Palm Coast City Hall has added armed security and may soon have a metal detector at the entrance to its Community Wing, where City Council meetings and workshops are held.
One councilman calls it a “very bad” development that sends the wrong message to the public at large. A January 19 incident involving a man who refused to wear a mask and allegedly confronted city employees over several minutes, along with a series of occasionally tense meetings in recent months and a relatively wide-open City Hall to date have prompted the changes, which mirror changes in other government buildings in the region.
The changes, currently on a 90-day trial period, remain significantly more lax than when Palm Coast City Hall operated in what approximated lockdown for many of its offices when it rented space at City Marketplace for many years: There, the public had no access to most offices without a magnetized key card to operate elevators, and without an employee escort, though public meetings and high-traffic public offices on the first floor were freely accessible.
“I’m being proactive, and unfortunately that time is here, it may not even be a resident, it may not be a citizen, it may be someone passing through. But I do have valid security concerns,” City Manager Matt Morton told council members this morning. “I think we’re taking appropriate steps at this point.”
Palm Coast is not an outlier. Beefier security measures are beginning to crop up in local government buildings in step with a perceived rise in public tempers and increasing anxieties about the safety of employees or visitors to public buildings. The Government Services Building in Bunnell, which combines county government, school board and constitutional officers’ operations, has had its own private security for several years. Starting in July 2019, anyone attending a Deltona City Commission meeting or workshop had to walk through a $3,200 metal detector first. The measure was prompted by a meeting a month earlier when individuals addressing the commission devolved into insults against commissioners and other members of the public. Ocala city government added an armed guard and metal detector at City Hall in 2017. Most courthouses, including in Bunnell, have metal detectors.
Nevertheless, while there are occasional reports of violent acts at local government buildings, the more common crime has trended toward cyber attacks on government’s IT structures, seeking ransom by locking down computer networks. There were at least seven such attacks on Florida municipalities between 2018 and 2019. Last Friday a city’s utility in Pinellas County was attacked by hackers who sought to poison the water system.
Palm Coast City Council member Eddie Branquinho said he recently got a call from a resident asking him “why do we need security at the door of City Hall. I couldn’t answer the question,” he said.
“We’ve got a few specific reasons,” Morton said. “One is just the national, political landscape and the climate unfortunately has impacts across the country. We’ve had a few incidents in city hall that seem to have been escalating over the last year, I would call them confrontations. Traditionally we’ve asked staff to de-escalate those confrontations. They’ve gotten to the point where it’s inappropriate for staff to be put in that position of de-escalating. We have many ex-law enforcement officers here who are generally more than happy to assist, but that’s not an appropriate role for them to be undertaking. We didn’t have an immediate safety or response plan. When the [Flagler County Sheriff’s Office] deputy is here on site, we have a phenomenal resource, we have a phenomenal resource all the time, but they’re not always here on site, and when they are, their job is not to be a hall monitor. In essence, to ensure safety–not just of our employees, but safety of all of our residents frankly deserve. So we just came through a situational moment two council meetings ago where we had a very bad situation unfold at City Hall.”
A city report and surveillance video obtained by FlaglerLive narrate the Jan. 19 incident Morton was referring to. It took place in the minutes before a morning council meeting. (See all the video footage from different angles below.)
At 8:51 a.m. that day, a late middle-aged man wearing sneakers, jeans, a cap and a t-shirt with the words DON’T TREAD ON ME emblazoned on its front walked through the main entrance to the city administration offices. The wording was ironic. As the city sees it and as videos depict him and his demeanor, he would soon be the one treading on others and their safety by ignoring a city ordinance requiring all those inside the building to wear a mask. (Upholding Palm Beach County’s mask mandate, an appeals court last month said the requirement is not an infringement on personal freedoms any more than prohibitions on indoor smoking are an infringement, but rather, in both cases, a protective measure for others.)
The man has not been identified.
