Something is amiss in Bunnell. The city that calls itself the crossroads of Flagler County is losing its bearings, its heart, and sometimes its mind. It is becoming petty. It is becoming mean and resentful.
And the city that begins every meeting with a prayer and invocation to Christian love and charity may be violating a federal law forbidding discrimination against small houses of worship and their various ministries over land use and zoning matters, as the city’s persecution of First United Methodist Church and the Sheltering Tree there suggests.
How did Bunnell so rapidly go from an emerging gem to Flagler’s crabbiest government?
Last fall it cut and pasted St. Augustine’s anti-panhandling ordinance, one of the harshest in the state. Like St. Augustine, Bunnell pretended it was only going after “aggressive” panhandlers, not panhandlers in general. That was a lie. The preamble of the ordinance certainly claims that it’s only addressing beggars who can’t take no for an answer. But the heart of the ordinance is an outline of prohibitions that, using distance and time restrictions, ends up banning beggars from the city’s commercial zones, or at least giving police the authority to bully them and, get this, fine them from $100 to $250 for every violation. Maybe the city can garnish begging wages to get the money back.
Weeks later the city approved overly strict and costly regulations for people who gather in large numbers anywhere in the city, supposedly copying other governments who do likewise with the film and outdoor entertainment industry–as if Bunnell had either. It was just a crowd control edict, mostly directed at blacks, masquerading as a motion picture ordinance.
In April, Bunnell lost its mind in a different direction, imagining that the county was moving its county seat to Palm Coast along with a sheriff’s district office. Bunnell threatened to sue over that one, as if it had taxpayer money to spare fighting the very county that bailed it out for years by giving Bunnell’s City Hall a home when it couldn’t afford one of its own. As if sheriff’s deputies and detectives weren’t constantly bailing out Bunnell’s police. Now that the sheriff’s office needs a bit of help for permanence of its own, suddenly the city is pretending it’s an island, its responsibility toward the law enforcement agency as non-existent as its sense of mutual aid. It seemed to come to its senses this week on this one.
Then at the end of May the city’s zoning board, or three of its five members, anyway, voted to deny the Sheltering Tree a permit that would have allowed it to continue operating the county’s only cold-weather shelter, or shelter of any kind, for the homeless at the Methodist Church on Pine Street. The 11-year-old operation that gave Bunnell a heart of gold was shut down by three unforgiving men and a city administration that mistook itself the Inquisition. One of them, Howard Kane, once served on the Sheltering Tree board and still serves as a church trustee but never disclosed a word of either, a gross ethical lapse.
The city had fair arguments. The Sheltering Tree has been operating without the proper permits or certain safety measures. But it was there to secure those permits, just as the church was there to secure the permits and pledge making upgrades that would allow it to continue being a shelter for volunteer emergency responders during local disasters. It’s the sort of request any civilized board would bend over backward to enable, or would be–should be–embarrassed to deny, especially to a church and a non-profit that have an unparalleled record of actually doing what others only talk about: helping the homeless, albeit in very limited ways. The shelter opens only on very cold nights, and did so a mere 19 nights last year.
Nineteen nights. That’s what this is about. That, and letting other church group use the church’s roof to shelter in times of disasters so they can spend their days helping residents across the county pick up the pieces after hurricanes and floods, as was the case in 2016 and 2017.
The zoning board banned both. Sure, it’s allowing the church to continue hosting teams of responders. But those teams must be limited to the same number of people who may stay in a residential home: six. That nullifies the church’s mission during disasters.
The board acted toward the church and the Sheltering Tree as if they were bandits trying to get away with something, instead of the rare charitable organizations whose 150 volunteers actually do something meaningful to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. Strange how the Sheltering Tree can count on immense support from across the county–from anyone but Bunnell.
The board was mean. The city administration was offensive. Community Development Director Rodney Lucas was in charge of the item before the zoning board. He gave opponents of the Sheltering Tree a pass, of course, not questioning a single one of their made-up facts, exaggerations and chicken-little scenarios about homeless people running rampant and terrorizing the neighborhood. No doubt some of the homeless loiter and make a mess here and there, and might at times look threatening, as they would whether a shelter exists there or not (as it does not 95 percent of the year). Our prejudices are such in early 21st century America that poverty that allows itself to be visible, shabby, foul-odored and booze-hazed is often associated with menace. Why else would cities like Bunnell be pretending to ban it with their silly ordinances?
