He ended his email with a smiley face.

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

By then, Dunn was referring to Schellman as his “pal,” an appellation that would routinely bracket his emails and texts to the Spartan official.

Two weeks later Dunn talked about the Spartan proposal for the first time to the Tourist Development Council in a 10-minute presentation, two minutes of which were taken up by the inspirational video. But back then he was presenting two entirely different races: the Spartan Sprint, a scaled-down four-mile course, and the Spartan Beast, the company’s largest and toughest of its three races, a 13-to-15-mile course. Spartan, Dunn told the TDC, had agreed to hold both races at the Preserve.

Dunn played up the fact that the Beast race is occasionally televised by NBC Sports, and that he was working on including a broadcast from the Princess Place race. (Only the Beast race is part of NBC’s broadcasts, not the Sprint, nor the Super race that was eventually secured for March, a distinction Dunn was aware of in his emails but did not make when he presented the Super to the TDC last week, and television exposure was still presented as a possibility.)

Nate McLaughlin, the county commissioner and chairman of the TDC, had a question at the January meeting:  “I know Mr. Hanns when this gets to his ears, are we going to get some publicity for Princess Place out of that, when they’re filming, will they get some large shots?”

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Dunn replied.

(George Hanns, the longest-serving county commissioner and a long-time defender of Princess Place, would end up having questions about the race last week when he finally learned of it—but only regarding its location. He had no interest in television exposure. He was for booting it out of the preserve.)

At the January meeting, another member of the council asked Dunn if he’d considered other locations.

“We did look at—I’m going to mess up the name again, I always mess it up,” Dunn said, “yeah, we did look at Haw Creek, which is out in Bunnell. But it doesn’t have anywhere near the footprint or the trail system that is required. Again, we need a lot of space, we need an infrastructure that’s already out in place and they found the perfect location in Princess Place.”

Spartan officials, of course, knew nothing of Princess Place until Dunn directed them there.

There is a three-month gap in the email communications before Dunn, eager to get that NBC television contract for the preserve event, links it to securing a big subsidy for Spartan through county dollars.

In April, he writes Schellman: “We’ve already given both boards a presentation in preparation.”

That, of course, was not true: Dunn had presented only to the Tourist Development Board. In January it had not approved any money and had not forwarded any recommendation to the county commission. Other than McLaughlin, county commissioners said they hadn’t heard of the race or of Spartan until last week, and the Spartan race was never presented to them in open meeting. (It’s not clear when Meeker, as the commission chairman, was clued in on the project. He said he became aware of its details only last week.)

In late April, Spartan’s Schellman sent Dunn a Spartan Race Request for Proposal, apparently inviting Flagler’s tourism officials to formally submit a bid on the Spartan races to be a “destination partner.” The RFP was not included in the documents Dunn forwarded to FlaglerLive in response to a public record request. A further request for that document has yet to be honored.

The sequence of events strongly indicates that the RFP played a role in the amount of money Spartan was seeking, and the amount Dunn, without authorization from either the TDC board or the county commission, was promising Spartan.

“Hey Pal,” he wrote Schellman in a text on June 10, “I submitted our budget to the County for next fiscal year, still need to go thru the approvals but I included the $25K we discussed. I will have some expenses that will come outta that, ready for contract time?” He finished his sentence with a winky face, then asked again about the TV contract.

The $25,000 was never discussed openly when the county commission discussed the budget in workshops, a budget that also included substantial raises for the tourism office staff, particularly Dunn, though those figures were not broken out. Dunn was asking for a $12,000 raise, from $70,000, a 17 percent raise that would amount to the largest raise by far for any employee salaried on the county’s dime. (Several years ago one of Dunn’s predecessors, Peggy Heiser, quit the tourism job after she asked for a smaller raise and was turned down.)

And that $25,000 has yet to be approved by the county commission, as it was slated to be part of next year’s budget. Nevertheless, Dunn offered it up to Spartan and the TDC, which ratified the arrangement with its own recommendation. (“Yes, it hasn’t been formally approved but you cannot wait until October 1st and just try scheduling events just for that year,” Coffey said.)

Click On:

Later in June, Spartan informed Dunn that the company’s planned Tampa race had fallen through. Communicating this to his bosses, Dunn wrote, “Tampa folks have quoted themselves out of a tour stop.” Spartan asked to have the race in Flagler moved up to March or late February 2016.