According to the city’s report, a customer-service representative at the building’s entrance asked the man to put on a mask. The man refused, got angry and said he was not putting on a mask because he owned the building. He then “told our customer service representative that if he put on a mask, then he wanted her to pull down her pants and bare her ‘ass,’” the report states. Throughout, the customer service representative is alone behind her open-bay desk, though the man is standing at a respectful distance before he turns and walks further into the building, looks around, says he has rights and owns the building, and takes a drink. Meanwhile the customer service representative asked her supervisor to come out. “She also stated she was feeling nervous and scared,” the report states.
The supervisor asks him to put on a mask, only for the man to seek to go to administrative offices upstairs. He walks through the hall again, ignoring the supervisor. Code Enforcement’s Luiz Mendez, another supervisor, appears and addresses the man directly as the two supervisors subtly place themselves in his way so he cannot again walk through the hall. Two other people are in the hallway: the man’s temper has clearly drawn attention. “The male became verbally confrontational,” the city’s report states, closely paralleling the (soundless) surveillance footage. “Due to the aggressive nature of the male, the Code Enforcement Supervisor asked customer service to contact the Sheriff’s Office. The CE Supervisor Mendez continued to speak with the male as he walked toward the front entrance and watched the male exit the main entrance and proceed down to the Community Wing entrance.”
At 8:54 the man seeks entrance to the council chamber, where an employee stretches her hand to halt him. The man’s confrontation with Mendez seems to have escalated, drawing out two sheriff’s deputies, including Chief Williams. After Williams is seen gesturing about face masks and rules for two minutes, the man leaves.
“That was the final move that made us do that,” Morton said this morning, “because we’ve had several very similar incidents with folks coming in that were highly confrontational, highly unstable once asked to either quiet down or leave, and again we keep putting employees in that position. Now, if I’m going to put someone in a position to deal with someone who is highly confrontational, who is unwilling to listen, who wants to be extraordinarily agitated, who wants to make bodily threats and verbal threats, I have to have that appropriate level of response. Unfortunately an unarmed security guard is not that appropriate level of–hopefully we don’t get there ever–response.”
The unidentified man in the Jan. 19 incident would have likely faced arrest had he persisted–not for failing to wear a mask, but for trespassing after a warning. A couple was arrested in just such circumstances after refusing to wear masks, and delaying a Flagler Beach City Commission meeting for 12 minutes, late last month.
Morton said the city had been in discussions about an overall security plan, with the likely addition of security cameras, and now the addition of armed security during business hours. The administration also added a notice at the entrance, similar to one at the entrance of the GSB in Bunnell, prohibiting weapons of any kind in the building. Most of those measures, including the addition of a security guard and a metal detector, are largely under the manager’s authority, not the council’s, though the council could obviously take the extraordinary step of refusing to approve payments for them. It’s not expected to do so, as that would not only undermine the manager’s authority but also undermine security at a time when assaults on public buildings are no longer the stuff of fiction.
“No one, no one, whether it’s an employee or resident, should have to come to their community building and worry about their safety,” Morton said. Unfortunately it’s a visual reminder of that, having our own security guard in city hall. But I’m going to propose we’re on a 90-day trial as we evaluate a security review to bring forward to council. But I would anticipate me requesting that that become a permanent fixture moving forward.”
That did not quite satisfy Branquinho, a former police officer in Newark, N.J., though he spoke as of two minds–conceding that an unsafe “ambiance” was unacceptable even as he seemed to criticize additional safety measures, though it wasn’t clear how those measures made the city “look bad.”
“That’s one of the reasons why I moved to Palm Coast, because where I came from, that was needed, especially after 9/11, with terrorism,” Branquinho said. “Now, If we’re going to feel terrorized by whoever, some kind of wacko or wackos out there, come over here, that’s bad for us. That’s bad for the city. Because people come in here, say, wait a minute, why do I need security to go in City Hall. That’s pretty bad. That’s making us look bad. I don’t know how to solve it to be honest with you, because there’s all kinds of people out there, OK? And I think if anybody–if anybody creates that ambiance around here for us to feel unsafe, and if they either trespass or violate or, as you said, problems with our employees, we should proceed with charges. We have to charge these people. We have to. There’s no two ways around it. We have to charge these people. We need to be here and feel safe. Right now, ask me if I feel safe. I do, and it’s because of them two over there. That’s the reason I feel safe, because coming here and seeing those ‘Do not carry weapons inside,’ that’s bad. That’s the lowest point. It’s bad. Pretty bad. And I don’t care who’s terrorist or wacko out there doing any type of things. We’ve got to curb them.”
