Note: all meetings are open to the public. You’re welcome to send tips or suggestions to [email protected].
The Week’s Quick Links
- Palm Coast Candidates Forum
- Flagler County Commission
- Palm Coast City Council
- Flagler County Schools
- Flagler Beach City Commission
- Bunnell City Commission
- In Tallahassee
- Last Week’s Edition
Tuesday, Aug. 23, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn Center: the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates, the Flagler County Association of Realtors and the Flagler County Homebuilders Association are hosting a forum featuring this year’s candidates for mayor and city council in Palm Coast. The event is hosted by WNZF’s David Ayres. The public is invited to mingle with the candidates for an hour before a Q&A begins at 6 p.m.
All candidates have been invited: William McGuire is challenging Holsey Moorman in District 1. Dennis Cross is running against Jason DeLorenzo in the open District 3 seat (Mary DiStefano is term-limited). And Joe Cunnane and Charlie Ericksen are challenging Jon Netts for mayor. Cunnane has so far refused to participate in the Palm Coast Observer’s and the Realtors’ interviews. It’ll be interesting to see if he shows up for Tuesday’s forum. The Q&A will be broadcast on WNZF 1550 AM.
- Uncertainty Over: Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts Makes His Re-Election Bid Official
- Challenging Jon Netts, Charlie Ericksen Runs for Palm Coast Mayor on a Pro-Business Agenda
- Palm Coast Races: 3 for Mayor, 4 for Council, 2 Elections, No Partridge, No Pear Tree
- Palm Coast City Election: Reducing Polling Locations, Possibly Changing to Even Years
Monday, Aug. 22, at 9 a.m. at the county’s Emergency Operations Center, the commission meets for another budget workshop. As in previous budget workshops, the public will be given a chance to address the board at the top of the agenda. The meeting focuses on a few loose ends, some of which could be looser than others. Not least of those: economic development. Again. The commission’s discussion last week was fatal to Enterprise Flagler. But it was inconclusive regarding the commission’s next step. It’s not even clear if there is to be a next step for now.
The Supervisor of Elections, Kimberle Weeks, again appears before the commission, but not before 11 a.m.: Weeks was given a time certain slot. The commission will also go over Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth’s budget. Feelings are raw between the commission and the clerk, as a result of the breakdown in negotiations between the two sides over a complicated contractual arrangement over what bank will do the county’s business. Also on the agenda: a discussion of the county’s garbage reserves, and possibly a discussion of the county’s contract with Waste Pro, which, like Palm Coast’s with Waste Pro, expires soon. Palm Coast was verging on skipping the bid process and negotiating a five-year extension with Waste Pro. That proved politically unpalatable, once the city council realized the public wouldn’t go for anything less than bids. The county piggy-backs on that same contract.
- Enterprise Flagler Is No More
- Blaming County, Elections Supervisor Closes 3 Outlying Precincts for Special Election
- Flagler County Tax Rates Will Go Up 12%, But Tax Bills Are More Likely to Go Down
Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 9 a.m., at the city’s conference room at City Market Place: The council meets for a workshop with a single item on the agenda: a budget presentation from the staff. Naturally, when it comes to budget (or any sensitive) matters, the agenda is shorn of any back-up or background material. The presentation is withheld until the hour of the meeting. Unlike every other local government agency in the county, where background materials are made available ahead of time, because we are, after all, in representative forms of government where the public interest–and deference to that interest–comes first, City Manager Jim Landon in Palm Coast continues to keep key matters under lock until the very last moment. It’s not his fault: the five council members–Jon Netts, Mary DiStefano, Frank Meeker, Bill Lewis and Holsey Moorman–have let him get away with it: they appear less than curious about studying ahead of time, as other commissioners and council members do, the material they’ll be discussing at their workshop. The agenda is below, though it’s a bit of a waste of space this week.
