The Flagler County Commission on Monday unceremoniously voted to boot Mike Goodman, the co-owner of Captain’s BBQ at Bings Landing and a voice of prudence on development, off the county’s planning board, just three years after voting him in. It is unusual for members of the county’s volunteer advisory boards essentially to be fired, the more so at a time when local governments are having difficulties finding willing, qualified volunteers to serve in positions that can be thankless.
Goodman has a Master’s in urban planning from New York University’s Graduate School of Public Service. Three years ago he was recommended to a seat on the planning board by, among others, Intracoastal Bank CEO Bruce Page and Coastal Cloud co-founder Tim Hale. Commissioner Dave Sullivan had voted with a unanimous majority at the time to appoint Goodman to the panel, even as Captain’s controversial expansion plans at Bings were just them emerging through the planning board and in the public eye. Craig Coffey, the county administrator at the time, had kept the plans quiet until then.
“It kind of was in the consent agenda, I was asleep at the switch, probably was around the time my wife was sick. I didn’t have any excuses,” Sullivan said of his vote appointing Goodman in 2018. Sullivan’s wife was dying of cancer at the time. (The item in fact was not on the consent agenda, and was discussed individually and voted on singly by commissioners.) “But this was the first chance to say something.”
On Monday, Sullivan made the motion not to renew Goodman’s tenure for another three-year term. The motion was a surprise.
“Is there background information that I’m not aware of?” Commissioner Andy Dance asked.
“Basically, my problem here is that Mr. Goodman is involved with a legal case against the county,” Sullivan said. “We’ve tried to solve that a number of times. So I think he’s been somewhat of a negative influence on the planning and development board from what I can see. And that until that lawsuit is cancelled, I think you always have a possible conflict of interest. And so until that lawsuit is completed, and established, I think it would be wise for him not to be on the Planning and Development Board.”
Sullivan, Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien and Joe Mullins voted to boot him off. Commissioner Greg Hansen dissented. Commissioner Andy Dance, who is working with Goodman, abstained.
Sullivan didn’t detail the “negative” votes on the planning board, other than referring to recent votes in which Goodman was in the minority. Notably, Goodman has opposed the redefinition of a planned 240-boat dry-dock facility into a “marina,” believing the facility to be better defined as a warehouse. That’s the proposed Hammock Harbour redevelopment proposal for some 5 acres next to Hammock Harbour, which the Planning Board has generally favored. Goodman is concerned about what he sees as the proposal’s incompatibility with the Scenic A1A overlay district. His dissent has ironically turned his former nemesis–the Hammock Community Association, which led weekly protests against his restaurant’s expansion–into a guardedly cheering supporter.
Dennis Clark, a member of the association, was not convinced by the conflict-of-interest claim. “A few Planning Board members may be prone to conflicts of interest due to their professions or ownerships,” he wrote in an email. “For instance, Mike Goodman manages a restaurant next to a marina and owns multiple properties in the Hammock under various LLCs, including Bronx Pizza and the Hammock Business Center. On the other hand, Mike has a degree in Land Planning. Mark Langello, a builder, is probably the most knowledgeable about implications of development projects. On the whole, the board seems to be stacked towards pro-development at the cost of conservation and preservation since they lost Loreen Kornel and Thad Crowe.”
Asked on Tuesday whether there were any instances of conflict of interest he could see from Goodman’s tenue on the board, Sullivan said there hadn’t been any. He said it wasn;t a matter of retaliation, just common sense, given the pending lawsuit. Goodman saw it differently.
“Small minds think small,” Goodman said Tuesday. “I am one of the only people that’s qualified to be on that board. But hey, it doesn’t make no difference to me. I was trying to do my part as a concerned citizen, and it’s retaliation.” He added: “They did a gross misjustice to the residents of the county by taking off the only person on the board who has a master’s degree in urban planning.”
Captain’s in 2018 had worked out a plan with Coffey, without the commission’s involvement, to build a new restaurant on a larger footprint in the middle of Bings Landing park. When the plans came to light late that year opposition built quickly and forcefully, especially from the Hammock Community Association. After initially approving the plans, the commission retreated and rejected it, if also providing alternatives Goodman and his partner in the restaurant’s ownership, Chris Herrera, rejected. The county’s retreat drew a breach-of-contract lawsuit from Captain’s in June 2019. That lawsuit is ongoing. There was mediation and an attempt at a settlement that would have required concessions from both sides. But the county ultimately rejected that settlement.
The lawsuit has stalled, its last hearing before a judge going back to February, with no hearing scheduled. The two sides have dueled over the meaning of the words “current lease,” the County Commission’s actions regarding that lease and the validity of any amendments, but the dueling has not issued into any new motions or judgments, leaving little room for much but a trial.
In an interview today, Sullivan suggested that getting Goodman off the planning board might shake things up with what he termed “a nasty lawsuit.”
“It may stir something up, it may get it resolved. I don’t see why it would, but it might stir some action there,” Sullivan said. “It’s not retaliation, it’s looking at the facts and seeing there’s no action. It’s been a thorn in the side of all involved. Seriously, the people in the Hammock, him, the park–just a lot of different things.”
Goodman let out a hearty laugh when told of Sullivan’s suggestion that his removal could result in movement on the lawsuit.
“The only think Dave Sullivan can talk about is his uncle Ed. Other than that he doesn’t have Anything,” Goodman said. (The reference is to Ed Sullivan, to whom Sullivan was related.) “If he thinks that upsets me–nothing upsets me. I’m 70 years old. I’ve been around the block a lot. I’ve been up against a lot tougher adversaries than these knuckleheads. So they don’t bother me. They don’t upset me. The truth shall set me free. I learned that a very long time ago from a friend who’s a very well renowned attorney in New York City. When you try to bullshit, it don’t work.”
Sullivan said once the lawsuit is disposed of, Goodman could be reconsidered. “I’m saying if the lawsuit were no longer a factor and we were to come to an agreement, at that point I would think about it. I’m not saying automatic anything,” Sullivan said.
It’s not likely that Goodman would serve again. “It was fun serving on the boards,” he said. “Well, I’m now free on Tuesday nights.”
Goodman and Mike Corbett had both re-submitted their names for renewals of their three-year terms. The administration recommended their reappointment. The commission voted to deny Goodman’s reappointment without a replacement lined up. The planning board, now down to six members, and like most of the county’s and cities boards, almost devoid of diversity–Michael Boyd, Langello, Timothy Conner, Anthony Lombardo, Jack Corbett and Fernando Melendez–next meets on Nov. 9.