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Denise Calderwood, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview

| August 15, 2016

denise calderwood

Denise Calderwood. (c FlaglerLive)

Denise Calderwood is a Republican candidate for Flagler County Commission, District 3. Her opponents in the Aug. 30 Republican primary is Donald O’Brien. The winner will face Democrat incumbent George Hanns in the Nov. 8 general election.  This is Calderwood’s second Live Interview. You can read her 2014 interview here.

Three seats are up on the commission in this election cycle, and a fourth seat, that of the late Frank Meeker, will be filled by governor appointment. That means that potentially, all but one seat on the commission–the one currently held by Nate McLaughlin–could turn over.

This is partisan election. That means only registered Republican voters in Flagler County, regardless of address or district, may cast a ballot in the Aug. 30 primary. The two incumbent Democrats have drawn no opponents in their primaries, so they do not appear on the primary ballot.

Flagler County Commission members serve four years. They’re paid $50,900 a year.

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

The Basics: Denise Calderwood

Place and Date of Birth: Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 28, 1967.
Current job: Security Officer  Plantation Bay, Grant Consultant, Adjunct College Professor
Party Affiliation: Republican
Net Worth: $231,200 (See the financial disclosure)
Website: On Facebook

1. What qualifies you to be a county commissioner?

I am the only candidate who has had the pleasure of working for the citizens of Flagler County, first as a Deputy Sheriff and then for the Flagler County Health Department as a Community Organizer.  I have regularly attended County Commission meetings, have spoken on several issues and have been a Volunteer Executive Director  who has received and managed several thousand dollars of Flagler County Taxpayers money, when I founded and managed the Flagler Teen Center and Family Matters of Flagler.

Qualifications also include being able to convince voters you’re the person for the job: You ran for sheriff in 2000 and lost in a two-way Republican primary with 34 percent of the vote, you ran for county commission two years ago and lost as an independent to Nate McLaughlin with 40 percent of the vote. What’s different this time that would convince voters to give you a majority? 

The difference this time is that I have demonstrated to the voters that I am committed to serving the residents of Flagler County, whether it is as a citizen, County Commissioner, Sheriff, or a volunteer Executive Director of a not for profit. I am proud to call Flagler County my home and for that reason, I am offering the citizens a choice that is different. I am not a Realtor, I am not an insurance person. I am a small business owner who writes grants and is trying to make a living working in Flagler County, who is also a trained public servant. Actually, the citizens of Flagler Beach paid for my education when I was a police officer and then when I worked for the state of Florida, I had the opportunity to attend college for free and I earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. I am very grateful that this benefit was offered to me and as a result, I chose to study public administration. The difference is maybe people are actually fed up enough to do the right thing and vote some people out of office.

2016 Election Interviews

Supervisor of Elections

Kaiti Lenhart
Kimble Medley
Abra Seay


Jim Manfre (D)
Don Fleming (R)
Larry Jones (D)
John Lamb (R)
Jerry O'Gara(R)
Rick Staly (R)
Mark Whisenant (R)
Chris Yates (R)
Thomas Dougherty (I)

Palm Coast City Council

Robert Cuff (Dist. 1)
Troy DuBose (Dist. 1)
Sims Jones (Dist. 1)
Art McGovern Jr. (Dist. 1)
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Anita Moeder (Dist. 3)
Pam Richardson (Dist. 3)
John Brady (Mayor)
Milissa Holland (Mayor)
Dennis McDonald (Mayor)
Ron Radford (Mayor)

Flagler School Board

Colleen Conklin (Dist. 3)
Jason Sands (Dist. 3)
Paul Anderson (Dist. 5)
Maria Barbosa (Dist. 5)
Sharon Demers (Dist. 5)
Myra Middleton-Valentine (Dist. 5)

Flagler County Commission

Charlie Ericksen (Dist. 1)
Ken Mazzie (Dist. 1)
Daniel Potter (Dist. 1)
Jason France (Dist. 3)
Dave Sullivan (Dist. 3)
Denise Calderwood (Dis. 5)
Donald O'Brien (Dist. 5)

2. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, what your temperament is like: what would your enemies say is your best quality, and what would your friends say is your worst fault? Give is real-life examples to illustrate your answer.

I am one of the most honest and forthright people you will ever meet. I care about people but at the same time I am not a pushover.  I am willing to hold people accountable for their actions, no matter who they are, homeless person, a reporter, the County Administrator, attorney or a developer.   I am a no nonsense individual who is willing to take a stand for social justice that is right for the majority of the people in the community, and not just a select few. My enemies never speak to me. I hear statements secondhand and when I confront them about what I was told they deny that they have ever said it. When I provide documentation of accomplishments and what I have done they deny their existence and then don’t read the support information and they still talk and on occasion the discussion has been presented at actual County Commission meetings.

I have contemplated suing my enemies but I know the process is costly and when it has been done the process has been drawn out and still nothing changes. I have an ability to remember the past and I am not afraid to bring it back up and some say the past is the past, even if it has only been a week. And I am not beholden to anyone and I feel strongly that one can be an effective county commissioner without being led by a select few.

