The Flagler Beach City Commission held its first in-person meeting since March Thursday evening. It did not go well. It had nothing to do with Covid-19, but with City Manager Larry Newsom, whose increasingly erratic, at times confrontational behavior is becoming a major concern for the commission. Commission Chairman Jane Mealy called for a special workshop on June 23 to discuss the issue. Newsom’s future with the city may hinge on it.
The latest incident involves Newsom’s brusque manner toward two constituents who’d addressed their issues to the commission in the usual public comment segment. “It was very wrong, I was very upset about it,” Mealy said. “I called one of the people that he was very rude to, to apologize.” It’s not the first time Newsom’s conduct has raised commissioners’ questions. They contended with a similar issue in April.
Halfway through the public comment segment nearer the beginning of the meeting Thursday, even as Newsom was still engaged in a confrontation with one of the constituents, Mayor Linda Provencher called for a recess, retreated to a back room with Newsom, Police Chief Matt Doughney, Fire Chief Bobby Pace and City Attorney Drew Smith, and asked Newsom to leave. He was due to leave for a week’s vacation today anyway. Mealy had earlier that day suggested to him that he should not attend the meeting, sensing he was not in the best of health.
“I was worried about his health, he seemed agitated, I said why don’t you go ahead, start your vacation now, get your health in order,” the mayor said today, recalling her conversation with Newsom. The manager, Provencher said, “seemed a bit agitated, not very patient with people. I know people can say things and do things that can agitate all of us, but we can’t respond that way.”
Fire Chief Bobby Pace was appointed interim manager today, pending Newsom’s return from vacation. Provencher said that would have taken place regardless, given the time off.
“Linda was very cordial, she said leave and take a vacation you were taking anyway,” Newsom said this afternoon, recalling the meeting in the back room. “Did I do something wrong?” he said he asked her. “She said no, you didn’t, she did say I was a little abrupt with them. Yeah, I was. I said I’m sorry Linda, if I was unprofessional, but the guy made comments from the sidebar. I have a great staff and they have no right to be mistreated, especially by a bunch of folks who come down here for three or four months.”
Mealy described herself as concerned about Newsom. “Of course I am,” she said. “We’re calling a special meeting the night of the 23rd to discuss it, it’s a workshop meeting, if Larry is back, because I want him at that meeting.” She specified that the workshop was “to discuss his behavior.”
The meeting had begun innocuously enough with an update on the dunes-rebuilding project by Al Hadeed, the county attorney, who’s been on a hunt to secure easements along the 2.6-mile stretch of beach to be renourished with colossal amounts of sand. Then began the public comment segment.
Rachel Sensenbach of 2135 South Daytona Avenue described an ongoing problem with flooding in the backyard from stormwater coming down 22nd Street. Saturday’s rains brought waters up to her house’s door and junked up the yard with runoff. The city graded the alley this week, but the property owner is looking for a permanent solution. “We’re putting up with this, it’s damaging our home and then we have all this clean-up in our yard we have to do,” Sensenbach said. She spoke in a soft tone, without hint of accusation or recrimination.
Mealy asked Newsom if he could work with the city engineer to get the situation resolved. “Yes ma’am, I’m doing everything I can,” he said, a shade short of a snap. “Just understand that we are working. You probably have about a $5 million project that’s going to take to cleanup the drainage in Flagler Beach.” Then, turning to Sensenbach, he said: “I know you and I have talked, I’ve talked to your husband, I think it was more in the background. My disappointment is I talk to you, you didn’t talk to me again, you just ran to the 7-Eleven and talked to the commissioner. But that’s beside the point. He is a commissioner and his door is always open, and we are working hard on trying to take care of drainage issues in this city.” He blamed the previous administration for not taking care of the problem.
Newsom and Sensenbach spoke back and forth some more, and when he wryly asked the woman whether she’d be ok with water from her yard going to a neighbor’s yard, a man in the audience told him he was being insulting. “You’re insulting,” Newsom retorted.
The co-owner of a new store in town was next to speak. But Newsom continued what had become a heated sidebar with the man in the audience, when audio of the meeting records Newsom asking the man if he wants to go outside. It’s not clear if all commissioners heard the exchange, though Commissioner Rick Belhumeur did. Mealy had to intervene, catching the man’s attention and implying a request for silence with a “sir. Thank you.”
“He’s asking me if I wanted to go outside,” the man tells Mealy from his seat. Newsom begins to say something but it’s not clear what.
“I’m sorry,” Mealy tells the speaker at the mic. “All right, we’re done?” she asks Newsom and the other man.”
Asked about that exchange this afternoon, Newsom said the man told him that what Newsom was saying was “ridiculous or asinine, I can’t remember exactly, but it was insulting. I’ve been pretty good in holding my temper for quite some time in working in government.” But, he said, “when I have a gentleman from the audience that makes a very insulting comment to me, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, I did tell him if you want to go outside and talk about this in more detail,” he would. “I always start off trying to be as polite as I can but on the same token Im not going to take verbal abuse.”