But when church and Sheltering Tree representatives spoke, Lucas treated them like criminals, his tone, his language and his questions intended to crucify rather than enlighten. His questions, in any case, were out of place and inappropriate, because he’d already provided the answers. He had his turn. But he wanted to administer a beating. He did.
If that’s the kind of behavior and regulations rookie Manager Alvin Jackson is bringing to Bunnell–Alvin Jackson who answers every phone call with his “great day in Bunnell” jingle, and has his secretary do likewise–we’re in for a nasty throwback to the city’s cruder and amateur days, which the city commission had effectively cleaned up in the past half dozen years. It’s as if Jim Landon’s heavy hand never left. It just got grafted onto Bunnell, with Jackson’s penchant for gloving daggers in kumbayas. No, it’s not a great day in Bunnell.
And it’s possibly a lot worse than boorish behavior. As a top municipal official here alerted me, Bunnell may be in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, more commonly known as RLUIPA. The Department of Justice explains application of the law this way: “Religious assemblies, especially smaller or unfamiliar ones, may be illegally discriminated against on the face of zoning codes and also in the highly individualized and discretionary processes of land use regulation. Zoning codes and landmarking laws may illegally exclude religious assemblies in places where they permit theaters, meeting halls, and other places where large groups of people assemble for secular purposes. Or the zoning codes or landmarking laws may permit religious assemblies only with individualized permission from the zoning board or landmarking commissions, and zoning boards or landmarking commission may use that authority in illegally discriminatory ways.”
That sounds awfully similar to the “special exception” Bunnell is imposing on the Sheltering Tree and the church, an exception it did not require for 11 years running, even though every one of its three previous managers, all of its city commissioners, its entire staff and police department knew of the church’s mission and worked with it and the Sheltering Tree to further it.
What the hell changed?
The Sheltering Tree is appealing the zoning board’s decision to the city commission. It’s the commission’s chance to do a lot more than fix an injustice. The commission can and must reassert Bunnell’s good name.
Note: The Bunnell City Commission meets at City Hall, 201 West Moody Boulevard, Bunnell, at 7 p.m. June 24. The Sheltering Tree item is toward the end of the agenda. The meeting is open to all.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.
I thoroughly disagree with the mean spirited editorial.
Bunnell government has always tried to do its best for its citizens. Many people have moved to Bunnell from Palm Coast and are glad they have.
Thomas, if you were at the PZA meeting then you must have heard what Pierre wrote about. His article is not “mean spirited.” It is highly factual.
One thing is, Bunnell is alot better than Palm Coast,
I live a couple blocks from the church and I am against the homeless coming here, for one the drugs,alcohol and violence. We dont need that here. Palm Coast can keep your trash!!
We don’t want it
I was born in Bunnell 62 years ago, the Bunnell Methodist church is where we always went before it became unsafe due to the homeless, drinking, sexual remarks, and total disrespect for its members. It’s now filled with homeless living in wooded lots taking away our children’s rights to be able to enjoy small town living because of them. Go to The jiffy, circle K watch them buying beer for breakfast begging for money. Bunnell is standing up for it’s community to make it ONCE AGAIN SAFE. The people doing for homeless don’t live in Bunnell.
I was at the meeting and wonder when reading Pierre’s column if he actually was. I feel the opposition was more on the homeless hanging around. If it were only keeping a shelter open during the cold weather I think views would be different. But it seems like that keeps getting thrown out there like it is what they are pushing for but in realty it is about opening the hall up for feeding them at all times. So which is it, feeding them or a cold weather shelter? There isn’t a perfect place but I feel it should not be in a small neighborhood. Listen to the ones that live in the surrounding areas.
Peaches McGee says
Bunnell is still in the 20th Century. Hoping to preserve their outdated way of life they bully, overtax, discriminate, and belittle whomever stands up for themselves. You are accountable for all your decisions.
Your fair little town will crumble when then US-1 bypass is completed.
What about the trash that has become Bunnell? Your government is living so far in the past, Dr. Emmitt Brown can’t bring them back! The town is as racist as it has ever been…and is suddenly in the past two years against anything to do with helping the homeless or needy. You all have built glass houses around yourselves and live like you are high and mighty “Christians” who are better than everyone else. The saddest thing is that your hypocrisy is beyond unGodly. As Christians that you all claim to be in that town, it should be your goal to help the homeless, needy, and any who are less fortunate than you. Yet, you judge, cast stones upon, and condemn those who you should be helping. Your commissioners put their egos before the community and have become overwhelmed with the sudden power they have.