“I have an ability to remember the past and I am not afraid to bring it back up.” You sound vindictive. Is that a misreading? Or perhaps a misprint?

I do not have a vindictive bone in my body. I do not have the time, nor the inclination to be that way. I am an optimistic person who believes that the majority of people do things for the right reason- and still to this day I am shocked to find out how low some people will go to get what they are after- was Machiavelli right? Does the end result justify the means?


3. What are the three most critical issues facing the county, and where do you stand on each?

Our county has several critical issues and picking three can be difficult. One of them is paying the bills that are due without raising taxes and using the rollback rate still is raising taxes so these purchases need to be explained.  Our existing commission has spent a lot of money recently with big ticket expenditures and how we are paying for them needs to be outlined and discussed so everyone understands. Growth is a big issue and it is coming back and we are not prepared for the cost that growth brings and impact fees don’t cover the true cost so we need to do long term planning coupled with short term decision making. Communication between the county and the municipalities that lie within the county has become strained and I believe that we need to do a concerted effort to resolve our differences in philosophies.

Going to rollback is by definition not a tax increase, as it not only reduces the tax rate (if property rates have improved, as they have for the past few years) but it keeps revenue flat. You mention the commission spending on a lot of big ticket items, but you don’t name them (though you mention two below). If you are referring to the jail, the sheriff’s operations center and the Plantation bay utility are three, the commission outlined how it would pay for them (the sales tax supplement in the case of the first two, a loan that rate-payers will be charged to pay back in the case of the third), as anyone attending commission meetings or following the issues in local media might know. Admittedly it’s dull as sin to do so, but you’re running for the commission and you claim to be familiar with its works. Are you suggesting the commission financed these projects in secret? Where precisely do you see the commission failing in preparing for growth, even though in the answer to the question below you say the county is in fact planning for the future? How would you as a commissioner work to resolve conflicts with Palm Coast?

I recently attended a meeting held at Plantation Bay where County Administrator Craig Coffey, Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, Chair Barbara Revels, county staff and project consultants spoke regarding the complex issues surrounding the purchase, quality of water and how to pay for improvements.  To fix the issue, it is going to cost a lot more than what was allocated and a statement was made that we still have a way to go to raise the funds necessary through grants, loans and rate increases to make all of the improvements required. The money is there to make the system compliant ready for the first consent order but not the second and third one is still unaddressed. It appears that a lot more money is going to be needed to remain compliant and where is that all going to come from? The rate increases will not be able to sustain what the market is willing to pay, and residents of Plantation Bay are already paying three times more than what the consultant’s recommended when the study was commissioned to purchase the utility.  Several of the residents had great comments and it appeared to me that what they had to say was not even considered and in some cases, some residents were stopped before they could even make their voices heard.

The County is failing to prepare for growth because we can only go so far with the sales tax money. Future growth and the use of impact fees, once re-instated, will not fully pay for the future needs of residents. We need to be following our comprehensive plan and our strategic plan documents. The county staff and administrator needs to be more strategic in their planning. How about considering instituting an ECHO program like Volusia did- we have great Environmental, Cultural, Historic and Outdoor recreation projects but we have very little money set aside to fund these efforts. These type of activities draw in businesses and make Flagler County as unique as it really is- after all we are home to the Florida Agricultural Museum and we are now even paying for its Executive Director’s benefits even though it is its own not for profit. Was any other not for profit in Flagler County offered that opportunity?

You’re still telling us what the issue is but not the solution. What does it mean to be “more strategic in their planning”? Flagler’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands program has been in place for decades. It’s not identical–it’s more limited–but similar to Volusia’s ECHO in many respects. Do you find it insufficient?


4. What do you think county government is doing well, and how will you build on that? What do you think county government is doing poorly, and what will you do to improve matters?

The county is planning for future growth by building the new $18 million  jail and the $7 million dollar Sheriff’s Administration Center and expanding Princess Place that is good but those are not enough-that is just one part of the picture. For three years I have been advocating for the need to have a one stop social service center and for programming that  encompasses services for the homeless and disenfranchised.  We have the property to do it. However, we just don’t have the desire or the vision by our elected officials and county staff that the need is here.  I think the county is doing a poor job at providing services for the average resident. We have a lot of seniors here and we haven’t had an increase in senior or social services and actually we have had a decrease. This does not make sense. The County does not have a grant writer on staff but we sure pay a lot of money for grant consulting services and only get limited services for that money. We have a Special Projects Coordinator, however this position keeps having turnover and I am not sure why…is the job description too vague, too difficult or not clear cut and the expectations of employee does not meet up with the expectations of the person who supervises this position–the County Administrator?  I believe the County Administrator needs to do a better job of communicating his vision and ideas to the general public and he needs to be more transparent.  Too many projects get approved before the general public knows about them. And when one requests information under the Sunshine Law they have to be very specific or else the information is not provided-only partially.

