On Monday, Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston filed a 16-page application to the county’s Tourist Development Council for a $739,000 grant to rebuild the city’s boardwalk. The application was more than two weeks late. It was incomplete. The TDC administration rejected it, and will not include it in council members’ packages when the council itself recommend who will get grant funding this year, when the TDC meets on July 20.
That’s not really the issue. Johnston’s move was unusual, skirting the bounds of the appropriate: elected officials are barred from meddling in their government’s day-to-day administrative business, including writing grants. They can order them written, with a consensus or vote of their elected board. They are not supposed to write and file them unilaterally, without board action.
But Johnston’s move, which she says she cleared with City Attorney Drew Smith, reflects a mounting level of frustration and dissatisfaction with the city administration of William Whitson, and is only a symptom of a recurring breakdown of relations between the mayor and the administration on one hand, and between different members of the commission on the other. Commission Chairman Ken Bryan and Commissioner Jane Mealy have been supportive of Whitson. Commissioners Deborah Phillips and James Sherman have been toeing a middle line. And Johnston and Commissioner Eric Cooley–who happen to be a couple–have been openly critical of Whitson.
Three successive issues have soured relations in the last few months–what Johnston refers to as “dropping the ball.” There was the fiasco over the July 4 fireworks, which Whitson blamed on Covid changes and on his staff not calling the fireworks producer in time (a blame the fire chief and the police chief sharply refuted in a timeline of events prepared for Whitson, at Sherman’s request). There was the retirement of long-time finance director Kathleen Doyle, just ahead of budget season, without Whitson lining up a replacement: the position is still vacant. And there was the failure to apply for the TDC grant.
(Doyle announced her retirement in March and, according to the city’s Human Resources director, “her final day was June 3, 2022.” That contradicts what Doyle herself wrote her colleagues in a 4:38 p.m. email on May 20, fully two weeks earlier: “Today is my official day as Finance Director for the City of Flagler Beach.” Two days later, she signed a $70-an-hour consulting contract with the city. The city advertised for a replacement, got 14 applications, interviewed four applicants, but none worked out, including two who declined the city’s offer, according to the city’s human resources director. Doyle in her contract said she’d work 90 hours a month at the $70 rate, then for $90 an hour after that.)
The grant has been available for a year and a half. TDC Director Amy Lukasik met with Whitson and his assistant to discuss it and offer her help months ago. Whitson earlier this month told the commission there was no application because there was no time to file it. Bryan, who represents the city on the TDC board, said there was no “shelf-ready” project to tie to the grant, which is accurate: the city has numerous capital project needs, but it has not lined one up with reliable cost estimates, designs and other details that would make it eligible for a TDC grant. Johnston’s point is that the city had a year and a half to do so, and still did not.
So she took it upon herself to file.
“I had two choices that I could make for the residents of Flagler Beach,” Johnston said. “I could do nothing, or I could do something in a last ditch effort. I chose to do something. I called Amy Lukasik at the tourism office, I reached out, I asked if I could submit an application. She still needed to go through her protocols. But she said if I submitted an application, it would need to be right now. So therefore, I turned to my keyboard and I started working on the application for the residents of Flagler Beach for the grant. It was not discussed beforehand with the rest of the commission, but I was with the understanding that we had a consensus from the last meeting that everyone wanted us to apply for this grant. So I got to my keyboard and I applied for the full amount of the grant to redo the boardwalk for the city of Flagler Beach. It’s the gateway to the county’s iconic landmark of our pier. It would fall hand in hand with the restoration of the pier project. It was a perfect opportunity.”
Johnston could not speak with fellow commissioners outside of sunshine, but she could issue a one-way memo. So she did, on Tuesday morning, sending it to Whitson and the city clerk and asking that it be disseminated to the rest of the commission. The boardwalk was picked because it was “discussed long ago by the previous CM as the next project after the A-frame repairs since all locations [with] the pier are intertwined.” The boardwalk reconstruction is in fact part of the city’s long-term capital plans.