- Bowing to Public Pressure, Palm Coast Opts for Bidding Out Trash Hauling Contract
- A Wake for Palm Coast Desalination: Consultants Talk “Hiatus” Rather Than Demise
- Palm Coast to Raise Tax Rate 14% and Eliminate Stormwater Cost Exemption for Many
Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 9:30 a.m., Superintendent’s Conference Room, 3rd floor of the Government Services Building: The school board meets for a workshop on the district’s “school choice” policy. Every Florida school district is required to let parents have a crack at choosing the school of their choice, outside their regularly assigned neighborhood school. The choice must include charter schools. But the procedure is regulated in each district. Space limitations play a role, so that a lottery may decide some placements. See the Flagler district’s school choice background below.
Tuesday, Aug. 23, the Board is also holding its regular meeting imemdiately after the workshop, in the Government Services Building’s main chambers on the first floor: The board is scheduled to approve the school choice procedures outlined in the workshop earlier. The board will also approve a $30,000 contractual agreement with Daytona State College, part of a $75,000 grant for the Flagler Technical Institute to contribute toward the expense of a Career Counselor and to purchase equipment and supplies needed for all the vocational programs.
$1 million roof repair at FPC: In the agenda’s finer print, we find the following item:
In January 1993, three roofs in the district underwent replacement: the old media center in building 100 of Bunnell Elementary School, the roof at Buddy Taylor Middle School, and the roof of the 100 building at Flagler Palm Coast High School (as the building then existed). Installation of all three roofs proved faulty. The contractor went bankrupt and the manufacturer refused to warrant the roofs. After five years, in September of 1998, the bonding company for the projects (Merchants Bonding Company) issued the District a 15 year guarantee through September 2013. The guarantee provides for repairs to blisters on the roof surface, and leaks, only if water intrudes into building interior.
The media center roof at Bunnell Elementary was replaced in 2007. The Board approved a $36,748.00 settlement, releasing the bonding company from further obligation. The installation of the metal roof, during renovation of Buddy Taylor Middle School, in 2010, required our release of all obligations there as well.
Recent work on the roof at Flagler Palm Coast High School exposed very similar conditions to those found at Bunnell Elementary in 2007. Although there were no visible signs of major roof trouble, core samples of the roof revealed the entire roof is retaining as much as an inch of water, out of sight, under the roof membrane, without leaking. The roof must be replaced.
Preliminary estimates of the cost of replacement of the roof run from $913,000.00 to $1,217,000.00. Merchants Bonding Company has offered to pay 10% of the estimated cost of replacement in rejoinder to release from all future guarantee obligations in the District.
Merchants Bonding Company will issue a $105,256.42 check to the school district, but that leaves the district holding the bag on the remaining cost.
The board usually spotlights one, two or three special happenings in its schools or the district at its regular meeting. The kitty must be empty at the opening of the school year: no spotlights are scheduled this week.
- School Choice Explained at the Florida Department of Education
Thursday, Aug. 25, at 5:30 p.m., at the Flagler Beach City Hall: Fresh from its budget workshops, where the city commission managed to scale back its property tax rate a little more than it had expected to, the panel returns to routine business, beginning with the second presentation on Flagler Beach First, the local business initiative intended to encourage shopping in Flagler Beach, by Frank Gromling, owner of Ocean Publishing. The city will also hear a request to broaden its borders. The request comes from Phyllis Carmel, a regular at city commission meetings.
Several interesting ordinances are up for hearings, including a first reading on one proposal regarding a “dog friendly dining program,” which would let diners bring their dogs to certain restaurants. In Flagler Beach, when dogs are on the agenda, the meeting room is usually packed. The city will also hear first reading of an ordinance restricting campfires on the beach during turtle nesting season, and an ordinance compelled by the Legislature’s new law forbidding local governments from having any gun regulations that are stricter than the state’s.
