Lou Salvagio is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 1–the seat first-term Councilman Bob Cuff elected not to run for again. The seat also drew candidates Ed Danko and Sims Jones.
The mayor’s seat and three council seats are up this year. Mayor Milissa Holland is in a five-way race. Councilman Nick Klufas is running for a second term. And Councilman Jack Howell has resigned, requiring a special election in conjunction with November’s election. So the council will have at least two new faces by November, and possibly four. Between the 2016 and 2018 elections, all five seats turned over.
None of the candidates in the District 1 race have held public office before.
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 mayor or council. If a candidate for mayor wins 50 percent plus one vote or more in the Aug. 18 primary, then that candidate is the outright winner and mayor, making a runoff unnecessary. But if none of the candidates manages that majority, then the top two candidates with the most votes will go on to contest the Nov. 3 general election.
The Palm Coast mayor and council members serve four years. They’re paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor. The council members and the mayor also each get a $1,200 car allowance and a $910 communication allowance each year, so in sum council members’ total pay is $11,710, the mayor’s is $13,510.
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 conducted by email and on the record. 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.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Aging Palm Coast
- Economic development
- Matt Morton
- Council dynamics
- Social media
- Rap sheet
Place and Date of Birth: New York
Current job: Owner and President of Affordable Health Center, Inc.
Party Affiliation: Republican
Jill Woolbright, District 1
Carol Bacha (Mother Elizabeth)
Colleen Conklin, District 3
Paul Mucciolo, District 3
Maria Barbosa, District 5
Dave Sullivan, District 3
Donald O'Brien, District 5
Bob Jones, District 5
Sims Jones (Dist. 1)
Ed Danko (Dist. 1)
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Cornelia Manfre (Dist. 3)
Zack Shapiro (Dist. 3)
See The Observer's Speedy Candidate Interviews
As I am sure you know, I am one of five votes. So, I will work with the others to accomplish any and all ideas proposed by staff, the public, or elected officials so long as it is for the preservation or improvement to our community. However, I would like to focus on the following:
1. Public Safety: Given the current times, public safety must remain one of our top issues. In addition to police and fire, public safety includes: (1) hurricane preparedness and clean up, (2) stormwater/swale management (swales), (3) protecting our water/sewer systems, (4) intergovernmental coordination, and (5) the pandemic.
2. Quality of Life: I have been here for more than 27 years when there were less than 30,000 people. We know Florida and Palm Coast will continue to grow. It is a fact. However, I will prioritize the City’s focus on maintaining our incredible community (parks, trails, roads, etc) and ensure that all growth improves our community…not degrades it. So far, I think the City and County have done a good job but we cannot lose sight that maintaining the quality of life and public safety for the community is our priority.
3. City Management: In my four years, I believe we have an obligation to build our organization. For years, the community’s perception of the City organization was not good. After the bold move to change the City’s manager and entrenched staff, I know the council has made improvements. It takes a lot of effort to change the direction and culture. Now that we have made that change, I will make it a priority to build a professional organization that is sustainable, responsive, professional. The City has hundreds of employees, hundreds of millions of expenditures, and subject to hundreds of regulations. It is a major corporation and I want to ensure that at the end of my tenure, the organization will be one of the best run city organizations in the state.
The city gets commended, at least through its biennial citizens’ surveys, for doing very well in terms of public safety and quality of life. Other than continuing to do what’s being done, what would you do differently? Regarding how you want to ensure the organization is well run, isn’t that the manager’s responsibility? Do you see yourself getting involved in administrative issues?
Agreed, it is my understanding that these are main focuses of the past, present, and future. So, I will approach my decisions with such in mind. As for doing things differently, I cannot say. I think the City does a good job. One City goal I would like to further is the notion of “sports tourism.” I played soccer for years, coached kids’ soccer in this community and believe community sports is an amazing component to a healthy environment. If we can use our facilities to bring in tournaments and put Palm Coast on the map as a destination, I believe that would be good for our community. As for the organization, I will not get involved at that managerial level. First, it’s against the charter. Second, that is not my expertise. However, I believe it’s the Council’s responsibility and duty to ensure we help develop the best professional team and hold them accountable. Based on the news, it appears as if this has not been the case (i.e. the Gartner report issue). The Council is the equivalent to a Board of Directors, not the executive team.
City Management. I was thrilled that the present Council changed its leadership and management. I know this change has been hard but I know we are moving in the right direction. My concern is that Staff appears to have hidden the ball from the Council and I don’t thing Council holds Staff accountable. Despite HR regulation, I will not allow Staff to be bureaucratic, I will require transparency. I will hold them accountable. I will ensure that the City’s goals and objectives are set by the Council and residents and not staff. Staff works for us. I assume all members of the Council will agree with this so I would be surprised if I need to convince them of this.