5. What would you change about the EMS, or ambulance, system in the county and in Palm Coast, if anything? Where do you stand on consolidation of fire services with cities, understanding that cities would be resistant: would consolidation save money? To what extent do you think turf and pride as opposed to bottom lines prevent consolidation?

The issue of efficiency of services needs to be the overriding reason behind doing anything in regards to EMS services. I believe that the issue needs to be studied by an outside entity and we need guidance in regards to why the county has the authority to say no to the city without having a way to appeal the process. I get frustrated when I see all of the emergency personnel responding to one scene and with big unnecessary fire trucks when a jumper truck would do.  When this is done, it ties up services for others who may be in need. This is an issue where the county and the city do not agree, consolidation or the creation of an inter-local agreement for services needs to be outlined and presented in such a way that makes sense to all parties-to the cities, both financially and ownership wise. I know that the residents that I have spoken to don’t care who responds-they just want to make sure that their needs are being met, that they are getting what they need and pay for   and that their voices are being heard. I don’t believe it is turf per se but they want to have local control which could be solved by creating an agreement that addresses these concerns similar to the the one that the City has with the Sheriff’s Department regarding law enforcement services.

You mention the current arrangement tying up services for others who may be in need, though poor service has never been an issue either Palm Coast or the county have mentioned as a reason behind the discussions about more efficiency. Money is. Can you document cases where residents went without a rapid response from EMS? What precisely do you mean by “local control” that’s not already in place now, regarding the delivery of EMS services, since residents generally don’t care and don’t know whether it’s the county or Palm Coast that’s actually transporting them to hospitals, as long as they’re getting transported? 

I never stated that response time nor quality was an issue. I believe that both agencies fall within the expected response times due to the proper placement of the fire house and EMS units, and if they aren’t, then it is up to the Chiefs respectively to plan the staffing and future selection of fire station so that they can remain within the response times. I understand it is more to do with money and control and probably more emphasis placed on control. Turf issues are always discussed and at times, I know that mutual aid has to be called before other jurisdictions will respond and hopefully, the conflict that exists now will be resolved before an issue happens when no one responds because we thought someone else was responding.

You did not state that response time or quality was an issue, but you described yourself frustrated at situations where the response “ties up services for others who may be in need,” which implies there is a problem. So in reality there is no such problem, as you cannot document a case where others went in need because of tied up resources?

6. Explain where we are as a county with our 800 mhz emergency communications system and evaluate the county’s approach in updating the system, explaining where you see flaws or strengths in that approach. Palm Coast and the sheriff consider the county’s approach to be laggard. Do you agree?

Our county’s 800 mhz system is outdated and old and I believe within one year or maybe less,  it will not be supported by the manufacturer anymore so we are behind in having those discussions about how we are going to be paying for the new costly equipment that it will take to provide. [Editor’s Note: while the parts for the current system will no longer be manufactured by the end of 2017, the system will still be supported for the next several years, and the county has a contract in place for that support.–FL]

I was working in the county as a deputy when the new system was purchased and at that time it was the best equipment available. We need to do that again. I strongly believe that this discussion should have occurred before we made the decision to buy the “old Hospital.” And the issue is going to become just like the Sheriff’s computer system, we wait until it crashes to take action and that approach whether you call it laggard or obstinate puts us all at risk and in addition would make the purchase more costly when we wait until there is a crisis.

The current system’s payments end in 2020. Would you be willing to double up on debt and buy the new system before 2020? With what money, short of a referendum?

Yes, I believe we should since the parts will not be available to fix the existing system in the near future. We should have been funding or planning for the eventual purchase of this capital expenditure all along. Maybe we should have fixed the radio system before we decided to use the sales tax to purchase the new Sheriff’s Administration building.

7. 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?

I believe that the ongoing issue of communication between the City and the County needs to be addressed and it needs to be done on a comprehensive level. Not one issue at a time. We have a major problem between two big egos, Jim Landon and Craig Coffey and their behavior needs to be addressed. If not by them, then it needs to be addressed by the elected officials. Both the Mayor of Palm Coast and the Chairman of the County Commission are responsible too because it is the elected officials who have responsibility for the employment of the City and County Administrator. Both of these men have too much power and they feel that they can do whatever they want, when they want without allowing the community any say. When issues arise that the citizens are concerned about, the response has been lately, the citizens don’t know what they are talking about. I think both of these individuals fail to realize who pays their salaries: “we the people.”

Can you give us one or two examples of Craig Coffey responding as you claim he did?

I have met with Mr. Coffey on several occasions and spoke to him on different projects. He listens and then he wants you, the citizen, or me as a private consultant to give him the research and the specifics. He does not appear to be genuine when he listens to the community and on occasion he has made comments that the citizens don’t know what they are talking about or his usual response is well the facts are being misinterpreted or misrepresented. It is up to Mr. Coffey to set the record straight. The citizens have the right to ask questions, even if they seem to be farfetched. One would hope that you have an informed electorate but in this day everyone only reads the headlines and takes what is said for fact when sometimes it is known to be fiction. And one would hope that their elected officials do their own independent research.

