Toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Flagler County School Board member Sally Hunt surprised her colleagues: “I was really concerned from a safety perspective at the workshop before last,” she said.
She did not explain.
She asked why the workshops couldn’t be held in board chambers, on the first floor, where evening meetings are held, and where the County Commission holds its meetings and workshops. The school board holds its workshops on the third floor, in Room 3, a large room that accommodates a rectangular searing arrangement for the board members, who can face staffers or members of the public as they sit on the other side to present.
“Historically, we always had them in a chamber room like that, so that it was more informal, staff could sit across from us at a large workshop type of table and have a discussion,” Board member Colleen Conklin said, “instead of being in a more formal setting with one or two people fitted at the podium.”
Hunt said she flet unsafe in the third-floor room at the May 2 workshop. “I like having exits. I feel safer in this space,” she said, referring to the downstairs board chambers. “I like having a deputy in the room. And I just wanted to throw that out. I’m not the only person who shares that concern of the workshops.” (A deputy is usually present at the board’s monthly evening meetings, and sometimes more than one deputy when controversies are afoot.)
“Why, we have other other board members that feel unsafe in the workshop area?” Conklin asked. No one else answered.
The May 2 workshop was long–almost four hours–but it was not particularly eventful or raucous the way some board meetings can be at times. The room in the early goings was filled with members and supporters of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, who’d turned up knowing that the board would soon decide whether to keep the club open or close it to the public. The board voted earlier this week to keep it open on the current model, possibly through December 2024.
Most of those club advocates are older, some are loud, one in particular–Wilfredo Leiras–gets routinely very excited about the club (he elicits chuckles not fear, calling himself Big Mouth), but they always address the board respectfully and non-threateningly. About 10 people addressed the board in the May 2 workshop’s first public comment segment, at the top of the meeting.
One speaker, an older man who spoke in a low and neutral monotone, with a heavy east European accent, implored the board’s support and singled out Hunt, asking for her support especially, possibly because he saw her as the swing vote on the issue (she often has been, but would turn out not to be in this case). But again, he did so in a neutral, non-accusatory way. Hunt in that moment seemed a bit surprised but not disturbed, looking to her left as if inquisitively and rearranging the papers in front of her. She welcomed the next speaker with a quick, corporate smile.
That speaker compared the club to “Cheers,” the television show about the bar “where everybody knows you name,” she said. “I know you guys are young, you never watched ‘Cheers,'” she gestured toward the board members generally. “But it’s a community place, and the young and the old all get together.” Yet others spoke, including a young man who laughed with the board about watching “Cheers” in reruns.
After the fourth person spoke, Hunt did raise a question with Cheryl Massaro, the board chair. She had obviously been thinking about the man who’d asked for her support: As Hunt understood it, she told Massaro, “public comment can address the chair and the board as a whole, but not individual members. Is that different for a workshop?”
“No, it’s generally the same, they’re just talking to people,” Massaro said.
“Is that the precedent that we want to set?” Hunt asked.
“It depends,” Massaro said, “what do you want?”
“I would, you know, the public now sees me as the swing vote,” Hunt said, making air quotes around the terms. “I find that pretty annoying, if I’m being honest.” She said she would prefer that she not be singled out. Massaro turned to the audience and said: “I am asking the public not to mention any other board members’ names as they do their presentation.”
“I just want to say I appreciate the public comment,” Hunt said, raising her hands and addressing the audience. “This is your community, I appreciate the public comment, do not get me wrong.” (Hunt has essentially shut down open communication with her, and told the school administration that she no longer uses electronic communications such as her cell phone to do any school business.
Her emails bounce back the same message to members of the public or from school staffers: “Hello! Thank you for your email. To ensure district staff have full visibility to questions, comments, and concerns; please submit feedback and/or request information via https://www.flaglerschools.
Hunt did not respond to an email asking what had caused her to feel unsafe.
