Flagler County’s business community is paying back the county commission with a snub.
In mid-August the Flagler County Commission euthanized Enterprise Flagler in a public (and publicly discourteous) way to the all-volunteer members of the economic development agency even as its president proposed an alternative to the way it had been operating.
Enterprise Flagler was, until Sept. 30, the public-private agency, funded mostly by the county and Palm Coast, responsible for nurturing and recruiting new jobs to the area. Its board was a mixture of government heads and local CEOs, with Florida Hospital Flagler’s David Ottati, whose hospital has created the largest number of private-sector jobs in the area in the past several years, as its president. A split majority of commissioners told Ottati that his services were no longer needed, that the county would replace Enterprise Flagler with an economic development council of its own. The new council had many similarities to the revamped version of Enterprise Flagler Ottati was proposing. But the commission wasn’t interested.
In an embarrassing and telling first act to the county’s version of economic development, the council’s eight seats have gone begging for applicants, and returned with few takers. The application window was scheduled to close Friday.
“I hope that it doesn’t mean that there is an overwhelming sit-out by the business community. I hope it’s just a matter of lack of communication or people don’t know about it,” Barbara Revels, the county commissioner most supportive of Enterprise Flagler and the putative chairwoman of the new council, said.
But the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce had spread the word to its membership about the council, and Revels herself had announced at Enterprise Flagler’s last meeting that applicants were welcome. The county had also advertised the positions in the News-Journal. And articles had run in local media about it. There was no lack of information.
Revels attributed the tepid response to “maybe distrust or loss of faith or loss of energy, I don’t know. I don’t want to believe that but I do know that after what occurred with Enterprise Flagler, there was some very, very upset business owners in this community that have logged in lots of billable hours to an organization for free, in addition to paying to be a member, and they were basically told they had no value, so I suspect that some of the lack of applications would be from those people who feel like they won’t be appreciated for their contribution.”
County Administrator Craig Coffey told county commissioners in a meeting Monday that they may need to extend the application deadline. Commissioners jumped on that proposal and extend the deadline at least a week, then asked the administrator again to advertise the non-paying positions, which were, in fact, advertised in the News-Journal previously.
On Tuesday, the administration emailed to news agencies a want-ad in the form of a news release: “A crucial part of Flagler County’s new plan for economic development is an eight member board of volunteers to guide a staff of professionals working on economic development in the county,” it read. The county, it went on, is looking for individuals with backgrounds in finance, agriculture, marketing, real estate and high tech.
The three individuals who’ve applied so far: Mark Langello, the Bunnell Developer who owns Atlantis, the commercial development on U.S. 1; Joseph Marotti, a consultant retired from various managerial positions elsewhere; and Rick Frasier, president of the Center for Business Excellence. The administration received a fourth application today, from Michael Beebe, a member of the Palm Coast Planning Board and the head of Beebe Associates in Palm Coast.
Art Barr, a former leading member of Enterprise Flagler–and a critic of the county’s handling of the dissolution of the agency–was nevertheless surprised by the low number of applicants. “I know of five or six people that are planning to” apply, he said. “I know one or two who are getting some references to reinforce their applications.” Barr, a developer, is not among them, he said.
“I’m a private side kind of guy and I look forward to the opportunity of standing on this side of the gate or the fence and representing the business community,” Barr said. “I’ll certainly be active but in a sense to make sure that the government does its job. They’ve raise the expectation that they can do the job better than the private sector. Now, put up or shut up.”
Alan Peterson, chairman of the county commission, was among the supporters of Enterprise Flagler’s dissolution. He concedes that the summer’s developments may be contributing to disaffection in the business community, but was bothered by the lack of broader response. “Obviously some people that had bee involved don’t want to get involved in the new organization,” Peterson said, “but I’d hoped, and the commission had hoped, that there were people out there who wanted to get involved.”
He added: “If new people and new ideas and people with experience don’t come forward, it will have diminished in my mind what the majority of the commission wanted to accomplish with the new committee.”
Interested individuals are asked to complete the following application (also available below). The application and supplemental information can be sent via email, fax or regular mail to Christie Mayer at ([email protected]) or call (386) 313-4094.