Fernando Melendez is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 4, running for an open seat. He faces Cathy Heighter. Heighter opted not to participate in the Live Interview.
The Melendez-Heighter race is not a run-off. Since only two candidates qualified for that race, that election was not on the primary ballot.
The District 4 seat is currently held by Eddie Branquinho, who chose not to run for re-election. Palm Coast voters will also be casting ballots in the District 2 race, also for an open seat. That’s to complete the term of Victor Barbosa, who resigned earlier this year. That race features Theresa Carli Pontieri and Alan Lowe, who are in a runoff after being the top two vote-getters in a field of four in the primary. They will only serve two years before the seat is up again.
Here’s the General Election Sample Ballot.
This is a non-partisan, at-large election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for Palm Coast council elections, even though the district winner ostensibly represents that particular district.
With the 2018 election, the entire council had turned over in just four years. With the 2022 election, three more seats, including that of the mayor, will have turned over again, leaving Nick Klufas as the council member with the most seniority, and the only council member to have won re-election.
Palm Coast council members serve four years. Until November, they were to be paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor, not including a monthly “telecommunications” allowance. In April, the council voted itself a 151 percent raise. Starting with the first paycheck after the Nov. 8 election, council members will be paid $24,097, plus health benefits (not included in the 151 percent calculation), plus the telecommunication allowance of $910 per year, plus a car allowance of $1,196 per year, for a total pay of $26,203 per year, plus a 2.5 percent increase per 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. Interviews of candidates who competed in the primary ran in July. 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.
|To vote: see a sample ballot here. Early voting is between October 24 and November 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at four sites in the county, listed here. You may vote early at any of the four sites regardless of your precinct location. To vote by mail, request your mail-in ballot here. Because of the Legislature's new law, restricting voting convenience, drop boxes are available, but only to a limited degree. The ballot drop box at the Elections Office will be monitored by a staff member beginning 60 days prior to the election, through Election Day. This drop box will no longer be available after office hours or on weekends, except during the early voting period. Other drop boxes will be available at early voting locations, but only during the days of early voting, and only during voting hours. Mail ballots must be received in the Elections Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. If returning your ballot by mail, please allow at least ten days for delivery. A postmark does not extend this deadline. You may track your ballot here. All other election-procedure related inquiries can be answered at the Elections Office's website.|
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Method and philosophy
- Needs and wants
- Housing affordability
- Denise Bevan
- Rap sheet
Place and Date of Birth: New York City, October 18, 1962.
Current job: Property Management.
Party Affiliation: Republican
Financial Disclosures: See it here.
Flagler County Commission
Jane Gentile-Youd (NPA)
Leann Pennington (R)
Palm Coast City Council
Alan Lowe, District 2
Theresa Carli Pontieri, District 2
Fernando Melendez, District 4
Cathy Heighter, District 4
Flagler County Voters Will Vote on Whether to Retain 11 Judges
Will Furry Chooses Sleaze. Again.
1. What makes you qualified to be a city council member? How have you specifically prepared yourself to be ready to succeed from day one? Tell us about you as a person: your personality, your temperament, your foibles: what character flaw do you bring to the council? Who do you admire most in office today among elected officials in Flagler County—the person you’d consider a model of leadership? Who in the world at large (beyond Flagler), and among the living, do you consider a role model of political or intellectual leadership?
My qualifications are a combination of experiences, skills and resources. My background in education has prepared me to serve my community. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Psychology from Boricua College in New York and a Masters degree in Political Science with a concentration in economic growth from Southern New Hampshire University. I am a Palm Coast Virtual Citizens Academy 2017 graduate, a former board member on the 2021 Palm Coast Redistricting Commission, and am currently serving on the Flagler County Planning and Development Advisory Board as the Vice Chair. I am also the current Community Director at SEAS Parish. As a person I’d say that I’ve always been selfless and concerned more with the needs of others than myself.
Working in the New York City school bus industry for the last 25 years both as a driver and as an elected union official for one of the largest transit unions in the country was the encouragement I needed to continue to serve and advocate in the public sector. I am a very friendly, respectful, and approachable person. My attitude always finds a way to adjust accordingly but rationally to whatever the situation is. My shortcomings are no different than most, I am not perfect by any means but the main one is always empathizing with others and their concerns or issues when I know that the rules, regulations, and even the law don’t or can’t help their cause. My greatest character flaw, and it has always been, is “fear,” fear that I don’t get it right, that I don’t properly prepare for whatever it is I am working on.
I don’t have a specific county official that I can say I totally admire as a model of leadership. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for all who serve, all have their hearts in the right place and deeply care for our future. A role model of political leadership for me has to be Governor Brad Little from Idaho, presently showing as the best state for economic growth and ranking 3rd overall in the U.S. Definitely my role model when talking about economic growth.
