“The vinegar will start soon,” Eddie Branquinho told Victor Barbosa, “and I think you’re going to taste a little bit of that today.”
In their first public response to last week’s broad-brushed and unsupported accusations of “corruption” by Palm Coast City Council member Victor Barbosa, Mayor Milissa Holland–diplomatically–and Councilman Eddie Branquinho–furiously–this afternoon ended an otherwise collegial four-hour workshop by schooling Barbosa on respect, rules of order, Facebook freelancing, council behavior and the word corruption.
Barbosa at the end of last Tuesday evening’s meeting called for the firing of City Manager Matt Morton, got no support, then took to Facebook within the hour to again accuse not only Morton of corruption–an apparently slanderous accusation supported by no evidence other than Barbosa’s–but the rest of the council as well, by being complicit.
“You know we’re in a council workshop,” Holland told Barbosa. “This is the only time we can literally address each other. We normally don’t do that on Facebook, and attack each other, it’s not something that promotes working together as we did here today, getting to our strategic goals.”
“You know, Councilman Barbosa,” she continued, “you have free speech to go on your Facebook page and certainly post, you know, what you think is appropriate. But you did allege that because each of us had sat back and not seconded a motion to terminate the city manager that, in essence, we’re all acting in a corrupt manner, sir. So I would just ask you to respect that in the future. Just because we don’t agree on everything doesn’t mean we’re not going to be able to work together. We are going to be able to work together, and it’s about different backgrounds coming together with different ideas, to better this community. So please keep that in mind. You’re not always going to get exactly what you want. You’re not always going to get others to go along with you. But that does not mean that we’re bad people and it certainly does not mean that we’re engaging in behavior that’s not becoming of a council member, so please just respect that in future.”
If Holland’s words were measured and deferential to the elected positions she spoke of–she has been pained by the battering the council’s reputation has taken in the past year, largely, but not entirely, based on unfounded claims: hers and the city manager’s missteps have played a role–Branquinho’s were more of a counterattack. He spoke at longer length from notes he’d been preparing, was interrupted a few times by Barbosa, and went on in one case making a baseless allusion of his own when he said “it should be illegal for you to drink and post on Facebook.” Barbosa said he doesn’t drink, and none of the Facebook videos in question, whether berating fellow-council members or moonlighting as a code enforcement officer, suggest impairment from drink.
“One of my biggest fears since I’ve been here, it’s happening. It’s populism, a form of government done by people that think they know the truth,” Branquinho said. “And none other than themselves know what the truth is, those are my fears.” (Branquinho, like Barbosa’s family, is originally from Portugal and likely remembers when the country was still a dictatorship and prone to coups until democracy took hold in 1976.)
“I don’t know if what you’re doing is a power trip. Because if it is, you should read the city charter and realize that the only power you have over here, it’s one vote out of five,” he continued. He decried the “harassment” the mayor endured from members of the public after the end of last week’s meeting, when she was escorted to her car, said members of the so-called Flagler Liberty Coalition, a group of anti-maskers who have disrupted public meetings since summer, “should be barred” from meetings “if they keep acting disorderly,” and called last week’s situation “deplorable,” a word freighted with ideological shades since Hillary Clinton used it to describe Donald Trump supporters in 2016.
Mark Philips, a member of the coalition, was taking video of Branquinho, Morton and Barbosa in the parking lot after last week’s meeting. Branquinho said the video cut out a part when people speaking with Branquinho told him that “‘the next code enforcement person that goes to my property, I’ll point a gun to their head.’ This is dangerous. This is the people that we dealing with, we this correlations. That’s very dangerous.” The coalition was at the meeting in support of Barbosa.
Branquinho then gave Barbosa a lesson on the word “corruption,” and at one point held up a copy of two gift certificates, ruffled the paper and said: “I don’t go out there and try to bribe, bribe” with vouchers. The gift certificates totaling $150 were sent to Code Enforcement Manager Barbara Grossman and were dated April 12, 2019, from the Portugal Wine Bar and Grill. Grossman reported the “gift” and the city returned it. There appeared to be no connection between Barbosa and the gift certificates, and Barbosa at one point interrupted Branquinho to ask about the vouchers.
“Did I say you did it? I was clear when I said, these are not accusations. These are examples,” Branquinho said.
Branquinho, a Newark police detective in his previous career (and a school board member), was perhaps being tactically disingenuous. Barbosa’s father owns and leases out the Portugal Wine Bar and Grill property at 15A Palm Harbor Village Way, through a corporation that goes by Barbosa Plaza Inc. (the older Barbosa ran a restaurant himself there years ago, along with Victor). At the very time when the certificates were sent, Victor Barbosa was seeking code enforcement approval for his Man Cave barbershop also at 15 Palm Harbor Village Way (unit F). It was approved for occupancy that April 16, records show.
Barbosa’s claim of “corruption” rested centrally on the accusation that when Barbosa would complain about one property or another, hoping to see code enforcement action against the properties, Morton asked Grossman to “code” the councilman’s complaints. Morton acknowledged doing so, but said it was necessary to keep up with Barbosa’s many complaints, and to be able to report back to him on actions taken. “Mr Morton, If I ever come to you with a complaint stating that 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 Eric Drive has violations,” Branquinho said, “I would like for you to do me a favor. Please put my name in it. Put my name in it. Some people thinks that’s corruption. I think is professionalism.”
Barbosa had little to say in response. When it was his turn to speak, he claimed that he had never called for the firing of Steve Garnes, the Palm Coast Fire Police captain, as reported in FlaglerLive last week. Barbosa falsely accused the captain of leaking to FlaglerLive pictures of a crash Barbosa was involved in, and where he was at fault. Morton investigated and told him it wasn’t the case. (FlaglerLive got the pictures from the Sheriff’s Office, and credited the pictures as such.)
“And so he’s yelling and screaming over the phone that I need to fire this fire department employee,” Morton said of Barbosa in an interview last week. “He’s asked for several employees to be fired in short tenure here. That was one of them. And I said, ‘Victor, they didn’t come from the Fire Police.’ He didn’t believe me, he wanted the fire guy fired. So I have an email to that effect too.” FlaglerLive confirmed the account with Fire Chief Jerry Forte.
Addressing Branquinho’s comment, Barbosa said his fellow-councilman was speaking his “opinions,” and that there was “no truth” to such things as the gift certificates and any connection to him. “I don’t drink alcohol. My last wife was an alcoholic, so I understand what dealing with alcohol is. So, I don’t know what else to say. I mean, obviously he, he’s now attacked two councilmen. It’s just sad. I mean, whatever.” Barbosa was making a reference to the day when he and Councilman Ed Danko were sworn in, and Branquinho and Danko had a heated exchange over the same word: corruption. As he spoke, Branquinho pointedly turned his chair to show him his back.
There were barely a handful of city staffers in the room by the time the workshop ended. The morning session had drawn at most a dozen people, who slowly dribbled out. No video cameras were brandished in anyone’s face as council members left City Hall.