Ron Radford, Palm Coast Mayoral Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | August 3, 2016
Ron Radford is a candidate for Palm Coast mayor. He faces three other candidates: John Brady, Milissa Holland, and Dennis McDonald.
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: March 21, 1941
Current job: Retired
Party Affiliation: Republican
Financial disclosure and Resume: Not submitted. (Radford says his net worth is $150,000.)
Website: Not submitted.
1) Reduce water and sewer monthly bills, 2) review the charter, 3) bring an in-house local attorney.
What percentage reduction are you looking for in rates, and how do you propose meeting the utility’s expenses and debt service with lower rates? How would an in-house attorney improve legal representation of the city, compared with the current arrangement that affords the city access to a firm’s stable of attorneys, paralegals and so on?
I am looking for a 10 percent reduction in the rate for water and sewer. If the $47 million that the utility department put into the enterprise fund for other city expenses, then the rate that the consumer would pay could be reduced. The other course that needs to be addressed is the yearly CPI. This tax which was not voted on by the public but by a secret ballot in 2006 by counsel was done in an effort to impose a tax on the water bills of the residents. [Editor’s note: Chris Quinn, Palm Coast’s finance director, explained the CPI issue this way in an email: “our Utility rate resolution includes an annual rate adjustment based on the June 30th CPI each year. This has been in place for quite a number of years. The idea is that the rates are adjusted annually by the CPI to be sure we are covering the increase in costs for producing water and treating sewer. It has always been part of any of our many public meetings on establishing utility rates, and can be seen in the 2013 Utility rate study that is on the City website, under the Finance section.”]
When you examine the work of the present law firm its ability and influence on the city’s legal standing was not always in the best interests of all of the people of Palm Coast. I believe that a local attorney who lives in this city would have the pulse of the city thereby rendering legal advice regarding the position of the people.
I remember Palm close when I visited many years ago. One of the things that impressed me was that it was the city that was moving forward. A lot of work went into the planning and laying out of the many bike paths that were available, the many walking paths that were available. My concern is that as we move forward as a city we maintain these amenities that the residents have grown accustomed to. But we can no longer just think of the old ways. We must keep in step with the changes. In our city we must employ the latest technology that will afford new businesses the opportunity to relocate here. As I speak to businesspeople who set up businesses in this town, the main problem I hear is that we are not very friendly to businesses. An example: a new company needed to install a new outlet. The cost for the insulation was $748 for the permit, $35 for the installation. Such cost will prevent this business from expanding. We need to maintain this city’s natural beauty. We need to make sure infrastructure will support the development for new businesses. New regulations must not discourage businesses from coming here. Our residents need to know that we are doing everything to attract and hold all business that will provide quality jobs for young people.
Some candidates during this election cycle have tended to criticize the city for focusing too much on beautification and aesthetics, not too little. Are you seeing any indications that the city is going lax on its appearance? What sort of technology are you referring to that might encourage businesses to relocate to Palm Coast? Your hope that infrastructure supports the development of new business is clear, but it appears to contradict your goal to lower utility rates, which would undermine maintenance and support of a crucial and in many respect aging part of the city’s infrastructure. Can you provide documentation of the case of the $783 outlet?
One of the things that impressed me when I first visited Palm Coast was its manicured lawns, clean streets and beautiful palms. If the city is focusing too much on the beautification aspect, we need to then examine that. Why are we spending dollars to keep up this beautification ? How are the residents proposing to maintain this beauty?
The technology that I believe would benefit business and the residents of Palm Coast needs to have two elements. One, the ability to locate here using the many resources that are available, such as housing, land and other amenities. The community on the other hand needs to make sure that our schools are preparing our young people with the right vocational skills that will be a resource for any company moving to the area. My first-hand experience was with the new business that was starting here in Palm Coast. The owner stated to me that upon seeking to put an outlet in one room they were faced with a building permit which costs $783 and that the actual work course was $35. The owners also stated that they were hesitant in applying for a any other permit because of this first experience.
Ron Radford did not provide documentation for the $738 claim.
Yes I have read the city charter yes I believe it is due for a revision. An example that the city charter fails to address is the necessary petitions that an individual needs to collect in order for the Council to act upon it. The present city charter that you a citizen have to file is 25 percent of the people in your district which is contrary to state law, which says you only need 10 percent from your district to file a petition.
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 believe present source of revenue for the city is more than enough to meet operating expenses. What happened to the $46 million dollars that the utility department transferred out. Where did it go? New taxes would provide an additional expense which many city residents on fix incomes cannot afford.
Can you document what $46 million the utility “transferred out,” and when?
Ron Radford did not answer the question.
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 quality of services that the city and County provide meets the needs of our residents.
Can you tell us who is responsible for the ambulance and fire services in the city? Your answer suggests that you’re in agreement with the county: there’s no need for additional ambulances in city fire stations?
