Sims Jones, Palm Coast City Council Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | July 29, 2016
Sims Jones is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 1. He faces three other candidates: Robert Cuff, Troy DuBose, and Arthur McGovern, Jr.
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 are 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.
Of all the candidates running for Palm Coast City Council, only one–Milissa Holland–has held 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 by mostly retired council members.
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.
If a candidate wins more than 50 percent in any of these races on Aug. 30, the race is over: that candidate is the winner. But if none of the candidates clears the 50 percent hurdle in the primary, then the top two vote-getters will face-off in a run-off on the general election ballot on Nov. 8.
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
- Fiscal responsibility
Place and Date of Birth: Brooklyn, N.Y., Aug. 10, 1956.
Current job: Run People Helping People Center, Bunnell.
Party Affiliation: Democrat.
Senior Center, jobs, activities for young adults and youth. To pay for these priority, I intend to bring together Government, the Private Sector and Business for a common goal.
For 29 words, it’s quite a mouthful. But as you’ve said in forums that you intend to be the people’s voice, we wish you’d be more expansive in your answers. Can you name one or two private sector businesses that you could bring together with city government to be on the hook for the cost of a senior center? Can you name one business that would assume any part of the operating costs of such a center? Do you see Palm Coast going ahead with a senior center without raising taxes? Regarding jobs, every candidate for local office in recent memory has promised jobs. To date, not a single one has delivered, though the county’s job rolls have grown by more than 40 percent in eight years on their own. What makes you different? What jobs could you bring? Do you consider Palm Coast’s activities for youths insufficient?
At this time I can’t name any businesses to be on the hook for the senior center with the city because I am currently trying to get the city to understand the need for the center. Without the city on board businesses won’t even talk to you. I believe we can have a senior center without raising taxes. The key is looking at how we can do it using current buildings. There are two building, the old Matanzas golf course, or the building off Colbert lane. As for jobs, we need to look more to manufacturing jobs, we have a lot of retail jobs, but need jobs for people to make money to buy from the retail stores. Concerning our youth, the activities for young people are highly insufficient. Most activities are sports related. What about those not into sports. There’s no place to sit down and talk, to fellowship with friends, to be entertained, even a roller skating rink would be good–to give them something to do. Not just get into trouble.
We are not familiar with the buildings at the old golf course or off Colbert Lane. Can you specify? Those activities you describe that are needed for youths–how do the Youth Center (and its skating rink) and Wadsworth Park (and its skateboard rink) just outside city limits and several parks within city limits not match those needs you are referring to?
My mistake, it’s the street going to European Village on the left. The youth activities needs to be for all youths. The skateboard rink and the youth center limits activities. You can’t get something to eat or just sit and socialize with your peers.
Senior Center, trust in the Palm Coast city government, better use of city funds, helping the city citizens feel that they are a part of the city. Senior Center, as stated in question one, to bring together Government, the Private Sector and Business for a common goal. For the trust, I will have regular town hall type meetings. And show the people that their city government cares about them.
You are not telling us how you will convince the council to change course on senior centers, nor are you telling us, readers, what your argument for a senior center may be: what evidence do you have that it’s needed, or that as a costly expansion, it’s needed more than other priorities? Can you more specifically explain how Palm Coast government does not care about residents–and tell us what, in your view, it does care about? Mayor Jon Netts has had regular town hall meetings throughout his tenure, though they tend to be less of a public draw than community-access basic cable shows. How do such meetings make a difference beyond the weekly, open meetings of the council itself?
When I moved my mother-in-law from New York to Palm Coast, she was looking for something to do here. Seniors want to be active, useful, not sitting home looking at the TV, but interacting with their peers, getting a hot meal, doing things that help them feel it will improve their quality of life. They can be educated about things important to them. The Seniors of Palm Coast have already made themselves heard. They want it. In my view and according to people I have spoken with, the city is not people-oriented. The city looks more at beautifying the median of the roadway and not as much on activities for the people. Food Truck Tuesday is good but what else does the city do? What about an open-air concert, or a fair? Concerning the town hall meetings we need to listen to the people, then bring answers back to them. See some people can’t make the council meeting. We should go the extra mile and get answer back to the people.
I have looked and read the city charter, I think 10 years is too long between reviews. All thing are subject to change, as the times change, lets look at how to improve it.
Sure, but can you cite one or two specific examples of what you, Sims Jones, might change in the charter?
When I read the charter, to me it was generalize and didn’t have much spelled out how to do something. Look at vacancies, It said what to do but not how to do it.
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 think one or both taxes can be considered, if funds are used to better the lives of the residence and families of Palm Coast. If used responsibly and for the needed activity for the people, they would have no problem paying a little more taxes, the key is responsibly.
Can you give us an example of an irresponsible use of tax revenue currently, and another example of a responsible use of new tax revenue?
At Holland Park, is the city to blame for a contractor’s deficiencies? Was renovation of the park irresponsible?
In my opinion yes, I know contractors have problems, we should have known about it earlier and taken whatever steps we could have before it got to this point.
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?
The city has its own Fire and Ambulance Service which is backed up or supplement by the county Fire and Ambulance Services, I believe that the quality of service is good, but all things can be improved. I do believe that a unified department could be more efficient. I could be wrong but we are paying for a city department and a county department. We could save money by merging the departments. It could save the tax payer money.
In fact, the city provides fire services and advanced life support on medical calls, but the county provides the ambulance service. How can things be improved? More fire stations? More ambulances stationed in the city? What evidence do you have that consolidation would provide substantial savings?
The fire services in my opinion can be improve with consolidation. Being under one control operations can be stream lined, you won’t have conflict between city and county personnel. We also won’t be paying for both city and county services, saving money which can be used on other projects in the city.