8. Where do you stand on a civil citation program for first-time offenders caught with small amounts of pot, and other minor crimes?

I support the idea of a civil citation program. In 2012, I was responsible for bringing the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice here to meet with the State Attorney’ s Office and the Sheriff’s Office to design the civil citation program for juveniles that is currently in place. This program needs to be fully utilized and the process of working together can occur with adults. The component that is missing though is the social service resources that need to go along with this type of program, like expanding drug treatment programs and the creation of a halfway house or supportive programs for homeless or the mentally challenged.

Can you document the claim that you were instrumental in getting the civil citation program in place?

9. Between March 2010 and March 2016, Flagler County residents holding jobs increased by 52 percent (or by 15,000). Only a few dozen of those jobs can be attributed to the county’s $500,000-a-year economic development department, keeping in mind that the department’s most touted job coup—the 300-job promise of Aveo Engineering at the airport—was a bust. Is that department still necessary? Can you point to substantial reasons and examples that make its expense worth the price to taxpayers?

I think this issue is very complex and I was excited about the county’s approach when it was first established but now it has become basically what you have said here-a lot of smoke and mirrors. Flagler County is a great place to live and it always has been, so do we really need this department? Maybe, maybe not, but the same can be said for the newly established tourism office that is costing us more and there has been little discussion on that issue as well. [Editor’s Note: the county’s tourism office is subsidized with revenue from the sales tax supplement on short-term rentals, including hotels and motels, not by property tax revenue, which does pay for the economic development office.]

I used to attend the monthly economic development meetings but then they turned bureaucratic and nothing appears to be happening. The excitement has worn off so now is the time to hold the staff responsible for their actions and do an evaluation to see where the return on investment is. The Brownfield program is an example of how we can do more but we haven’t targeted those investors who purchase these sites across the country. We only say in the literature that the program is available. I believe that we have gotten more results from the Airport Enterprise fund and Roy Sieger, the airport director, than we have gotten from the Economic Development Department. If we truly examine the issue of economic development and job creation we would realize that we are not getting our money’s worth and that the groups that have come here came on their own.

10. The past four years were dominated by major capital projects: a new sheriff’s operations center, an expanded jail, the taxpayer-subsidized transformation of the old courthouse into a parochial school, and the acquisition of the Plantation bay utility. What, on your watch, will be the next batch of major projects? Rate, in order of importance, the following projects: a senior center, a new library, a west-side fire station.

I think the Library and the Senior Center are number one. The west side fire station issue has at least in part been addressed when they revamped the existing one in 2015. I spoke on that issue when the county decided to invest a substantial amount of unbudgeted money at Bull Creek campground to benefit a private business owner that obtained a sweetheart deal instead of fixing the fire station. By the end of the year the fire station was updated.  I tried to obtain the cost figures associated with Bull Creek and came up with a figure of over $350,000 for renovations but the dollars became muddled since county staff did the repairs and it appeared to become part of the general services budget.

As for the Library and Senior Center,  I proposed a site where the two could be in a shared location on county land where there are current county buildings and the idea was squashed because it would not benefit any particular developer. And when it was discussed at the workshops, the suggestion I mentioned was never discussed as an option and the County Administrator was pushing for the purchase of more land instead of better utilizing the land we already have under county ownership.  The discussion of these two issues needs to be examined more closely to determine why the expansion of the library has not occurred but yet we went ahead and did the old courthouse and didn’t even follow the work that the courthouse ad hoc committee was working on and made a quick decision to lease the courthouse to the parochial school. And at least two grant cycles of state money for Library construction has passed and we have not applied for it so it will be another two to three years for that money to be made available again. [Editor’s note: the library construction grant is, in fact, drafted and may soon be forwarded to the state.]

And as far as senior services I have been discussing ideas regarding this topic for over three years and no positive movement has occurred. In September of 2015, I wrote an article outlining my position on this issue and a whole year has almost gone by and no action besides what the residents are doing has been done.  In 2011 and 2012 the issue was discussed by then County Commissioner Holland to give our senior services over to Volusia County and we the citizens had to come together quickly to stop this from happening. We were told then and the state agency that oversees the funding was told that services would be changed and nothing new has been done. And the next grant came out, just recently, and the County submitted the same grant for the same level of service and for the same programming and it will be in effect for the next six years. This is not acceptable and it should not be tolerated. The senior crisis will be upon us by next year and we are already facing issues, like the shooting in Hammock of the wife killing the husband. These people needed help from our county department and from the community and we let them down.

The idea was squashed because it would not benefit any particular developer,” you claim, regarding the site you proposed for a joint library and senior center. Can you document that claim? The workshop that outlined the potential sites for the new library tentatively settled on land owned by the county, near the existing government services complex. What land are you referring to that Craig Coffey wants to buy for the library? How is the issue of the library not going forward connected to the old courthouse being leased to the parochial school? Given the courthouse being vacant for almost a decade, costing the county money and creating a black hole of inactivity in Bunnell, isn’t the current arrangement more beneficial? We keep hearing that a senior center is needed. But it’s people like you repeating the claim. We see no evidence that a senior center is needed, no studies, no analysis, and certainly no plans on how to pay for one. Where is all that documentation to get us past the mere statements that a senior center is needed?

