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County Administrator Is “Chastised” Over Cryptic Handling of Question in Open Forum

| October 9, 2015

flagler county commission strategies

At times some of the Flagler County commissioners are clued in more than others about administrative strategies. (© FlaglerLive)

Something strange happened during the Flagler County Commission’s discussion earlier this week of its legislative priorities for the year.

The discussion is usually routine. It focuses on the wish list the commission submits to lawmakers in Tallahassee every year before the Legislature’s session, which begins in January. This year’s list isn’t much different from last year’s. The priority is a $2.5 million request for the Malacompra drainage basin, to address chronic flooding in the Hammock. The county can’t afford the project on its own. The Legislature appropriated $600,000 for it this year but Gov. Scott vetoed it. The second priority is $2 million for the Agriculture Museum, for capital improvements. The list goes on to list policy priorities—on public records, the cost of juvenile detention, disaster funding, and so on. (See the full list below.)

Minutes into the brief discussion, Commissioner Barbara Revels spoke up.

“On our major funding request I was looking for an item three to be Plantation Bay water,” Revels said, referring to the $4 million the county is looking for to pay for improvements to the derelict Plantation Bay water and sewer plant the county now owns. The plant serves 1,600 customers, who are upset at the murky quality of their water. “Why we don’t have that. Why are you shaking your head?”

County Administrator Craig Coffey looked displeased. “I’ll get with you, talk with you about that,” he told Revels. “There’s some issue behind that, so I’d like to talk with you if I can.”

“It’s OK,” Meeker says, as if placating Revels. He knew something she did not—which was part of the problem.

Revels dropped the matter. Meeker spoke of a different issue. Then it was Commissioner George Hanns’s turn.

“You know every time we bring this legislative priorities up, it seems like we have more questions every time,” Hanns said. “It should be said which way we’re going, and as we always do, the number one should be the one that’s most likely to be accepted and passed on. So with keeping with that, Ms. Revels asked a question about that and you said you’ll get with her. Why don’t we get with her right now? I mean, I want to hear the answer. It’s not like, classified, is it?”

“It’s a strategy,” Meeker said.

After a brief moment of silence Coffey again spoke up: “We’re taking a different approach with that item and I’ll be happy to explain it to you guys one on one, but we’ve been asked not to put that one forth in a public forum the way we’re doing now.”

Some commissioners got the memo, others didn’t.

“I see,” Hanns said.

It was a startling statement from the administrator, who frequently speaks to commissioners one-on-one, outside of commission meetings—it’s entirely legal and part of the process—but rarely if ever suggests in an open forum that he cannot talk about a certain issue when asked about it directly. It would be illegal if a government administrator was working on a matter of public concern and kept it from the public, let alone from commissioners. There are exceptions, as with discussions about economic prospects or negotiations with employee unions, but in both cases all elected officials are usually clued in.

Monday’s discussion, or lack of it, was revealing that some commissioners—namely, Meeker and Nate McLaughlin—were aware of the issues surrounding the Plantation Bay utility, while others (Hanns, Revels and Charlie Ericksen) were not. That sort of selective information-sharing rankles commissioners who are excluded. It wasn’t the first time that Hanns was making an issue of it. Ericksen has made an issue of it in the past.

“I chastised him afterward about it,” Revels said of Coffey’s handling of the issue in a brief interview. “I felt I was bad girl speaking out of turn, it was all handled pretty poorly.” She added: “I think I caught him off guard, I really don’t know. That’s what I spoke to him about later. That was his take on it. It reminded me that’s kind of what they were saying to us at the end of last session.”

As it turned out, while Coffey was overly cryptic about the Plantation Bay questions, there was nothing sinister about it, as he later explained to commissioners and in an interview. “I made it a lot more cryptic than maybe I should have been,” Coffey said.

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

It came down to this: Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Paul Renner, who form Flagler’s legislative delegation in Tallahassee, told Coffey that the county gets only a limited number of funding opportunities. It has two. It should not add extra ones. Rather, the county, to hope to secure some money for Plantation Bay, should go directly through the state Department of Environmental Protection and attempt to steer grant money from there to Flagler, even though ultimately the appropriation is through the legislature. “We’re going to address it, we’re just going to try to address it a diff way. It kind of came out a lot weirder than it needed to,” Coffey acknowledged.

Coffey had spoken of that strategy with Meeker and McLaughlin, but not with the rest of the commissioners. Coffey says a $4 million loan for Plantation Bay improvements can easily be secured. But the county is trying to stay away from a loan as that would automatically mean yet another rate increase for Plantation Bay customers. “The goal of trying to get it through the Legislature and get grants is really about rates,” he said.

Revels noted another reality Flagler must contend with. Aside from having several costly needs, it has a team of rookies for representatives, as both Hutson and Renner are about to begin their first full terms in their respective jobs. “Our legislative delegation doesn’t have a lot of legs in Tallahassee yet, so I think we were trying to be very realistic and try not to put up a long list and go with a couple of items that we really need,”  Revels said.

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20 Responses for “County Administrator Is “Chastised” Over Cryptic Handling of Question in Open Forum”

  1. tulip says:

    I think it’s time the commissioners started to look around for a new manager after Coffey’s contract is up. He is treating three of them like nothing more than bodies to cast a vote while doing deals and business with Meeker and McLaughlin. and those three muskateers keep things to themselves and being deceptive to their peers and the public. McLaughlin and Meeker aren’t trustworthy either and shouldn’t be re-elected. Unfortunately that is a couple of years away.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not surprised! Time (again) for Coffey to get his walking papers. This guy is bad news.

  3. m&m says:

    Look at Coffey. Would you trust him for one minute? Would you buy a used car from him? I think not.