Who is the elected official locally you at least come closest to identifying with in leadership style and political temperament?
All elected officials in our county bring their own set of qualities which I respect, just as I bring my own and my own style of leadership. My temperament, political or not, is something that I’ve always been able to control, and I will work towards always resorting to a collaborative consensus.
2. What is in council member’s power, and what isn’t? What is your understanding of when and how, if ever, you may direct or in any way exercise any authority over administrative staff other than the city manager and the city attorney? How would you deal with a problem, perceived or real, regarding a city employee, a manager (not the city manager) or a director?
Fortunately not one council member has the power to act on his or her own behalf, except as a cohesive legislative branch of the city. As a council member you are elected to be the eyes, ears and voice of the residents you serve. Powers afforded to council members are limited to making collaborative decisions on major infrastructure projects and ranging from land use, community growth, financing, and strategic planning. Never, ever should a city council member direct in any way shape or form any authority over staff, period. All issues regarding city employees are brought to the attention of the city manager and handled through the appropriate channels.
3. How do you describe your governing method and philosophy: how do you (or will you) prepare for each council meeting and workshop, what is your analytical method, issue by issue, and what drives your decision-making? What role do politics, ideology or immovable principles have in your decision-making approach?
My governing method is through the process of interaction and policy innovation as well as the discovery of different models that will help achieve set goals. My philosophy is to continue to acquire knowledge, experience and be readily accessible to all residents while preparing for all council and workshop meetings as I currently do as the Vice Chair at the Flagler County Planning and Development Advisory Board. I will fully review, take notes and meet with the City Manager/ Director of Projects AICP/Planner Etc beforehand. Politics/ Ideology/Principles play no role in any decision making when it comes to city issues that concern all of our residents.
You tend to be a quieter member of the county planning board, asking few questions during hearings. Is that by choice? Are you comfortable probing issues and challenging presentations by staffers, or challenging interpretations by land-use attorneys and the interests they represent?
Although I still consider myself a freshman on the board, make no mistake, I always do my due diligence and always am prepared with my own set of questions before all meetings. I am very fortunate to be on a board with other board members that are more experienced and cover all questions that are aligned with my own. Having said that I will always question anything that seems to go against our comprehensive plan that doesn’t help foster economic growth and preserve our community’s character and natural amenities. My voting record as Vice-Chair on the Flagler planning and Development Board will show that when I must ask tough questions, I have no problems.
● Palm Coast needs to stop limiting itself to the service sector industries, we need to work harder at Industry diversification. Industries such as innovation technology, cyber security, med tech, digital media etc.
● Code Enforcement is doing an excellent job while seriously understaffed. I would like to see this department’s improvement in growth by hiring more enforcement officers and expedite their training.
● I would like to help see it through as your representative that we continue to offer a variety of Parks and Recreation to all our residents. To be able to commit to bringing every resident of every age a fun and healthy lifestyle experience. Proper oversight of future contracts, and to not let what happened with the Splash Park ever happen again. Convincing the council to change course on these items of concern, I’ll just simply remind them that all three concerns are very important to our residents.
Candidates or elected officials on the campaign trail invariably talk about diversifying the economic base. But what can either one council member or the entire council do to achieve “industry diversification,” if it’s not in your power to affect market demands? Put another way: what specific means do you have, if any, to bring a Trader Joe’s as opposed to a half dozen Dollar stores–or a Silicon Valley-type business as opposed to a fast-food joint?
We need to continue to support the ‘frontier’ project along with continued emphasis on the MedNex, JU, Daytona State initiatives to begin building a workforce that attracts medical service training and medical tech, research, and pharmaceutical companies to build and economically develop the western area of Palm Coast. And then we need to be laser focused on bringing in outside monies/industries to expand our tax base.
Fernando Melendez did not otherwise answer the follow-up question.
5. Candidates and council members hear the phrase “needs, not wants” from many constituents, usually as a criticism of some specific proposal to spend money on a project the speaker considers a “want.” Please give two or three examples of what you consider “needs” and how you would address them as a council member, and two or three examples of “wants” that you believe are important enough to justify the required spending.
Number #1, Whether it’s a “Needs or a Wants” The most appropriate way to address it is by putting things into proper perspectives, number #2, is it in our budget? Number 3, Is it in our best interest or even feasible? Any proposal whether a “Needs or not Wants” hinges on data from the appropriate studies and analysis to be able to make a decision on a specific proposal to be able to allocate funding for whatever project is Proposed. Needs: Safety, Economic Health, Sanitation, Healthcare, Clean Beautiful Environment, Ample Clean Water Supply. Wants: Arts and Cultural Center, Science and Technology Center, a Ferris wheel and a petting zoo in the middle of town center that’ll bring us all together as a community.