OK, the land I suggested was where the “old senior center” was which is now the site of the Senior Day Respite program and “the old Council on Aging” bus garage which is now the home of the County Social Services division.  There is still more acreage there that the county owns that is adjacent to the airport.

When I spoke to Library Director Holly Albanese she stated that Mr. Coffey was looking at purchasing additional land. One parcel on the east side of the airport and the other parcel off of Bulldog Drive. Neither of these sites were mentioned at the workshop, neither was the idea of the social services building site. The sites that were discussed appear to be as well researched as the Sheriff’s Administration sites were- handpicked to benefit a select group. For instance, the first old hospital site was suggested-it is a Brownfield and has been vacant for 35 years, and could have been purchased for $300,000 and together with the professional building in front could have been had for a total of 1.3 million and it was eligible for grant funds. This information was never presented as an option but instead we purchased the second old hospital  and then had to pay for all of the improvements and we are still not done. What is going to happen to the wings- the cost of demolishing them is coming from where? The general services budget? Just like the Old Courthouse renovation costs in excess of $400,000 and still not done. And what about the costs of improving Bull Creek? That was over $350,000 and where did that come from- general services budget?

The evidence for a need for a senior center speaks for itself and the evidence is there. I recently was given a copy of the proposed two sites for two separate senior centers that Palm Coast paid a consultant to design and study for the referendum. The sites, one was Indian Trails Park, an 18,000 sq foot facility and the other one in Seminole Woods was designed to be 17,000. A survey was sent out to 35,000 Palm Coast residents in 2006 asking for what services the citizens would like to see at these centers, 3,500 responses were received back. I took that study and asked several residents their opinion now as for the need and what activities they would like to see and the same results were received.

Now we hear talk about the renovation of the Palm Coast Community Center but there is no talk about where those senior groups who currently meet there are going to go. And if the project is scheduled and managed like Holland Park it will be at least a year before it is completed. Even the state Department of Elder Affairs agrees that Flagler County needs to expand it level of services for seniors, since the senior crisis is coming. If you know your history in 1983, Flagler County had more services for seniors than it does now. That in of itself should be a cause for concern or questions.

11. Evaluate the performance of County Administrator Craig Coffee, listing strengths, weaknesses and areas of concern.

I believe the County Administrator has to work on his interpersonal skills and the way he interacts with the citizens. I have had several meetings with him and I have brought along citizens and he and his staff, mainly Assistant County Administrator Sally Sherman (and for that matter Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon)  have problems discussing issues so that the average citizen can understand. I feel it is their duty as public employees to be courteous to the citizens who are willing to take their personal time to address their concerns.  Craig and Jim have good ideas, however their timing and the way they put their ideas into action need to be vetted out in the open. There are too many closed door meetings that neither the community nor the press is aware of, and too many back room deals with only a select few individuals at the table participating.

I believe in term limits for elected officials and I believe that an administrator should not outstay their abilities.  There is a reason that the average county/city administrator lasts only five years in a specific location and I think that is what we are seeing now in our community with both administrators. Change is good for everyone and maybe the power that they each possess, coupled with the lack of accountability on the part of the commissioners and council members is the underlying reason we have the problems with radio, water, and fire situation.  I have been quoted in the paper, “where there is smoke, there is fire” and also I stated at public forums that maybe the two administrators just need to go behind closed doors and air out their differences. Between the two of them they could come up with effective solutions.  They have the training and experience. However, it has become apparent that their egos and their individual struggles with control have gotten in the way.


Administrators and their directors have all the rights and leeway to conduct meetings without public or press present. They are not under Sunshine Law requirements in that regard. Are you looking to change that? Yet ironically in the next paragraph you want the county and city administrators to go behind closed doors to settle their differences. Which is it? You may have been quoted as saying that “where there is smoke, there is fire,” but that doesn’t make it so: as you well know, anyone can make any claim to a gullible reporter and it may be quoted unverified. You’ve made serious accusations but aside from saying generally that Coffey doesn’t explain himself and that he and Landon have big egos–no news to anyone going back to 2007–you haven’t given us evidence of smoke, let alone fire. They may be disliked (and being liked is not necessarily in their job description) but is Coffey doing the job? Is he not? Can you be more specific?

Yes, staff can have their meetings and they should. However, the information they find should be presented to the County Commissioners and to the public if it is an issue they–the people–are interested in. How about this for an idea: Why doesn’t the county staff have an advisory board for human services? We have one for economic development and one for tourism but not social services and we have a Friends of the Library, Friends of Tennis, Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Members organization but we don’t have a YMCA, a Council on Aging or a Friends of Princess Place anymore. At one time we had them all here and in the case of the Y we had them here on three separate occasions.  On two separate occasions, County Commissioners discussed creating a not for profit to raise additional funds-this talk never went anywhere, nor did collaborating with any other not for profits.