“Yada yada we just lost 7 months of planning, ha!” was Dunn’s characterization to Coffey in an email, which drew no response or objection, at least not in writing. The plan quickly changed to a March race, and matters accelerated, albeit with more mischaracterizations.

At that point, Dunn was telling Spartan to write the contract with the Flagler Chamber of Commerce as the named party, not the county. “I’ll review the contract and we’ll discuss it if there are any questions or changes,” he told Schellman. “From there, usual turnaround time is a couple of days.” He was wide off the mark on all counts, as the contract would have to be written with Flagler County as the named party, it would take weeks or more to review, and it would be reviewed by the county attorney, not by Dunn, even though Dunn knew the county attorney would be in charge: “Even if I have to sit in the county attorney’s office til they review, I’ll get it done,” he promised Schellman, ending the email with a smiley face.

Spartan was just then pushing to open registration for the race in time for the July 4 weekend. Dunn informed the county administrator’s office of the company’s intent and copied Coffey, Deputy Administrator Sally Sherman, McLaughlin and Petito on the contract and registration matters: they were all aware that Spartan was looking to open registration soon.

Registration did not open that weekend. Schellman again pressed Dunn for clearance to open registration on July 17. Schellman clearly wanted the contract matter taken care of first. “Critical we get this reg open,” he texted that afternoon. Dunn replied, “I’ll stand at the doorway to the county attorney’s office if I have to, I’ll get er done early next week,”

“Give me a call so we can be clear,” Schellman texted an hour and a half later.

A few days later Dunn repeated to Coffey that Spartan “is all over me to start registration on their website,” and Dunn told Sean Moylan in the county attorney’s office the same morning that “now that we’ve come to terms they want to open registration immediately.” (Coffey said he doesn’t know what Dunn meant by coming to terms.)

The next day, July 21, Dunn wrote to Schellman: “Spoke with Craig (County admin.), he’s comfortable with all that we discussed, green light on opening registration whenever you’re ready, I have our PR firm working on a release that we’ll send for your approval.” Dunn expressed only one note of caution, telling Schellman that Coffey “wants to wait on funding confirmation and contract execution before bringing you back here for a press conference.” (Laurie Rowe Communications does PR for the tourism office. No documents from the PR firm were included in the response to FlaglerLive’s public record request, though all such documents had been requested.)

Email Them:

Apparently confident that the race was a done deal, Spartan opened registration for the event on its website. Later that afternoon, Schellman asked Dunn for “a jazzy description” of Princess Place to put on the registration page.

In a one-line email to Coffey, Dunn wrote: “They jumped the gun… up and running.”

“I don’t know what he meant by green light other than things were going well or whatever,” Coffey said in an interview Tuesday. “But I didn’t talk to him about registration. I didn’t get involved at that level of detail.”

While Spartan was beginning to register participants for the March event, the contract Dunn was promising to Schellman was meeting with some strong opposition in the county offices. On the afternoon of July 22, County Attorney Al Hadeed sent an email to Dunn and Moylan, copying Coffey and several others. “The critical question as I read the info,” Hadeed wrote, “is what kind of obstacles, what kind of ground disturbance and other alterations?” Then, seeming to address Dunn’s eagerness to get a deal done with many questions about the event still unanswered, Hadeed wrote, “I know everyone is pumped but these are environmentally sensitive lands and we are supposed to be the model of stewardship and sustainability.”

Though Hadeed’s emailed concerns had been directed primarily at Dunn and Moylan, it was Coffey who responded early the following morning. “We will be working on these operational issues as we get closer,” Coffey wrote. “We have thought of some of the same issues you have mentioned and will work through them.” Coffey concluded the email by saying, “At this point in the game we need to get the contract together.”

The response did not satisfy Hadeed. Just after one in the morning on July 24—apparently after a long day at the office–Hadeed emailed a lengthy set of red flags to Coffey and Dunn. Hadeed wrote that he had done some research on Spartan’s events, and took serious issue with assertions by Coffey that the impact on Princess Place would be in line with that of the occasional cross-country runners who use the preserve.