You have no problem issuing permits for more bars, but suddenly you have a problem with a church? I don’t get it.
It’s times like this I truly wish that the Flagler County government would consider moving the County Seat to Palm Coast. It’s pretty obvious as to why the deal of Flagler County is a potato. That’s about the cumulative IQ for the entire City Commission.
Maybe, just maybe, the voters will grow a brain amd vote you all out next election. But then again, you do give them all the bars they can visit.
If the church was on the south side of 100 there would be no issues but because the homeless are being drawn closer to the white folks there is a big issue.
Carmen I. Santiago says
As a formal law enforcement officer, who worked in the field investigating crimes (mostly narcotics) thought that I have seen everything. However, the meeting on May 31 was sad and a disgrace. Yes, I live in Palm Coast and yes I have volunteer for the past 11 years at the Bunnell Methodist Church. This organization was born out of a need to assist those individuals that were displaced or close to be one. The church took a big risk and lost members due to this decision. For the past 11 years, I have admired the town of Bunnell for their kindness and never expected such behavior. It is my own conclusion, that there was a hidden agenda and we became the victim to obtain the needed results. Thank you Mr. Tristan for reporting the facts.
Suzie Peterson says
I pray Bunnell will protect our neighborhood children and elderly, along with all of it’s citizens because since the Sheltering Tree has existed we are at danger more than ever before. The Meth. Church is NOT the right location for such operations. So, so many illegal activities have happened as a result of it. It baffles me why they would want to put such an operation in a small church in a residential area. Surely the smart folks could find a more appropriate location. Is it going to take one of our children or grandchildren or elderly to be hurt or worse for this to be seen?
I agree with Brian that the people complaining about the homeless think they are better.. WWJD for anyone needing help? Turn them down because of their hardships. I DON’T Think so and if you think you are better than them, think of explaining that to who you will be facing when you leave this materialistic world. Best of luck and may God have mercy on your soul.
Your attack on a small town that has the right, and the duty, to resist the immorality and chaos that is the hallmark of the “progressive” Left, is indicative of the social justice warriors who come down here from the places they’ve left in ruins. We dont need you or your “enlightenment”…
Willy Boy says
Scathing article. Should make Bunnell straighten right up.
I Can See it says
Love Bunnell the way it was, the way it is, and way it will always be. If I wanted to live in a town filled with a bunch of carpet baggers, I’d live in Palm Coast. Keep up the good work Commissioners!
Thank you Brian for an honest and perceptive opinion. I have been a volunteer at the Sheltering Tree for over a year. The city of Bunnell is in for a BIG SURPRISE when the Sheltering Tree leaves the area and the city’s homeless issue does not disappear as well. The citizens of this tiny and mean city should spend a little more time reading their Bible and a little less time criticizing these unfortunate souls. Why not talk to some of them one day? You will find out that they are flesh and blood just like you!
Vincent Lyon says
Looks like Jesus’ life was a failure. All his lessons lost on the citizens of a city that so proudly claims to be his followers.
Helping the poor isn’t what Jesus did one weekend a month while the rest of the time he went to the office to earn his paycheck so he could have money for beer and maybe take a cruise now and then.
It was the whole point. The focus of his life was to help those with less, sinner and saint alike.
The rest of life was the inconsequential filler.
Lesson not learned, obviously
I think both side of the issue need a good dose of empathy. It a shame how are society is trending towards the anger and selfishness.
Flagler Local says
It’s about time the City of Bunnell found its backbone. Good on them.
This is a hateful written article. If Pierre and and everyone is that is distraught about the zoning board not allowing the “cold shelter” they for one need to read the complete agenda for this. It’s not just for “cold night shelter”. Second invite then into your own home or neighborhood. Bunnell is the poorest section of Flagler County, so why should they bear this? Seems as though Palm Coast already wanted to”ship” the homeless away from their town. Why? What’s their reasoning? Are they cold hearted, mean, bullies too? How about you write about where the homeless could go or stay that would benefit them. Instead of bashing a tightknit community, that does not need or have the resources to handle this.
Thank you Bunnell! for looking out for the taxpayers! The concept of helping people who are down on their luck is a wonderful concept and should be embraced. Unfortunately, the “alcohol, drugs and violence” that these “homeless” folks bring here is reality and negates that concept. The “drinking, sexual remarks, and total disrespect for its members safety” that Robin speaks of….. Also reality. Too many of us have seen this first hand. The disturbing behavior and vandalism at the library in Palm Coast was disgusting and should have been a wake up call for all here. When your kids are out and about, playing in the woods this summer, tell them to be sure to say “hello and welcome to the neighborhood” to the new people living there! Oh and lastly, can anyone out there please list the positive aspects of harboring these people here in Flagler?