- Flagler Beach Dog Lovers: “If We Wanted More Rules We’d Go To Palm Coast”
- Unveiling “Flagler Beach First!”: A Common Market for an Uncommon Island City
- The Flagler Beach Archives
Monday, Aug. 5, 7 p.m., in the Government Services Building’s main meeting room: The commission appears ready to go ahead with a $25,000 plan to install six spy cameras in South Bunnell, the black section of town, in what the city calls the “neighborhood camera program.” The contract would be awarded to Palm Coast-based Web WatchDogs, the surveillance camera company. Patrol officers would have access to the cameras views from remote laptops. They’d be able to move the cameras, zoom in and review recordings of locations where incidents are reported.
In other matters, the commission will also likely approve a new schedule of business tax receipts. The highest rate by far? a $500 tax on adult arcades, or $50 per gaming, or gambling, machine.
The full agenda and background material is below.
- Sheriff Fleming on Palm Coast and Bunnell Gambling Halls: “I Have Bigger Fish To Fry”
- Bunnell Mayor Outflanks Rookie Rogers, Shutting Down Talk of Martinez’s Future
- The Bunnell Archives
The News Service hadn’t provided the week ahead at press time.
Here’s a round-up of last week’s news:
Florida Gov. Rick Scott this week found his policies on the receiving end of numerous challenges as the governor’s calls for less government, privatization and less red tape wound their way through the courts.
Meanwhile, the governor’s quest to bring 700,000 jobs to the state was made both easier and more difficult depending on which economic data you choose to hang your hat on. While unemployment remained uncomfortably high, brisker home sales, slow but steadily increasing state revenue collections and government-backed efforts show the state’s economic engine is at least engaged.
BUSY WEEK IN THE COURTS
It was a hectic week in legal circles. The Florida Supreme Court early this week ruled that Scott overstepped his legal bounds when he put a hold on proposed agency rules until they could be reviewed by the governor’s office.
Scott, who in his first act as governor suspended agencies’ ability to make rules, immediately called the 5-2 opinion nonsensical, while attorneys for a blind woman who sued over the new requirement said the ruling would help preserve the ability of Florida residents to participate in the process by which new regulations that affect them are put into place.
The state’s highest court said that agency rules are largely an extension of legislation, which makes Scott’s action a separation of powers issue.
Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston, disagreed with the majority, saying the constitution gives the governor “supreme executive power.”
“If supreme executive power means anything, it must mean that the governor can supervise and control the policy-making choices — within the range of choices permitted by law — of the subordinate executive branch officers who serve at his pleasure,” Canady wrote in dissent.
Scott faces another challenge next month for his attempts to privatize a hefty chunk of Florida’s prison system. A Tallahassee circuit judge, Jackie Fulford, this week scheduled a hearing for September on a motion for summary judgment in the Florida Police Benevolent Association’s lawsuit challenging a plan to privatize several state prisons.
The PBA is challenging a Scott-backed move to privatize prisons in South Florida, an effort backers say will save millions.
Critics including Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, are skeptical of such savings, and got information this week that might make them right – internal documents show the prison system is worried about a $25 million price tag related to corrections officers losing their jobs, payments for things like untaken vacation or sick time. Scott told reporters this week that if the savings don’t materialize, the privatization won’t be done, simple as that.
Meanwhile, a Florida appeals court ruled that agencies must take into account collective bargaining agreements when they look to trim employee health costs. The Second District Court of Appeal this week ruled that the Polk County school district couldn’t bypass collective bargaining in imposing insurance changes.
JOBLESS RATE REMAINS HIGH, BUT STEADY
Florida’s 10.7 percent unemployment rate for July was unchanged from an upwardly revised June figure. The legion of jobless remains just shy of 1 million as the state claws its way back to economic prosperity.
On Friday, the Agency for Workforce Innovation reported that the number of jobs created since Jan. 1 had shrunk from previous estimates, a drop that negatively affects Scott’s promise to add 700,000 jobs to the state’s economy in the next seven years.
The drop of 21,200 immediately became fodder for politicians – Democrats quickly put out a statement questioning what happened to all those jobs, jobs, jobs.
State employment officials, meanwhile, cautioned that the unemployment rate, which represented a 0.1 percentage point uptick from preliminary June figures, was not unexpected as the state crawls its way back from the biggest economic downturn since the 1930s.