Mayor Milissa Holland, who’s had her share of security concerns prompted by aggrieved individuals, is supportive of the manager’s move, which did not get any other pushback from council members. “I just want to commend Matt Morton for taking the initiative on this and getting ahead of it,” Council member Ed Danko said.
Surveillance footage in the main hallway of City Hall and in the Community Wing, outside the council chambers, before the January 19 meeting:
John Stove says
We can all thank dumbass Desantis and the cult of Trumpers for removing any and all teeth from any possible mask enforcement.
Come on people how friggin’ hard is to just wear a mask? Dont you put on safety glasses when welding or grinding? Dont you wash your hands before you sit down to eat or after you go to the bathroom? Dont you take prescribed pills when you have a medical condition?
People who cant (or wont because of the cult they belong to) follow rules that protect themselves and their fellow citizens must be dealt with respectfully BUT with consequences.
Send Mr No Mask down south to Mar a Lago. He’d be welcomed….. welcomed to do some landscaping, mowing grass etc.
WTAF…It’s a piece of cloth. Be respectful (remember when people had decency) and wear an f’n piece of cloth. It is their building and their rules. You don’t like them, don’t go to the meetings and STFU. I’m so over all these feelings from the f your feelings group. It’s annoying. It’s tiresome. It’s old. Grow up and act like a mature adult that actually gives a f if you kill your neighbor out of your callousness and rudeness of not wearing a mask.
I saw someone the other day sans mask with an anti-abortion shirt on. I just about died laughing. I pointed out his hypocrisy and he looked at me like I had five heads. These are the same people that see nothing wrong with a delusional [email protected] grifter trying to steal an election all while stealing (conning) money from his supporters to pay down his foreign debt. Oh and Q isn’t real. It’s probably a teenager in his mom’s basement munching on Doritos and chugging gallons of Pepsi laughing at how easy it is to con people.
The gentleman that was a former cop is out of touch first off being a cop doesn’t make you an expert on domestic terrorism and the development of things over last few decades dictate that strongly . To ignore safety concerns because you want to look safe is a false sense of security … we no longer live in an environment where you don’t want to scare or offend anyone . The security guard option is the best option at a minimum … I would extend that to additional cameras and and plans in place for such emergencies … be proactive not reactive and that is the main problem with people these days in position of power ….he’s more concerned about a person asking why we need security at city hall instead of educating that person on the need and absolute requirement for such measures in order to assure that concerned citizen makes it out of city hall alive !!!
David S. says
Who in the hell does this clown think he is another trumpster………
People wonder why our children act so bad and threaten teachers. Its because of adults like these and even the leaders of this county that children look towards and see the actions and think its ok. But instead of charges being put against people like Newsom that incite violence and promote death to democrats, you charge 11 year olds as felons. What is going on in Flagler County!?
Kids act like they have been lately because of the violent video games they play and the parents don’t monitor them. Period.
Says every clueless pereon about kids since rock n roll was the devils music. Shaking my head at people stuck in confusion of the real world and how it works. Anything to remove the responsibility from ourselves
Because of his delusion, bullying and lack of respect for our City employees, this being wasted tax payer’s money. I hope a citizen will recognize the being. At the least he should be made to apologize to the employee at the reception desk, he showed total ignorance when he bullied her with his filthy remark.
Thank you to the Mayor and most City Councilmen to continue to make our City buildings safe for its employees and its citizens. It is a sad moment in history when necessary precaution has to be taken to assure safety in government buildings.
I am shocked and dismayed at the response to this. A security guard is not needed. We should position a counselor at the door. De-fund security and replace it with counseling. Isn’t that the liberal way?