Born and Raised Here says
Growing up in Flagler Beach, I couldn’t beleive how Bunnell refuses to keep up with progress, growth and morals. . Even to this day when I go travel to Bunnell it’s like stepping in the 50’s.
I get a feeling this is precisely why this guy was hired in the first place. Ref: https://flaglerlive.com/129960/nate-mclaughlin-rodney-lucas/
“I know nothing. I am merely the messenger.”
– Stroker Ace, Universal/Warner Bros Pictures
Trailer Bob says
Well, I guess all three angry people have gotten it all off their chests. Must suck to be perfect hey?
Percy's mother says
1. I don’t think the “fair little town” of Bunnell is going to crumble when the overpass is completed.
2. Peaches, have you walked up to one of the homeless and asked them into your home for a night? It seems you’re living in the 21st century, far ahead of Bunnell, so do the right thing, and since you probably have room in your home, ask a homeless person to stay under your roof and also prepare them meals. That’s a 21st century kind of thing to do. So what if they’re schizophrenic, psychotic, homicidal, suicidal or on heroin, cocaine and meth??? It’s all good. Please post and let us know how it turns out.
I work in a hospital and I read the reports. Many of these people about whom this article is written are a danger to society in the ways I mentioned in #2. But then I live in the land of reality.
Sharon, you brought up WWJD. Well, I can tell you from history and the Bible that Jesus would minister to them and then tell them to sin no more and move on. Jesus NEVER said to wallow in your helplessness or homelessness and let everyone else do for you. He said to better yourself. And for those that don’t like Bunnell being quaint and as you say, backwards…well, we are thrilled that you don’t live here. We like our little slice of heaven and don’t really care if you don’t like the way we like life. That’s your choice to live elsewhere. Open up your own homeless shelter. What???? You don’t want it in your backyard either?!?
Ricky Fitz says
The Trump Effect.
Concerned Citizen says
@ Percy’s Mother
You often come at us with the house the homeless in our home statement. Just out of curiosity how many of the homeless have you fed and housed? And how did that work out for you.
This might make me lesser than you but I help the homeless reguarly in as many ways as possible. Up to giving cash (Something I choose to refuse to do) and inviting them in my home. Assistance includes feeding and clothing when I can but I would no more invite a stranger in my home than I would look for a room mate on Craigslist.
i dont think the homeless are the issue when it comes to crime in bunnell. if i remember correctly it was teenagers who have done most of the 2019 crimewave. also, why are we so concerned about tax payer money going to help the less fortunate? one, it seems like the sheltering tree was mostly volunteer baaed but lets penalize the church from even being able to help in times of natural disasters. ridiculous. and two, shutting down the one place willing to help will not solve the issue, if anything it will create a bigger issue when the homeless population doesnt have anywhere to go. christians really confuse me sometimes. i agree that there must be a hidden agenda in here somewhere.
Alphonse Abonte says
It did not take long before ,”The Trump Effect” was brought into play. I am sure that LONG before this guy took office, this problem was stewing ,like a homemade recipe would. It did not happen overnight. Look at this article from FlaglerLive in 2017. https://flaglerlive.com/108837/homeless-2017-flagler/.
I love it how people ignore the comments such as Robin’s, detailing the detrimental effects the homeless have on the lives of those who go to work every day so they are NOT homeless. The fact is, there are programs to help people who have had genuine bad luck and are doing everything in their power to get back on their feet. There is food stamps, section 8, etc. I would assume if you show up at he section 8 office drunk or high on drugs they are going to send you on your way, and rightfully so. The people we are talking about are the drug and alcohol addicted ones, and criminals. No one should be forced to live among them, particularly children, while the parents are away at work. All you whining ever do gooders should bring these people, who you know nothing about into your own homes, among your family before you advocate forcing them into others’ neighborhoods. I’ll say it again: help people who genuinely need it and are struggling. To those who CHOSE to spend their life drinking until they were addicted, or CHOSE to stick a needle in your arm that first time, or CHOSE to smoke crystal meth, or CHOSE to commit crimes, then you will reap what you sow until you decide you are ready for better life. In the meantime, don’t expect me to put my family at risk for you.