“Due to the extreme time constraints of this issue, communication is after the fact. If there is any objections to this particular grant initiative, elected can chose to vote against acceptance of the grant funds if awarded,” Johnston wrote.
The grant is not about to be accepted.
“The mayor provided the application on Monday but unfortunately it was way, way past the deadline, and the supporting documentation was not complete,” Lukasik said. “It was not ready for prime time.” Johnston for her application sought an estimate from Moore Construction for the boardwalk project. But it’s a hurried page-long estimate prepared on June 27, outside of city channels. It states that the customer is the City of Flagler Beach. Johnston said the estimate was done at no charge, with a second contractor also prepared to provide an estimate.
“There’s really not any detail at all,” Lukasik said of the application, which lacked supporting documentation and a formal vetting process at the city, though that’s an internal matter. “I appreciate and respect her eagerness and wanting to try to do anything that she can.” Lukasik herself told the mayor that she had to call Whitson to make him aware of the application. But for obvious reasons, she did not want to get caught up in internecine issues at the city. (Whitson declined to comment.)
Lukasik was at any rate uncomfortable with an application coming in so far beyond the deadline, as it would be unfair to those who have already applied. Only one entity has: Palm Coast government, filing an extensive, 147-page pitch for the full amount to spend on the city’s expansion of the tennis center off of Belle Terre Parkway. It was filed on time, and with sufficient time for Lukasik to work with the city to tie up loose ends. The TDC itself meets July 20 to recommend whether the full amount goes to Palm Coast, or whether a partial amount does, with some left on the table for another round. The recommendation goes to the County Commission, which makes the final decision on Aug. 15. The commission could itself decide to upend the process. The grants are available only every two years.
“You have a deadline for a reason, you can’t start compromising the process,” Lukasik said. “I understand their frustration and disappointment, but I really have to stick to our guns on the deadline.”
Johnston acknowledges the unfairness to Palm Coast of a post-deadline filing. “I would 100 percent say it’s not fair,” Johnston said. “I even said I understand how this can be, and you want to be fair. So accepted it as a second application. Maybe they can award Palm Coast first, then come and look at our application second. But you hate to see the residents be penalized. The next application is not next year. The application opens up in October and it’s a year and a half for it to be awarded. It’s essentially every two years.”
Bryan, the commission chairman, declined to parse Johnston’s motives. “There’s no point in it, the deadline is gone. It’s a moot issue,” Bryan said in a brief interview today. “The best thing to do is to focus on the grants that’ll be available next year.” He added: “Things happen, sometimes things fall through the cracks, you learn from you mistakes and move on.” Bryan himself learned of other grant opportunities–and put some to use to refurbish park benches, a $6,000 project the city did not have to pay for, or himself negotiated with a supply store to get help with a related initiative. So commissioners getting on the grant bandwagon may not necessarily be a unique thing.
And all may not be over at the county, since county commissioners may yet have a say.
The mayor isn’t pretending that she hasn’t gone over the city manager’s head: she clearly has, and she anticipates some blowback from the commission. Mealy particularly had a notable confrontation with a fellow commissioner over meddling in administrative realms, albeit 12 years ago. But the principle endures.
Johnston is aware of lanes. She filed anyway, “because nothing was done. When I found out that that application was not submitted, I was upset,” Johnston said. “I’m not one to accept excuses. I want to do something. Not having that grant is a loss for our city residents, our tourists and the entire rest of the county.”
Jim B says
I would like to know exactly who is accountable and what actions will take place as a result. Can we also be sure it will not be replaced with tax payer money?
It’s all tax payer (that’s us folkx) money.
The grant money awarded by the TDC comes from tourism taxes, so unless you are living in a local motel, this is not your money.
E, ROBOT says
It’s all our money. Where do you think it came from?
Scott W. Spradley says
Even with the application likely being unsuccessful due to its untimeliness, this was a heroic effort by Mayor Johnston to step up to attempt to save the Grant and bring in some free money for needed improvements to Flagler Beach, after we were failed by the city manager. That is true leadership. Suzy should be applauded for her efforts.
