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“Be Prepared,” 10 Potential Candidates for Office Are Told in Chamber’s Grooming Class

| September 22, 2015

flagler chamber leadership institute political candidates 2015-2016

First class: participants and visitors to the Flagler Chamber’s first Public Leadership Institute seminar, held last week, to prepare potential candidates for local office. First row from left, Donald O’Brien, Kimble Medley, Myra Middleton-Valentine, Greg Feldman, Senator Travis Hutson, Pam Richardson, Rep. Paul Renner, Dave Ferguson. Second row, from left, Marc Bellapianta, Lea Stokes, David Alfin, Howard Holley, Carrie Chambers, Gretchen Smith, Rick Belhumeur, Rebecca DeLorenzo. (Flagler Chamber)

With one or two exceptions, the 10 potential political candidates who went through the Flagler Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Public Leadership Institute last week are familiar names to political news junkies: they’ve either all been candidates already, held office, or served on public advisory boards. You may see their names again soon as one of the most active local political season on record gets going.

The 10, in alphabetical order, were David Alfin, Rick Belhumeur, Marc Bellapianta, Carrie Chambers, Greg Feldman, Dave Ferguson, Kimble Medley, Myra Middleton-Valentine, Donald O’Brien and Pam Richardson. Feldman, Medley, O’Brien and Richardson have all run for office before (if briefly so for O’Brien), none successfully yet. Ferguson was appointed to the Palm Coast City Council and chose not to run when his seat was up, as he was moving to a different district. Alfin, Belhumeur and Middleton-Valentine and Stewart have all served (or still serve) on advisory boards. Chambers was part of Howard Holley’s campaign for county commission last year.

Seven of the 10 candidates are registered Republican (Belhumeur was a registered Democrat last year, is a Republican now). Feldman and Chambers are independent, and Middleton-Valentine is a Democrat.

The 10 were culled from 16 applicants, chosen on criteria that, among others, weighed the individuals’ interests in furthering the local business community. The sessions were closed to public and press.

“I believe we had a strong group and expect to see a lot of them filing for office in the next twelve months,” Chamber President Rebecca DeLorenzo said. “2016 is a big year and we want to make sure that candidates are educated and also have a basic understanding of how campaigning and ultimately being elected can affect their lives.”

The two-day training was held September 17 and 18 at the chamber and led by the program’s creator and facilitator Mark Mills of Orlando, a former GOP operative. The program is usually an eight-week course. It was distilled to two days in what Mills described as “drinking from a fire hose.” The cost of the program is between $7,500 and $10,000, including the fee for its main presenter and two days’ worth of meals for participants.

The program did not cost the potential candidates anything. It was sponsored by several local and state businesses. The class heard presentations from Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy at the Florida Chamber, and from Flagler County’s Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart (a position Medley and Richardson ran for three years ago, hoping to take on then-supervisor Kimberle Weeks, though they fell in the Republican primary). Sen. Travis Hutson, Rep. Paul Renner and Flagler County School Board member Trevor Tucker also participated in the training, sharing personal campaign experiences and answering questions during working lunches.

A preview of who may be running in 2016, with business as a preferred platform.

“I had spoken with former graduates of this program and was already intrigued,” Medley said. “But my take-away in one word is amazing. Mr. Mills, along with other presenters, offered a clear and concise understanding of the thought process that anyone seeking public office should follow. The course exceeded my expectations and strengthened my resolve to serve our community.” She noted: “Business bias was absent from the class.” Her most valuable insight? “Be prepared.”

On leaving the council last year Ferguson left open the possibility that he’d be back in public service. “My past experience on City Council allowed me to learn the ropes of how the governing process works ( or does not) and a full appreciation of the finances and hot button issues,” he said. “If I pursue elected office in 2016, it will be based on a vision of fixing the city-county divide, commercializing the tax base with quality jobs, including an emphasis on health care, IT, and high-tech research.”

Ferguson acknowledged that the chamber institute “prefers those with business experience and focus.”

Belhumeur, whose involvement at the Flagler Beach City Commission in the last several years make him almost an honorary commissioner–he also serves on the county’s parks advisory board and chairs the affordable housing board–has made no secret of his intention to run for the city commission next year. He wants to unseat Commissioner Steve Settle.