“I have to say I am still very troubled about doing a contract,” he wrote to Coffey. “We have never had anything like this that actually challenges our lands, that will alter our lands.” Hadeed continued, “I will have to do more with you before I agree to a contract form. I have to be convinced of its suitability in light of our management plan and covenants and the nature of the resources.” Hadeed urged Coffey to move the race elsewhere and concluded: “I cannot in good conscience accept the promise at face value that this can be done appropriately when I have acquainted myself with the operation, know the lands, and not having heard from anyone else the potential impact of the operation.” Hadeed asked for a series of plans and stressed that he would have to be sure that the proposal was “legally valid” for the county to execute. “We need to do it upfront,” he said.

But little had been done upfront aside from the brief and hazy presentation at the January TDC meeting, and nothing had been said openly since. Behind the scenes, Dunn and Coffey were pushing hard to close the deal, even though Spartan had yet to provide so much as a map of the proposed course or a description of the obstacles.

Last Wednesday, it all began to unravel. Dunn presented the Super Spartan race to the TDC. A story outlining the plan in FlaglerLive provoked a response no county official had anticipated. In the face of angry emails from residents, and expressions of astonishment from commissioners, by the weekend the Spartan race at Princess Place Preserve was dead—cancelled with a quiet press release.

Spartan’s Schellman did not respond to interview requests from FlaglerLive. The company has sent conflicting signals in the last several days about whether the race is still a possibility in Flagler County or not. Coffey on Tuesday was unaware of alternative plans, but he said that while the county was willing to help find a different venue, he’d made clear that he wanted to know “if they’re still interested in coming. But if they’re not we don’t want to waste our time.”

45 Responses for “Overselling Flagler: How County Tourism and Government Zeal Lost the Spartan Race Before It Started”

  1. Jt says:

    The below excerpt from the article summarizes it all…no concern for those who are here, the environment, property & deed restrictions, historical usage and land preservation charters in place….

    It appears the new mindset of Commissioners, their staff & new ‘ developer’ partner is….
    “What was advertised yesterday does not apply today”….The message to residents is either like it, or leave.

    Thank you Pierre…..I got the massage from this County. If only I could turn back the hands of time , my decisions regarding this area would be very different. No integrity….very sad.

    Dunn’s dealings with Spartan officials, revealed through the emails and texts that chronicled his deal-making for the races over the past year, show a zeal for transacting the “get” but little awareness of, or apparent interest in, policy and protocols—whether budgetary or environmental—and virtually no appreciation for the political context that ultimately sank his biggest pet project to date: A majority of county commissioners were categorically opposed to handing over the preserve to the sort of event conducted by Spartan, and a large number of citizens registered their concerns about possible environmental damage to Princess Place. In fact, in an email to Spartan, Dunn contemptuously dismissed residents’ concerns as “a few environmentalists that are creating waves.” He went on to advise Spartan that environmental concerns are “All the same stuff you are used to dealing with and have proven Spartan’s sensitivity to.”

  2. snapperhead says:

    “Hey Pal,” he wrote Schellman in a text on June 10, “I submitted our budget to the County for next fiscal year, still need to go thru the approvals but I included the $25K we discussed. I will have some expenses that will come outta that, ready for contract time?” He finished his sentence with a winky face, then asked again about the TV contract.”

    Sounds like some sort of pay off was being requested, if not already negotiated privately, between Dunn and Schellman. How can the Board trust this guy to run the tourism office with what appears to be less than 100% integrity. I can’t help but wonder if his grant permitting process now is tainted with personal kick backs or use of his private sports marketing company which is still active.

  3. KB63 says:

    Wow. Thank you Flagler Live. Thank you Mr. Hadeed.
    I’m a little concerned with the “……. I will have some expenses that will come outta that, ready for contract time?” What expenses?? They were warned, by the County Attorney, of the implications yet they continued on. We will do what we want, when we want, with who we want and where we want, to hell with you all. Sad, very sad.

  4. Flagler Resident says:

    Coffey comes across as a slimy politician here. There is no question in my mind he knew every step Dunn made. Now he is letting him take the heat like a coward. Dont take us for stupid MR. Coffey.

  5. palmcoastpioneers says:

    Shouldn’t the applications and acquisition of Official Heritage and Historical MARKERS be part of Tourism Development especially since we are a very Heritage and History Rich Area ?

    Isn’t it an embarassment that Mala Compra Plantation, Washington Oaks ( Belle Vista ) are acknowledged yet Hernandez’s third Plantation ‘ site St. Josephs’ remains unknown .

