Last Updated: 6:22 p.m.
Dennis McDonald, a towering bane of county and city governments for his relentless criticism of both, a two-time litigant against Palm Coast and a three-time candidate for local office, has just made it four: earlier today McDonald filed to run for Palm Coast mayor, the seat Jon Netts is vacating because of term limits.
McDonald, 66, ran for the county commission in 2012 and 2014, losing narrowly both times in the Republican primary to Frank meeker (with 47 percent of the vote the first time, 48 percent the second time). He ran in the special state Senate election in 2015 to fill the seat vacated by John Thrasher, losing to Travis Hutson in the primary with just 15 percent of the Flagler vote, 13 percent district-wide.
McDonald is the fifth candidate to file for the position, which pays less than $10,000 a year. He joins John Brady, a Democrat, and Republicans Milissa Holland, Ron Radford and Travis Kaufman in the race. Kaufman’s candidacy so far does not appear to be serious, and he has not yet formally qualified. Holland, Brady and Radford have done so by petition. McDonald will have to pay a $1,160 qualifying fee, since he did not gather the necessary petitions.
The election is ostensibly non-partisan, but candidates and the electorate generally are mindful of party affiliation. Just as McDonald was filing, three Democrats running for the three council seats were formalizing their run as well—Brady, Sims Jones, who’s running for the District 1 seat that Bill McGuire will not contest, and Anita Moeder, who’s running for the District 3 seat Jason DeLorenzo is ceding to run for the county commission. When the trio was filing its papers it had not yet been confirmed that McDonald had filed. Four candidates have filed for the District 1 seat, three for the District 3 seat. Those seats are all at-large, and all registered voters, regardless of party affiliation, may cast a ballot in the Aug. 30 primary.
In an interview this afternoon, McDonald, whose well-heeled method over the past few years has been to pick a target and clobber it, picked Holland. He said he decided to run after reading one of Holland’s campaign ads this weekend. “I forgot where I saw it, online some place,” McDonald said. “It popped up about experience and results, and you know, I thought to myself, gosh, I don’t understand how that could even be a consideration considering what her past history is, but in 2012 when she lost the election, I was kind of surprised first off that Milissa, her experience and her results, had been that–she jumped out of a seat that people elected her to for four years to run for higher office to benefit herself.” (Holland resigned the county commission seat she’d held six years to run for a Florida House seat after Flagler was redistricted in such a way as to give it its first chance to have its own representative in Tallahassee in 40 years. She lost by a small margin.)
Holland, in a second brief interview today, declined to respond to McDonald’s statement. She had initially been interviewed about McDonald joining the race, and before he returned FlaglerLive’s call.
Holland, considered the front-runner in the mayoral race—she is by far the better known and most experienced candidate, she is well-funded, and she has Netts’s endorsement—was not surprised by McDonald’s filing, though there’d been some question as to which office he would choose to run for. “I’m known to campaign very aggressively, I make sure that I’m trying to target every avenue possible to get my message out there, and I never discount anyone I’m running against,” Holland said. But as in previous runs, she said she intends to focus on her race and message rather than those of her opponents.
McDonald acknowledged that Holland is without question the front-runner, but that that’s part of the problem: that her election is seen as “a done deal.”
“Nobody knows that there’s anybody else in the race,” McDonald said, praising Brady as the sort of numbers guy he loves. Beyond Holland though, he said he’ll be making an issue of City Manager Jim Landon’s salary, an amount he calls “absolutely criminal” for a city of Palm Coast’s size, and making an issue of city debt and the large number of customers disconnected from city utilities every month–an amount that equates to about a third of the customer base each year, he says.
“It is good to have Dennis McDonald in the race,” Brady said by email later in the day. “He is very aware of the issues that face this city and the people of Palm Coast. I am sure you are aware of the water cut off rate and from a human service background denying water to people makes these families virtually homeless in a home. Dennis is concerned about the utility fund and rightly so.”
Asked about suing the very taxpayers he now seeks to represent, McDonald said: “I sued the administration of the city, I didn’t sue the city so to speak, it’s the way the city is operated, and the second time I sued I was injured very badly, and the city refused to fix the sidewalk.”
The first lawsuit was judged frivolous, and McDonald was ordered to reimburse the city’s attorneys’ fees. McDonald says his attorney at the time was twice in rehab during the lawsuit and did not properly focus on the matter. The second case was settled in April. McDonald said the city eventually fixed the sidewalk where he’d fallen and been injured, and fulfilled its obligation in the settlement.
His political candidacies aside, McDonald has stayed in the public eye for about five years as a regular critic of county and city policies and leadership. He’s opposed the county’s acquisition of the old hospital that it transformed into a sheriff’s operations center and criticized the county’s beach-management plans, for example, and more recently was critical of Palm Coast’s rezoning around European Village, though the city discounted his criticism as ill-informed. He’s also filed ethics complaints against county commissioners.
McDonald’s wife, Janet, was elected to the Flagler County School Board in 2014.