Radical Change Ahead for Palm Coast Council as McGuire Won’t Run, DeLorenzo Opts for County and Netts Is Term-Limited
FlaglerLive | January 26, 2016
A radical change in the direction of the Palm Coast City Council and the city it represents may be afoot.
For 16 years, the Palm Coast City Council has seen its membership change only incrementally, with at most two seats changing hands in any given election, and always with an anchor providing continuity and institutional history. Mayor Jon Netts, first elected as a council member in a special election in 2001, has been that anchor for more than a decade.
But Netts is term-limited. He will not be on the council past November. On Friday, Jason DeLorenzo, the youngest candidate elected to the Palm Coast City Council in the city’s history, on Friday made official what had been expected for months: After nearly five years on the council, he will run for the Flagler County Commission seat currently held by Charlie Ericksen, who filed his re-election bid papers earlier this month.
And this evening, Bill McGuire, elected with DeLorenzo in 2011, confirmed in a brief interview what he had told a few friends in the past few days: “I’m not going to run for re-election.”
McGuire’s decision will be a shock to most. Even Netts was under the impression his colleague was running again. McGuire has been the council’s most outspoken member and a near-daily presence at city hall. He brooks no non-sense and immediately added to the council a voice for more transparent accountability it had lacked. (The city’s golf course and tennis center woes would not have been aired so persistently without his insistence.) But his wife has been seriously ailing, and McGuire said it would not be the honorable thing to do to run again and serve a portion of his term only to then move back to St. Louis, as he intends to do, to be closer to his sons.So DeLorenzo’s decision will have two significant consequences: on the commission side, it sets up a serious challenge to Ericksen and opens the possibility of a return of a Democratic majority to the county commission, though Democratic incumbents George Hanns and Barbara Revels also face Republican opposition. The more significant–because certain–consequence of DeLorenzo’s decision is on the council side: his departure means that three (that is, a majority) of council seats will be open seats and will turn over to new members, resulting in a complete turn-over of the council in two years. That has never happened before. Just as strangely: Heidi Shipley and Steven Nobile, elected in 2014 and still the council’s rookies, will essentially become its senior members.
That electoral reality also means that the turn-over on the council and the battle between change agents and advocates of continuity will become the central issue of the campaign. The outcome may radically alter Palm Coast’s direction and mirror on a much larger scale what unfolded on the Bunnell City Commission in the last few years: there, Commissioner Elbert Tucker had been a perennial insurgent for years, finding himself at the losing end of 4-1 votes, until the last two elections transformed him into the commission’s leader. In short order he got rid of the city manager, changed the financial direction of the city, and just led the process in the appointment of yet another city manager. Palm Coast has never experienced such a shift.
The election will result in a complete turn-over of all five Palm Coast council seats in two years, a rarity in local government.
“What’s the expression, a sea change?” Netts said in an interview this evening. “I think it’s beneficial for the city as a whole, for the people as a whole, to know this early on. This will give an opportunity for the residents to take a deeper look at the candidates, what they stand for, what they propose to do, what their vision for the city is. I’ve been a very, very strong proponent of vision. I think it’s very important for people now to start asking the probing question–what is your vision, what do you stand for, because obviously this could be a very significant turning point in the city’s history.”
One person–Pam Richardson, the Realtor–has filed to run in DeLorenzo’s seat. Others are expected to file. Four have filed to run for mayor: Milissa Holland, John Brady, Armando Gomez, and Ron Radford. McGuire’s decision is almost certain to draw a much larger number of candidates.
“My hope is that whoever runs for these seats will not deal in the old cliches, ‘I promise to lower your taxes, I’m going to do more with less, I’m going to cut the budget,'” Netts–who’s endorsed Holland, long his protegee–said. “If you hear more of this stuff, that’s warning sign that you need to ask the more probing questions.” He added: “The important thing for you, for the Observer, for the News-Journal–we need the press, the media needs to make people aware that this is a time of potential change, and if you want change, then you’d better speak up and tell the world what it is you want and encourage people to do that, and if you like what Palm Coast has become, you similarly need to find candidates who support that. It’s still relatively early in the silly season, so this is a wake-up call. Here you have McGuire, DeLorenzo, Netts, you have three seats open, you could change the direction of the city literally overnight. Do you want to change? Is that what you want to do?”Ericksen faces one Republican challenger in District 1 of the county commission, Dan Potter, a largely unknown candidate with no local government experience. Absent new candidates, the District 1 race would most likely come down to Ericksen and DeLorenzo, who have known each other and worked together for the duration of their respective terms, and have complimented each other’s tenures even knowing that they would end up facing each other in an election. The race is expected to be among the more cordial, issue-oriented contests.
“I served the community for seven years between my time on the Soil and Water Conservation District board,” DeLorenzo said, referring to the now-disbanded conservation board. “And now entering my fifth year on the Palm Coast City Council, I’m looking to be a part of a larger community, take on a larger role.”
On the council, DeLorenzo–who is the legislative affairs director for the Flagler County Home Builders Association–has advocated for builders by pushing for less burdensome impact fees and a more streamlined permitting process. But he’s also advocated for small business and the arts and from the start of his tenure on the council was largely opposed to the city’s eventually ill-fated red-lights camera program. Late last year, he took the lead, with school board member Andy Dance, in creating a joint city-school committee to explore safety initiatives in the wake of a series of wrecks involving district students, one of them fatal.
“I’m glad he’s in, he’s a friend of mine and I’m looking forward to debating him on the issues on Flagler County and what we can both offer to the position,” Ericksen said Tuesday evening. But Ericksen did not hesitate to contrast himself with DeLorenzo. “I guess I still go back to the fact that he’s well-entrenched in the home builders, and according to the information I have every time something comes up for them before the city council, he approves that item even though other people on the council have turned it down. So there needs to be some reasonable decisions made if you’re with a current employer, and that would be my second one: If he’s going to continue to work full time for the home builders, I question whether he can do a super job for the county, because I’m finding I’m having to spend 30, 40 hours a week working for them.”
DeLorenzo, 45, too, sharpened his differences with Ericksen–who’s 73–without hesitation: “I think I have a different vision for Flagler County,” DeLorenzo said. “Charlie is a great man and he served the county very well, but I’m experiencing Flagler County differently than him I believe, I have a young family, both my wife and I are working professionals in the county, and those types of residents are who I can represent best.”
DeLorenzo is married to Rebecca DeLorenzo, president of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. They have a 7-year-old daughter. He currently lives in the P Section. They’ll be moving to the W Section, where they bought a house, at the end of the campaign. He is required to stay in his current district as he fulfills his responsibilities as a council member.
DeLorenzo does not yet have a specific program outlining what he would want to accomplish on the commission. “The election is not until November,” he said. “There’s going to be plenty of time to talk about specific issues, I’m sure we’ll get to that as the campaign continues.”