It is not free. It’s our money.
totally agree with your comments
I disagree. Suzy got her own “free” estimate from some contractor, filed the application on her own, put the county tourism director in a terrible position, will drag the TDC in to this, then the BOCC. Where are the ethics, government in the sunshine and consensus from the FB commission to support that?
Flagler Beach looks like a real Banana Republic, and will continue to all the way through this Train wreck of a process, as everybody at the county should vote against this so-called grant application with its “contractor estimates.” It’s laughable and damages the city’s brand.
Government operates at a higher level for a reason. This grant application is an unacceptable operation of government.
SASHAY AWAY says
A woman who knows how to take the bull by the horn, SO WHAT she got the BOCC and other officials involved as many of them with their big egos need a good shaken up cause they run this county like they are living in separate states and whatever is in it for them and their cronies. If it wasn’t for Flagler beach PC would be irrevelevant.
She should be Cory Manager then, not Mayor. It’s a major faux pas.
SASHAY AWAY says
James: You mean a city manager, IDK cory manager. I hope you didn’t mean the current inept baffoon, she’s certainly not making his salary. So let me ask you this here’s a women who is trying to HELP her citizens and her city, intereting to know what do you think about the other commissioner BAFFOON MULLINS and his getting away with his numerous speeding violations and his blatant disrespect for the law, what do you have to say about his fauz pas????? Inquiring minds would like to know cause if anyone backs his shenanigans they are certainly a huge part of the problem. That Danko crew.
I agree with you James. The local government is very suspect to me. All of them.
Manny Ramalho says
I totally agree with Mayor Suzie Johnston. She at least is looking out for her citizens. While others who were reminded multiple times that the application was due and did nothing. These individuals that fell asleep and had all kind of excuses should all lose their jobs. There was no excuse for what happened. None
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Good for you Mayor Suzie. You care about your constituents above all else. Your heart is in the right place which is extremely rare these days ( and almost unheard of in Flagler County)… Bravo for your efforts. Now Any needs to pull herself together and do what she knows is right- speaking of mistakes she was ready to blow tons of money on a most impractical , corner residential lot across the street from protected dunes for her new tourist center when it should be in full view of I-95!
Flagler Local says
Good on Mayor Johnston. At least someone’s taking the initiative to get done what someone else dropped the ball on. Period.
I just LOVE a strong headed woman…. You go Girl !!!!
Thank you Mayor!! At least somebody has the ability to get off their ass and do something besides bitch and offer lame excuse’s why things that might benefit the city and it’s citizens don’t get done. Hopefully her actions will be a wake up call for those officials who simply fill a chair.
jOE sTOLFI says
.. .. FLAGLER BEACH appears to be in a CRISIS MANAGEMENT WISE .. ..
Gina Weiss says
Good for you Mayor Johnston, maybe the small mind mentality that we are not somehow intertwined with each other will stop. Even if we live in PC we all go down there to enjoy the beach, restaurants, walk the boardwalk, First Fridays, and Saturday Farmers market, and so on. It would be a nice gesture if the PC commission would turn over some of the PC grant to help FB. The ones who would ultimately make the final decision lies upon the FCBOCC, I just hope that some of them will put on their big boy pants and not let personal or political feelings get in their way because they must keep in mind to look at the “big picture” which will benefit all of us residents in nearby towns as well as tourist who spend time and money in FB. Time will tell and we all shall see who the bigger level minded caring officials are, this will surely tell alot about each and everyone of them. Why not support FB, all of these officials need to come together as FB should be in tip top shape for all to enjoy.
On the surface it does look heroic. But, the fact that an elected official went rogue on behalf of the City and presented herself as a representative should have us all concerned. The article clearly states she was WRONG “They are not supposed to write and file them unilaterally, without board action”. Maybe this time it had the appearence of some kind of hero, but what if next time it doesn’t and is damaging to the city? Setting this precedence and condoning her behavior will lead the city further down the hole of despair then it already is. IT IS NOT OK to deceive and act on your own as an elected official. If you don’t see this as a problem you are part of the problem. She was wrong to do what she did and made the city look even more incompetent by demonstrating her arrogant attitude of ignoring proper protocol.
