Toward the end of last Wednesday’s barely attended “workshop” on reviewing the Palm Coast city charter (the city’s equivalent of a constitution), a man stood up and called the whole thing a sham. It was an understatement. What the Palm Coast City Council is proudly billing as a charter review, with four workshops encouraging “citizen participation,” is a spectator sport to pointlessness. It’s a charade, a choreographed insult to our intelligence.
If you think the headline above this piece is distasteful–and it is–it is not nearly as offensive as Palm Coast government pretending to be doing one thing while doing the opposite: there’s no attempt here to democratically review the charter, honestly consider changes and reflect residents’ sovereignty in the process. The whole thing is a lawyered up subterfuge to prevent changes to the charter while giving the appearance of public engagement through cheap theater and one expensive “facilitator.” These four workshops in four different venues are nothing more than Palm Coast government playing with itself in its little mobile Potemkin village and inflicting the lurid exercise on the peasantry. Remarkable that Graham Swamp is not among the stops. But the peasants aren’t biting this time.
Based on the first episode at Matanzas High School last week, the public–what public turned up, anyway–is being used as a prop but catching on quickly. Even city council members sat there, not really knowing what to do with itself, its facilitator saying they’re there as mere “observers,” though in fairness that tends to be the council’s default setting: it is usually either spectator or puppet at the end of City Manager Jim Landon’s strings, whatever the setting. We’d be fools to think the charter review process should be any different.
Start with this controlling irony: the council is violating its own charter by appointing itself the review committee. That’s not what the charter calls for. Not by any interpretation, at least if we agree on the meaning of fifth-grade English. The charter spells out in relatively simple language how to conduct a review: “A five-member Charter Review Committee shall be appointed. Each district council member shall appoint one member from his or her district, and the Mayor shall appoint one member at large. The Palm Coast City Council shall fund this committee.” And so on. (The italics are not in the original). In other words, the council’s role is to appoint, fund and shut up.
You’d think the words don’t leave much room for interpretation. But Landon’s attorney thinks otherwise. The attorney is Bill Reischmann. He’s theoretically the council’s attorney but has always been more shadow to Landon’s shadow, an ode to submission to whatever the manager asks for, and this charter review is mostly a Landon Muppet show (minus the humor). So Reischmann, brushing up on his Newspeak, interprets the words of the charter to mean precisely what they don’t say: that the council will be the charter review body first and last. Committee? Where on earth are you getting that idea?
On Wednesday, Reischmann, chaperoning the facilitator and crowding the mic almost as much as she did, was challenged on that score. His answer was essentially: sue me. I’m not exaggerating. He said the current process goes until it’s legally challenged, knowing very well that no one anywhere between the L Section and Seminole Woods is about to spend a dime challenging this little despotism.
Then there’s the process itself. Marylin Crotty was hired from the University of Central Florida to be the facilitator. She’s done this sort of things dozens of times, so she does them with her eyes closed by now, if a bit too much like a substitute teacher patronizing strangers for a few hours. But to call her a “facilitator” is one of the many deceptions of this charade. A facilitator stands at the front of the room actually facilitating, listening to people throwing out ideas, questioning, debating, arguing, brain-storming, and putting it all down to analyze later.
Crotty did none of that. She lectured, she went over five sections of the charter with painful redundancy, as if to burn the clock and earn her pay. To make believe the public is involved, she took comments at the beginning and the end, at a maximum of three minutes a pop, though that’s no different than the public comment segments at the beginning and the end of council meetings. She was more mercenary than facilitator.
Why put on the pretense of these moronic “workshops” is beyond me, other than of course to give the impression that the council is going around town soliciting public input so it can Facebook the farce and pat itself on the back later about how much it went out of its way to be so inclusive and transparent. I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration came up with one of those self-gratifying awards to itself and blared the honor in a “news” release as it does every other week whenever it gets a merit badge from one of those associations it pays handsomely to belong to. Ergo, the onanism analogy yet again.
There’s to be three more of these spectacles in coming weeks, starting with this evening’s edition at Indian Trails Middle School. But the public isn’t fooled. Hardly anyone is showing up. They know the end game was decided before it began.
This council isn’t interested in reviewing anything but in placating the two council members who’ve been badgering the others to get a charter review going for a few years. Maybe it’s true that there’s not much substance behind the desire for a charter review, no real ideas clamoring for change, though that’s the narrative the council would have you believe because it’s the one it’s been parroting in its echo chamber for years. But that’s where an independent review committee should have come in. Who’s to know what ideas are out there if an honest process freed of the council’s tentacles isn’t given room to breathe?
