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Against Mayor’s Opposition, Palm Coast Council Discovers Public Input at Workshops

| February 16, 2016

public participation palm coast city council

The Palm Coast City Council became a little less of a bubble today. (© FlaglerLive)

It is no surprise to the relatively small group of people who follow the inner workings of the Palm Coast City Council that when it comes to public participation, it is the most hermetic of local governments. Workshops are where most of the substantial business of the council is conducted, short of votes. It’s where most issues are analyzed, debated and decided, with the city administration often driving the discussion and almost always framing it through its own proposals, presentations and draft ordinances. The public, for whose benefit the council ostensibly does its work, has never been allowed to address the council at workshops.

Public participation at workshops is routinely welcome at the county commission, which holds frequent workshops, and in Flagler Beach, on the rare occasions when that city holds workshops. While the allowance is routine at the county, it is more on a case-by-case basis in Flagler Beach: that commission has never been heavy-handed when it comes to public participation. That’s also the case with the Flagler County School Board, whose workshops are rarely attended by more than school staffers.

But the Palm Coast rule against public participation has bee ironclad, largely because of Mayor Jon Netts, who’s run the meetings for nine years, and has always opposed public participation at workshops. City Manager Jim Landon’s enthusiasm for public input has also never been remarkable.

That’s about to change, under pressure from other council members, in the latest reflection of a changing council since the arrival of council members Steven Nobile and Heidi Shipley, neither of whom has shown much allegiance to the traditionalism of the Netts-Landon years. The council Tuesday morning voted 4-1, with Netts in dissent, to open the panel’s twice-a-month workshops to public participation, at least at the end of those meetings, and with no restrictions on what members of the public may speak of. The original proposal the administration submitted had limited participation to items on each workshop’s agenda, but with a caveat from Landon himself.

“I do think you have to be very careful about, when someone gets up to speak, you say you can’t speak about that because it’s not on the agenda,” Landon cautioned, “so I think you need to have a little bit of discussion as to how you could limit that conversation.”

“I don’t see the need to limit what they speak of,” Nobile said. “We don’t usually have 40 minutes of people speaking, so I don’t really think that we’re going to save anything by not letting them speak, whatever they want to say. And that’s a good time, because that’s the time we’re here to have conversation.”

“We’ll be lenient,” Netts promised.

Workshops draw few members of the public, but they almost always include two individuals: Louis McCarthy and Jack Carrell, who also rarely fail to speak on numerous items at council meetings, whether they have a stake on those items or not. It was McCarthy, ironically, who spoke for more limits on the public’s freedom to speak.

“I think you need to stick to whatever is on the agenda, because other wise you get people in there, and it’s all right to come with their gripes right now, at the general business meeting,” McCarthy said. “But the workshop is to enhance your ability to figure out what’s good and what’s not good and everything, and if you have all kinds of tangents coming in here and coming in there, you’d be all over the map.” He added: “I would like the privilege of getting up and voicing my opinion whenever it’s necessary.”

Carrell suggested testing the idea for “two or three sessions” first.

It was immediately after the public participation segment this morning that Netts explained his opposition to the public participation proposal: “I’m going to oppose this because I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. “I’d like to disabuse the public of the notion that somehow by not being able to speak at a council workshop, you are somehow restricted from sharing your opinions with council. Everyone of us has a website, every one of us has a telephone, every one of us has an address, and it is not uncommon, in fact Mr. Nobile speaks to this a number of items, of being approached by citizens individually, collectively, outside of city council workshops, to share their opinions and their thoughts. We all have that opportunity. Everybody from the public has that opportunity.”

Netts was neglecting to mention a key difference between a member of the public addressing council members individually (in person or by email) as opposed to addressing them collectively: individually and outside of meetings, council members may not engage each other either to figure out what their colleagues think about the issue, or to see how they have reacted to one opinion or another from the public. They’re barred from doing so by the state’s sunshine law. But they can do that in an open meeting, where public input then becomes more than a static missive and can, on occasion–as it has at county commission workshops, for example–change the dynamic of the panel’s discussion and influence the outcome of policy. That has happened most notably when Alan Peterson, the former city council member and county commissioner, has made proposals during budget season workshops at the county, influencing commissioners’ subsequent discussions with each other.

Netts, however, knew the battle lost.

“If however this motion passes,” the mayor continued, “I’m going to suggest that it be done with open comments, because let me tell you, from someone who has chaired these meetings the last nine years, it is sometimes difficult intellectually and sometimes difficult emotionally to say: No, you have to stop talking, you’re not on an agenda item. So if you’re going to allow this, then let’s allow it. I agree Steve, it’s probably not going to overly burden us, because as long as I am chairing these meetings I’ll continue to limit it to three minutes, which is quite common in Florida legislatures.”

