Nick Klufas, Palm Coast City Council Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | October 26, 2016
Nick Klufas is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 3. He was among the top two vote-getters in a three-way race in the Aug. 30 primary, resulting in a runoff against Pam Richardson in the Nov. 8 election.
Since its incorporation in 1999, when all five of its council seats were up for election, Palm Coast has not had an election like this year’s, when three seats were open. The council majority, in other words, is certain to turn over, with three new faces in November joining two relative newcomers: Steven Nobile and Heidi Shipley were elected only in 2014. That’s because Mayor Jon Netts, who has been on the council since 2001, is term-limited. Council member Bill McGuire resigned effective Aug. 15. And Council member Jason DeLorenzo is running for a county commission seat.
Two new members of the council were elected in the Aug. 30 primary by winning more than 50 percent of the vote, making a runoff unnecessary: Milissa Holland, who will replace Netts as mayor, and Bob Cuff, who has already been seated in place of McGuire.
Of all the candidates running for Palm Coast City Council, only one–Holland–has held elected public office before. She was a county commissioner for six years. It will not only be the greenest council in 17 years. It is almost certain to be the youngest council, ending an era dominated mostly by council members retired from the workforce.
This is a non-partisan election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for all three seats, regardless of district.
Palm Coast council members serve four years. They’re paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor, not including a monthly “telecommunications” allowance.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges on the record. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Charter review
- Public service tax
- EMS and fire services
- Palm Coast v. County
- Council dynamics
- Post-Jon Netts
- Jim Landon
- Pot and civil citations
- Code enforcement
- Golf and tennis clubs
- Community center
- One-issue candidacy
Place and Date of Birth: April 18, 1988
Current job: Senior development engineer at ACI, Palm Coast
Party Affiliation: Independent
Disclosures: See the financial disclosure. Resume.
Larry Jones (D)
Rick Staly (R)
Thomas Dougherty (I)
Palm Coast City Council
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Pam Richardson (Dist. 3)
Flagler School Board
Maria Barbosa (Dist. 5)
Myra Middleton-Valentine (Dist. 5)
Flagler County Commission
Jason DeLorenzo (Dist. 1)
Charlie Ericksen (Dist. 1)
Barbara Revels (Dist. 3)
Dave Sullivan (Dist. 3)
George Hanns (Dist. 5)
Donald O'Brien (Dist. 5)
- Raise city revenues by monetizing Palm Coast FiberNET. FiberNET represents a unique opportunity for Palm Coast to create a profitable municipal utility. This is the first opportunity Palm Coast has to legally sell its FiberNET utility directly to residents and businesses. (White House PR, Link1, Link2.) Broadband internet is the utility of the future. I can say with 100 percent confidence that our city will continue to rely on high quality internet connection for more and more of its services. We have a proven track record that we can effectively run a utility. The problem with water is that it’s difficult to deliver and doesn’t scale well, so it’s almost impossible to turn a profit without sacrificing quality. From a managerial standpoint, the Palm Coast water utility is run very effectively. FiberNET operates as an enterprise fund. If we need to raise funds for improvements to our infrastructure – this is a great time to borrow money.
- Modernize the county’s radio-communication infrastructure. Ultimately the decision to upgrade our 800mhz communication systems must come from the county, the council is responsible for voicing a sense of urgency on the matter. City council members should be educated about the technical nuances of our cell towers, radios, and other communication systems. These systems are complex, but improving our knowledge will drive effective communication. Having both city and county emergency services responding to incidents and potentially losing communication to dispatch is unacceptable. City and county egos, mustn’t be allowed disrupt our public safety.
- Maintain a high quality of life in Palm Coast. Ensure that the Palm Harbor golf course remains open and operational. Achieve 100 percent cell phone coverage throughout the city. Implement citywide municipal wifi hotspots. Move towards smarter traffic systems, that dynamically adapt for changing road congestion. Eliminate Palm Coast’s digital divide that exists for children in lower income homes. (Link)
FiberNet launched almost seven years ago. If it couldn’t be the city’s revenue panacea then, when it needed revenue most, during the Great Recession, what would make it so now? What evidence do you have that public safety responses in the county or the city have ever been disrupted? Your third point sounds like a long list of costly wishes without any explanations about how you expect taxpayers to foot the bill. Without mentioning FiberNet, what authority, beyond changing ordinances to enable more or taller towers (something the council has already done), does a council member have to increase cell tower coverage? How would you pay for citywide wifi or eliminate the digital divide? What authority as a council member would you have to eliminate that divide?