“It did meet my expectations plus more,” he said of the institute. “It was an excellent seminar for me having never ran for office or been involved in anyone’s campaign.” The program did not designed to encourage anyone to run so much as help potential candidates gauge the right timing for a run, he said, “depending on time, money and your message.” Partisanship played no role in the presentations, except to explain how partrisan campaigns differ from non-partisan ones (the school board and Palm Coast council are non-partisan positions, for example). “The most valuable insight for me was how to market myself to a targeted voter. A lot of time was spent explaining how to run a successful campaign,” Belhumeur said.

The chamber intends to make the institute a permanent fixture in preparation for even-year, general elections. “The participants walked away with a lot more insight on the process and considerations of running a campaign they would not have gained otherwise,” DeLorenzo said. “I’m very proud of what the committee and our chamber has been able to accomplish with state sponsors and local partners to make this a reality. We’re excited to start the process of identifying and encouraging future leaders in our community.”

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25 Responses for ““Be Prepared,” 10 Potential Candidates for Office Are Told in Chamber’s Grooming Class”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    7,500-10,000 for 2 days worth of meals for 10 participants??
    Speakers aside. This sounds like liberal logic 101 – overspend because you can.

    It’s nice the candidates to be took advantage of a free class.
    Where have they been the last 4 years? Have they been involved in the community?

    Service above self! These folks have served only themselves.

    • Rick Belhumeur says:

      Robert, I currently serve on a total of 5 boards and committees in both Flagler and Volusia counties. Here’s the list:
      Flagler Beach Representative, R2C TPO Citizens’ Advisory Committee, Volusia/Flagler
      Committeeman, R2C TPO TIP Sub-committee, Volusia/Flagler
      Committee Chair, Affordable Housing Committee, Flagler County
      Board Member, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Flagler County
      Board Member, Planning and Architectural Review Board, Flagler Beach
      I wouldn’t call that only serving myself

      • Layla says:

        Mr. Belhumeur, many serve on several boards. It’s called ambition. You are to be commended for your efforts.

        However, if this “class” didn’t cost you anything, then who paid for it? Taxpayers or special interests? You can understand the concern…….your ambition, our community.

        • Rick Belhumeur says:

          Layla, You are correct, I certainly don’t lack ambition. However, I don’t serve on any of these boards representing any special interests. I want to represent people like myself that pay taxes yet have lost services. I want to represent people that are too busy with their own lives to represent themselves. And yes, I want to represent myself. I have never ran for office and have never been involved in anyone’s campaign so I had very limited knowledge of the process. The chamber was offering this program so I applied and I was ultimately chosen to be a participant. I have always been a blue-collar worker and I am grateful to the chamber and the sponsors of the Flagler public leadership Institute for the knowledge I have gained while attending. It’s up to me now to take advantage of what I learned and prepare a successful campaign.

          • Lady Jane says:

            Then it was the taxpayer’s who paid? Or didn’t you ask?

            • markingthedays says:

              Lady Jane,

              The event was paid for by the Chamber Of Commerce and also several local sponsors: S.E. Cline Construction, Craig Flagler Palms Funeral Home, Memorial Gardens and Crematory, The Holley Group and Preferred Management Services.

  2. carol says:

    What a rip-off.

  3. My thoughts says:

    Are we to assume that whatever is good for business is good for the community? Is this GM all over again? If it’s good for GM, it’s good for the nation? And by what criteria were these people chosen by the Chamber? Malleability?

  4. YankeeExPat says:

    That’s some intense and costly training for the folks that fight so hard to bring Flagler County more Dollar Stores, gas stations and fast food chains. Maybe try to entice a fortune 500 firm to re-locate to Palm Coast?…….No, No, No, No, silly Yankees, instead let’s invest in a disused golf course, “that should work out fine”.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Do you believe that justifies the exorbitant price for the meals mentioned above? When it comes to preparing oneself for public office, prepare yourself to answer questions like that.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      The dollar figures quoted include the fee for facilitator Mark Mills, which is the lion share of the cost. Dominos Pizza of Palm Coast donated food as a lunch sponsor.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Who is Mark Mills and exactly what was he paid for his services, since the door has been opened to that question?