    Yet again, today, a communication from the State of Florida Historic Preservation Officer states ‘…we WELCOME …applications …’

    Consequently if those on Florida Park Drive want to enhance their area this would be something for them to consider doing.

  6. Flagler Resident says:

    I think it’s clear M. Dunn & C. Coffey are not playing by the rules when it comes to our money.
    Please remove both immediately.
    I personally witnessed our prior director of finance call out both of these folks at publicized TDC meetings. It’s no surprise she’s no longer a country employee.
    Why did Coffey get a raise?

    • Dean Carpenter says:

      +1 on this.

      If our public officials can’t be trusted to be open and honest with their plans why are they retained?

      Good job reporting this.

  7. Edith Campins says:

    The more that comes out about this the worse it looks for Dunn and Coffey. I am relieved to hear that Mr. Hadeed had raised red flags. We need to get rid of both of them.

  8. Edman says:

    This all sounds like people more concerned with building a resume than helping promote the county. I still can’t believe we were not going to see and financial return for all that we were providing. The “heads in beds” argument doesn’t make sense. Where were 6000 runners going to stay in Flagler? I have to think that much of the financial windfall would wind up in St. Johns County. Thank you Flagler Live for exposing this travesty.

    • mrsdondarrian says:

      Flagler can handle 6000 runners – just like Atlanta can handle 60,000 runners running through the streets of Atlanta into Piedmont Park (during the Peachtree Rd. Race, of which I volunteered many times). I think a better venue in Flagler would be the Town Center area (wide open fields, some woods, LOTS of parking). My son used to run cross-country in Georgia and one of the main venues they would have practice in and actual races was two parks – both preserves (Sweetwater, which has civil war era remains of homes and a millhouse, and a 1700’s era farm with hundreds of wooded acerage.). Schools from all across Atlanta would meet and race there. Atlanta is a area of over 6 million people.

  9. HeBlessesMe says:

    ” In fact, in an email to Spartan, Dunn contemptuously dismissed residents’ concerns as “a few environmentalists that are creating waves.” He went on to advise Spartan that environmental concerns are “All the same stuff you are used to dealing with and have proven Spartan’s sensitivity to.””

    How does this man have a position to bring tourism to Flagler, when he OBVIOUSLY does not understand the very nature of Flagler County and it’s residents? MANY people live here because of the nature around them, and the reason for so many preserves, and walks is because of this.

    Hey. Mr. Dunn, for $70,000 a year, you should be a bit more understanding of the people who PAY THAT SALARY through their tax dollars and be a bit more empathetic to their needs and desires. I don’t know about anyone else, but you SUCK at your job, and should be replaced.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree and hope every proposed budget submitted is gone over with a fine toothed comb-and I emphasize EVERY PROPOSED BUDGET! Dunn and Coffey were in this together as was,Hadeed. If Hadeed was so opposed he would have stayed completely out of it. Problem is, one supports the other and all deny. If the County Commissioners don’t fire all involved complaints need to be filed. Let’s remember all county commissioners are elected and they work for us, and they have a responsibility and obligation to us!

  10. Frances Royals says:

    [Selected as the Comment of the Day in the Daily Briefing.–FL]

    Again, Flagler Live, I really appreciate your reporting of this event and how it happened. It is rare today that a journalist will take the time to actually do the investigation necessary for an informative article like this one. I am especially glad that you let us know that Mr. Hadeed had questions about it. I know Mr. Hadeed and his knowledge of the preserve and I could not understand how he would work on this. Knowing that Mr. Hadeed, Commissioner Revels, Commissioner Hanns and Commissioner Ericksen were against this makes me feel much better about our County leadership. I also think that Mr. Meeker said that he was undecided and waiting for discussion. I think it is time for a group of concerned citizens for the welfare of Princess Place and all of our green spaces here to organize and attend the meetings where these decisions are being made. It would have been very very sad to have had this event happen at the Preserve. I am concerned that the management plans for these green spaces may be altered to make it easier for someone to get through high impact events that can damage the ecosystems of the preserves. As we go forward in out county, it is extremely important to take care of the green spaces that we have. I was not against the race being held at an appropriate place nor am I against “progress” for our county. Positive change can happen without it being at the expense of our protected green spaces. Again, thanks to all the many many people who helped stop this event. I think we need to learn some lessons from it.