Intergovernmental coordination: I don’t believe we are doing as good a job. For example, when was the last time the City and County elected official got together in a public forum to discuss high level issues such as public safety, job/economic development, etc. One example, is the beach re-nourishment program. The City was not involved in this discussion at all which I know why but I do believe that the City residents should be part of the plan since over 80 percent of the money used to pay for this will come from the City residents. Like or not, the citizens of Palm Coast are going be paying the lions share for the project. Because of this, I will push that we hold periodic strategy sessions with our other governments to discuss issues and visions. Without a set direction on these issues, we cannot gauge if we are doing a good job.
Job Creation: I do not feel the City (or County) are focused on this. I recently saw a presentation that more than 90 percent of the taxes paid are paid by the residences and that this increased over the last 10 years. We must focus on creating an environment where all business can be successful. The City has, in the past, been a hindrance to many local businesses. This is the result of Job Creation not being a priority. We can all look at this issue selfishly…don’t we want a place where our kids can stay after they graduate, have good job or career, and raise their families. This is a major problem we need to face.
Actually, staff works for the manager. The manager works for the council. What specifically do you mean by not allowing the staff to be bureaucratic? Can you cite an example of staff “hiding the ball”? We’re aware of internal issues recently where the ball may have been hidden from the manager, but internal inquiries and reviews dealt with the issue internally, as it did not involve council. Would you involve the council in administrative matters of the sort? Would that be proper?
Historically, the City has not had a good reputation for being business friendly but rather bureaucratic. When I built my 12,000 sq ft medical building, I ran in circles with roadway work, trees and the Certificate of Occupancy. It was way too complex for a business person to build an office. I have also heard complaints of the building department. I would like the Council to instill in City staff the notion that residents are the customers not their “subjects.” The City staff should help us find solutions and not just identify problems.
You state inaccurate proportions regarding the cost of beach renourishment. If you’re referring to the Corps of Engineers project in Flagler Beach, the entirety of that cost is assumed by federal and state dollars, with–remarkably–no local dollars involved. If you’re referring to the previous dunes project in the county’s portion of the beach, again, the larger majority of that cost was assumed by state dollars (the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation), with a comparatively small portion financed through the tourist development tax–which itself is generated not by Palm Coast residents primarily, but by visitors. And with Palm Coast still without a “Coast,” why should Palm Coast be at the county’s table in those regards? Finally, how does a council member create jobs?
My previous response citing the” beach renourishment” was not intended to discuss the actual economics or financial accuracy of that program. I do not have a detailed understanding of that complex deal between local, state and federal agencies. Such reference was used as an example of how I believe County and City intergovernmental coordination and visioning should improve. Another example may be the library. I am perplexed on why the County is trying to build a library for the residents at the south end of the County rather than in the heart of the population. I need to understand that decision. I am not aware of anyone who has said the relationship between the City and County is perfect. It seems as if it has improved since the last election but we should always strive to get better.
3. The city’s budget, like all local government budgets, will likely face revenue shortfalls in the next two years. How will you make up the lost revenue? Short of new sources of revenue, what areas of the budget are ripe for cuts? Please be specific.
City revenue comes from one place…taxes and fees…the citizen’s pocket. I must candidly say that I and other candidate would be speculating if we said anything about the current financial situation of the City given the pandemic. It’s just too complex. However, like my household, I pledge to approach City finances from a conservative position. I will do everything to keep our taxes low. I will demand that our government run efficiently and modestly. I will not raise taxes. I will only do so if shown we cannot cut expenses any further. I will only consider higher taxes if such raise will improve the City. I am not interested in tax increase to expand the size of our staff or pay for pet projects of the few.
4. Evaluate the city’s response to the coronavirus emergency. As of this writing, the city, unlike a growing list of local governments across Florida, has not mandated the use of masks in public places, though it’s in the council’s power to do so. Tell us how you’d vote on a mask mandate, and explain your answer, citing appropriate authorities.
As a doctor and one who works with many other medical professionals, I think the City has done a good job based upon the present situation. I do not believe that anyone in the City or anyone in media has a qualified professional opinion on this issue. I believe we should follow the CDC guidelines, follow our state mandated guidelines, wear a mask in public out of respect for others and practice social distancing. In this light, I believe the City has done a good job.
