Just before tonight’s Palm Coast City Council meeting, Milissa Holland–who no longer has to be referred to as former County Commissioner Holland–made her way to the dais.
She won’t be sworn in as Palm Coast’s third mayor until November. But she wanted a selfie with current council members, a pixelated laurel to mark her crushing win over three opponents in last week’s primary. She gathered the four remaining council members around her, including Mayor Jon Netts. You wouldn’t know from his hint of a smile that she was replacing him. But then Holland, his long-time protegee, is his political Mona Lisa, the master stroke he leaves behind as he bows to term limits. Of course by the time Holland had compressed everyone into the frame, she was in the center. Netts was already at the periphery, with the now-senior members of the council, Heidi Shipley and Steven Nobile, cheekily flanking Holland on either side. Jason DeLorenzo, another nearly departed–he’s off to battle Charlie Ericksen for a county commission seat–snapped the shot.
For all that, Holland wasn’t the eminence of the hour this evening. Robert Cuff was.
He too won a decisive victory last week, defeating Rev. Sims Jones and the invisible Art McGovern Jr. by more than 50 percent, making a run-off unnecessary. His swearing-in couldn’t wait until November: he’d won election to the seat Bill McGuire resigned less than a month ago. A 30-day clock has been running since, requiring the council to fill the seat in that span regardless of the election. The council even advertised for applicants.
Two people had applied, Holsey Moorman and Jeffrey Seib. Moorman, ever-ready to serve (he’s a retired brigadier general) is a former council member who said he’d volunteer to be a councilman again for a few weeks, as necessary, until the seat would be filled by election. Seib serves on the Palm Coast Environmental and Beautification Committee. The council had dragged its feet just enough to make a complicated appointment unnecessary, hoping that Cuff would win the election outright and be appointed to the seat immediately. Cuff did his part.
It was almost time for the meeting to start. Cuff hadn’t appeared. Or maybe he had and no one had noticed during the Holland photo session. Cuff appeared in fact at the back of the council room, characteristically unassuming, looking around as if to make sure he was in the right place. The contrast between the two future council members was striking: the charismatic star of a mayor who already owns the place two months from her swearing in–Nobile’s outsize personality is going to have competition–and the retiring Cuff who would have just as well waited a couple more weeks before taking his seat, so soon after the election’s salt mines, so he could have a bit of a vacation with his wife.
“I understand, they need to fill the vacancy and I volunteered,” he said, still from back of the room, where he’d still be standing at the time of the Pledge. “Sometimes you get what you wish for.”
Thirty minutes later, at exactly 7 p.m. and after a blessedly short run through the meeting’s light business, Cuff was sworn in. Netts was in such a hurry to get it done–as if he’d worried that the outcome might change, or another council member would quit–that he had to be reminded to let the council approve the appointment first. It did. Virginia Smith, the city clerk, then swore in Cuff, and Cuff took his place between (for now) Nobile and Smith. The applause was hearty from a crowd not unusual for a swearing in if it weren’t for the presence of candidates who’d lost (among them Jones and Anita Moeder), and those still in the running (Nick Klufas and Pam Richardson, who are in a run-off in November, and who kept their distance. Richardson was flanked by her friend and ally Nate McLaughlin, the county commissioner who likes to make his presence felt, preferably on more than one board.)
“I don’t want to take up a lot of time tonight because I understand I get a do-over in eight weeks,” Cuff said as all other council members tactfully deferred to him when it was their turn to speak, not wanting to rob him of his moment. “I do want to say how excited I am. I think this is the first time in the council’s history that a majority of the council has been bearded.” Cuff, Nobile and DeLorenzo all have beards of some sort, though Cuff’s is by far the most opulant. He continued, letting his wit, as understated as his personality, do much of the talking. “It is an honor to be asked to complete the term of somebody that I respect as much as Bill McGuire. I found out from somebody that he’d actually endorsed my candidacy. I wish he’d told me twelve weeks ago.”
He finished with another parry at the self-seriousness all around: “Hopefully it won’t be another Brexit where by the end of eight weeks the people who voted for me will wish for a do-overt themselves.”
They’re unlikely to (and the city’s not-so-magna charter wouldn’t allow it anyway). “This,” he’d said to a reporter before the meeting, “is shaping up like the best summer job I’ve had. It doesn’t pay as much.” He had driven a truck and delivered newspapers for four summers.
For those eight weeks ahead, even the council members who’ll be history by the time two more council members are sworn-in will get a chance to work with Cuff for a while.
“That’s actually the best scenario one could’ve had,” Nobile said. “He’ll get a head start.”
“He’s got a head start. He knows our history, he’s been on the planning board,” Netts said of Cuff, who’s been in Palm Coast 33 years. (Nobile is a close second.) “There’s no substitute for experience and education.”