There’s a scene in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the very funny musical comedy playing at the Flagler Playhouse through early October, when contestants break into pandemonium (an actual song in the show) when they realize that a couple of them kept getting ridiculously easy words (“spell Mexican”) while others got tongue-twisters (“omphaloskepsis”).
Bill McGuire—the white, conservative Bill McGuire—caught a smidge of that experience Tuesday evening at the NAACP’s forum for Palm Coast City Council candidates at the African American Cultural Society, where he faced incumbent Holsey Moorman, to whom the society and the NAACP are the equivalent of, say, the Home Builders Association or the Realtors association for Jason DeLorenzo, another candidate in the mix.
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Question to Moorman: do you think Palm Coast should have its own police department? Moorman handled that one as easily as every council member has for the eight or nine years that the question has been asked, on and off: too expensive, and the contract with the sheriff’s office is fine.
Question to McGuire: the teen crime rate goes up in Flagler County in the afternoon. What will you do about it? “I just don’t believe that if children aren’t supervised that they can’t find a proper facility today,” McGuire said, raising a question about the contract with the sheriff: “Are we getting our money’s worth?” (The sheriff, who offered to put his voting machine to work for Mayor Jon Netts when Netts seemed alarmingly uninvolved in his reelection race, may well make the same offer to Moorman now.)
McGuire was then asked whether he was pleased or displeased with the quality of education in the Flagler County school system. The question had nothing to do with the Palm Coast City Council and everything to do with minefields, which McGuire happily took on with the sort of unvarnished candor he’s brought to the race all along: “I don’t think that the Flagler County school district is a paragon of education,” he said, thus inviting a few school board members to lend their voting machines to Moorman as well.
The equivalent question to Moorman? What are some of the city’s projects accomplished on your watch? Even softballs blushed at that one as Moorman , who did not resist a smile, happily took it on, listing many things had the city did whether he had something to do with it or not (the re-paving of 50 miles of streets a year, for example, one of his favorite examples, was actually the voters’ doing, almost 10 years ago, when they voted to sales-tax themselves an additional half penny to do exactly that). He took partial credit for reducing palm Coast’s budget by $8.1 million and its staffing by precisely 26.59 employees during his four years on the council.
DeLorenzo and Dennis Cross battled it out in the other race. Neither of them appeared to get flabby questions.
Moorman, of course, got the last word of the evening, after getting the very first question–about the recent assault in several states, Florida included, on voting rights, a question none of the candidates, with DeLorenzo’s exception, appeared to understand beyond their boilerplate defense of the Voting Rights Act. DeLorenzo pointed out the coming narrowing of early voting windows, the more stringent requirements on third-party voting registration drives (which affect groups like the NAACP), and other variously pernicious ways the Florida Legislature has devised to decrease minority, and usually more liberal, voting participation.
The forum was attended by more than 120 people, and followed the NAACP’s monthly business meeting, which included a recap of the NAACP’s national convention, attended by six local delegates. The forum was moderated by John Winston, who selected and asked audience questions in his booming baritone and did his best, not always successfully, to keep the answers “centered here at home.” The questions were written on 3-by-5 cards ahead of time, and Winston said he’d ensure to avoid redundant ones. The first couple of rounds he asked the same question of each candidate, then mixed them up in rapid-fire fashion, throwing a different one at each.
The candidates got to hear questions none of them had heard at any other forum so far, where the questions have tended to be the same recycled one time and again. At the NAACP forum, as with the voting rights question, they were asked about profiling and what they would do about it, “especially in the city of Bunnell.” (The candidates had to more or less skirt the matter since Bunnell is not on the Palm Coast City Council’s agenda.) They were asked about reports of alleged discriminatory hiring—meaning that staffs are almost entirely, if not all, white—at the tax collector’s office and the Palm Coast Fire Department. McGuire and DeLorenzo averred themselves surprised by the claim, eliciting disapproving murmurs from the crowd, while Moorman said he’d been in talks with the NAACP to address the issue, at least at the city fire department, and cited two examples of the city making efforts to hire minority firemen, but also said that the city’s minority hiring ratio is at about 12 percent, same as the city’s demographics.
They were also what they thought Palm Coast’s greatest issue was at the moment (jobs, three of them said, reining in the budget, McGuire said), what the matter was with the city’s infrastructure, and whether streetlights, sidewalks and a city hall were needed (yes, yes, no). The audience had thinned considerably by the end of the forum.
A video of the complete forum is available below.