A majority of the council also fears a change in the council-manager form of government into something more meddlesome, perhaps giving council members authority to get into the day-to-day business of government. It’s not a good idea. At least one council member, Steven Nobile, is unwisely pushing for it. Not that he’d have the votes–even on a council-appointed committee–to get it through to the ballot. But he’s doing so because he’s tired of fording the moat and scaling the castle walls Landon’s erected around his kingdom, where employees are his Chosen Ones and everyone else is–well, peasantry to be scorned or nobles to be placated. There are less autocratic, more respectful ways of running local government, though that ship sailed off Palm Coast’s Potemkin coast a long time ago.
Curiously, it’s Palm Coast’s runt of a sister, Bunnell, that could teach it a thing or two. None of Bunnell’s city commissioners thought there was much to change in that city’s charter a few years ago, but the city went through a review the right way, appointing an independent body and letting it do its work without interference from the city manager, the city attorney or other nannies, until the committee was ready to submit a set of proposed amendments. The council prepared them for the ballot, and voters had the final word (as will be the case when the Palm Coast council ratifies whatever cooked up proposals it will for the 2018 ballot, to make its breadcrumbs look like it’s offering up “change.”) Bunnell could teach Palm Coast a thing or two about following the right process, starting with following its own law.
But the council, fearful of change, jealous of its own presumptions, prefers to break the law and make up its own rules, and in so doing kill whatever chance there might be of an honest review. Put simply, Palm Coast is stuck in 1999 and wants to stay that way. It shows, and not just with this charter review.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.
Do you really expect people solve a problem they creatèd??
These people are there to protect their own turf using taxpayer’s money.
That is called American democracy!
Palm Coast is run by a bunch of morons, that don’t have enough sense to get out of the rain.
Great article, Flaglerlive! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! NOT! This city commission is a sham. . . they should all be impeached!
I like the title Pierre – you rock. But you left out Croch-ety (Cotty), Richman (Reischmann), and Lard-ash (Landon). All pivotal characters in the ground breaking, monumental, life-changing, charturbation process. I think we should instill a monument for an occasion like this, like one being planned on the 289 overpass – but a much smaller font –
I guess, since it’s over quadruple the letters, it would cost $1,000,000 to triple that, right? What a joke – I mean our government, and not my version of “palm coast” hwy overpass sign letters!! But my sign is nice tho!
Lonzo brown says
people from up north using their politics to run the city
What ever gives them the most benefits
I thought we got rid of problems with last mayor
Linzey chaffin says
What a joke of government we have
Linzey chaffin says
What a joke
Palmcoast sucks the county
commisIoners are bastards
BIG JOKE LAZY ASSES
Bless the power of your pen, Mr. Tristam. Thank you!
Concerned Citizen says
Everyone wants change. Change happens at the polls. Stop voting the same people in and expect something different.
Not people from up north bringing politics with them, this is real deal southern republican corruption that happens in every red state and area. Dont expect people whose only motivation is self centered and ego centric to ever do whats good for the greater good that is paradoxical. Its republican unregulated southern fascism. But the locals seem to love the kool aid so lets watch it burn
Great article. I really wish more people would go to the meetings in force and be an angry mob that demands change. Then maybe (and I emphasize maybe) they would “get it”. But like you said the whole process is a farce. If they were not just interested in keeping the status quo, which translates into just letting someone else make all the decisions regarding what the city focuses on. There is the problem right there. You end up with a dictator who thinks he is invincible. They should have had the guts to kick him to the curb a long time ago. Really what they need to do is clean house and totally restructure the entire city government. If they can’t handle the work ahead, then they need to go also. And where is the mayor doing during this process? Is she just a figure head instead of a leader and manager of the city government. But, unfortunately that will probably never happen, which is why the masses don’t even bother to attend these “workshops”. What a shame!!
Its really simple vote them out of office. If you don’t vote you really have no say in the matter. Vote
@Audience to the human condition
Just keep electing Republicans.
There’s nothing they can’t make worse.
Just V says
@ Truth – Your comment is so spot on. Not saying one party is perfect over the other but Republican government is at the root of the problem here. Where is the fiscal responsibility they tout all the time or less government they are always chanting. Meanwhile southerners are too dumb to realize that their rights and privileges are being taken away by the same party they vote for year in and year out.
Chris A Pickett says
Hey truth, Is that why all the Northerners flee the North to come to RED STATES in the south where you aren’t taxed like crazy to support the liberal democrat ways. If it was so great in those “blue” state, they would stay there.
I suggest that everyone who reads this item call the Florida State Bar and lodge a complaint against Mr. Reischmann. For a lawyer to stand before the citizens of Palm Coast and tell them I will interpret the City Charter as I see fit and if you don’t like it sue me is totally against the way a democracy works. This is what a dictator says to the peasants. This man needs an attitude adjustment.
