On April 28 the Flagler Beach City Commission voted 3-2 to approve a $420,500 bid to rebuild the garbage-dumpster pad adjacent to the Funky Pelican, the former Pier Restaurant that operates from the city-owned facility.
What four of the five commissioners and the mayor did not know was that the project was not merely to repair and replace the pad, but to nearly double the space, creating storage and dumpster space–and further blocking the public’s view of the ocean on the north side of the restaurant.
All six were interviewed since. All but Commission Chairman Ken Bryan said they voted thinking that they were approving a repair, not an expansion–just as the commission had discussed doing for years, when it had discussed the matter, which was not often, and never as an agenda item with documents readily available for either public or commission inspection, records show.
Even Bryan, in his comments at the April 28 commission meeting, spoke of the project as a repair to the existing structure, not an expansion: “I’ve been out there under the structure, walking around, and I’ve been in the dumpster area, and I’ve also talked to the tenant and first thing he told me, he wanted to expand, and he showed me all the grandiose things he wanted to do. And I said that’s great. How much money do you have? Because we’re not paying for it.”
The April 28 background material for the commission on the dumpster project (which starts with an error: the meeting date on the item is listed as April 22) was scant. But even that item was titled “Pier Restaurant Dumpster Enclosure Renovation.” It doesn’t refer to an expansion of the enclosure anywhere. It unflatteringly refers to former City Manager Larry Newsom, who died in August 2020: “For unknown reasons Mr. Newsom chose not to bid the project for repairs to be made.”
The reasons are not unknown: the pandemic upended numerous projects, as did Newsom’s failing health, and renovation designs were conducted on Newsom’s watch. But again, the memo refers to repairs, not expansion.
The background memo also notes that City Manager William Whitson was in discussion with the contractor to perform a kitchen expansion Funky Pelican Owner Ray Barshay has been seeking for several years.
No one, including the commissioners who voted against the project on April 28, disputes that the dumpster enclosure is in dire need of repairs. It sits on pylons that have rotted out. It’s unsafe. Its interior’s floor is buckled and it’s not environmentally sound. The two commissioners who voted against the project–Eric Cooley and James Sherman–find the cost too high, and were looking at alternative ways to store the restaurant’s garbage. But even then, they were not aware that the project included an expansion.
Commissioners were shocked to discover that it did, and only after former City Commissioner Marshall Shupe pointed out to Cooley that last he knew–Shupe left office in 2020–the project was slated for $200,000.
“What I recall is that Larry in the meetings I was in was not to expand the pad, but to replace the pad, as it sits, which meant new pylons and so on,” Shupe said in an interview. “That’s my recollection from meetings that I was involved with. Expansion of the pad now, whether moving of the wall or putting interior space, maybe that’s what they’re looking at. I haven’t seen the plan. But originally, all Larry Newsom had planned on doing was tearing down the pad and replacing the pad, period. That’s when I recall Ray [Barshay] saying he wanted to expand the kitchen.”
There is little question that the very few times the commission has discussed the pad publicly, it has done so as a repair, never as an expansion.
At an Oct, 24, 2019 commission meeting, Barshay was present and the matter was on the agenda. “Newsom reported the city is looking at the same space currently used and hopes to
incorporate a space in the same area for the washing of the mats,” the minutes state, with no objection noted from Barshay.
At the February 13, 2020 commission meeting, during the approval of a budget amendment, “Discussion ensued regarding the condition of the dumpster pad and how the restaurant appears to be using the area as storage,” minutes state. “The Elected Officials reiterated the repair is for the dumpster pad, and not improvements for storage.”
At the end of a commission meeting on January 28, 2021, then-Interim City Manager Rick McFadden “reported on the issue with the dumpster pad at the Funky Pelican, advising we need to repair it as soon as possible,” according to the minutes. There was no mention of an expansion.
By January 2020, records show, Joseph Pozzuoli, the Flagler Beach-based architect, was hired by the city to draw up plans for the job. He has been paid $36,450 so far–four times more than what the commission originally approved on February 13, 2020, when it agreed to pay him $9,000 “to design structural drawings for a new dumpster area for Funky Pelican Restaurant.”
Pozzuoli submitted a scope of work with two possibilities. “Alternate 1” was for replacing the existing 18 by 18.6 foot space. “Alternate 2” was to add an additional 200-some square feet to the space.
The two options never went before the city commission, either for discussion or a decision.
On May 14, 2021, two weeks after Whitson took over management of the city, Pozzuoli sent another contractual letter, still addressed to McFadden as interim manager. The scope of work showed only one option: the one with the expansion. But the commission had never made that choice, which appeared to run counter to its intentions every time it had discussed the matter.
Shupe was in Cooley’s 7-Eleven store the day after the April 28 meeting, discussing the item, and prompting Cooley to text Whitson: “Are we changing the size of the dumpster pad or just repaired?” Cooley texted at 1:48 p.m.