Are you suggesting that your list of needs is not being met? If those needs are being met, what needs do you see are not being met currently, or being met inadequately? The city established an arts district in Town Center. You place the arts and culture in a secondary position, aligning you with what has been a traditionally stingy council when it comes to the arts. How is a city to grow and define itself as a true city worth the name if it places arts and culture on the same level as a petting zoo?
I am not suggesting that at all, what I’m saying is that we’re a growing community and must find a balance to cope with our changing demographics and what better way than bringing both the young and seniors together than with an art district. Not only will I support it, but I will deeply be involved in working with the efforts of helping define our city as an arts and cultural future destiny.
6. The city’s budget, like all local government budgets, will likely face revenue shortfalls in an expected recession. How will you make up the lost revenue? Where do you stand on property tax increases, including adopting tax rates that are not at rollback (which amounts to a tax increase under Florida law)? Short of new sources of revenue, and if you intend to stick to a rolled back tax rate, which nearly limits any growth in the budget, what city programs would you eliminate and what service levels would you reduce to achieve that?
Unfortunately we know that budgets do not balance themselves but are a fundamental and vital aspect of public organization. I can honestly say I think Palm Coast has shown a resilient yet steadfast economy even during the worst of the pandemic, and I look forward to helping see to it that we work harder at making it a stronger and even more resilient economy. But unfortunately property tax increases happen with or without City Council’s input due to property value increases. This is due to the assessed value that must be adjusted to current market value. I don’t particularly believe in rollbacks nor cutting any city programs or services at any level. Incoming revenue streams can be considered from other options by balancing existing sources, impact fees from new businesses, new construction, and assets such as city owned buildings and properties. In relation to property values, I will commit to working as hard as possible to maintain the lowest property tax rate possible. I will always work on making the best possible decision to have the most minimal impact on our residents.
You would have voted in favor of the current budget, keeping the tax rate flat but not at rollback?
Yes! Because it wasn’t a tax increase at all. The vote was to hold the line on the same millage rate as the previous year by the city. However, there will be a very modest property tax increase on homes both homesteaded (3%) and non- homesteaded (10%) due to tax assessments on property fair market value by the county’s tax assessor’s office. Nothing to do with the city. Fear mongering and disinformation has always taken place during elections. If elected I will always vote on the budgets and on any agenda items based on the facts and very thorough and complete studies. This budget vote in turn will continue to fund our essential services such as our Firefighters, law Enforcement, Roads, Sanitation, etc. just as the previous year and not diminishing our quality of life.
7. The city’s golf course, its tennis center and its pool serve a fraction of people, and all at a fee, but are heavily subsidized by general fund dollars, are in constant need of expensive upkeep, and, as in the tennis center’s case, in the midst of lavish expansion. Are you supportive of those amenities? How will you balance spending tax dollars for pools, tennis, golf or pickle ball when so many people don’t use these facilities?
Yes! I support all of the above. A growing city needs to keep up with quality amenities, it would be balanced out by impact fees on new construction with the funds earmarked only for these types of capital improvement projects, as well as the enterprise zone, Florida Recreation Development Assistant Program (FRDAP) etc. As I’ve said before, I’m all for offering all residents a well rounded community at the lowest possible cost to our residents.
8. Palm Coast’s population has grown over 30 percent in the past decade and a half. A certain amount of NIMBYism—not in my back yard—is a recurring theme of existing residents opposing further development, and not just apartment complexes. Do existing residents have a right to close the development gates behind them, when Palm Coast as ITT envisioned it in the late 60s was planned for 600,000 residents? How do you define overdevelopment, and how do you define smart growth, with existing examples in the city. What percentage of our housing stock should be single-family homes as opposed to apartments?
I support expansion, smart growth, population growth, businesses and development. All which equals to prosperity and opportunity for our city as a whole. As a former commissioner on the Palm Coast 2021 redistricting board, I worked with these numbers and understand them well, at a 25 percent population growth in the last decade and showing a trend in an upward increase in growth. It’s just telling us that we’re being discovered. We were recently named one of the best cities to retire in 2022, with a high grade bond rating of AA-, low crime rate, high quality of life, all which will continue to attract new and younger families as well as retirees. NIMBYIism, I believe, is a term for concerned residents and wanting to protect their investment and communities. Good news is that our city’s strong future vision and goals are in great part preparing for the challenges ahead. Development? that is answered by your own question: Palm Coast was planned for 600,000 residents. Over-development happens when the demand is not there. Smart growth happens when you help shape the growth. On the housing stock, I will refer back to the city’s comprehensive plan and the assignment on housing stock.
You will be shaping that comprehensive plan as a council member. In your view, is the city properly balancing housing stock needs between single-family homes and other options, including apartments?