  11. Flatsflyer says:

    If the Commission has any “Balls” at all, they will fire both Dune and Coffee. If they don’t take steps to rectify this, I think a call to the State’s Attorney General is due.

  12. All have a finger pointing at each other says:

    If this doesn’t sound unethical nothing does. Why would Mr. Hadeed be writing a contract without the board’s direction when he is employed directly by the Board of County Commissioners; he does not work for Craig Coffey. These Board of County Commissioners need to get it together and get rid of Coffey, Dunn and Hadred because they have embarrassed this board and there’s no telling what other underhanded dealings have taken place that have not been exposed. It is apparent the blame is being shifted to Dunn but many of the county employees have had their hand on this as well as Commissioner Nate McLaughlin. Underhanded, unethical and reason for all to be fired. Nate McLaughlin has demonstrated his lack of integrity and should be removed from office by the Governor for breaking the public’s trust!

  13. Barry Hartmann says:

    Lets not forget the rest of the commissioners….how much did they really know?

  14. Tree Hugger says:

    Holy smokes! Talk about Pimps and Pushers? These guys get things DUNN when they want to. I feel guilty driving my car through the preserve most times but not our, no conscience having County Cronies who have zero problem going straight boot camp on it when they see a buck. Why not chop down all the trees that will get you media coverage too? Everyone keeps talking about using the AG museum. That should be off limits also. Its boundaries overlap into Princess Preserve. Get some of these Timber companies to give up some land.

  15. Rob says:

    Someone should take the fall for this. Who will get the can? I bet no one. You can already see the county administrator getting it off of himself and putting it elsewhere.

  16. Just a thought says:

    I’m not surprised that Coffey is pimping out our Crown Jewel preserve as I am sure he would have benefitted somehow. He is nothing but a back-room-deal politician. Why would he and Dunn broker a deal that has minimum benefit to the county unless there was something for them. Cudos to FlaglerLive and Hadeed.

  17. Jimbo says:

    Who says the Agricultural Museum belongs to the county? That is not what is on record at the Appraiser’s office.

  18. wishful thnking says:

    Oh Flaglerlive – we just might be lost without you.

    I have always liked and respected Al Hadeed and do now more so than ever thanks to your diligent digging. . However, Coffey and Dunn need walking papers – How dare the county spend MY money to invite moochers to come here knowingly at our expense but at their total profit ! The jackass who arranged this wacko deal wants a salary increase????????? That’s chutzpa once again.

    We have lots of walking trails in Flagler County to keep Coffey and Dunn occupied – not to worry that they -those two – would ever be bored….I can see it now ” CoffeyDunnDeals’…..

  19. Layla says:

    Why are Coffey and Dunn still employed by the county? Both have demonstrated clear violations of their contracts, grounds for dismissal.

  20. My thoughts says:

    Commissioners, fire Dunn and Coffey to prove that you can, in fact, represent us. Ask Al Hadeed if the Creekside Festival violates the Grant Award Agreement you executed with the State when Princess Place was purchased with TAX DOLLARS. At least the State protected its investment. Live up to your end of the deal.

    Thanks, FlaglerLive.

  21. confidential says:

    Can we gather taxpayers e-mails and signatures to boot Dunn and Coffey? Out with them. Using my tax dollars to pay a wealthy guy his flight, rental and luxury hotel or maybe they used TDC 4% tax bed money for that and the $55,000 promise? And Coffey says this welcomed paid matt is often done on our dime?

  22. Brad W says:

    This entire thing is not just a little mishap. This is a major ______!! When we are paying people $70k+ and $150k+, we should be able to expect they can get things done wth the best interest of the county in mind and not expose us to the multi-million dollar lawsuit that is coming next. Unreal.

    Here’s the bottom line . . . Matt Dunn can not obviously be trusted, and Craig Coffey obviously can’t manage him and is willing to operate as under-handed as he is. There is NO WAY our County Commission should follow through with Dunn’s employment with the County, and there is no way Coffey should be allowed to continue as County Administrator. Enough is enough, and what is it going to take for our County Commission to wake up and do something?! It is time this Commision step up, do their job, and hold these two accountable. There is NO WAY Dunn or Coffey should have employment with this County. And it will say a lot about our Commissioners if they allow Coffey to continue and allow Dunn to come on board.