As of 2015 municipalities are legally allowed to sell broadband directly to residents and businesses. The home technology ecosystem has changed dramatically over the past seven years, creating a much more advantageous setting for FiberNET to succeed. The consumer demand for increasing internet speed at reasonable prices continues to skyrocket. Palm Coast has the unique advantage of providing this service at a discounted rate to its residents with the ability to collect a very nice profit margin. Our quality of life will benefit while positioning Palm Coast to be more attractive to businesses looking to relocate. The time is right, it is a win for Palm Coast and a win for our residents and businesses.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with emergency service workers at both the city and county level that specifically identified situations where communication isn’t available after arriving to the scene, e.g., inside of the European Village. The disruption dove tails into the overall communication failures and lack of coverage throughout Palm Coast.
As a council member, we need to look into alternatives and other options by taking inventory of our existing structures, and if needed, planning for new cell towers. This will improve communication signals and eliminate the pockets of poor cell quality and dead zones. The city and county can work collaboratively to assess the feasibility of cell tower sites selected by the city for those locations within city limits. Members of city council have the authority to emphasize the urgency of finding a feasible solution as quickly as possible. There is also a market for providers to rent space in these strategic locations to improve their own coverage to meet consumer demand. This does not always have to be a “tall” tower. Smaller devices are used for localized dead zones that only need to be mounted 20-40 feet high and can be installed on any type of structure, e.g., electrical polls and light posts.
We can eliminate the digital divide through a citywide Wi-Fi system that allows only the school-issued devices to connect to the internet, for free. This free student service would be factored into the general public pricing, thus funded by FiberNET revenues. The residents will pay about what they are paying today or less, receive 25x the speed, and provide access to the internet for all students. It’s a win, win, win.
Do you have any evidence that any emergency response was actually affected by lack of coverage–where the outcome was worse than it could have been because of missed communications? You are not telling us how you would pay for the expansion of a city-wide wi-fi system without guarantees that the necessary and significant upfront investment in tax dollars would ever be repaid.
Thankfully I don’t have any evidence that indicates the loss of communication directly lead to worsening an emergency. The investments necessary to expand a city-wide wifi system would be considered Utility Improvements. Meaning the City of Palm Coast can seek funding through a bond, not resident tax dollars directly. Recently Palm Coast has had tremendous success financing bonds at phenomenal rates, sub 1 percent. I believe multiple feasibility studies are required, along with consulting residents to ensure we can achieve the necessary adoption rate to be successful is the most important part of determining whether or not to move forward with this type of investment.
Provide transparency to city strategy and initiatives. Right now, I think a lot of people are aggravated that there aren’t any new ideas to spur economic growth. This frustration leads to finger pointing, and promotes isolationism. FiberNET offers an opportunity to unite all of our citizens and businesses through a common goal.
Install smart traffic systems. Currently the traffic lights in Palm Coast don’t communicate with one another to coordinate traffic, but that’s something we can fix with FiberNET. Implementing a smart-traffic system would improve traffic flow for our growing population. Although our traffic may seem like a minor headache today, it will grow to be more painful with time.
Implement city wide cell phone coverage. I understand the difficulties that the county has faced trying to decide if now is the right time to move forward with a deal that would implement a trio of towers. I’d recommend feasibility studies to see if we (the city) could budget the project through an enterprise fund related to FiberNET. If not, we need to identify parcels that would fit the needs of a cell tower, and work out development with the county.
In the last few years, the city launched its Business Assistance Center, it contracted with a retail recruiter, and it works collaboratively with the county’s economic development department. Can the city really be accused of lacking new ideas? The finger-pointing of five or six years ago has given way to much collegiality, at least on that score, between governments. Do you have evidence to the contrary? The city council just approved a half-million dollar investment in the first phase of a smart-traffic system that will, in fact, rely on FiberNet. And your last point suggests a misunderstanding of two issues: the county’s emergency communications system and required towers has no relation to cell tower coverage, nor is it the city’s financial responsibility. Have you sought a meeting with either a county or a city official to better understand the issue?