Steve Naso says
Vote out the do nothing City Council and fire the City manager. We lived in Palm Coast from 2002 to 2016. Absolutely nothing has changed. Perhaps the City should be disbanded and be absorbed into Flager County or Bunnell. It can’s get any worse than it already is. They would immediately save $200k in a silly sign and the City Manger would lose his Appx. $300K severence. Hey we just saved $500k without even tryng. lol
He who makes the rulesssss………
The Nuns told us as kids if we kept doing it , that we would go blind or worse yet, grow hair on our palms.
As part of its efforts to form a new city, its founding fathers, as required by Florida law, authored its charter. A simple document, designed to be read by middle schoolers, that outlines how our municipal government operates. It has been compared to the United States Constitution and that of the State of Florida. Although penned over 200 years ago, our nation’s founders provided for future changes through the amendment process. It has been amended 27 times in 230 years. Currently consisting of 37 members, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission is meeting as provided by Article XI, Section 2, of our own state’s constitution. The City of Palm Coast has undertaken the overdue process of reviewing its charter. Our national and state constitutions contain words that promise a process to proffer change. Our charter, specifically Section 10(2)(a)(b), consists of 150 words, sewn together by six simple sentences. Do these words matter?
By way of a five-slide PowerPoint presentation, with the first slide as the title, City Council was offered three separate options for the Charter Review. Although specific steps are outlined in the Charter, this was bypassed. The City Attorney, a charter officer, contends there are three ways to amend the charter. City electors (voters) “may, by petition signed by 10 percent of the registered voters… submit… a proposed amendment” to the voters and “the governing body… shall place” it on the ballot. Similarly, the City Council “may, by ordinance” offer a proposed amendment to the charter to the voters by placing it on the ballot [F.S. 166.031(1)]. This method was used by City Council in 2011 when an ordinance to chance our election dates from odd-numbered to even-numbered years was placed on the 2011 Primary Election ballot. The proposed changed was passed by the voters of Palm Coast. The third option is that of Charter Review. The initial review has yet to take place; therefore, the obligatory steps outlined in our charter apply. In order to compare the current process with that of the one outlined in the Charter, consider the two separate processes: [Emphasis has been added for comparison purposes]
Charter Review [Section 10(1)(2)(a)(b)]
1) The Charter shall be reviewed no sooner than 10 years after the creation of the City of Palm Coast on December 31, 1999, and thereafter it may be reviewed every 10 years
2) A five-member Charter Review Committee shall be appointed.
3) Each district council member shall appoint one member from his or her district, and the Mayor shall appoint one member at large.
4) The Palm Coast City Council shall fund this committee.
5) The Charter Review Committee shall be appointed at least one year before the next scheduled general election and complete its work and present any recommendations for change no later than 60 days before the general election.
6) The Palm Coast City Council shall hold a minimum of two public hearings on the proposed changes to the Charter prior to placing the proposed changes on the scheduled general election ballot.
Charter Review Adopted by City Council
1) The Palm Coast City Council will be reviewing the City Charter in late 2017 and early 2018 is encouraging citizen participation throughout the charter review process.
2) Citizens can participate several ways:
a) emailing their thoughts on the City Charter,
b) attending one of the special charter review workshops throughout the City,
c) attending City Council workshops and business meetings where Council Members will discuss the charter, and
d) voting on charter amendment(s),if any are proposed during the 2018 election cycle.
3) Citizens are also encouraged to review documents and materials that will be posted on this webpage throughout the charter process.
4) After the four special charter workshops, the City Council will consider whether any changes to the charter should be proposed to the voters of Palm Coast.
5) The facilitator for the charter review will present a summary report to City Council at the Council workshop scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28, at Palm Coast City Hall, 160 Lake Ave.
6) The City Council is scheduled to discuss the charter review at that workshop on Nov. 28 and may further discuss the charter and/or take formal action at Council meetings in December, January and February.
7) Council meetings are open to the public, and citizens are encouraged to provide input.
In a rather simplistic comparison, our Charter, approved by the Florida Legislature, affords certain guarantees to its citizens with the use of the word “shall”. There is a great deal of difference, from a legal standpoint, when “shall” is used over words such as “will be”, “is encouraging”, “if any are proposed”, “are also encouraged”, “will consider”, “will present”, “is scheduled”, and “may further discuss”. Shall is a mandate; action must be done.
Citizens shall be appointed one year before the next election and shall complete their review 60 days before that election so that City Council shall have time to hold two public hearings before placing proposed changes on the general election ballot. With the adopted process, changes may be discussed and put on the ballot if City Council decides such changes “should be proposed to the voters”. These are huge differences that matter. The Charter Review process has clearly changed; but, how?