Mr. Coffey is doing his job and he goes above and beyond and maybe sometime he goes too far. Who knows. I am not on the inside. I can only tell you from my experience and what I have heard and seen from my experience.

12. In this election, all three county commissioners are facing challengers. If you’re one of those challengers, and understanding there is inherent value in the experience of an incumbent and the institutional continuity, history and understanding that the incumbent represents, what are three reasons that justify removing him or her? If you are the incumbent, what are three reasons that justify keeping you beyond institutional advantages?

As far as institutional value I believe the public record, attending county commission meetings, and being a long time county resident can serve this purpose. I strongly believe that Commissioner Hanns has been in office too long–24 years and counting. He is the million and a half dollar man (that is what he has earned as a part time commissioner) and it wasn’t until recently that he started paying property taxes. I do not feel that we have gotten our money’s worth out of him.

I organized a community meeting in 2011 where we recognized the Commissioner for his years of service and support on behalf of social service and parks and I had discussions with him then that he should retire and put his skills to work on behalf of the senior citizens in our county, and that we needed his expertise.  Over the years, I have attended numerous commission meetings, have testified on several topics and have organized citizens around causes and have gotten them engaged in the political process. For years, Commissioner Hanns has been known to just rattle off off topic about issues that aren’t relevant to the topic. For example, at last week’s commission meeting, the topic brought up from a concerned citizen was about the recent case of animal abuse and what the county is doing in response and he made a statement about the Legacy program operating out at the Princess Place and wanted to know if it was still in operation. This statement had nothing to do with the topic, and the person speaking never even mentioned parks. The topic  was about the ordinance she helped the county staff write regarding animal sanctuaries and the enforcement of it and what response the county is taking now against the founder of the organization involved in the current issue. She was concerned about a repeat of the Pig Sanctuary and of the Puppy Mill.

Commissioner Hanns can now say finally, after all of these years, “Princess Place Barn has now been repaired” as his legacy and he can take credit for the newly established cabins on the property. And he can take credit for adding to the county staff by now taking the Director of the Florida Agricultural Museum position into the county’s control.

It’s disheartening when we have to spend more time correcting a candidate’s exaggerations or misinformation than focusing on the issues at hand. But it suggests a looseness with facts on your part that appears to contradict your willingness to hold others accountable, as you stated at the beginning of this interview, while giving yourself a pass: your sensational claim that George Hanns is the million-and-a-half-dollar man is inaccurate even if one were to do the math based on his current salary of $50,000 a year: that would work out to $1.2 million over 24 years. Of course that’s nowhere near the actual figure, having started in 1992 at a salary of $18,448–figures you could have verified, as we did, with a simple Google search. You may have overstated the figure by half. The claim that he never paid property taxes until recently is also false, unless he’s been homeless: even renters pay property taxes. Meanwhile by your own telling here you recognize his expertise in social and senior issues, but would rather see him putting that expertise to use off the commission because he goes off topic too many times: are you suggesting that your accomplishments let’s say of the past 10 years in the county are more substantial than Hanns’s?



I support term limits and having a person in office for twenty four years and counting is a sore spot with me, especially if you ask him the question regarding his accomplishments and proving what he has done for our community. It was not until this year’s budget that the Barn at Princess Place was redone and Commissioner Hanns was the Chairperson for the Friends group and he is still, I believe the County Commissioner representative to the Library Board. And where does that sit, for three cycles, we have postponed writing the facilities grant for the library expansion.

I would never say Commissioner Hanns is an expert on anything but he is a senior and so two of his fellow is Commissioners. He is a nice man whom everyone likes but does that make him a good commissioner? Yes, I am saying that the past five years since I have been back in the county I have been more substantial than he has.

13. Who, on the current commission, would you most closely model yourself after and why? If you’re an incumbent, please choose from the remaining four commissioners.

Denise Calderwood did not answer the question, referring instead to her answer two years ago to a similar question. 


14. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies? If so, please explain, including cases where charges did not lead to conviction.

I have never been convicted of any crime, nor accused of any. And I have not faced any civil actions, however, I am in the process of resolving an issue with the IRS.

15. Question customized for Denise Calderwood: There seems to be a lot of combativeness, conflict and resentment in your answers, though you mention none of these traits among your faults. Might they be? Are you out to settle scores or conduct the public’s business? None of your references either to the county administration or to your potential colleagues can be said to bespeak of much respect for them. How do you see yourself–your temperament–matching up with colleagues on a board where consensus is prized, and combativeness generally unproductive? 

In my opinion, I do not feel that I represent any of those traits.  I am a passionate advocate on behalf of Flagler County residents. I see the true need out there and I am not afraid to address the facts. We have homeless here and we have people who go hungry at night. We have a dearth of affordable housing . I have brought up numerous issues with those joint agencies that share the name Volusia/Flagler and we have conducted studies to find out how many actual Flagler residents are served by those agencies.