  23. Arthur Melcaccio says:

    I usually only concern myself with police related articles, but this one was really good. Despite the fact that this news site is very opinionated, you do the county a great service and we are better off for it. Thank you. Great job!

  24. Cynthia Erickson says:

    PLEASE let Dunn and Coffey go……. Bye – Bye you Pompous Asses

  25. Ga boy says:

    This is business as usual for Flagler county and the city of PC, you have at the top of the food chain people in place that believe breakneck growth is the only thing that’s important regardless of the cost. The bottom line is pure old fashion greed, I just wish that for a moment that all these people would stop and ask themselves do I want flagler county to look like Miami or Jacksonville? That’s where we’re headed, with the the most influential people mashing the gas pedal to the floor to get there

  26. County employee says:

    The real problem is if Coffey and Dunn had been above board from the beginning they could have found suitable property to hold this race and charged Spartan appropriately. I am sure Spartan is used to renting space to run these races and paying for police and fire. But instead Coffey and Dunn decided to make back room deals without input from the commisioners or the public and we may have lost this opportunity for good. The fact that Dunn was functioning as a “Pal” instead of a business man says a lot about why this deal was made the way it was. Pathetic.

  27. Kevin says:

    Dunn is a loose cannon and should be dismissed from his position with the County. Hopefully there isn’t a lawsuit pending for breech of an implied contract by the County’s Tourism official Dunn acting with total disregard of his employer, the taxpayers! We should attract interest in our county based on the merits and not on how much payola we hand out to get them to come visit. This guy needs to go.

  28. confidential says:

    To TDC’s by now Mr. Dunn: the residents, taxpayers of Flagler County fighting for the pristine preservation of our pristine preserves, are not as you disrespectfully described as ““a few environmentalists that are creating waves.” No sir., we are the one’s that voted the funds and paid for for those lands and have a right to defend our investment. I guess as most times with people in your position, you also do not even reside in this county and only care for anything else than your own benefit. You have not only tried to make a deal “undercover” but also have insulted Flagler County taxpayers intelligence and for that you need to be dismissed. And if is TDC that pays your over inflated salary those hotel owners that fund the TDC 4 percent bed tax need to ask for your resignation as you do not represent us at all.

    • Jt says:

      If I owned a Hotel, bed and breakfast in this County, I certainly would be asking if the CA , County, Chamber / tourism teams if they have a special agreement with the Beach Club developer? I certainly hope a RFP quote gives ALL resident business owners a chance to participate and competitively quote for this business.

  29. David S says:

    This county is a joke.

    • Oldseadog says:

      The PEOPLE of this county replied loudly and our views were heard!

      “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”

      “We must not only protect the country side and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities … Once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature, his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.”

      – Lyndon B. Johnson
      President of the United States

      • Jt says:

        Well, I hope this turns out to be true…but our Salamander Hotel developer has openingly stated in the April HCC (Hammock Conservation Coalition) meeting that he wants Scenic A1A to be turned into a corridor of bustling stores and shops accompanied by 200 new Hotel rooms, with targeted provisions to expand further in time.

        The Commissioners , CA and his staff supported this….go figure. They are all held hostage to new jobs and increased tax revenues…people just don’t get it.

  30. Jim WjamjAmes weames whim w says:

    Why not use private owned land for race. Strickland land? Easy fix

  31. Sherry E says:

    Again, absolutely great investigative journalism Pierre and Flaglerlive. How sad that none of what you have uncovered surprises many of us. The county attorney apparently had questions and concerns early on and Coffey just brushed them aside.

    With this additional information, I too am calling for both Dunn and Coffey to be immediately dismissed for grossly over stepping their authority misrepresenting the policy and procedures for such projects in Flagler county.

  32. Sherry E says:

    Here is my latest email from Flagler County Commissioner Frank Meeker:


    The project at the Princess Place has been cancelled so further discussion is moot.

    I also feel you have totally misunderstood my comments regarding actions that have occurred on this site or other sites within Flagler County in the historic past. Without knowing where the race would have been held, it is not possible to determine to what level, if any, environmental damage would or would not occur.