  7. Layla says:

    As they say, “follow the money”. That usually answers your questions. And there is some BIG MONEY in that photo.

  8. Layla says:

    While I love the fact that they are doing this, I am wondering who is paying for it all? If it is public money, they are breaking the law. You cannot discriminate by selecting only certain people.

    And if it is local business, isn’t that like buying politicians?

    And lastly, you are going to make it almost impossible for anyone else to think about running for office because you’ve locked it out with such big funding. Nobody else but your candidates will be able to compete.

    Just my thoughts, but they are worrisome.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      How much more explicit the story can be regarding the absence of public money here is beyond me, though as this site’s editor it’s not the first time I get frustrated with commenters misrepresenting facts clearly stated in articles. It bears addressing in this case, because Layla’s misrepresentation is likely shared by people looking for a fire where there is none. The Chamber is a private organization. The program was paid for by private sponsors. No public money is involved, as the story made clear: if there are legalities in this case, it’s in the vague slander of Layla’s comment–the McCarthyist innuendo that somehow, some way, something illegal is going on. None of these candidates are benefiting financially from the chamber’s program beyond that class. The biggest beneficiary is the presenter, who’s making off very nicely for two day’s work. No candidate has more or less of an advantage or an opportunity to run just because this program took place. The program has its problems, among them poor transparency and financial contributions managing to be undeclared only because the candidates themselves are, technically, conveniently, undeclared. Nothing illegal there, thanks to our permissive or non-existent campaign finance laws. The ethics of it are another matter. But those weren’t the questions raised.

      • John Holmes says:

        Thank you, Pierre. It must be truly exhausting having to constantly deal with the absolute lack of comprehension that some of your readers display in the comments. And they wonder why nobody takes them seriously.

      • Layla says:

        It wasn’t meant to be slander, it was a question. Excuse me, Pierre, but with a select group being funded by some major money, I’d say that shuts out many others from running.

        I think it’s a great idea, but it shuts others out of the process. Since when does the Chamber get to pick our elected officials?

        Legitimate question.

  9. Steve says:

    First, let’s eliminate all of the former polititions in the group. They are only interested in themselves and the special interests that funds them. Second, let’s eliminate all of the democrats because they will only ruin this city the way they ruined the country. Who is left to choose from? Hmmm.

  10. Algernon says:

    Some thoughts for those who have interest…

    This program was funded through corporate donations that were raised above and beyond typical chamber operations. The chamber is member-based organization, not part of the government, and is not funded by tax- payer dollars.

    The important thing to bear in mind is that the chamber was responsible for bringing this program like this to Flagler County. There are no similar programs in our community offered by other organizations and the chamber found a way to sponsor, host and fund it at no cost to the participants. In doing so, the chamber contracted with a facilitator whose program has a demonstrated track record in other markets and who came highly recommended by other chambers of commerce throughout Florida.

    The ultimate goal of these efforts and this program is to make sure that our community has qualified and committed candidates to run for public office and once elected to lead us in the future.

    • Patriot76 says:

      The Roman “Patrons and Clients” system is alive and well.. And evolving. Clearly..

      I understand there is no illegal activity here and that many who subscribe to the idea of private investments in political races is the American way.. But you will never sell me on that idea .. Or more importantly – buy me.

      If this is not a greater wake up call for massive overhaul of elections law, I don’t know what is. Nobody should feel or be made to feel obligated to any private institutions for their being in office. It is a direct contradiction to democratic ideals. Of course, we keep eating the free market fruit loops. Trickle down economics IS an accurate term for our free market theory – when you think of a faucet trickle, you may begin to appreciate the irony.

  11. Layla says:

    The important thing to bear in mind is that the Chamber appears to be trying to control local elections here.

  12. Algernon says:

    Layla – “control” ? If you mean to excercise intelligent influence to prepare candidates better to run and serve, maybe that’s one definition.

  13. Donna Heiss says:

    The Chamber has no business in politics period. Dig deeper and see what you find. Quite interesting.

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