Respect is a two way street. Just like dialogue. There is nothing wrong with discussing issues and nothing is ever gained without it. Who says I would be combative on the Board? I am not afraid to ask questions and I respond when appropriate when information is given and I may ask follow up question but that is too get answers or to at least steer discussion towards consensus building. I wish the same can be said of others.  Its not my fault that the people I ask the questions of can’t answer them nor choose not too, because they may not have the answer or that they may have something to hide.  I have never been asked to leave a public meeting, nor have I ever made any inappropriate comments. What is the Willie Brown saying? “In politics a lie unanswered becomes the truth within 24 hours,” and apparently when I go and address the statements it is deemed combative. How about the tone, body language and the facial expressions used by our elected officials and staff.  I was recognized in 2000 by the National Police Athletic League as the one Female Volunteer of the Year (and there was only one male) across the country for my efforts at advocating on behalf of Flagler’s families and I was recognized as the first ever Flagler County Health Department “Dr. Carter Employee of the Year” for my work as a Community Organizer and our Tobacco Free Coalition received “Coalition of the Year out of 67 counties” for our accomplishments. So I guess you can say I understand the value of collaboration and consensus building and not control. I will state that I do not speak kingdom building either. I am interested in bringing government back to the people it is supposed to be serving and to make it run as efficiently and effectively as possible.


18 Responses for “Denise Calderwood, Flagler County Commission Candidate: The Live Interview”

  1. Layla says:

    I believe this woman is likely more qualified than many running for office here and I am delighted to say she’s got my vote. She brings professionalism and a positive attitude to this election. Good luck, Ms. Calderwood.

  2. Ben Hogarth says:


    As the former Special Projects Coordinator, while my term may have been short and while I would love to divulge into my own frustrations with the way administration manages personnel, which I am sure I could write a dissertation on… Particularly what NOT to do… I want to focus on your comment regarding turnover and the lack of a grant writer in the county.

    See, the Special Project Coordinator has as one of its primary roles and responsibilities – grant writing for a variety of “special” county projects. And although I was only given the opportunity to help draft a handful (including legislative and SJRWMD requests).. As you can tell from the recent fiscal turnout – Flagler County made our like bandits this past year. I would also like to say that I appreciate the late Commissioner, Frank Meeker in added both historical and scientifically relevant information for some of these grant requests.

    But this only identifies one of the many functions of a Special Projects Coordinator in most municipal and county agencies. In truth, the position is a great stepping stone to any upper-management support or administrative functional role. That is of course, assuming the person selected is given those opportunities and if the administrative team is on the same page. But that’s a conversation for another time.

    We are here to discuss your claim that the county has no grant writer on staff. This is true only because there are several individuals in various departments who write grants on a regular basis. In fact, grants are written by almost every upper management department level. To say there are no grant writers in the county is not only a disservice to them, but also to the people who have been positively impacted by those dollars – including people who’s salaries are entirely or partially compensated through such programs!

    So while I appreciate your commitment to the community I once served Denise.. And while I feel your heart may be in the right place.. Just know that those of us who serve the public expect a higher degree of fact-checking and vetting. With that said, skepticism especially of the current leadership could not be more healthy for Flagler. Believe me.

    As for why my previous post has so much turnover – you will have to ask administration. But I can tell you this – I rode into the sunset. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side.

  3. Robert Lewis says:

    Denise, can you explain why you were fired from a job for using the N word?

  4. Haw Creek Girl says:

    Denise is a dedicated public servant, she has a heart of gold and she has in fact, a brilliant mind. Flagler County would be all the better if they elect her and use her vast knowlege and experience for their benefit. As far as her temperament, sometimes due to her extremely high level of intelligence she has a hard time expressing herself in layman’s terms. Sometimes, that is interpreted as arrogance or combativeness, that is not the case.


  5. Jack Torss says:

    It doesn’t appear she had a hard time expressing herself in layman’s terms when she felt the need to use a racial slur, someone with an “extremely high level of intelligence” should know better! That alone speaks volumes as to her character, definitely not the right candidate to be a county commissioner!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Smart people know how to express themselves !

  7. Ryan says:

    That can happen sometimes, especially when you are dealing with so many people in this county that like to instigate problems.

  8. Ryan says:

    I do have to say that Denise is a very good person and is one of great honesty and integrity. Her focus seems to be in the right place, which is clearing out the arrogant and self serving members of local govt, something I can stand behind any day.

  9. W.Ryan says:

    The ECHO grant program (comparison – and is a definite voters topic because there is no other candidate that has mentioned anything in comparison so far in this and from past elections. Where is the Arts in flagler Co. Struggling on a cliff! We have many trails and nature reserves but what about cultural and arts investments. Gargiulo Arts Foundation and Palm Coast Arts Foundation can surely use some financial help with the Cultural Arts such as with grants. With some tweeking, Arts and Culture can finally have a leg to stand on in Flagler. We’re not talking gift giving either. Flagler Beach Museum and other venues 501c3’s can use the help. Volusia is thriving because of ECHO. It;s time to put some money into living in Flagler with more than just parks and trails. Though these amenities are important and has some potentially revenue producing stimulants . The quality of life can only go but so far for most residence. Attracting new businesses to a culturally rich city? Echo is a good way to go. Financially there is a bigger bang for the buck. As for the “N” word, voters are much smarter than that. I’ve known Denise for many years. She respects me as a person of color and she’s repeatedly done good for everyone. That little snipe is unworthy. Go Denise!