You are still not giving us actual evidence that what you say will either save money or make the system more responsive.
I don’t have the figures to show it.
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?
First the two managers need to understand that they were hired to do a job for the city and county. They are not children and need to do the job the people want them to do, leave the personal and antagonism at the door, and do their jobs. Both the county and city leadership should step up and lead and drive the ship. Working together will get more things done. You both were elected to do a job, Do your Job.
What will you do specifically as a council member to foster a better relationship with the manager and county administrator?
I would sit down with the city manager and find out what the problem is and ask one of the county commissioners to sit down with the county administrator then the four of us get together and hash it out.
In or out of the sunshine?
One council man and City manager plus one county commissioner and county administrator do not break the sunshine law.
You’re right, but the question is about what you favor, and goes to your attitude toward transparency on a council that has generally preferred to hold such meetings out of the sunshine just because it can, rather than take the initiative to be more open–as it certainly can, too, if it so chooses.
I do believe in the sunshine law. In this case I wanted the leadership the try to fix the problem between the two parties, if it couldn’t be settle then both boards should deal with it publicly. First lead then do what you have to do.
It appears that the city manager is calling the shots. The council should be calling the shots, the bucks stop with them. They don’t deal with the day to day operation of the city but the most important decision should be made by the council. The Council should not look as if it were just a rubber stamp for the city manager.
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?
I think Netts was a good mayor for the time he served. He was out there representing Palm Coast. But there comes a time for a change, and a different way of looking at things. It’s time for a new way of looking at things, and I hope the new mayor would think outside of the box. I didn’t feel that Netts did that.
Can you give us an example or two of what you mean by a different way of looking at things? One example of outside-the-box thinking (senior centers aside)?
Different ways at looking at things is what Is good for the people of palm coast, look at ways to improve relationship with the city by reaching out to community leaders and work on more interactions and support. If you want friends you must show yourself friendly.
Sims Jones did not answer the question more specifically.
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.]
My evaluation of the city manager is that he does a good job running the city operation, but I’m concerned about some of the deals made which cost the city money, and time on some projects. At this time I would not grant him a raise, because of some of the projects problems and his attitude when answering questions and working with others.
You have concern about costly “deals.” Can you cite them, and explain what, about them, concerns you?
Holland Park, where was the Bond that would have protected the city against a contractor walking off or not completing the job. $ 500.000 for traffic control, Where are the two or three requests for proposals for things we want to do.
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?
I believe that the city should have had its own police department. As a city of our size we could have policed ourselves. It’s too late now, it would cost us more money now to have our own police department. So we’ll have to keep the county Sheriff and hope the cost doesn’t go too high.
An autonomous police department aside, which you consider off the table for now, you did not answer the question about policing as it is currently. Can you try again?
The problem I have with the sheriff policing Palm Coast is a relationship with the people of Palm Coast. The sheriff’s deputies are moved all over the county. There’s no community policing. They can be in Palm Coast today, Bunnell tomorrow, the unincorporated part of the county the next day. Because of that they can’t form relationships with the people they serve. The city of Palm Coast should have had its own police force. I believe if the city had a police department. I think there would be a better relationship with the police and the people of Palm Coast. The county Sheriff department is spread too far.
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?
This is an easy one for me. We are living in difficult times. People make mistakes. That mistake can ruin or destroy a family that is trying to make it in difficult times. We are not talking about hardened criminals, but people who do something stupid or make a mistake in judgement. Why use a two by four when a little mercy or compassion can go along way. Remember these are first-time offenders.
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?
We need to look at the harshness of our code enforcement. I believe we can ease up on some codes and still keep our city clean and safe. Even the work vans that small businesses use and park in residential driveways. It’s hard for our small business to make a living. The cost of storage for van-type vehicles makes it hard on our small business. We could keep the Code for large vehicles but ease up on the van type of vehicles.
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?
We have invested so much in the clubs already. We need to look at ways to promote and improve the management of them to make them more attractive and profitable so they can sustain themselves.
Palm Coast through KemperSports has been looking at ways to promote and improve the management for seven years, without success. What more can be done? And what would be your alternative, if that keeps failing, as history suggests it will?
If KemperSports couldn’t do the job for seven years, we need to let KemperSports go. Take the time to vet someone else. If we keep KemperSports we will continue to get the same results. We don’t have a choice, get some one new.
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?
I have been fighting for a Senior Center for so long. People in the community want a senior center. The center should be a stand-alone center, used to educate, feed, train, inform and entertain the seniors. Adding to a community center won’t work, If we think outside the box we can get the community, business, and government to buy in and keep the cost down for everyone. Palm Coast is 60 percent seniors, lets show them our love, respect, and concern for them. [Editor’s note: the proportion of people 65 and over in Palm Coast is 47 percent, according to the latest census figures.]
15. Question customized for Sims Jones: You’re a pastor, a preacher, a motivational speakers at times, a champion of causes at others, but in every answer here, even in your campaign for a senior center, you spoke in generalities with little grasp for the basic operations of the city or the dynamics of the council. If the brevity of your answers is an indication, you seem to have little patience for the details of governance or the burden of the new ideas you say are needed. Why should voters see in you an effective choice for council?
If it seem I’m talking in generalities it is because I can only answer with the information I get. When you get a powerpoint and no other options, or explanation, what can you do. When I spoke about the senior center, and was told that adding on to the community center would take care of the seniors’ needs, it came out later that food and training was not included in the planning. About me, What the voters will see in me is the end of the status quo. I will look at all information and find other ways of doing something. I will not be a rubber stamp for things put before me.