SASHAY AWAY says
Let talk about improper behavior.You speak about arrogance and deceit.What is DECEIVING is when a seated official uses certain people to use FAKE names on facebook pages for their own gain. Now that’s deceit! And this does not include the Flagler Beach officials.
Scott W Spradley says
The Mayor sought and obtained approval from the City Attorney to do so before preparing or submitting the application. That is responsible. Not rogue. Moreover, what she was seeking was what the city commission already indicated it wanted by consensus. This was about a missed deadline, and a City Official who did what she could to have the commission’s interests carried forward. And I will say it again. She sought and obtained legal counsel from the City’s own attorney before submitting it. If there is anger to be had here, it should be directed to the person who blew the deadline and put the Fity in the position that it is in, and it should not be directed at the one person who tried to salvage the situation.
Scott W Spradley
Karen Joiner says
Excellent reply Scott.
And to Mayor Johnston, “ THANK YOU BEING THE LEADER YOU WERE ELECTED TO BE. “
With all due respect, she didn’t make the city look more incompetent. She shined a light on continuing incompetence. Yup, she went around a protocol and I’m good with that. It is about time somebody gave these folks a wake up call.
So if supporting her action makes me part of the problem, well it won’t be the first time. While we are at it, I’d submit that blowing a $700,000+ plus grant is a larger problem.
Big Mike says
Before Mayor Suzie Johnston is deemed a “hero” for writing her own grant for the expired project…I appears the Mayor has a Bachelors Degree in Business and Marketing, not engineering. What licensed contractor did the estimating for this expired grant? Who was able to do the last minute engineering to support this grant?
Was this an effort to save face and politics, or to actually secure money for Flagler Beach? My guess its more show boating and an effort for dropping the ball rather than getting funding.
I believe you’re correct. Grandstanding and showboating from all sides, frankly. Politicians- regardless of D, R, or even I next to their name- are all 99.8% the same anymore. And We The Peons matter little, if at all🙄
jim morrison says
terrible all the way around – “sometimes things fall through the cracks” that is BS with something this size and this much time allowed to respond. Bryan should share with FL the incomplete application that was being worked on before they ran out of time. Bryan you were responsible to ask the hard questions on the status of this project at least every other week – can you provide documentation regarding those conversions -bryan at what point did you realize that this large grant was not going to get done and fall through the cracks? you were the project manager and sponsor and failed miserably- what other projects are you responsible for at this time? are you going to resign?
Love dis Mayor says
Good try by the Mayor but you need to hold City Staff accountable. Termination is in order. As a City leader you should ask for resignations.
You have a lazy disorganized City Manager.
Purveyor of Truth says
Symbolic & politically astute.
Mary Evans says
Thats what I voted for, someone who would not take an excuse as an answer. Good job Mayor Johnston for trying to do the right thing. I hope The City of Flagler Beach gets a happy ending. Its important to let the County Commission know that us the locals want a new boardwalk and not just the tourists. Its a win for everyone!
So the Mayor didn’t want to act on fireworks because the commission hadn’t ok’d slight increase, but now she’s out there filing for grants on her own? Flagler Beach is a dumpster fire right now, dysfunctional as ever.
Gina Weiss says
What protocol did the city manager follow by not doing his job in a timely manner, this is not the first one of his blunders while making a salary of 100,000 dollars a year. Mayor Johnston should just sit silently back as a figure head and be submissive to unprofessional behavior, hell no, finally a woman with BALLS enough to challenge the system and the powers that be. We as women should be uplifting other women instead of dragging one into the dirt. Bottom line she is trying to do what is best for her city which is more than I can say from what I have seen from other seated officials past and present.