On divided boards, it is almost inevitable that a member would be seen as a swing voter. It happened for years on the U.S. Supreme Court (where Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy alternated in that role), it happens on the County Commission, it happened constantly on the Flagler County School Board before this board was seated, when Trevor Tucker was the swing voter. Some elected officials relish the roles, some don’t, but either way it’s out of their hand, since the dynamic is dictated by the make-up of the board they chose to run for. Hunt last year during the campaign was not unaware of the school board’s divisions, the deepest of any local board currently.
It is also not entirely surprising that an elected official would feel unsafe in the current environment, when elected officials in local governments, judges and election workers have increasingly faced threats–not necessarily in Flagler County, though the county has known its share of tense and angry meetings, but certainly across the country: the Jan. 6 insurrection was the most obvious example. Hunt has spoken previously of being threatened, merely because she hasn’t voted the way some of her constituents believed she would.
As the May 2 public comment segment continued, more swim club advocates spoke, again in reasonable tones, until Wilfredo “Big Mouth” Leiras himself sat at the table, apologizing (“I’m sorry I speak so loud”). He read from his notes until his time ran out and Massaro attempted to cut him off: he went on reading, raising a “just-a-minute” finger as he spoke about the physical fitness of members and how he could make 50 push-ups then and there. Massaro tried again.
“I’m not done, OK?” Leiras yelled, “there’s people that come from Europe here”–again Massaro tried, “Sir,” which he ignored– “who were in concentration camps. Hello!” he yelled, pounding the table with his finger before getting up, again apologizing. Leiras was loud, abrasive, probably hyperbolic, but at no point projected the sort of threatening language or behavior that would have caught the attention of a security officer.
On went the speakers, about 10 in all, including former Bunnell City Commissioner Daisy Henry asking for a new agreement between the school board and Bunnell’s Carver Center. After that, it was all board business as district directors and staffers made one presentation after another, along with board discussions and debates. The board’s own long discussion about the swim club itself got quite intense, with Board member grilling staffers for clarity on certain numbers.
Belle Terre swim club advocates have stamina: some outlasted te workshop’s four hours to again address the board at the end, one of them lavishing thanks and praise on the board for its deliberations, another–the man who’d singled out Hunt–praising the “pretty serious discussion,” and asking the board to increase his fees or taxes, but not close the club.
In a brief interview Thursday, Massaro said she could not figure out what had made Hunt feel insecure in the upstairs room, nor had she known of incidents there, as she very much had in the downstairs board. “The only time I felt unsafe was downstairs, not upstairs,” Massaro said, a reference to meetings that had to be recessed, with deputies intervening, when the crowd got unpredictably aggressive.
Massaro said she wanted “to see if there’s a way we can help Ms. Hunt feel better and more comfortable.” At the workshop, she asked Hunt if a deputy in the workshops would help. “At a minimum if we stayed in the room, I would appreciate having a deputy,” Hunt said.
“It will come at a cost,” Massaro said.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said the hiring of a deputy for a special detail requires payment for three hours at a minimum. A deputy at a starting-pay rate would cost $108 for three hours, “but ultimately the cost would vary depending on the deputy’s rank, etc. as that increases their base pay rate.”
The board holds two dozen workshops a year, not counting special workshops, some of them, like on May 2, stretching past the three-hour mark. The cost of using a deputy at a starting-pay range would then amount to at least $2,600 a year, not counting meetings that exceed the three-hour mark, or additional meetings.
Sally deserves to be scared, she lied her way into office and has been a real disgrace since assuming office. She is the Palm Coast equivalent of George Santos.
You’re proof that she needs security. Courageous woman.
Not Wrong says
Exactly this. There’s a lot of Santos-like ppl elected this last cycle.
Billy Bunnell says
We could save over $50,000. a year by dumping her ignorant ass. She hasn’t done one positive thing since taking office. She lied her way into office and besides that wonder if she couldn’t be our “token dyke” on the School Board.
Les Lohnes says
If Ms Hunt is that paranoid, about her safety, perhaps she is in the wrong position. Her attention to pertinent school matters are obviously being distracted by her personal fears of safety, which are not shared by her colleagues. Further, by her email and cell phone messages, she does not wish to communicate with the people that elected her to represent them or discuss matters of concern.