  10. Robert Lewis says:

    Denise do you actually have a job? Or are you running for office as s source of employment?

  11. Wishful Thinking says:

    Denise does have a job and does it very well…. She ‘patrols’ my area carefully and does not ‘race’ through like some security guards have here in Plantation Bay. She cares about people and she listens as well as speaks her mind., Recently she complimented a concern I voiced on the spot ” You’re absolutely right”.Her combination of experience , open mindedness surely outweigh her once in a while undiplomatic – and yes – even uncalled for remarks – but ” he who is without sin cast the first stone;.
    I like Denise – as a person and would be proud to have her on the commission. She obviously has my vote –

  12. Denise Calderwood says:

    Thanks everyone for the support and comments. Yes, I have a full time job as a security officer, an adjunct college professor and a full time volunteer job leading a not for profit organization in Flagler County called Family Matters of Flagler- the organization that founded the Teen Center- whose main purpose is to raise funds for an Inter-generational Activity Center Center (formerly known as a Senior Center) I am also a small business owner whose purpose is grant writing and strategic planning.

    Mr. Hogarth I appreciate the great work you did while you were here and it was our county’s loss when you left. I do truly recognize the grant work that the employees themselves do and I have consulted with some, since grantwriting apparently falls under the infamous “other related duties”.

    I am one of those underemployed people working in Flagler County, who chose to come back “home” – (I was raised and educated here) . Flagler County is a great place to live. I look forward to the day that Flagler County will one day be a great place to work too but this won’t happen until we make some changes.

    YES, YES, YES, I support the Arts- I love and appreciate all of the creative people that call Flagler County home too- I want our county to help showcase you and help your small businesses grow into successful ones. And I have written successful grants for many of the local arts and cultural groups here.

    As far as the “word” goes, at one time Flagler Live had the link so you could read all the stories. I was not fired, contract was not renewed (I was moving a month after the incident happened anyway) Newspapers love controversies- its helps them sell. I was cleared of any wrongdoing after a full investigation conducted by several groups, including the MA Commission on Discrimination The youth involved, however spent time in jail because of their actions that led to the word being used by me as a “quote” in a song about gang raping a girl that was playing over our recording system for all to hear. The song was used as evidence against the youth since the rape apparently happened earlier that morning. The Worcester Police conducted a full investigation, found the victim and medical services were provided to her.

    Please everyone do your part and “Just Vote” I would appreciate you voting for me but remember we have people who give up everything in some cases just to come to our country for that opportunity that we take for granted., facebook electdenisecalderwood or please feel free to call me anytime at 386-225-3053

  13. tulip says:

    Denise has Waaaaay more involvement and knowledge of Flagler county than her opponent Donald Obrien the insurance man will ever have.

    Denise has my vote.

  14. Sean O'Brien says:


    I’m confused.

    When you say that, “Denise has waaaaay more involvement and knowledge” in and of our county than Donald O’Brien, which Donald O’Brien are you talking about?

    The Donald O’Brien who has had family here since the mid-80s?

    How about the father who moved here in 1990 and watched two sons (3 and 1 at the time) grow up through our education system; both graduating from FPC?

    No, no, you probably are thinking of Donald O’Brien, the guy who helped start, and then coach, a youth traveling soccer team (because this was the late-90s and our county didn’t have one) for his son, right?

    Maybe you mean Donald O’Brien, the new grandfather, whose granddaughter is a true Flagler County native?

    If none of those Donalds, then you surely must be talking about Donald O’Brien, the two-time past Chairman of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, current board member of the Early Learning Coalition of Flagler & Volusia Counties, current board member of the Florida Hospital Flagler Foundation, current Rotarian, co-owner of a local small business that has been employing residents of our county since 1982, former co-owner of another local business that was one of the largest in its industry at the time, former CFO of a very successful local community bank, former CCD teacher at our local Catholic Church, etc., etc., etc?

    I understand that I probably won’t change your particular vote, Tulip, but I simply can’t allow you to make a ridiculous statement about my Father’s supposed lack of community knowledge and involvement without laying out the facts.

    To everyone else, early voting is underway until 8/27. Vote accordingly!


  15. Jack Howell, PhD says:

    Denise is a good hearted person with a wealth of knowledge about Flagler County. She deserves the chance to be elected as a county commissioner.

  16. snapperhead says:

    Best answer regarding the economic development money pit. No real results to justify the expense and the other candidate’s willingness to allow it to continue with no real goal or measurement on a return on investment loses my vote.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Calderwood is the best candidate for county commission. I support her, and hope you will too.

  18. Rita May says:

    Calderwood is associated with the RRRA’s. That alone disqualifies her for my vote. I have seen her with the leaders of this group in public and I was disappointed to see this.

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