The responsibility for fire and ambulance service are shared between the county and the city. The residents of Palm Coast are not concerned regarding who initiates the call when help is needed. The residents need to know that that service will be rendered.
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?
The snipping that is taking place between the county and the city needs to be addressed. Both boards need to meet on a regular basis and talk about the different approaches that both have. If need be, a sub-committees set up to address any bone of contention.
But to what do you attribute the problems in the relationship? Who would serve on that subcommittee? How open would it be to the public?
At the present time the Council seems to be unable to communicate effectively with the city manager.
The city Council cannot advocate its duties to the sections that they represent. Failure to bring up important issues that their community is facing would be derelict to their position and constituents.
Are you saying that council members are inhibited from bringing up issues of concern to the manager at council meetings? Can you cite examples of such concerns going unaddressed because of alleged council member timidity?
Recently one of the city Council members was approached by citizens in her district regarding an event or incident that they would like to have the Council respond to. When the city council member approached Landon to have the issue come before the board he said no.
Can you more specifically document this issue, name the council member, tell us about the incident?
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 mayor is the face of the city and his presence and participation to the many local residents of the city plays an important role in our diverse community.
Certainly, but you did not answer the question. Can you try again?
Ron Radford did not answer the question.
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.]
The city manager has been free of any evaluation concerning his performance and duties as the city manager. The city Council members need to evaluate whether or not his performance and duties are in line with responsibilities that are his to do with his contract. Recent Council meeting indicated that he had been derelict in some of his duties. Unless evaluation and reports show he is functioning up to par, there should be no pay increase.
Landon was recently denied a pay increase but only because a majority of council members see his pay as where it should be for now. There as never a mention, at that or any other meeting–recent or otherwise–of any dereliction on the manager’s part, a maligning accusation you leave unexplained, and that’s not supported by evidence, recent reporting or council comments. Can you document it?
Mr. McGuire who was a sitting council member objected to the automatic increase “in pay for Mr. Landon” because he had not been evaluated by his peers.
Ron Radford did not answer the rest of the question.
[Editor’s note: Landon had, in fact, been evaluated by four of the five council members by the time McGuire voted against giving the manager a raise. McGuire was the only council member who did not file an evaluation.]
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?
The city of Palm Coast has a contract with the sheriff to provide policing for our community. To duplicate these services by instituting our own Police Department would expose its citizens to inexperience and a costs that the city might never recover from during and after the new department is established.
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?
Ron Radford did not answer the question.
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?
Code enforcement needs a civilian review regarding its practices and procedures. Some residents have complained that code enforcement sometimes is on a witch hunt while other residents feel that we need a better understanding of this department and its duties and responsibilities.
Code enforcement officers are civilians, and the code enforcement board is intended as a review board that provides some oversight to the department’s practices. Do you find that arrangement inadequate? Are you comfortable with anonymous complaints to code enforcement?
I believe that the code enforcement people are not hiding or spying on the residents of Palm Coast. The citizens of Palm Coast have asked for some restrictions or use of homes in their community. I would not like to make known the names of people who are seeking to have to address the problem that concerns them.
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?
The expense of golf club and tennis court needs to be run by professionals and not the city. The taxpayers of the city can no longer subsidize a sport that is used only by a few. The present company that is running our golf course indicated to the city that it would be profitable five years ago. The new report indicates that we could never be profitable in our life time. We need to cut losses and move on.
The golf club is run by gold professionals, KemperSports, as is the tennis club, not by the city. How does the city cut its losses and move on? Close the clubs? Remove KemperSports and run the facilities with city employees, which would require additional employees and costs to taxpayers?
Kemper sport was hired by the city to improve and change this golf course. I do not know what restraints or restrictions they were given by the city but they did indicate that within five years they could make this course profitable. Did they underestimate what was needed in order to make this course profitable? Or did they hope beyond hope that the miracle would happen because it was golf? Recently I was having lunch with the owners of another golf course who had approached the city to run this course. These owners felt that they could make this course, profitable.
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?
Many of the senior citizens of this town would love to have a meeting place. I believe that we need provide to those citizens, many of whom are pioneers in the development and growth of Palm Coast. I have been told that there are grants that would facilitate having a senior citizen building. Before we begin thinking of raising more taxes we need to put together a committee that will be dedicated to establishing a senior citizen center.
Can you cite the example of one grant that could underwrite the cost of a multi-million dollar senior center? Assuming that such a grant is secured, how do you propose to run the senior center, which will require additional staff, without raising taxes?
I do not have the expertise of writing grants but I do know of people who have written grants. If the federal government will give grants to people to study the habits or the mating behavior of a fly, why not fund a program that will benefit the senior citizens?
15. Question customized for Ron Radford: You are campaigning for less regulation, lower utility rates, a hold on taxes, yet you are calling for more attention to the city’s infrastructure and beautification programs to ensure that it becomes a better business destination and remains the attractive place it’s been. How do you reconcile the two approaches?
Ron Radford did not answer the question.