Perhaps she should step down from this front line position and direct her community service endeavors in a less prominent role.
The dude says
What a snowflake.
She’s in the wrong job… for many many reasons…, not just this episode of unwarranted, unhinged paranoia.
Dennis C Rathsam says
WOW!!!!! If she needs protection, buy a gun, or pay for deputy, out of her pocket. This lady is out there, how did she get ellected? This isnt Orlando, or Chicago, or NYC, crime runs rampet through theses cities. Palm Coast is nothing like them. Maybe she should get profesional help for her fear of the boogieman.
Evelyn Palmeri says
Absolutely not. Even if she pays for it herself.
Michael Cocchiola says
As Pierre says, there has never been a need for extra security at workshop meetings. But, I expect that the board will have to accede to Sally’s request.
The article does not state that. Please see the clarification below.
I think she should pay for the deputy out of her salary. In the school district I grew up in (Niagara County)located in Western New York, our board members did not earn a salary. I think this position on the school board has gone to a lot of politician’s heads. I think it’s turned from a position of doing what’s best for the students and teachers, to doing what’s best for themselves and the political faction that they serve. Conklin and Massaro actually have their heads on straight. The other three bozos need to get it together and realize who they are actually serving, which is not their personal or political interests. I really don’t care what side of the fence you’re on, just use common sense in your decision making and try not to be a clown in the circus our school board creates on its own fruition.
For the good of the order says
Please hire two deputies. One to stand on each side of Ms. Hunt at every meeting. Also have principal Peacock sit behind her so he can whisper directives in her ear. I also recommend having a licensed psychiatrist attend every meeting in case the commissioner or other commissioners has need of counseling.
The school board has important business to conduct and they need all the help they can receive.
At first I was astonished at Ms. Hunt’s request but on further consideration I understand why she’d make it.
A sad reflection on the times, not her.
What a sad state of affairs. Drama much?
Sally Hunt is obviously not suited for office, and has issues revealing the true way she leans on issues. She fooled a LOT of voters including me. I can’t WAIT for the next opportunity to vote. I only wish we had penalties for dishonesty in our public servants. It’s very sad.
Sally Hunt needs to get a grip!!!! If she did not understand what being a member of the school board entailed, she should not have run. Who, if not herself, has made her out to be the swing vote? And mostly she is just swinging – depending on the way the wind blows. How soon can we vote her out of office?
Pierre Tristam says
The article does not state whether there has been a need for security or not at workshop meetings. It touches on the context that gave rise to Hunt’s request, in an attempt to determine what may have prompted it, but reaches no conclusions. If anything, the larger context, as reported, does point to how local government meetings, not just in Flagler, are placing elected officials in more dangerous situations that the public may not always see, and in settings where elected officials may be very vulnerable to assaults. The school board’s workshop setting is so constituted that no one would have time to react defensively if a loose cannon chose to do mischief. In that context, the request for added security is neither unreasonable nor surprising, as there is no longer much difference in the type of attendance at workshops as opposed to evening meetings. Speaking from this reporter’s experience over the last few years, a sense of insecurity has not been unusual at some of these and other local government meetings. For that very reason, the fewer meetings we have to attend in person, the safer. It should never be like this in a civilized society. It now is. The suggestion that the cost of security would be protective only of Hunt is off base, since added security would benefit all present–board members as well as members of the public, who would be no less vulnerable to the unpredictable behavior of a loose cannon. She merely raised an issue others can only benefit from. Readers seem to forget the episode at the Palm Coast City Council where the former mayor was aggressively approached by a member of the public who, willingly or not, put the mayor in legitimate fear for her safety. And that was at a meeting with more than one deputy present. No one accused her of overreacting. No one objected to Palm Coast spending tens of thousands of recurring dollars, to this day, for added security, including a metal detector, a much higher cost than an added deputy at workshop meetings would cost. The article should have been clearer on those points.
Edith Campins says
She is playing the victim, again. This is her pattern. She provides no facts, no details just like she failed to do when she voted to oust the Superintendent. She is clearly unfit for the office she holds. And yes, she is the swing vote , duh!
