At first it looked as if Flagler Beach City Commissioner Steve Settle’s attempt to remove Kim Carney from the board chairmanship would sail through. Settle made the motion to do so. Commissioner Marshall Shupe, who had publicly spoken of his concerns about Carney, seconded. Commissioner Joy McGrew was very critical of Carney.
But after a 70-minute discussion, including withering criticism of Settle’s motion and the commission’s behavior from two dozen members of the public, Shupe withdrew his second. He said he’d put forth his second to enable discussion and an airing of the matter, publicly and broadly. That, he said, took place. But he said it need not go further. When Carney asked for another second, she heard silence. “The motion fails for lack of second.”
Settle was defeated, and Carney’s chairmanship was secure through next March. The room erupted in applause, though none from the dais.
Even for the Flagler Beach City Commission, the most colorful, most consistently caustic of local governments, tonight’s proposal triggered the sort of sparring between commissioners and unraveled personal animosities that had little to do with policy, and that left a large audience outraged.
Commissioner Steve Settle proposed removing Carney, calling her “rogue” and divisive. “Your mission is to build consensus, to promote teamwork,” he told her, criticizing her for not doing so. Settle had opened his comments by saying that he wished that the matter was not public, that it could be dealt with internally: he called it “an internal matter,” and was critical of the state’s sunshine law that requires all such government deliberations to take place in the open, before the public. “Only four people decide that, this is not a popularity context,” Settle said, seeking to diminish public involvement. At one point he asked the city attorney whether the public should be allowed to speak. He also described the commission as a team that Carney was not leading cohesively. Settle would later be criticized on both counts by residents who ridiculed his criticism of the sunshine law (“It’s totally correct that these things need to be dealt with in the sunshine,” one resident said) and his description of the commission as a team.
“I’ll disagree with you on this Steve. You are not a team. You are not a team,” another resident said. “You are five individual commissioners. You want a team, go join a baseball team.”
Settle’s criticism of Carney was wide-ranging but unspecific, and at times clearly inaccurate: he tied Carney’s consistent opposition to the city’s proposed purchase of a $6500,000 firetruck–a purchase Settle and the rest of the commission support–to what he described as the mistreatment of city staff, including firefighters. Settle charged that city staffers and firefighters were painted as “incompetent” by the criticism of the truck buy, something Carney, at least, never did, or came close to claiming. She has been ardently critical of the truck buy, and said she would keep up her criticism, but has kept that criticism to financial and policy matters.
Joy McGrew was just as critical as Settle, saying she was at the point of bringing a motion to remove Carney a few weeks ago. McGrew contends that Carney has not followed “protocol” and has acted to individually, portraying her agendas as the commission’s–a contention Carney disputes.
Linda Provencher, the mayor, called Carney “a bulldog,” and acknowledged that Carney at times operates independently, but she described that approach as Carney’s personality. Provencher said it did not warrant removing her from the chairmanship.
Carney defended herself, almost systematically rejecting every point of criticism leveled at her by fellow commissioners, including suggestions that she had inappropriately interfered with city staff or gone around City Manager Bruce Campbell for information. “I have never asked for one piece of information from any employee,” she said. “I don’t work on the volunteer fire department, I don’t visit City Hall six and seven times a week,” references to fellow-commissioners who do just that. And she was critical of the “generalities.”
But commissioners were quick to provide some specifics, such as an instance just two days ago when Carney asked for information from Bobby Pace, the fire captain, instead of going through Campbell. Carney said she’d tried to get the information from Campbell half a dozen times but had been unsuccessful. She went on to say that Campbell has “blocked” her repeatedly and consistently on numerous matters.
Jane Mealy, a commissioner who made clear that she was opposed to removing Carney, said that Carney had, in fact, addressed Sen. John Thrasher on the beach restoration issue as if she were representing the whole commission, and that Thrasher was “furious” when he discovered that Carney had not been doing so. Nevertheless, Mealy said that despite Carney’s “rogue” status, she would not vote to remove her because she does not believe that personalities should drive such decisions.
Numerous members of the public addressed the commission, almost all roundly criticizing Settle’s move and commissioners in general for “bickering” instead of talking top each other. “You’re acting worse than your grandchildren, for Christ’s sake,” one resident scolded, in one of the milder criticism commissioners heard this evening. “We need leaders who talk to each other through workshops,” another resident said, noting that he’d never addressed the commission before but felt compelled to come before them this evening after receiving an email warning of the “black eye” the city would get tonight if the commission went ahead with Carney’s removal. “I’m standing before you to beg you not to do what you’re doing. Talk to each other through workshops. You’re allowed to do that.”
“It’s really sad it’s gotten to this point,” yet another resident said, describing Carney as a “tough cookie” who can be abrasive, but who also “pulls it off.” The resident urged Carney to get along better, but just as strongly urged the commission not to remove her from the chairmanship.
“This is one of the lows in my whole 32 years,” Jackie Mulligan said.
On two occasions Drew Smith, the city’s attorney, had to intervene to edge commissioners–and members of the public–back to the debate at hand, after discussions had turned either personal or beyond the rules, as when a resident began engaging commissioners in individual conversations.