Steve Smith says
If crime, drugs and alcohol are the reasons to close the shelter, perhaps a little more law enforcement would help. Maybe even some social services. Kicking the homeless to the next town does not solve the issues of homelessness or the need for shelter.
I was a volunteer at the Sheltering Tree for over a year with my teenagers. The concept of what they are trying to do is exactly what Jesus would do. However, the details have not been thought through. Is the building safe for this use? Is the building located in an appropriate location for this use? Why are we busing the homeless from Daytona into this shelter? Why did they not require that everyone bused in be bused back out the next day? Does the church acknowledge that this practice actually grew the homeless population? Noone should feel unsafe walking around the block in their own neighborhood. YES, there is a NEED in Flagler County. Work towards a full-time solution and the Sheltering Tree issue will resolve itself.
Great response, Tired. I don’t think anyone has a problem helping those who genuinely need help in our community. You raise an important point in how do you prevent a shelter from becoming a magnet for people from other communities? There is more risk in allowing people you don’t know into a shelter and the surrounding community. If they were in fact busing people from Daytona then that is disqualifying in and of itself. I believe Jesus would help those in genuine need, but he would not ask others to put their families at risk to do so.
Patrick M Collins says
It is interesting to read the comments about the homeless and needy people included here. I am fascinated by people who claim to be good, loving, kind, considerate people, Christian or non-Christian, who turn their backs on those in need. We see people going into churches, very self righteous, proclaiming their love for God, and then they have no regard for those in need. Jesus called them hypocrites. The church in Bunnell that is ministering, YES, ministering to those in need is apparently under attack. It makes it much clearer to me how Jesus was treated in His day. So, we have present day Pharisees who proclaim their faith but in terms of treating others, they are the same as 2,000 years ago. Not in my back yard!!! Do I have a solution? NO. But only think we should all examine our selves and see if we are living the life that reflects the love that we profess.
Trailer Bob says
I won’t get all crazy about the shelter, but daily I go to the Bank of America which has me driving past the church of topic. People fighting, high as hell, littering, begging for money, etc. I suggest all you perfect people typing here invite the homeless to your neighborhood and see how that works out. Homeless is one thing, drug addicts, violence, and making scenes out in the streets are another.
Trailer Bob says
And I will add, I was homeless from age 13 to 17. I get it, but lowlifes and crime are another issue here. You want to help someone? adopt a puppy.
Pamela Andrews says
This upsets me to no end…
I have a soft place in my heart for the homeless, as many have been kicked aside instead of helped… Highest number of them are mentally unstable and some out of other hardships… If mentally sick, you cannot function… fix the laws on mental illness!!!
Someone I love suffered from mental illness, and without someone keeping watch over her, she would have been one of those left to live on the street… You cannot force someone to do what they won’t, or cannot… They are someone’ son, daughter, sister, brother…momma, daddy… Yes there a some who are capable…but the majority…not…
But for the Grace of God, go I… Just keep your babies close and protected as even someone you let in your home, may cause them harm…the times we live in demands it… In the finest of neighborhoods there are those situations, that cause us to need to be aware of our surroundings.
I pray for hearts to soften, and that you walk over to the Church and serve a meal… I promise you will change your way of thinking…
Only doing what Jesus would do for them… Anyone with a problem with helping our own, should serve an hour at least…
If you ever need a place, and in the blink of an eye, you could…and the temp drops to 40…you would be welcomed there to get warm, rest, and eat a hot meal…
Are someone’ son, daughter, brother, sister… Did you forget that Jesus Christ was a homeless man??? To you who condemn those without, I am sure if their situation, as good as yours, they could find somewhere better to go…to be…
Not all are capable of living any other way.
I give you reason to look deeper into why we need to do for others…
I am so surprised people are so angry…
Go Make a difference!!!
I personally have spent nearly 24/7 for years there helping to feed, clothe, get a home, furnish it etc, went beyond the ask to help…even the addicts… Because my father asked that of me…
The hardships that put them there are unlimited, and I love them no matter… even the ones who gave me a hard time… which rare and nothing of what they get the blame for… your children too are the addicts and thieves… Be careful throwing your stones.
Our Flagler County schools are filled with homeless, and most don’t even realize the numbers… (HUNDREDS)
Even your neighbors have the same problems…Daily the best of neighborhoods exposed for drug houses, etc.
Shutting down The Sheltering Tree is not solution, as even the wealthy are afflicted… the self righteous are afflicted…