Audio: The Public Commend Segment
The co-owner of the store finally got to describe her issue, then several other residents spoke, including more complaints about flooding. another property owner takes the mic to speak of flooding issues. Newsom answered several commissioners’ questions.
Then came Helen Kramer, a South Flagler Avenue resident. She described problems with swales and wondered about the “purpose” of the swales. Newsom provided a brief history of the recent swales project–which has drawn recurring complaints from residents–and was affable about it, even humorous. Kramer asked a few more questions to him, and along the way dropped a bit of a broadside of her own.
Swales, a commissioner told her, will only help in rain events, not in major flooding events. In more serious events it’s time to take other measures, Newsom said. “I can tell you, I moved my vehicles,” he told Kramer.
“Well, you know, you have some personal issues, um, apparently,” Kramer tells him, before going on: “But it just seems like we spend an awful lot of money which from the other meetings I’ve attended was to stop the flooding down on Flagler.”
“Rainfall. All we’re trying to do is address rainfall,” Newsom says.
“All right,” Kramer says. He reiterates the difference between mere rain events and more diluvian downpours. He and Kramer continue to go back and forth. Mealy tries to bring back the discussion to the subject at hand. “We’re getting carried away here,” the chairman says.
But then Kramer takes it in another direction: “Just one last question. Everyone in this room has a mask on but you, sir. How do you–what is going on here?”
“I guess I left mine in the car?” Newsom says.
“I know you’ve had fragile health. Wear your mask,” she tells him. It was not a suggestion.
“How do you know I have fragile health?” Newsom says.
“Al right, all right. Larry. Stop,” Mealy says. The woman picked up a box of masks the city was making available for audience members who didn’t have one and took it to Newsom. He didn;t like that. It was then that the mayor called for a recess. The meeting was just past the hour mark. When the meeting resumed at 6:49 p.m., Newsom was gone. In the meantime, Provencher and Newsom had conferred, and Doughney, the police chief, had returned to the meeting room to gather Newsom’s belongings for him.
“All rightie, let’s give this another try,” Mealy said.
Provencher in an interview this afternoon said the special workshop would be “to discuss with Larry what happened and see where we go from here,” and to keep in mind that the commission has two new commissioners in Deborah Phillips and Ken Bryan (Bryan was absent Thursday, on a family emergency), who may have a lot of questions and need for reliable information from the administration to get up to speed.
“I hope that whatever he’s going through he can get past,” Provencher said. “He’s been a great city manager for several years. The employees like him, as far as I know the commissioners like him. I just hope whatever issue he’s got he can come back and lead again.”
This evening, Newsom was not yet aware of the June 23 workshop. He thought the next workshop was to discuss the city’s goals. He said he hadn’t had a vacation in four years.
“I’m not allowed to get sick? I’m 56 years old,” he said. “If my health is that big of an issue and the board doesn’t want to keep me on based on that, I respect their opinion, but they need to hit the rewind button and see what we’ve done since Hurricane Matthew, me and my staff.”
Regarding the exchanges with constituents, he again defended his approach. “I probably would have had the same response if I was at 110 percent. You can’t be rude to people. You can’t. Government employees don’t have to be abused,” he said.
Commissioner Belhumeur was less forgiving today. “I’m pretty fed up. We need a full-time city manager, not one who gets into confrontations with a citizen and embarrasses the entire city in a public meeting,” he said, adding later: “If the commission doesn’t hold Larry accountable, then the commission needs to be held accountable.”
The little town of Flagler Beach calls itself a City. It is Podunk USA. They do NOT care about residents issues and will never attempt to call you back if you have a question about anything pertaining to your own property. I have lived here for 4 years now and have not seen one bit of concern addressed by the town. The town itself looks like a third world country. No leadership and no plan. Lots of things to love here,but more to dislike.
Karen Joiner says
I have lived here 7 years and I totally disagree with your comments. This is not a Podunk Town. Instead of criticizing Flagler Beach, why don’t you get involved in changing the things that bother you…..But if you really dislike this PODUNK TOWN, then may I suggest relocating somewhere else. We don’t need whining people here. We need citizens who want to help change OUR town for the better.
Concerned Citizen says
@ Karen Joiner
Opinionated much are you? You have the same attitude as that clown Mullins. If you don’t like it here or if you don’t have the same opinion as me then get out. LOL Gotta love these small American towns that don’t like outsiders.
I work in the area on a regular basis. That included being first of boots on the ground during major recovery efforts after Hurricanes. So that being said I have dealt with this city Administration from top down and have found it very frustrating.