Let Freedom Ring says
While I appreciate the Mayor’s frustration with our inept City Manager, she had no authority to submit a grant application on behalf of the City. Council actions are restricted to legislative and policy issues. Council could have, with a majority vote, ordered the City Manager to submit the application asap. They could have called a special meeting. Oddly enough, the Mayor doesn’t even have a vote in the matter. To make matters worse, Sections 2.03 and 2.05 are clear when it comes to both the Mayor’s role and the Council’s prohibitions. The Mayor’s role is ceremonial. It clearly states she has no administrative duties or responsibilities. Council’s supposed to stay out of day to day functions. I’m surprised the Mayor was able to get the City Attorney’s approval to submit the application.
With all that being said. I don’t think there’s any real harm done. The Council should probably warn the Mayor and leave it at that. With regard to the City Manager, I think it’s clear we have a problem. Even a quick google search of the manager’s background should have been a warning signal to all involved. Couple that with his former boss leading the selection process, this was easily avoidable. Now the Council and Mayor must swallow this hard pill and move on from their mistakes. In my opinion they should terminate the City Manager and search for a replacement. The Council doesn’t need the Range Riders or any other entity to whittle down the field and make a new selection. Every member of Council, including the Mayor, are smart and very capable. We don’t need a nation-wide search. There’s plenty of talent in Florida to choose from. Preferably someone local that loves Flagler Beach.
Linda Hagman says
Thank you –very well presented. Time to do some house cleaning. Thank you Mayor Johnston–as a Flagler Beach tax payer and voter I appreciate your efforts.
Congratulations to the Mayor for trying to get this grant. The city manager clearly dropped the ball on this as well as the fireworks. This begs the question, what else has not been accomplished on time? Just wondering, if when Whitson heard about the mayors grant application, did he throw his meal against the nearest wall?
Spruce up the Pier! says
Looks like some Lazing FB Bureaucrats got caught with their pants down. Nice to see a hail mary try from the mayor. She shed some light on the need to drain the swamp of incompetence. The core Pier area would be lovely with some sprucing up, Maybe some pavers where we now park in deep puddles, replacing dirty cracked uneven concrete, cosmetic overhaul, Its such a historic area, with so much potential. Shame on the Lazy elected officials too busy to simply file to secure funds, and let opportunity slip away like sand through the fingers.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
The only issue at hand is the mayor’s efforts to try to salvage close to $800,000 Tourist Tax Revenue for HER city which those in charge to correctly apply for screwed up! This money is not taken from county or city property tax funds ; its money that the county probably would not even have if not for the existence of Flagler Beach where the majority of this tax is generated from. Suzie Johnston deserves a gold medal for taking the bull by the horn instead of willingly being bulldozed over by those who just didn’t care enough to be responsible in time.
Gina Weiss says
Right Jane, their oh well we missed it attitudes we will try again next year is totally unacceptable because it really takes 2 years to receive the money. Their guilt is reprehensible.
FB Native says
One can applaud Suzie for taking the initiative and filing for this grant — albeit past its deadline. Shouldn’t there be some sort of oversight done by the board to ensure important grants and timelines are being followed up/completed? AFAIK, this grant was open for 16 months. This blunder accompanied by the 4th firework display certainly seems like grounds for immediate suspension or removal. In any other professional setting, failure to do one’s job results in dismissal or termination. Why does the manager still have a job?
She did this to get “likes.” She knew full well it would amount to nothing, even admitting that. She broke protocol. She’s made herself out as a hero, although she really didn’t do anything. The paperwork wasn’t even filled out correctly. She doesn’t deserve credit for work she didn’t do.
Celia Pugliese says
To the contrary she is a brave Mayor and asked legal advise first given the lack of application for the TDC disbursement of collected bed tax. The finance department or manager of the city of Flagler Beach didn’t do its work and Lukasik and the TDC should make and exception this time and accept the application of Mayor Johnston. Lets do away with favoritism…
This should have been on the Mayors calendar for months . Very basic stuff, nice try….doesn’t account for the big miss by ALL, token application predictable.
This is a 2 yr process! Wasn’t managed properly for months . Take the hit, learn and move on. This missed opportunity is was on everyones watch.
Certainly fodder’ for those running against these elected officials …no one ever asked the question re TDC money?… really? For 18 months?