I think the city has had plenty of new ideas. However, not all of them were good ideas, specifically the red light cameras. We have the right intentions, but I’ve yet to see a real initiative to increase city revenues that didn’t boil down to a ‘tax’ on residents. I fully understand that our emergency communication systems are separate from our cell towers. My suggestion was that Palm Coast takes a look at the feasibility of financing its own cell tower in lieu of not being able to successfully strike a deal with the county. Cell towers can be moneymakers. We can lease the space on the towers to telecommunication companies. This is just one of other alternatives already mentioned above, but to address the point of economic development, I feel the city needs to improve its “likability” to prospective businesses looking to relocate to Palm Coast. In addition to re-evaluating the cities existing codes, which the current administration has already started, we need to consider incentive modifications, and city services. Such as a streamlined permit/approval process with a city assigned liaison that can walk a business prospect through the system, start to finish and assist in any roadblocks and paperwork.
I have read the city charter. As for a charter review, I do not believe that reviews should be on some sort of interval; however, if interest in a specific issue is raised, we can discuss modifications. I’m not interested in changing from Council-Manager to any other form of city government.
Who do you mean by “we”?
By “we” I’m referring to anyone who wants to discuss modifications about the city charter. It’s not a private document, so people requesting changes should reference specifically what verbiage they’re referring to. The more we encourage individuals to read our charter, the higher probability that there can be constructive discussion on proposed modifications. Currently this is our governing document and the council and administrators must abide by it, but as history has proven, things change, it is the councils task to review and properly vet any challenge.
4. Palm Coast has the authority to impose a public service tax on your utility bill of up to 10 percent, and a franchise fee on utilities, which would be passed to customers, of up to 10 percent. The money may be spent at the council’s discretion. Many counties and cities around the state partially or fully levy one or both the taxes. Palm Coast considered imposing a 6 percent electric franchise fee and a 2 percent public service tax in 2012, but reversed course in the face of strong public opposition, even though the two new taxes were intended to replace the existing stormwater fee. Either of the new taxes, proponents argue, would diversify the city’s revenue stream. Either could be used to generate revenue that would otherwise have to be generated by property taxes, though the public service tax and the franchise fee are regressive in comparison. Where do you stand on either new tax becoming part of Palm Coast’s taxing structure?
I’m not in favor of implementing either because I believe we can generate more than enough revenues from FiberNET to justify not invoking these taxes. The city absolutely needs new revenue streams, but increasing taxes isn’t the answer.
5. Explain who provides ambulance and fire services in the city. Evaluate the quality of that service, including your assessment of the adequacy of fire stations and EMS, and what you would change, if anything, about it. If your proposed changes cost money, how would you pay for them?
Flagler County Fire Rescue provides the ambulances that make deliveries to the hospital. Palm Coast usually sends out a fire truck (which can arrive first) to administer advanced life support, which can be the difference between life and death. I think we have a very high quality of emergency services. There isn’t necessarily anything that I would change. I do support whatever we have to do to ensure the facilities are up to code and can house the vehicles we require as a city. I think there is always room to improve through technology. With a smarter street light coordination system, we can monitor traffic in real time and preemptively open routes for emergency vehicles. We could even facilitate communication with the county to ensure they have a clear path of travel to the hospital. Perhaps this would facilitate the county to allow Palm Coast to transport patients ourselves with their permission.
6. Palm Coast and the county have a sniping, at times competitive, at times antagonistic relationship, as if between fiefs. To what extent are the two elected bodies responsible? To what extent are the two government’s managers responsible? How will you help foster a less medieval relationship?
Responsibility follows the employee-org chart, but I believe the friction exists because we don’t share mutual goals. Palm Coast wants what’s best for the city, and the county wants to make sure we contribute to moving their goals forward. I’ll help foster a less medieval relationship by unifying city and county through a 21st century platform, FiberNET. It’s much easier for the city and county to see eye to eye when our agreements have both parties leaving the table with more than they came with.
The question was about the two elected bodies’ responsibilities in this antagonism, understanding that neither elected body has an “employee-org chart,” while a lack of “mutual goals” has generally not been an issue: in fact, with EMS, fire, emergency communications, the goals have not been in contention. So again: to what extent are the elected bodies responsible? And what has FiberNet got to do with seeing eye to eye?
It’s the responsibility of our elected officials to effectively communicate with one another. Operating professionally, without quarrels is a reasonable expectation of city staff and the council. The mayor and council answers to the residents of Palm Coast. The city manager must follow the directions posed by the council and the mayor by order of our cities charter.