This administration ends up in the press frequently and never in a flattering light. Most of the acts these people in charge committ are criminal. But the good ol boy network surrounds them. And they get away. Then you residents enable them by continuing to re-elect. And allowing them to build little empires and control Flagler beach.
When I was looking to purchase a home last year the main reason I opted for mainland and out in the country was to not live under this type of government. Hard to trust your city leaders when they want to fight everyone. Or run you over after leaving a bar.
Maybe you find this type of behavior acceptable but I expect more from our Administrators and Managers/Commisioners.
You have the right to disagree. I hope you are living your mantra by serving your town, I pay taxes for someone to do that.
Well You need a lot of citizens to hep out. But you seem to agree that change is needed to help “OUR” town.
Concerned Citizen says
This guy is a loose cannon and needs to go. That being said.
Why just single out Newsome for behavior issues. In the past couple of years you’ve had a Comissioner run over a cyclist after a few drinks. And another one beat his girlfriend. And ran her out of town. Then leaned on her to drop charges. Both times nothing was done to address either incident. And lets not forget Kim Carney who got sued for Invasion of privacy after maliciously slandering that poor rape victim.
The entire leadership team for Flagler beach needs revamping. You people only care about hurting your constiuents. And not representing them. Hopefully the Mayor does the right thing and starts cleaning house. Instead of hoping it dies down and people forget.
Yes we have a commissioner who runs over bicyclists rats out everybody in town acting as a self appointed code enforcement officer and then throws stones at someone else.
If you cant handle the heat Resign. Stop the madness.
Everyone has an agenda and no solutions at these meetings sometimes. “Steadfast on the issues, compassionate on the people.” should rule the day.
Willy Boy says
What’s with these old guys asking someone if “they want to go outside.” It’s like Biden saying he’d like to take Trump out behind the gym. These old farts probably haven’t been in a physical confrontation since grade-school. Get Real!
Just saying says
I find it interesting that Larry takes a swipe at the “snow birds” I pay the same amount of taxes whether I am here for 3 or 4 months or 12 months.
Actually you pay more taxes if you aren’t homesteaded — an idea without merit IMO. Only 47% of FB property owners live here. That’s the problem. Lived here for 31 years. It was a hidden paradise then — now it’s worse than Coney Island. Be interesting now that the CoC isn’t around to run things, what will the commissioners do?????
John Stove says
Mr. Newson needs to enroll in some conflict resolution training. I have been in city administration -public works for over 30 years and i have never witnessed such outrageous behavior by a city official in my life. If Mr. Newson cannot keep his angry rhetoric in check then he needs to move on (or be moved).
Yes, residents can be angry about certain issues and yes, they can be demeaning at times but those who are “in charge” always have to take the high road and answer/interact in a professional manner.
This recent interaction makes us all lose faith in those we have put in office and Mr. Newson is an embarassment.
I’m not sure which government is more inept and corrupt, the city of Palm Coast, or the town of Flagler Beach. Every week there is some other nonsense brought forward and displayed for the world to see. Neither knows how to live by a budget, or select employees with the right credentials. Larry Newsom is an employee that works at the pleasure of the city commission. He can be fired, and maybe he should. FB needs to find someone more forward thinking with a pleasant personality, the credentials to do the job, and not spend money that doesn’t exist. The residents of FB don’t need another tax increase, no matter how you word it, or try to suck it out of our wallets.
Here “again” our city manager’s anger control issues are an ongoing problem. Although I’m certain we are going to have comments about the right to free speech, our government employees (hired, appointed or elected) “should” be required to communicate in a “professional” way. That “should” include social media postings in addition verbal communication, most especially with constituents.
They “should” also be required to set a good example when it comes to the public health and well being. We apparently have problematic employees in a couple of different positions within our local governing bodies. Mullins and McDonald also come to mind. Is there a common thread?
In any case, it is likely that a week’s vacation is not going to permanently rectify Newsom’s communication problems and his understanding of how to set a good public safety example. Therefore, our city commissioners need to take “active” steps in solving the problem “permanently”. In my opinion, they should be starting the process for finding a new city manager.
Percy's mother says
Neither Mullins nor McDonald are “employees” (problematic or otherwise).
Mullins and McDonald are elected by the citizens of Flagler county. Both serve at the behest of the electorate.
Happening now says
He is caught between a rock and a hard place.
We are going to flood now, as no accountability on building. Live here 50 years, no Palm Coast, For locals to find parking is a miracle. There isn’t any one to blame, as past managers have made decisions that present managers have to deal with.