    There are 1500 acres to this park, and hardly any of it is “paved”. Not all is pristine, in fact, I’d be in favor of taking out some of the slash pine flatwoods and return certain areas to the historic open Long Leaf pine prairie that used to thrive here. You see those areas as you enter the park just before, and around the Island House. If that were to occur, there would be a temporary disruption to the current “environment” but the system would recover within a reasonable time and that temporary disruption would be well worth it in my view.

    Doing so, and I’d have to wait maybe 80 years, I might be able to attract Red Cockaded Woodpeckers back to this area. That bird’s habitat has been heavily impacted by densely planted slash pine areas. Or we can leave the dense slash pine flatwoods like it is with no management, and wait for it to just burn like it has twice in different areas of Flagler County in the 30 years I’ve lived here.

    This area just missed being toast back in 1998. I mention this because in my view as an environmental scientist, there are far better habitats to be encouraging out here and therefore impacting certain habitats with a race,…recently logged slash pine flatwoods, or using fire trails in current slash pine flatwoods, wouldn’t have any appreciable impact because those habitats are not natural in the first place and should be replaced at our earliest convenience with habitats the represent the historic ecosystems so heavily impacted when timber production took over natural areas many years ago. But again, without a map showing where the race would go, and without my ability to walk the length of it, I can’t, as a professional, make a call as to if there is an impact worth denying the project on.

    Again,…all is moot, but the process for good decision making with a fair presentation of the facts was violated on this one as far as I’m concerned. Lastly, regarding your concern about a legal action form Spartan, I don’t think the Spartan folks have a cause on this one, and I’m not overly worried about that.

    Frank J. Meeker, C.E.P.
    Flagler BOCC, District 2

    This is my reply to Commissioner Meeker:

    Commissioner Meeker,

    Having those educated in environmental conservation assist in the preservation of public nature preserves by suggestion programs meant to restore habitat in a conscious, thoughtful, careful way. . . with minimal disruption to plant and wild life. . . is not even in the same realm, and absolutely does not compare to allowing 6,000 extreme sports participants to reek havoc in a “nature preserve”!

    Thank goodness Flaglerlive alerted our community to this outrageous project and that so many people came together to protest and stop the event from taking place!

    What, however, is NOT a moot point is just exactly how dangerously far this project was developed behind “closed doors”. As I am sure you are well aware, for every citizen that takes the time to write or call a government leader, they are actually representing many others who do not make that effort. . . perhaps because they feel disenfranchised by their governmental leaders. Therefore, those who have expressed their outrage and concern over the grossly unethical, possibly illegal way Mr. Dunn and Mr. Coffey led Spartan to believe that Spartan could begin to accept monies for an event at Princess Place actually represent a significant number of your constituents.

    Therefore, I, and several others are expecting to hear how our county commissioners plan to hold those responsible for this highly unethical practice accountable. . . and about what procedures are being put into place to make sure this kind of situation never happens again. We are waiting. . . .

    • Jt says:

      Sherry, thanks for your perseverance…our district 29 leader heard all the environmental concerns of the Hotel crammed here in Hammock Beach….he was ‘courted , targeted’ by the Corporate folks, and was thanked afterward for being a Corporate leader after his approval.

      He chose to act in a fashion that ignored the NO additional Expansion assurances by the developer to buyers in 2009/2010. In addition, he and staff ‘blew off’ neighborhood rules that were in place, parcel 35 deed restrictions, HCC land use charters and showed no respect for existing lodging businesses in the Hammock. And, his theatrical genius at 2 am in the morning was one for the ages.

      I just can’t wait for the next Hotel expansion request, as A1A developers have found their weak link(s) who voted for this Hotel proposal. People in the Hammock have no clue what is happening and what will be done to them down the road. This developer owns the golf course property as well as significant land along A1A.

      I too am calling for the changes you spoke of…..let’s not let these 2 jokers continue to build their resumes at the expense of those who follow the Flagler County rules.

    • Oldseadog says:

      “Therefore, I, and several others are expecting to hear how our county commissioners plan to hold those responsible for this highly unethical practice accountable. . . and about what procedures are being put into place to make sure this kind of situation never happens again. We are waiting”

      I indeed am also one of those waiting to have our ELECTED OFFICIALS answer how accountability issues at the County level are going to be changed. This fiasco will NOT go away before the next election unless there are some assurances from the BOCC to voters that such madness of decisions made (without their supposed knowledge) by staff employees will not be tolerated.

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