“The last time I ran for office was in sixth grade for second vice president at Shelby High School in Shelby, North Carolina, and I lost in a landslide,” newly minted Flagler Beach Commissioner Scott Spradley, 67, said nearly four hours into his first meeting as a commissioner Thursday night. “So it’s taken me that long to get the fear factor out of me.”
Spradley won his commission seat in as close to a landslide as Flagler Beach has had, tallying over 1,000 votes and nearly twice as many as Rick Belhumeur, who came in second and reclaimed the commission seat he lost a year ago.
It is probably the best-prepared set of new elected officials the commission has ever had, with neither rating as rookies by any calculation: Belhumeur served six years and never really left City Hall’s chamber in the intervening year. Spradley has been something of an ex-officio member of city government for years, chairing or serving on committees and serving on the powerful planning board until his accession to the commission last night.
As a group, and with Commissioner Jane Mealy still its reigning dean–she doesn’t need to chair the panel to still be its uncontested leader–the commission could use a little color, as could most local government boards. But it still combines a remarkable mix of experience and youth, business, law, academia, real estate, labor and Belhumeur’s Everyman.
Spradley’s win appears to be a first in Flagler Beach: no one had ever won with that many votes. The tally was the more impressive for resulting from a five-way race. In 2019, the four candidates who ran didn’t tally 1,000 votes between them. In 2022, Commissioner Jane Mealy, always a favorite at the polls, came close, with 853 votes. Spradley got 1,034, a high bar to match if and when he runs again.
The passing of the gavel is usually a metaphor. Thursday, it was more literal as Belhumeur and Spradley were sworn and Eric Cooley was again elected chair, a title he held before Ken Bryan a year ago, with Belhumeur as vice chair.
Belhumeur, who served two terms as commissioner before losing his re-election bid in 2022, nominated himself for the chairmanship, but did not get a second. He’s used to being the odd man out. He served as chair in his third year on the commission.
It wasn’t all ceremony Thursday. The commission handled a lengthy agenda for three and a half hours. Spradley is in a dual public role now, both as a city commissioner and as an attorney retained by the county to handle a bankruptcy proceeding related to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dune-rebuilding project set for next year. Spradley’s intervention led to a breakthrough in a standoff with a property owner who’d refused to sign two easements, holding up the entire 2.6 miles of the project. The property owner finally agreed to sign at the end of January, though has not yet done so.
The commissioner used part of his closing comments to update the panel on that score. “We’re wrapping that up,” he said. “There’s some things that have to be done and getting some approvals in the bankruptcy court for what we’re doing. I don’t see any impediment to that being completed.”
Cooley had the coincidental fortune of taking over the chairmanship the same evening that his pet project, also in the literal sense of the words, was on the agenda: seeking a permit for the second annual Hang 8 dog surfing competition. The competition is organized by Cooley and Mayor Suzie Johnston (te two are companions and have a few dogs, one of them, Wednesday, turning up for Thursday’s item.) The first edition of the competition last march drew howls of cheers.
Cooley’s item was last on the agenda list. He gave up the gavel and his vote to seek a temporary waiver of beach rules, allowing for the dog surfing contest, bringing up Wednesday with him.
The request’s outcome was not a mystery. Not after Cooley demonstrated a a bit of surfing with Wednesday poised on the surf board throughout. The dog, who Cooley described as “very vain,” which explains her surf board’s GoPro camera, did not address the commission.
“Some of my best photographs of the year were of these dogs surfing last year,” Spradley said. “It’s a great event.” The commission approved the exception in a 4-0 vote. It’ll take place on May 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The swearing hours earlier was preceded by the farewells of Ken Bryan, who had opted not to run for re-election after just one term on the commission, and Phillips, also a one-term commissioner.
Bryan had made history in the city. He recalled someone telling him he was the first person of color “who even attempted to run” for a commission seat in Flagler Beach–a city that until the 1970s did not have the friendliest reputation for skins darker than bronzed–and of course the first to serve. Bryan said he didn’t wear the distinction “necessarily as a badge of honor. I wear it as a badge of opportunity and privilege to have been able to do the very best that I could, regardless of the color of my skin.” That drew applause.
He promised he will not be a frequent visitor, making making comments at future meetings. He and Phillips received a plaque of appreciation from the mayor, and Bryan received a certificate of appreciation from Amy Lukasik, the county’s tourism director, and Dave Sullivan, chairman of the Tourist Development Council.
Phillips ended her tenure with compliments to the staff (“You have been fantastic”) and to City Clerk Penny Overstreet and City Attorney Drew Smith especially. With Belhumeur and Spradley at that point still seated in the audience, Phillips wished the newcomers “great success.” Her alternate destination is not exactly unpleasant: she owns the Uncorked Wine Bar a few steps from City Hall.
Bryan, too, had compliments for Overstreet, who is essentially the shadow manager of the city. “I continue ton be amazed how you keep all the balls in the air without dropping them,” Bryan told her. “Your institutional knowledge is priceless. I don’t see how the city could survive without you.” It would, but it would be like the a city surviving without dunes for protection.
To the city at large, Bryan said: “You will prevail through the stormy seas and keep the ship heading into the great future of this little city we all love and we all call home.”
Then it was fellow-commissioners’ turns to bid their farewells. “What has been really nice in serving with you all over the years,” Cooley told Bryan and Phillips, “and you really see this become illustrated when you look in other areas, is we’re able to handle tough business and we’re able to do it in a civil way. That’s not always the case. And that is because of you.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. The commission, for all the difficulties of a tense year, including the firing of a city manager in February, remains among the more work-oriented, ideology- and drama-free local governments in Flagler County. The Bunnell City Commission has mirrored the civility, and the Palm Coast City Council is, after a few rocky years, rejoining the civilized world. (The County Commission and the School Board have a way to go.)
Commissioner James Sherman, just now beginning his second year–he is no longer a rookie–thanked the commissioners as mentors and guides through the process of his first year. “At the end of the day we were all civil about handling our business,” he said.
Philips and Bryan exited by the side door well before the end of the organizational meeting.
James Zaenglein says
Regarding the historic landslide win of Scott Spradley, I would pose a possible reason. I try to be a good citizen. Though I am a relative newcomer to the area and haven’t followed local issues closely, I try not to vote simply by the sound of a name. I at least Google the candidates, and look at their websites, Facebook site, etc. Scott Spradley had the most information on his site, and one felt that one had a sense of what he stood for. Some sites simply had general feel good comments, such as “I support veterans, the environment, schools…” In today’s environment, state politics are more and more infused into local ordinances and rules, so it IS important to know how a candidate stands. Even more so for school board issues such as CRT and gender issues. So I encourage candidates to be honest and not play it safe. Honesty may get you MORE votes, like Mr. Spradley.
Your facts are off. Please correct before reposting. Thank you. –FL]
Bryan was also the first city commissioner to get sued for disparaging a developer while in office. A good reason we should do a better job looking at potential candidates temperaments before electing them for the color of there skin.