Regret Her says
Sally is a fraud. Incapable of being authentic with the community. I also suspect she has been violating the Sunshine Law and it will soon crack open on the three of them. She would do best to resign from office.
Deborah Coffey says
Doesn’t this just prove that Sally Hunt was always a Republican? It’s one more Republican “thing” she’s doing so well…playing the VICTIM. She lied to every Democrat that voted for her. If this fake needs to be near exits to feel safe, she needs some professional help. Tell her to call her insurance company.
Judith Back-Zack says
I attended and spoke at this workshop (as I have at many others). Some of the seniors have hearing problems and speak loudly (and often don’t realize just how loud it seems to others). Because BTSRC is so important to our health and well-being we often get excited and passionate about it. In no way did anyone get threatening. The error in addressing Ms. Hunt directly was just that, an error. He was just trying to appeal to a school board member he thought might change her vote and vote to save the place. He didn’t realize he wasn’t allowed to do that. When Ms. Hunt said she didn’t want to be addressed personally and Ms. Massaro also instructed all of us not to, no one else did, nor did they do it at the May 16th workshop. I think this is a total overreaction by Ms. Hunt.
Those words are so important… “it should never be like this in a civilized society.”
As a community, as a state and as a nation, we need to stop following the pied pipers of incivility. The power of the vote needs to be recognized. Until it is,
we will to deal with the uncomfortable, often unthinkable consequences. But if we do not recognize the power of the vote we will deal with the chaos, violence, rage and inhumanity of society deconstructed.
African American we need to attend some of these meetings.
Not a fan of the Peacock says
Sally Trump’s comments about not voting the way people wanted her to is complete BS, we, the people of Palm Coast, wanted her to vote based on the facts, evidence, and comments presented which clearly showed the current superintendent should still have her job. We did not want you to vote based on finding a peacock and only considering his views!
As for not using her phone and electronic communication, again, her reason is BS though I’m sure her husband is glad to hear that.
We the people of Palm Coast, just want you and the other board members to do your job it’s about the students, policies, and procedures… Not put your narcissistic ways behind you and vote for the students and the schools
Sally Hunt is a democrat, unsure why you’d call her Sally Trump
Just the Facts please says
So was Trump then an Independent then a republican , he changed parties several times…it happens just calling her what she is. note that this position is supposed to be Non-partisan as it is about The Students and their job is about Policy & Procedure so Do Your Job.
Concerned Community Member says
Sally Hunt needs to be in a BUBBLE if she feels the need for security at the workshops. I watch the workshops and board meetings from home and in my opinion she nevers knows what she is saying. I’m so tried of her excuses about defending herself. When someone feels the need constantly to defend themselves it only means they have done something wrong. Ms Hunt enjoy your term on the school board now because what I have hearing it will be your last.
It is interesting that she mentioned that other board members also felt the need for security but no one else responded? Like usual- just say ” hey a parents asked me….Blah Blah”. Either she made it up or the other two were afraid to acknowledge their fright.
Duh, just resign! Problem solved….
Mrs. Hunt needs to resign and do a big favor to all the students and all the Democrats baited to vote for her! Cutting of her communications to the residents pleas is not only wrong is totalitarian Trumpian behavior. I refuse to get any higher taxes to pay for her frivolous request of personal security while (un) serving on the Board. Thank you to those members that kept the pool open for the membership and community!
Some Guy says
While I don’t doubt her unease at meetings, I doubt many other things about her and wish I could take my vote (and campaign support) back. What a shame.
Inclusive program says
Modern day nazis also know as GOP have taken over control of our government at every level. They are clearly attacking schools through funding, book bans, teachers union ect. We should all be scared. If you are not complicit and even voice a different opinion then the government will come after you just like Hitler did.
Put her in a cage so no one can get to her !!!!
Mindy Robertson Moore says
You all forget that the alternative was Jill Woolbright. Seriously. There wasn’t much of a choice, but I’d take Sally Hunt over psycho Jill any day of the week.