“To my knowledge, no change in the size,” Whitson texted back three minutes later.
Cooley thanked him, saying a citizen (meaning Shupe) told him it would be larger, and that he couldn’t decipher what the plans indicated: Commissioners had insisted on receiving some documentation about the plan before the meeting and received drawings only the day before, but the drawings were difficult to interpret since they did not delineate existing versus new space. (See those plans, sent to commissioners at 11:27 a.m. the day before the April 28 meeting, here and here.
In an interview on Tuesday, Whitson said the plan the commission voted for was, in fact, for the expansion. “We’ve had the plans out there multiple times,” he said. “Belhumeur knew all about it.” Whitson was referring to former City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur. Whitson brought up the name unbidden, apparently because Belhumeur, after speaking with Cooley, sought numerous records and has raised questions about the April 28 vote.
“All of that conversation took place before I came on board, all I did was carry forward the plan that was safe, that’s the bottom line,” Whitson said. He said he would not discuss “who said what.”
“I’m not gonna comment on what they thought they were voting on,” he said. “There are safety issues and I listened to my professionals who deal with safety,” he said. “The plan is there, it was bid, it was for safety improvements to improve the building, it’s our building, and we have an obligation.”
Belhumeur, who was also interviewed for this article, said he met with all five commissioners, and all five, including Bryan, told him the same thing: “I spoke with all five, none of them knew about the expansion,” he said. He also emailed them in detail about the differences in scopes of work between 2020 and 2021.
Belhumeur, who is a builder, said the doubling of the cost is a result of having to drill in six new pylons, among other necessities of expansion. “The dumpster enclosure needs to be replaced. That’s never been in question,” he said. “They made fun of me and my signs about extravagant spending. This is extravagant spending. You can build a house on A1A for that kind of money and have concrete pilings 35 feet in the ground, a dozen of them,” plus other amenities in the house. “This is absurd, absurd kind of money.” (Belhumeur was referring to his campaign signs during the election season, when he accused fellow-commissioners of endorsing “extravagant” spending. It did not sit well with colleagues.)
“I thought it was the replacement,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said Wednesday. “If Ray Barshay wants an expansion, I made it clear years ago, maybe as far back as ‘16, when we discovered how bad the dumpster area was, he jumped on that, naturally being the businessman that he is, as an opportunity to expand the kitchen. I’m not opposed to him expanding the kitchen. I’m opposed to taxpayers paying for him, and I told him that.” Mealy, like other commissioners, visited the site, walked underneath the dumpster area, and evaluated the dismal conditions for herself. She also did not dispute that the kitchen is very small, considering the volume of service it handles.
“If we can do both concurrently, OK, I’m good with that, as long as it’s clear he pays for his part, we pay for ours,” Mealy said. But again, that would be about repairing, not expanding, the dumpster area at taxpayers’ expense, and kitchen renovations at Barshay’s.
But Mealy wasn’t ruling out a larger dumpster area, either, if that’s what it comes down to. She is awaiting Whitson’s explanations. “We should be providing the right area for the dumpsters,” Mealy said. “If the old area was too small, with new regulations or safety issues that have come up–don’t forget how old that building was–I don’t know that I would be opposed to it depending on how it would be explained to me. I am at a loss being able to answer specifically, without having heard what city manager has to say.”
Sherman and Phillips also confirmed in separate interviews that their votes were for a repair, not an expansion. Mayor Suzie Johnston did not have a vote, but she said she was under the same impression.
And Bryan, who said he knew the vote was on an expansion, nevertheless conceded that the matter lacked clarity. “I was voting on the area that “I had looked at before which included the expansion,” he said. “It didn’t really come before the city commission. There’s been several plans out there and a lot of discussions about it for the previous four years.” Bryan joined the commission in 2020, the year Shupe was defeated.
“It may have been a mistake on whoever’s part it was that the expansion wasn’t included or explained as a replacement,” Bryan said of the April 28 vote. “But the replacement was discussed as increasing that area. The description could have been clearer. Hopefully everything will be explained a little more clearly Thursday night.”
Though the commission has already voted, the matter is returning to the panel at Thursday’s meeting, at Cooley’s request.
“This item was clearly listed as a repair,” he wrote Whitson about four hours after Whitson had told him as much. Cooley was requesting that his note be circulated to other commissioners. “In all discussions surrounding the structure there was only talk of this being a repair. Never once was it mentioned that this is [an] almost 50% increase to the size of the structure (pad) with intent for expansion of the building that was never approved or agreed upon by commission. None of the documentation I [received] was it clearly defined this to be a much larger project than a repair. The plans I had to ask specifically for that I [received] just 24hrs before the meeting were never printed to be considered under the item on the dais with the packet available to commissioners or the public. In the interest of transparency, city finances, agreements with tenant, ALL information must be presented in order to make a informed decision and the item needs to be reconsidered [preferably] next meeting.”