According to Section 5(8)(b), “All actions of the City Council shall be by ordinance, resolution, or motion”. The City Attorney argues City Council may conduct a Charter Review and amend the Charter through the Charter Amendment process, Section 10(1), and by the steps outlined in Florida Statutes 166.031(1). Note, both the Charter Section 10(1) and Chapter 166.031are titled “Charter Amendment” and “Charter amendments”, respectively; and, each reference proposed changes through the ordinance process. Section 10(2) does not reference F.S. 166.031; and, likewise, the same chapter of the Florida Statutes does not reference Charter Review. While the slide presentation by the City Attorney cites F.S. 166.031(1) for Options 1 and 2; this citation is not included with Option 3. As stated earlier, the Charter Amendment procedure, Option 2 presented to City Council, was used to change Section 8(4) and a vote occurred. When was the ordinance for changing Section 10(2)(a)(b) presented to the voters and placed on the ballot?
The current process relies on citizen participation and fails to guarantee their thoughts, ideas, and concerns will be addressed in a valid manner. A facilitator, hired by City Council at the behest of the City Attorney, will present a summary to City Council and they, “may further discuss the charter and/or take formal action”. If the abysmal attendance at the first meeting is any indication, nothing will come of this process. We are told people simply do not care. Just look at public attendance at City Council meetings. There is truth with that observation; however, consider this. Why would citizens take time from family, friends, essentially life, to research and contribute to a process governed by City Council and protected by the City Attorney? The City Attorney is a Charter Officer with the number one duty of serving “as chief legal advisor to the City Council, the City Manager, and all City departments” [City Charter, Section 6(3)(c)(1)]. All of these entities derive their power from the Charter. Change the charter, change power. The City Attorney does not and cannot represent the interest of the electors of Palm Coast.
Citizens cannot turn to the Florida Attorney General for an opinion. Such opinions are offered to specific officers. Further, questions with regards to city charters will not be addressed by the office. Charter Review Committees, on the other hand, can and have sought opinions from the Attorney General as they are recognized as a public collegial body. As it has been explained, in order for the City Attorney to submit a request to the Attorney General, City Council would have to vote on the matter. We have three automatic “No” votes on council; and, given the AG will not consider charter issues, citizens are left unprotected. We have a legitimate legal issue that bears inquiry by an independent counsel. The chances of that happening are slim and none.
What if changes are proposed as a result of the current process? Could they and should they be challenged? There are also flaws with the original review procedures. Appointees would without a doubt become a puppet for the district council member and the mayor. The adopted process silences voices. City Council members, the City Attorney, and City staff attend these meetings and quickly dismiss questions and/or suggestions. Recall the scene from The Wizard of Oz, ‘pay no attention to that man behind the curtain’. Our citizens should be afforded the opportunity to address issues discovered during a charter review. Cities such as Tallahassee, Cocoa Beach, and Winter Springs, the home city of our City Attorney, have appointed such citizen committees and have enjoyed changes, including limitations on campaign contributions for city candidates. Why is Palm Coast being denied this opportunity? Words matter and the words of our charter should be upheld by those who swore to do so.
Good grief. Just GO to the review meetings and give your input already.
Hey chris pickett, not too long ago (1990s, 2000s) taxes were a LOT lower here in the South under democratic control (3% sales tax in Georgia, now 7%), but with cro-magnon party (GOP) control they went to 6 and 7% or more, with additional ‘fees’, taxes, etc. to rob your pocketbook every day. Besides, a LOT of democrats jumped ship like rats to join the cro-magnon party and brainwashed the nation as they were brainwashed.
Well done. Havent read the CHARTER so cant really comment on an informed basis but the aroma of it tells me IT belongs in the can.
Paul Pasternak says
Let’s change the charter to eliminate the city manager position and have the mayor and city council start actually earning their over-inflated salaries.
KMedley, you seem very knowledgeable about the legal aspects of this issue. Is there any way someone or a group of citizens could sue the City Council and City Attorney regarding their flagrant disregard for the law and to halt the process to prevent them from pushing through their self ingratiating actions? I would love to be a party to that law suit!
MRC that is precisely what the City Attorney challenged folks to do. Honestly, IMO, an injunction should be sought and an expedited decision should be requested as there is a deadline looming.
Kim Weeks was the first one to recognize that there may be problems with the charter and action was taken by the commission shortly after to try to correct the issue. Charters are meant to be voted on by citizens of the city in this case, and the citizens need unlimited access to the process.
Fernando Melendez says
It’s like everywhere else here in Palm Coast, all the greif and complaining is done on social media and not where it make a difference, at the city council meetings. And I do agree and also suggest that everyone who reads this item call the Florida State Bar and lodge a complaint against Mr. Reischmann. For a lawyer to stand before the citizens of Palm Coast and tell them I will interpret the City Charter as I see fit and if you don’t like it sue me is totally against the way a democracy works. This is what a dictator says to the peasants. This man needs an attitude adjustment.