5. Palm Coast has the authority to impose a public service tax on your utility bill of up to 10 percent, and a franchise fee on utilities, which would be passed to customers, of up to 10 percent. The money may be spent at the council’s discretion. Many counties and cities around the state partially or fully levy one or both the taxes. Palm Coast considered imposing a 6 percent electric franchise fee and a 2 percent public service tax in 2012, but reversed course in the face of strong public opposition. Either of the new taxes, proponents argue, would diversify the city’s revenue stream. Either could be used to generate revenue that would otherwise have to be generated by property taxes, though the public service tax and the franchise fee are regressive in comparison. Where do you stand on either new tax becoming part of Palm Coast’s taxing structure?
As stated above, taxes or fees are out of the Citizen’s pocket. So, any proposed increased tax on the residents I am against and will approach it with skepticism. I think the citizens have spoken on the implementation of these taxes and that is why both were abandoned. However, I am dedicated to shifting the tax burden from our residents to businesses.
We’ve been hearing this for years: that the tax burden must be shifted to business. But in fact the city has run with ample reserves, every year at budget time the council and its manager boast of having one of the lower tax rates in the state for a city this size, and having no debt (to the general fund), while the number of residents who hold a job has increased by about 9,000 over the past 10 years. If anything, businesses, rental properties and other forms of commerce pay–as you would well know from your own experience–a disproportionate share of taxes because they’re not homesteaded, which actually shifts more of the burden to them. So where is the problem in the tax structure?
It is my understanding that residential homes pay almost 90% of the property tax. It is my understanding that our residential homes (homestead or not) pay a greater percentage than in other cities. It is also my understanding that commercial buildings pay significant taxes without necessarily consuming the same services. For example, I was told the movie theater pays $34,000 in school taxes without putting a child in school. Therefore, I think it’s obvious that promoting commercial growth would not only shift the burden from residences while also providing income driven jobs. Lastly, the Council cannot create jobs. The private sector creates jobs. However, I believe government can incentivize, help, and avoid being a hinderance. For example, the City wanted to promote growth in town center and, as a result, provided incentives. Now we have a three apartment complexes being developed and many new projects on the drawing board. All good for jobs and taxes, don’t you feel?
Clarification: the often-repeated claim that only the private sector creates job is demonstrably inaccurate. The public sector routinely and necessarily creates jobs which, in turn, sustain private-sector job creation (public school and higher education faculty educate the vast proportion of future private-sector job holders). In Flagler, county, cities, school board, constitutional officers and courts account for over 3,500 jobs, and for proportionally some of the better-paid jobs in the county, sustaining the economy through recessions, as the public sector is less susceptible to the private sector’s employment vagaries.
6. Just in the last 10 years, Palm Coast has grown by 15,000 people, but it has grown older, with people 65 and older representing nearly 28 percent of the population, up from 23 percent in 2010. That’s a substantial increase, almost all of it as the proportion of school-age children has diminished: the school district’s population has remained at around 13,000 for 10 years. Should Palm Coast encourage that accelerating retirement-community trend? What would you do to ensure that Palm Coast is addressing the needs of its growing elderly population. Alternately, what would you do to reverse the trend, if you’re more interested in broadening the working-age population base?
Palm Coast has always been populated with an older demographic so this is nothing new. Because of this, the residents (voters) have dictated how Palm Coast has developed. If the demographic is aging, then the market will deliver the services for such. For example, we know our health care industry is growing meet this demand. The City has had three or more elder care facilities open in past few years. The City has age restricted housing to service this demographic. Again, I do not think government can create, build or provide services for this demographic. The City should help business and the market provide these services by assisting not hindering their efforts.
However, I am concerned about the future. I do believe we need to expand our opportunities for young people and young families. I am concerned that we have a job issue in Palm Coast. Until we expand our job base for the younger generation, we will continue to place the tax burden on the residents, which is a majority in the demographic you describe.
Therefore, it’s a balance. We have to balance the needs of the older generation while promoting opportunity for jobs and younger people. I believe the City must partner with private sector and business to create a business-friendly community.
Public-private partnerships: it’s a common buzzword, but we generally don’t see it get past the buzzword phase when candidates discuss it. Can you specify what sort of partnership you have in mind and how you as a council member would bring it about–UNF’s expansion in Palm Coast notwithstanding?
You’re right, it is a buzzword, but it can be done. I believe government can facilitate and support private investment that benefits the community. For example, it is my understanding that UNF will bring education and jobs. It is my understanding that this was made possible with commitments from the City, the University, the hospital and the developer of Town Center. These are the types of things the City must look at. We need to leverage our expertise with private sector expertise and capital to create a “synergy” …another buzzword.