The city council decides on the direction of the city through policy decisions and instructs the city manager how to implement our decisions. The city manager then works with his city management staff to execute. The city council is strictly forbidden from directly interfering with any city worker or their duties. These dynamics are intentional, and I don’t intend to modify them.
The council is at times criticized for being led by the administration, rather than the other way around. How do you see it?
The Palm Coast city council has one employee, the city manager. The city council should not solely rely on this position for direction. Instead, the city council should be better educated on all issues before making policy decisions. We cannot have a sounding board of one. At the end of the day, we need to respect the structure of the operational hierarchy of Palm Coast city government.
8. Jon Netts’s tenure as mayor spanned half the life of the city: eight years. Ceremonial duties aside, what should the next mayor continue that Netts did best, and what approach or method should the next mayor discontinue or do differently, including parliamentary conduct during meetings? How do you hope the next mayor distinguishes himself or herself from Netts?
The biggest accomplishment in my eyes, was Jon’s ability to prepare Palm Coast for the future, through infrastructure. Palm Coast’s FiberNET was ahead of its time, and has put us in the favorable position of being 10 years ahead of most cities around the country that are just starting to lay Fiber Optics.
You answered a small part of the question, but left the rest blank. Would you care to answer more completely?
Yes, our next mayor is going to be distinguished by how effectively he or she bridges the gap between city and county government. Of course having a strong working relationship with city council is just as important. If we work more collaboratively, it’s not only cost effective, but we can accomplish so much more for our residents. Another career defining moment for our next mayor would be to transform the perception that Palm Coast is not business friendly. I’d love to look back years from now and see the progression of our thriving economy.
9. Evaluate City Manager Jim Landon’s performance, citing strengths and weaknesses. His total compensation package is close to a quarter of a million dollars. He is seeking a raise. Would you grant it? [Note: the question went to candidates before the council’s vote rejected the request on July 19, though the question remains valid for the new council.]
His strengths include what seems like open communication to the Mayor and city council. It’s not always what the council wants to hear, but clear communication is critical. Whether or not I would be against keeping Jim Landon hinges partially on how receptive he is to the idea for monetizing Palm Coast FiberNET.
Landon’s weaknesses? His deserving a raise?
Jim Landon’s biggest weakness is public opinion. The Palm Coast residents that I’ve spoken with have said they do not believe Landon is business friendly. His deserving a raise was just settled with a 3-2 vote against issuing one. As to future raises, it would depend on many factors: current job performance, the employment market for similar positions, communication with staff and residents, and the growth of our city.
How would you have voted on the question of Landon’s raise?
I would have voted No. Landon has one of the highest salaries for his position per capita in the state of Florida. During the recession his total compensation package was still over $200,000. That’s not something a lot of people can say. With that being said I absolutely think we should clearly outline goals that if achieved would necessitate a raise. Having concise goals should help eliminate the “disjoin” on whether or not to increase his salary in the future.
10. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that contract, and tell us what specifically you would change about it. Are some areas of Palm Coast less effectively policed than others? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future?
An independent police department isn’t something I would favor now, or in the near future. By working with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office we gain access to all of their speciality units and departments that carry a tremendous upfront cost – which we would have to provide if on our own. Our sheriff’s department effectively polices our city, there are less than ~10 people arrested a day county wide. At a $2.7 million dollar budget, we are still below the national average for the cost of our police force per citizen.
11. The current council appears opposed to a civil citation program that would lessen the penalty for a first-time marijuana possession offense in many circumstances. Without Palm Coast’s approval, the county-wide effort is most likely doomed. Where do you stand on that proposal?
We need to look at this from an economics standpoint. Does it make sense to be incarcerating people for first time possession charges, instead of issuing fines via citations? My interest is in maximizing city revenues, and to facilitate the most effective environment for the FCSO to work in. We can progress both of those interests by preferring a civil citation program.
Do you expect revenue from a civil citation program to flow to the city?
I would expect revenue from a new civil citation program to operate in the same way existing programs do today. If a program is to be administered and carried out by county staff, in this case, the Flagler County Sheriff office, I see no difference with a “new” citation program and a speeding ticket.
Barely a fraction of speeding ticket revenue reverts to the sheriff. The rest goes to the court system and the state. The city itself would not be in line to profit from a civil citation program. That being the case, there is no economic standpoint, at least as a revenue-generator. Does your position still hold?