  4. Confused says:

    I have a question, how come Flagler County is the only county in Florida where ‘PUBLIC MEETINGS” are always held in ‘PRIVATE”

    Coffee tells commissioners he will speak to them in private and individually.

  5. My thoughts says:

    This one came from Meeker. I didn’t vote for Amendment 1 Land and Water Conservation Fund money to be spent on bailing out a private developer’s water company. Money spent on Amendment 1 land acquisition is for ALL Floridians.

  6. PalmCoasting says:

    Such a shame the Commissioners don’t have the willpower to make the necessary decision here as this County is in desperate need for new a new helmsman and preferably one who isn’t a crisis manager. If you wait until everything is a crisis or a fire to manage it, you will always be behind the game. Princess Place and this totally avoidable situation are just a couple examples of poor management not to mention a complete absence of leadership. And guess who’s contract is up for renewal soon? Surprise surprise this one hasn’t made headlines anytime recently or been mentioned at all – like all things waiting until the last minute.

    If the commissioners fail to make the tough decision because of history or politics behind the scenes then I have a feeling voters will be holding them accountable during the next election cycles. If some of them were planning to retire anyway the least they could do is make the right call before they leave and allow this county to progress under a new captain. Again, preferably a captain who chooses a course before the storm is upon us and one who knows how to steer a ship.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Something really stinks that only a few of our Commissioners where in on a potential deal.

  8. Layla says:

    I think it’s obvious why we have these problems around here….managers who do what they wish, with no accountability whatsoever and no limits on their contracts. Millionaires and special interests fund these people and keep them in office. The people pay their salaries and the people would like to hear what is happening. That is our right.

    It is clear that Mr. Coffee, Mr. Meeker don’t feel they must conform to the public process. Why are they still there?

    Shame on them and those who haven’t a clue what is going on there. You hurt us all. Very good article, FL.

  9. Layla says:

    Another “deal” being worked between Meeker and Coffee? Apparently they do not realize this information is supposed to be public. No wonder we have been stuck with this monster of a sewage plant that should be shut down and the County sued for its dirty dealings.

    If this kind of government is ok with you, shame on you and to the people who have no idea the dealings taking place in this community.

    Very good article, FL. Sometimes the truth hurts. This is our money and these people work for us. Doesn’t look that way, does it?

  10. Oldseadog says:

    The problem with politicians is that they get elected.

  11. Commom Sense says:

    Whatever happened to “Government in the Sunshine”?

    Are Coffey and Meeker the ones running this county?

  12. cannot say says:

    If you are fed up with the County Administrator, now is you chance to make change. His contract is due for a renewal this month. As there is only 1 more BOCC meeting (19th) remaining in the month of October I’m guessing, as per usual, Coffey will slip it into the consent agenda at the last minute. Let your commissioners know you want them to not renew his contract. There are so many commenters on here that constantly talk about holding the administration and the commissioners to task. This is your opportunity.

  13. Floridian says:

    You mean to tell me Coffey and others didn’t know how the process works until Hudson and Renner came to town? Sorry, I don’t buy it and feel the Plantation Bay water issue is more import than the Ag Museum. It is about time these Commissioner’s send Coffey packing. He has far to often proved and shown he is not transparent and likes back door dealings.

  14. Don Corleone says:

    During the search for the next Administrator I pray the commission can see past false bravado, narcissistic, micromanagement ideals and land someone who really wants to turn around this County.

  15. PJ says:

    SO big deal!
    The County Administrator got caught off guard by a Commissioner that may or may not be on top of things as they should be. Coffey has steered the County through the worst economic downturn since 1929. What’s the problem so the guy is not too forthcoming with information on an ongoing action plan.

    That’s what they (County, City Managers) do set plans in motion. The final process is brought to the Commissioners for their APPROVAL or DISAPPROVAL.

    Once again a mountain out of a molehill. Wait all good things come to those who wait like a good crap!
    Stop the hype we don’t need it…………..PJ

  16. Wishful Thinking says:

    Barbara Revels was the Commissioner for Plantation Bay before re-districting took her away from ‘us’.
    She was very concerned at the ‘transation meeting a few weeks ago – when the County and Bunnell signed an ‘un-contested divorce’…..
    Several of us asked to make sure that the funding for needed increases be requested from the State Legislature NOW and not after all the pending bills were finalized when the county knew it was tooooo late.
    Response – after the meeting from Coffey alluded to the former owner of the Utility is now concerned since he is trying to sell new homes here that the former owner/current developer of Plantation Bay might be better able to secure this funding…..
    Under no circumstances would I sit still if the county dare try to increase MY RATES for a utility that we had no say so in purchase price via a vote .. The county has created a special taxing district without the payers have the right to vote to tax themselves for such a purchase – call it rate increases if they want it is still the unregulated uncontrolled spending of the users money without their prior consent. Our water bills are now hovering close to $100 a month for two people when they averaged $45 to $55 for years – we still are drinking the same crap – we are just repaying the stinkin’ loan the county took to pay double the price of this piece of crap which the state of Florida turned a blind eye to….
    If I had a law degree I’d go after all the state agencies who let the violations wash under the carpet for years. The county should have put this to a VOTE – the state agencies should be held responsible for letting the system get as rancid as it is today… BRAVO Barbara – wish we had you back…

  17. Hank Reardon says:

    Folks 2014 was the time to have recognized the “HONESTY?” of Meeker and McLaughlin and maybe in turn be rid of Coffey by now. The deal with the old hospital should have been enough to wake voters up. What is it going to take for people to wake up and elect Commissioners who will do the will of the people?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Bunnell City Manager Mr. Williams for the next County Administrator!!

  19. SPH says:

    We can do better than this.

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