7. Some apartment complexes have gone up in the past two years, but the city still faces an affordable housing shortfall as housing prices have risen steadily. 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?
I am against placing high density apartments in the middle of residential neighborhoods. But I do believe that multifamily can be complimentary adjacent to single family. As for increasing density, I say yes but limiting them to Palm Coast Park, Town Center, and other urban settings.
As for affordable housing, we need it. I think the City is doing a good job by promoting such in Town Center, Palm Coast Park and other areas. However, I think there is a perception among some in the community the affordable housing is bad which I don’t believe. I am committed to addressing this issue with the private sector. I will promote the growth of affordable housing.
JOB, JOBS, JOBS. We need to expand the diversity of our jobs. We need to help existing business expand. We need to attract high quality jobs. We need to promote Town Center as a hub for jobs. We need to create a business-friendly community. We need to inspire an business friendly culture. We need better paying jobs.
I agree, there has been a bunch of lip service. The County, the City and Chamber have all done a poor job. I will ask Council to make this a long-term goal and part of the fabric of the City so that this issue becomes as important to the City as low taxes, quality of life and public safety.
I believe the Council did an incredible job working with private sector on bringing MedNex to our community but such is only the beginning. Again, I will ask Council to make this part its long-term goal and become part of the community’s culture.
But it is part of the city’s long-term goal: no council meeting or workshop goes by without discussions of Town Center’s innovation district, discussions of the school district’s flagship programs, intended to tie into a more diversified workforce, are frequent, and goal-setting sessions are rife with talk of economic development. What would you do differently and more effectively?
I am not sure I would do anything differently. I would like to see an agreed upon action plan, periodic updates and accountability. As in all businesses, we sometimes try to do too many things and poorly execute on them.
I fully support the Council direction to move in a different direction. From what I have learned, the remnants of the Landon era are gone. Now there is no excuse on Matt Morton’s execution. I think it’s critical to give him direction and hold him accountable. I also believe that we need to mandate our staff growth, and see them become more professional and better at their jobs.
How do you see the city administration lacking in professionalism or quality?
Based upon yours and others reporting, it is my opinion that City staff has been a problem (ie, Landon or Schotty). We all know the City is in transition under the leadership of Matt Morton. Not to sound silly but maybe we need to look at our hiring process to minimize these reported employee issues. As a doctor and business owner, I believe we need to invest in our City employees’ professional education and ethical training. Based upon what I know, I think this is an area for improvement.
10. Mayor Milissa Holland, Council member Nick Klufas and to a lesser extent Council member Bob Cuff were elected on promises of change and novel visions four years ago. Evaluate their performance, their successes and shortcomings, and tell us if you think they’ve lived up to their promise. What will you bring to the council that they don’t? If you’re one of the incumbents, evaluate your own successes and shortcomings, with specifics, telling us why you’re better suited to continue than any of your challengers.
I think they have done a good job. I am happy with their progress but there is lot to do. We must take advantage of this opportunity with MedNex and UNF. Since it will focus on health care, I believe my back ground as a doctor will be advantageous. Moreover, I ran a large business for 30 years before I sold it. I am very familiar with managing an organization and holding its leadership accountable.
11. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that contract, and tell us what specifically you would change about it. Are some areas of Palm Coast less effectively policed than others? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future?
Public safety and low taxes are critical to the residents. I am not sure how a change in policing would affect this. So, I do not have a qualified opinion… as of yet.
12. Elected office is no stranger to bluster. Tell us about you as a person: your character, your temperament, your foibles. Tell us who do you admire most in office today among elected officials in Flagler County—the person you’d consider a model of leadership.
I do not make decisions hastily. I require data, information and will require our professional staff to lead us. I do not like politics and, much like City Council member Bob Cuff and County Commissioner Donald O’Brien, I will avoid allowing such influence on my decisions. I also like Mayor Holland and Vice Mayor Klufas’s energy and desire to move our City forward.
13. Should you be held to account for what you display on your social media pages any differently than for what you would say anywhere public? Do you have different standards of behavior between the way you’d conduct yourself as an elected official—in a meeting, at an official function—as opposed to on your social media platforms?
I am not sure what the question is. However, I am accountable for my words or actions no matter where they are posted. I do not have a different standard as an elected official or resident. Its easier this way.
14. 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? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.
No felony charges, civil suit or actions. No disciplinary actions as well by any board(s).
Clarification: Salvagio’s answer is incomplete. A check of the court docket reveals several civil suits in which Lou Salvagio was a named party since 1998, none of which resulted in a judgment against him.