The city does support growth in terms of housing and in terms of creating a housing inventory with a range of options. Yes, I do believe the city is working towards filling that need for apartments which I support for our workforce community. When it comes to housing development, we need to work with all community stake holders (developers, city, community leaders, community organizations, realtor’s associations, etc.) to maximize state and federal resources to create and preserve attainable housing for both home ownership and rentals within our community.
9. With the Flagler Realtors Association’s May 2022 report showing median house prices at $400,000, up from $294,000 a year ago, the city faces an affordable housing shortfall. How do you propose to diversify Palm Coast’s housing options? By what criteria would you approve or reject apartment complexes? Would you approve raising the density and height of multi-family, or apartment, structures in select areas of the city zoned for the purpose?
There are no surprises there, the property values have been climbing now for quite some time and so goes our property taxes. The question becomes when will the bubble burst come? So, that we can see a property tax relief for our residents. Our city is facing what every other city in the country is facing a surge in high property values, various external factors also contribute to the situation such as rising material cost, fuel price increase, local impact fees, all which play a significant part in obtainable housing, this is not just exclusive to Palm Coast. And yes! to all of the above, it’s all about selected areas of the city’s zoning. “Think westward expansion.”
You seem to be skirting the question on apartments: Especially in the context of affordability, do you consider single-family housing a priority? Do you agree with Council member Eddie Branquinho’s near-total opposition to new apartment complexes? Do you have anything against including mobile homes in the mix? Your reference to “westward expansion” echoes another council member’s mantra–that of Mayor David Alfin. How closely aligned are you with his policy and development outlook?
I’m a big proponent of multifamily housing, and I’ve been very clear on that from the very beginning. There’s no question we are in the middle of a housing crisis, and we should work on balancing our housing inventory regardless of them being single-family housing or multifamily housing because the fact is we need to both balance out our tax base primarily to work towards reducing our dependence on our residential homeowners’ backs. But we need to do this responsibly and include a robust economic development plan that will contribute to the plan. But more importantly, making sure it falls within our comprehensive plan. I do not oppose new apartment complexes if they fall within the attainable housing products that we need to support a comfortable middle-class life for our workforce community. Our goal should be to develop a sustainable community that is inclusive and equitable for all. The “west ward expansion” is a great opportunity to master plan as it gives us a chance to identify short term and long-term visions. But more importantly attracting private sector investments, and allowing us to engage with our local community for their input and truly try to get it right and not making the same mistakes that were made with Palm Coast by ITT.
10. Palm Coast’s saltwater canals may need dredging. It’s never been done in the 50-year existence of the city and its ITT antecedent. But the canals—like those recreational amenities mentioned above–are limited to a few neighborhoods. If and when it comes to that, who should pay for the dredging, and through what taxing mechanism?
The water canals are an extremely important commodity to our community as a whole. As in Water Is a Precious Commodity. It’s a useful and valuable amenity to all Palm Coast residents regardless of what neighborhood you are in. We are currently waiting for the data from the study that was approved to have it surveyed. We’d definitely have to look at federal grants to see if we’re even eligible for such funding and matching funds from other sources. Fifty years is a long time to have overlooked maintenance of our canals to now try passing the cost of having it dredged onto our residents.
How are the canals of the C Section of any benefit as an amenity to residents of the P, W, R or Seminole Woods sections? Why should residents there care, let alone pay for, the dredging of canals that primarily benefit boat-slipped homeowners along them? And again: what specific mechanism are you proposing to pay for it?
There is no specific mechanism to pay for it yet as the approved study hasn’t yet been concluded. The canals are an amenity to all of Palm Coast regardless of if you have a boat slip or not. (Swimmers, boaters, kayakers, and fisherman) So, the question then becomes is, what happens if the study concludes that by dredging it up the undisturbed sediment for over 40 years will unleash gasses, debris, silt and a host of contaminations that will pose a serious threat to aquatic wildlife and plants. This is a serious amenity that we need to be very careful with because instead of making things better we can easily disrupt its natural state and turn our ICW into a contaminated swamp. We must wait for the study and then deal with how to pay for it.
Denise Bevan shines in everything she does. Behind the scenes she is absolutely terrific, she reminds me of the Energizer Bunny. She’s getting it done.
12. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Evaluate that relationship. Do you consider the steep expansion of the Palm Coast policing force (and budget) justified in a low-crime era? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future?
Absolutely not! No independent police department here needed, that would be like shooting ourselves in the foot. Our relationship with Sheriff Rick Staly is a professional one, he knows what we expect from the FCSO and he is definitely delivering. Expansion of the PC policing force is crucial to keep ahead of the curb in crime, the proof is in the pudding and facts don’t lie. We are at one of the lowest crime rates in Palm Coast history. I aim to keep it that way and continue to support our law enforcement 100 percent.
13. 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, or faced any investigative or disciplinary action through a professional board such as the bar or a medical board? Have you ever been demoted? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.