McGuire had made the motion to approve the proposal with Nobile seconding (a rare pairing). McGuire had originally accepted the proposal as submitted by the city administration. Council member Jason DeLorenzo suggested broadening the allowance in line with Netts’s reluctant approach (minus the reluctance). McGuire had no issue to “open it up to God and everybody.”

“If we try this and it just isn’t productive, we can stop, or we can modify it,” McGuire said.

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8 Responses for “Against Mayor’s Opposition, Palm Coast Council Discovers Public Input at Workshops”

  1. tulip says:

    I think the public should be allowed to speak and express their thoughts at a workshop meeting.

    However, it should be made perfectly clear that they can only talk about the subject/subjects on the agenda.

    A work shop is held to discuss particular issues and problems, so comments from the public on unrelated subjects should not be allowed, as it could throw the entire workshop off topic after awhile. If a resident has questions about something, he or she can personally contact their councilperson or show up at a city council meeting and say something, Who knows, the particular subject a resident brings up could wind up in a work shop to be more thoroughly discussed. JMO

  2. confidential says:

    Good move..I stopped attending workshops simple over the frustration of not allowed to speak on the addressed issues at least my 3 minutes. I agree that residents should be allowed to speak on the day’s agenda issues discussed. My appreciation to the council members that promoted this move.

  3. David S says:

    Its about time.

  4. Vincent Neri says:

    The county commission and the town council have spoken plenty over the years. I am looking at the real results however. Most of the jobs in Flagler county are low paying and will not afford someone the ability to run a home. Thousands of pounds of food is delivered to food pantries in this county so people can eat. If we look at what the popluation and economic expansion would be if only for the efforts of the county commission and the town council one would find that the population here would be very low. Lets take away all the money that has come in through jobs worked elsewhere via pensions earned in other states and subtract that from the economy of Flagler County. I want to get to the heart of what these commissions and councils have achieved as far as economic expansion from bringing in companies and subtract out the expansion from people relocating here with pensions. What percentage of the private sector jobs in Flagler County are low paying? The heart of the matter is our local government has completely failed. I have been here since 1995 and have seen hundreds of small businesses close. Let the facts speak for themselves. Most of the growth is this community is from Pensions, Social Security Retirement, Social Security Disability, Workmans Compensation, and Medicare. We should be seeing the ability of countless people getting good jobs through the efforts of our local government in attracting companies that provide high wage opportunities. The people have already spoken in this community when businesses close, families turn to food pantries, children go to bed hungry and the criminal justice system continues to expand. We have Town Center, European Village, City Walk and now Island Walk. All these projects combined do not create the economic multiplier of one large high paying employer. You may be able to prevent people from speaking but facts are stubborn things.

  5. CL says:

    Ok, ok. In ORMOND BEACH’s city council workshops, which I attended a few times as a public person and citizen, we were given index cards to write down our concerns or questions, which was then given to the council in order recieved. They then read the card, and then answered /discussed the issue brought up by the public taxpayer who pays their salary. Why not do it that way too, Palm Coast?

    Also on the idea of the city council making more than $20,000 a year… in a town I used to live in in Georgia, which had over 20,000 residents, the city council was paid $12,000 a year plus traveling stipends. The county commissioners (in a county with a population of over 100,000) are paid $22700. That’s it. This is a county that is less than 20 miles from Atlanta – who’s metro region holds a population of over 5 million.

  6. Layla says:

    Why does Palm Coast have a City Manager being paid more than Gov. Rick Scott?

  7. Supporter, and PC resident says:

    Very good point. To be fair, while Landon is the top paid public executive, the school superintendent and county administrator also earn more than the state governor- all of whom, in my opinion seem to be pocketing their exorbitant pay rates without serving their populations in a manner consistent with their level of compensation. I honestly think I could better tolerate the shirking of their duties and mismanagement of their respective public agencies/organizations if they werent being compensated enough (fairly). However, as flaglerlive pointed out in August 2010, the amount of money Landon was getting in defined and deferred compensation alone (excluding base salary, health benefits, and others) exceeded the average wage in the county. That was absurd then, and is still absurd now.
    However, now that we the public can speak at workshops, we each have three minutes to express how absurd that is, among other things!

    Stand up and speak, everyone. We are the population they are supposed to be serving. Your input matters, and without expressing it, you are passively condoning the dismissal of your perspectives, opinions, and concerns. It is your government- be a part of its success! Or don’t, it’s up to you- but then don’t complain about its failures either.

  8. Linda Sparda says:

    I think if it is a public meeting then ppl ought to say what is on their minds.

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