What are the odds that this guy was one of the esteemed Palm Coast Trumpers who went on those sponsored bus rides to our nation’s capitol on January 6th to take part in the ” Save the Steal protests”? If these references can be cross-checked, authorities should throw the book at him. These entitled malcontents seem convinced that they have already literally gotten away with murder. So, enough already!
Carol Caso says
I agree with our City manager’s decision for an armed guard & metal detector at our City Hall. People are so volatile these days, its very scary and I understand the fear the employees face . I applaud your decision Mr. Matt.
I totally agree with John Stove above, as we have many of these bullies Trump cult followers loose among us threatening us all. What a nasty stain they put in our government meetings after what they did to our Capitol! Jail with them and kudos to our city Manager, Mayor and council for the heightened security is needed. Many of those riffraff Bundi like Capitol rioters bet loose among us and we need them off our local government meetings. What is wrong with you former NJ cop Councilman Mr. Branquinho..? Yes welcome that metal detector to keep the bully gun toting out.
Thanks Trumper. Way to keep our taxes low. We have to have enhanced security to make you act like a grownup?
Michael Cocchiola says
Aren’t black and yellow the Proud Boys colors? Clearly, this clown was a provocateur. There will be more like this because they get constant encouragement from within their right-wing bubble. We need to be on guard in little ol’ Palm Coast.
Good on Matt Morton. I agree with proper security precautions before some citizen or city official is hurt.
Who was that masked man? says
Masks were for 2 weeks to flatten the curve. But when you cede power to the government, this is inevitably what happens. When do you think the mask mandates will end? I refuse to wear a mask for the rest of my life. I also seriously question the effectiveness of the vaccines. No one actually knows how long your immunity will last whether you had the illness or took the vaccine. If you are afraid or vulnerable, stay home and have your things delivered. The rest of us should live our lives.
Ask why America has 20% of the world’s Covid deaths and 4% of the world’s population
John stove says
You can live your life and just follow the rules set forth in a municipal building. Don’t want to wear a mask in a building that requires a mask?…fine, stay out of the building then and let the rest of us conclude our business while wearing our mask.
Edith campins says
As long as the count keeps going up is it too much to ask that you wear a mask ? Bet you wear your seatbelt or do you think that is also a government over reach?
But it’s better to let 45 invite an Insurrection and over turn the will of the people but no yield for a mask because it cedes power to the Government. OMG lol Sorely Contradictory
I’d like to know what metal detectors are going to do about people who don’t want to wear masks, personally, but if the city wants to waste more of our money, who am I to judge, right?
Heywood Jablomi says
Duuh..but I’m a murican patriot and it’s muh freedom.
Just like the mob of reality denying nutbag rioters in Washington D.C. who stormed the U.S. Capitol and killed a police officer because of their irrational worship of someone who couldn’t care less about any of them, there are potentially those here in our local communities who may be prone to violence or irrational threatening behavior in opposition to common sense guidelines designed to safeguard the public at large during this pandemic we are currently dealing with. We already know that Palm Coast has one real nutbag on the city council (it would be short-sighted of me to name this small man), pun intended. His heated rhetoric has already engendered several supporters who I do not trust to be civil or courteous during public city council meetings when contentious items they disagree with are on the agenda. I applaud the city manager’s decision to pre-empt potential trouble by implementing additional security measures at the city hall. It is an unfortunate but necessary reality of our time.
On a side note, can anybody explain why flu cases are at a historic low??? Asking for a friend.
Does anyone remember what they call not being able to disagree with your government? I think it starts with a c…
If only the people working at city hall responded as Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to the ongoing dangers posed by the lack of vaccines for our city’s population…
Thomas A Lewis says
Ignorance and stupidity are destroying America.
If government needs to be protected from the governed, then perhaps there is something wrong with the government.
Why do we need a city hall in the first place? It is just the church of the government. It should be closed down and all functions performed on line, including using Zoom for any required meetings? Sell the building and give everyone a rebate on their taxes.