Money aside, my position still holds. I’m in support of civil citation programs across the state of Florida. These programs keep the youth that pose no real threat to society, out of the system. It’s important to note that admittance into a diversion program isn’t equivalent to receiving a ‘get out of jail free card.’ It’s my opinion, but I think these programs offer an opportunity for citizens (youth especially) to get their life on track, and potentially move forward in life without a felony record always lingering over their head.
12. Code enforcement: Palm Coast is clearly the harshest enforcer among local governments, regulating such things as garbage cans in view of the street, work vans with commercial imprints on their sides parked in residential areas, and of course tall grass. The city has a fleet of enforcers, and an enforcement board that routinely levies fines on violators. Complainers to the city can remain anonymous. How comfortable are you with that regime, and what, if anything, would you change?
I think that overall our code enforcement does a good job and is not overreaching. The service they provide makes our property values more consistent and penalizes bad actors. With that said, having the right individuals enforcing our regulations without being overzealous keeps the peace and balance in our community.
13. The Palm Harbor Golf Club and the city’s tennis club has been losing money since their inception while serving a relatively small number of club members. Should the two clubs stay open with city subsidies? If not, what’s your alternative?
It’s imperative that these facilities remain open. Their overall impact to the landscape of our community can’t be measured solely based on their profitability.
Do I feel like we can have a more supportive partner than Kemper? Yes. Through creative site utilization, we should strive to increase revenues. As a city, it’s critical we understand the real possibility that Palm Harbor Golf Course may never reach profitability, but there is a micro economy that relies on the course remaining open.
What is “creative site utilization,” and what “micro economy” are you referring to?
Creative site utilization includes any ideas that Palm Coast can fathom which will have a positive impact on possible revenue streams for our amenities. For example, bringing more community events to the golf course could help subsidize some of its operating expenses.
The micro economy or “submarket” consists of all properties around the Palm Harbor golf course and surrounding areas, both developed and undeveloped. As we’ve seen before, the marketability and value of these homes are severely impacted if the golf course falls into disrepair. Back in 2006 it was brutal for Palm Coast residents to watch the course fall into this costly cycle. I saw first hand how the course revitalization has rejuvenated the Palm Harbor neighborhood. The last thing residents want to see, and frankly the county and city, is devaluation of property values. I’m an avid golfer and outdoor enthusiast, so I understand the added value these amenities contribute to Palm Coast’s Quality of life. Even if you may not use the golf course, there is likely another amenity like our excellent trails and bike paths, or the Palm Coast Tennis Center that are all important and need to be maintained for the benefit of our community.
14. The city will be expanding and modernizing its community center next year. But residents from time to time have clamored for a senior center. Do you favor building and operating a stand-alone senior center? If so, how do you propose the city should pay for it?
First, we need to identify the role and needs that warrant construction of a brand new senior center. Second, we need effective dialog with our seniors to ensure the $2.5 dollar expansion of our community center incorporates their needs. Third, if the first two steps aren’t fruitful, then let’s investigate an opportunity to leverage a building that’s vacant. New construction in my opinion, should be a last resort.
15. Question customized for Nick Klufas: You come across as a more or less one-issue candidate. How is a city best served by a one-issue candidate when, in your own reckoning, the city must look out for its future?
I’m extremely passionate about technology, and excited about the opportunity Palm Coast has to leverage its existing infrastructure to raise revenues, holding off tax increases. Because of my overall enthusiasm on this issue, I can understand your question. I’m also an advocate for other issues like improving our ability to attract new businesses, enhancing our working relationship with Flagler County, addressing the concerns of our residents, streamlining the permitting and approval processes for residents and businesses, and finally advancing communication with our city council, mayor and manager. The other candidates are not offering anything new, just the rehashed issues. I believe that our city council will thrive with a more diverse group – which I can offer. I can bring new ideas, a younger generation’s perspective, and an ability to connect everyone, especially with attracting younger residents and startup businesses. I’m an active member of our workforce and my career allows me to be unbiased on city policy decisions. Also, my wife and I are starting our family here, we are strong supporters of local businesses, and we frequent our city’s beautiful amenities. I love this city and the great quality of life that we are afforded here. It’s a luxury to be able to play basketball, tennis, golf, and go for a run along the Intracoastal Waterway, all within 15 miles of my home.