Jane Mealy's PR Guy says
No excuse for Larry Newsome’s behavior, yet Jane Mealy’s weakness as the Chair selected by her peers to run these meetings and command the order of comments, questions, and responses is textbook mealy-mouth. The figurehead Mayor (ceremonial and vote tie-breaker) had to take control of the situation from Don Deal’s lapdog and dispense with this communication breakdown. Flagler Beach should consider a change in government from a weak-mayor to a strong-mayor that would run the meetings, prepare the budget, and appoint a city administrator and other department heads. These meeting theatrics have become common place over the decades. Bernie was subjected to this and now Larry. Bruce handled these best. A city employee should correspond with the residents, business proprietors, renters, visitors, and guests before these matters rear at a public meeting.
Change to strong-mayor form and search for a city administrator.
Lance Carroll says
Like sands through the hourglass…
I wish Newson would clear the drain in his swale in front of his house then my swale would not be full of water.
Clean your drain on your swale Larry and my yard won’t be flooded.
Something’s going on. Drinking? Cognitive issues? People shouldn’t be afraid to go to an open meeting. Newsom needs to have an intervention.
Don Deal says
Dear PR Guy,
Glad you mentioned the chair person is selected by the City Commission. This is done on a yearly basis without any input from the Planning and Architectural Review Board of which I am a member. In addition, if you check the City Ordinance section regarding the Planning and Architectural Review Board responsibilities, you can enlighten yourself as to their role, which is only a small part of the City Commission decision making process.
Maybe you should devote some of your energy to serving on some of the Flagler Beach various boards to suggest ideas to improve our city. The city is always in need of volunteers to devote their time to various projects. I have served on many throughout the years. From your laundry list of previous city managers, sounds like you have lived here for a while.
The Commissioners and our Mayor often attend the Planning and Architectural Review Board meetings, especially when it comes to anticipated controversial agenda items. They may wish to hear our comments, recommendations and public input regarding these issues in person in it’s entirety vs condensed minutes. Unfortunately, our meetings are often sparsely attended by the general public.
I personally not only invite, but welcome you to take time out of your busy schedule and attend our Planning and Architectural Review meetings to share your valuable input with us. Or, you can take it up a notch and run for City Commissioner or Mayor. After all, it pays a whopping est. $8,500 a year, (certainly they are not there for the money) each working numerous hours and taking phone calls anytime day or night. Then individuals with similar character to yours can make insulting, non factual comments about you. It’s much easier to sit behind a keyboard and take a few minutes to criticize than to devote numerous hours weekly trying to improve the City we all live in.
PR guy, in closing, I refer you Ms. Karen Joiner’s comment above. Our agenda is posted on the city website. We welcome your input, as well as other members of the public at our next monthly meeting.
“PR guy, in closing, I refer you Ms. Karen Joiner’s comment above. Our agenda is posted on the city website. We welcome your input, as well as other members of the public .”
What a joke. We have an elected government here. If I could alone get rid of you all through the election process I would. Good ole boy network is disgusting.
Keith Sullivan says
I want to remind everybody at what newsom trying to pull during the public shut down trying to buy a brand new fire truck when the public and not even address the issue. Closing all of our beaches even to the citizens of Flagler Beach that we can’t even walk across the road and enjoy a nice walk go surfing or fishing let’s have newsome gone in time for 4th of July
tom dooley says
ha ha ha here we go again with the “concerned citizen” “know it all Sherry” and Jane Mealy’s PR guy”? I really hope Jane Mealy is ok with this? Jane please speak up i would hate to think that this is you speaking? So let me start with Jane mealy’s pr guy” (hiding behind a phony name as usual here?) Bruce (previous c.a.)started out (if you remember correctly?) with the FD problem because he wanted “power”over the previous fire chief by telling him not to go to N/S Dakota on “his own time” (no taxpayers expense) to look at a fire truck; then it went to “drinking on the job/answering a fire call”? That was his “legacy” POWER!!! He knew nothing about government just personal business. Cut,Cut, Cut which is why Larry is in the situation he’s in; trying his best to get fb into the 21st century. As far as “concerned citizen” here we go again you hide behind a phony name yet you know everything like “sherry? Can you and sherry please run for c.a. if they let Larry go and show those fine folks in fb how it’s done? oops sorry neither one of you are qualified!!! So easy to be Monday night quarterback isn’t it? if fb lets Larry go because he’s a “real man” and refuses to “bow down to assholes” then the city of fb has lost the best c.a. the city has ever had as far as i’m concerned and i have been here for well over 30 damn years!!! Remember the hurricanes does anybody with half a brain think the previous c.a. could have done better? hell no he was a “puppet” to the city commissioners! 1 of those commissioners has got to go. I think we all know who i’m talking about right fine fb residents? Sorry my wife and i moved out west years ago but fb is still a fine place with lots of good people!!! Just people like “Sherry”(who seems to know all?) and “concerned citizen” needs to run for c.a.; commissioner or something instead of being a “arm chair quarterback! Sorry i would run myself but i don’t know all and my wife and i no longer live in fb city limits.But thanks for asking! Have a good night!