Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland today said her incensed and immediate reaction at a council meeting last week, when a man aggressively approached her at the dais in the middle of proceedings, was driven in part by fear that he might have had a gun.
“You know the gentleman that approached the dais, I mean it was startling to me, it really was, and I think it was because frankly he wasn’t stepping back,” Holland said late this morning, toward the end of a council workshop. “I’m appreciative that we have incredible law enforcement partners that were able to provide a very quick response to a moment that could have been bad. And let me just state that my being startled and then following that I had a physical reaction, because I just wasn’t sure if there was a gun that was brought into chambers and could have been utilized. Those are real experiences that other governments have had to experience across our country.”
Mark Phillips, the 43-year-old resident of unincorporated north Flagler County, was not armed when he briskly approached Holland after a vote on an issue that displeased him, and was subsequently trespassed from City Hall. He claimed he’d only intended to speak with the mayor, unaware that the meeting was still going on, though every member of the council, the attorney and the clerk were still seated, as was the city manager, who was introducing the next item. Holland was escorted out of the building to her car for the second evening meeting in a row, and deputies followed her home for safety, though she had not requested that they do so.
Three of the council members discussed the incident at the end of a three-hour workshop today, when there’d been a distinct, contrasting breeze of courtesy as public speakers took to the mic before the panel at the beginning of the meeting. “Thank you for your service and thank you for allowing me this opportunity,” one speaker said by way of introduction. The half dozen or so speakers who addressed the council–raising issues with Cimmaron Drive or Slow Way (the two headaches currently throbbing up the city’s north and south cortex)–did so with respect and reserve.
If there was an exception, it had more to do with a wild exaggeration rather than discourtesy as a homeowner, calling in her comment, questioned the “$34 million” pickleball courts the city wants to build. There is no such cost. The city is beginning a $5.7 million expansion of the Palm Coast Tennis Center into a regional racket club, with the construction of a dozen pickleball courts, among other amenities. The $34 million figure appears to be the flowering of a gross misrepresentation last week by Alan Lowe, a candidate for a council seat, that watering the center’s tennis courts would cost that much. (“$34,461,840 worth of water to moisturize the courts,” Lowe had said, going on to make further false statements.)
“It’s absolutely false. There’s no truth even in the realm of order of magnitude of $34 million,” City Manager Matt Morton said. “It’s a few thousand dollars,” which irrigate the entire grounds of the center, not just the courts. “So I would love to correct that on the record. (The city’s entire customer base, including commercial customers and the barrier island, doesn’t consume more than $25 million worth of water in an entire year.)
It had been that very topic–the planned expansion of the tennis center–that had generated a stream of speakers at last Tuesday evening’s meeting, some of them rude or angry, eventually leading to Phillips’s mid-meeting strut.
“What we approved the other night, obviously, we had opinions on both sides and I have great respect for those that came forward to speak on this agenda item,” Holland said this morning. “When meetings are disrupted and encouraged to be disrupted, it’s really counterintuitive of what we’re trying to do here as a collegial body.” Holland spoke of her daughter, who’s required intense (and at long stretches in hospital, intensive) care for several years. “And so when I drive out of here I just need to make sure that I am kept safe in order to keep her safe and give her the best chance possible of recovering from a very serious, serious surgery. So we are literally all in this together.” Holland said she wanted the meetings refocused on the business of the day, calling on keeping “the temperature as low as possible in these meetings.”
Council member Eddie Branquinho had moments earlier started the discussion about last week’s meeting. “I will not be intimidated by anyone,” he said, going on to caution against making wild or false claims. He gave an example: a friend from New Jersey called him recently and asked him about the council member arrested for corruption. There was no such arrest but Branquinho’s friend had misinterpreted Council member Victor Barbosa’s attack last month against Morton, baselessly claiming corruption.
“I think it’s time that we stopped with incendiary words like, ‘Show up to the government buildings,’ ‘Take control before it’s too late,'” Branquinho said. “Sad, this is the new America. Well, these are heavy words. This will instigate some producers or some weak minded people, borderline wackos, to come here and do what one punk did here the other day.” (Branquinho said he was calling Phillips a “punk” after Charlie Ericksen, the former county commissioner, did so, recalling a run-in with Phillips at a commission meeting Phillips and others disrupted last fall.) Phillips said he would sue the city over his trespass warning.
Council member Nick Klufas, too, gave an example of what he described as “doubt that we cast upon our city without actual details,” which he termed “frustrating but also dangerous.” He described how, speaking to a contractor about installing a new roof on his house, the contractor told him he was being delayed by the city. “‘And you know how they are,'” the contractor told Klufas. “And my response is always, I do know how they are, and I don’t accept that as an excuse and if you actually have a city issue I want to know it. And if you don’t, then you’re lying to me. And when I confront these people I have not had one yet tell me an actual issue.”
Council members Barbosa and Ed Danko did not address the matter.