“You need to look at the long term trends,” said AWI Chief Economist Rebecca Rust. “There will be fluctuations month to month.”
Tourism-related employment continues to make steady headway while construction jobs remain well below historic levels.
A number of the job losses were in the government sector – something that also continued this month.
Though their number didn’t show up in the July figures, 134 workers were laid off from the South Florida Water Management District in the last week, saving the district $9 million in salaries.
Included in the group are 20 scientists with an average of 15 years of service. They join 19 scientists who took a buyout in June and several others who found jobs at different agencies or institutions before the layoffs.
Unlike construction and water management sectors, the lobbying business appears alive and well. We learned this week from new disclosure filings that despite the state’s economic woes, legislative lobbyists earned as much as $52 million for the quarter ending June 30, up from the $49.3 million spent on lobbyists that same time last year.
Lobbying firms Gray Robinson; Ron Book; Smith & Ballard and Southern Strategy Group earned the most, with each reporting income of greater than $1 million for the quarter.
Speaking of jobs, Associated Industries of Florida this week named insurance lobbyist Cecil Pearce the business group’s interim managing director. Pearce replaces the talkative and provocative Barney Bishop, who is stepping down as president at the end of the year.
Despite jobless rates that have remained higher than national averages since 2008, signs of economic rebirth were there this week if you looked. Favorable interest rates and ample inventory helped boost home sales in July by 12 percent compared to a year ago, with some markets seeing much higher increases.
The statewide average belied much heftier increases in some markets. Sales jumped 47 percent in Miami and 57 percent in Tallahassee as buyers appeared to be taking advantage of lower prices in those markets, where median prices fell 8 percent and 10 percent respectively. Statewide, prices held relatively stable, falling 1 percent year to year, from $137,700 to $136,500.
Doing its part, the state began a $291 million road project in Jacksonville to be financed by the Florida Turnpike Enterprise and repaid by tolls. The First Coast Outer Beltway project will be one of the first of a series of new projects aimed at jumpstarting infrastructure construction while the economy is slumping, taking advantage of low costs for the work, and – the Scott administration hopes – helping to lower the state’s unemployment rate.
The project is a harbinger of things to come as the state weans itself off fuel taxes to pay for roads. State transportation officials expect to lose $5 billion by the end of the decade in gas tax revenue that traditionally pays for roads, bridges and other infrastructure that connects Floridians.
The Florida Transportation Commission found out Tuesday that the effects of improved gas mileage will have an even more immediate impact, reducing 2011 revenue by $24 million and reaching $500 million a year by 2015.
Florida’s recovery efforts will also get some help from the feds. The state will get nearly $100 million in federal money for small business loans.
Meanwhile, BP Oil has, as of this week, paid Florida individuals and businesses more than $2 billion in payouts. But federal officials overseeing the payouts said the going may get tougher for some with more stringent requirements for future payments under the $20 billion program.
All is not rosy on the business front. Florida businesses could see an 8.9 percent increase in workers-compensation insurance rates next year, as costs slowly creep up after several years of massive declines.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance, an organization that files workers-
compensation rate requests for the industry, submitted the proposed increase Thursday to state regulators.
Businesses were hit with an overall hike of 7.8 percent last year, after enjoying years of rate cuts that stemmed from lawmakers overhauling the system in 2003.
Lawmakers redrawing Florida’s political boundaries took their caravan south this week as they took testimony from interested parties from Stuart to Key West. Given the range of testimony, it will be no easy task.
At a Wednesday hearing in downtown Miami, lawmakers got a checklist of sorts, from Cubans and other Latinos to Haitian immigrants to African Americans. Even the gay community called for a seat or two — though the chairman of the Senate committee charged with drawing maps said he doesn’t even know how that would be achieved.
Several candidates in the U.S. Senate GOP primary are preparing to debate this weekend in a debate co-sponsored by the Florida Family Policy Council and The Central Florida Tea Party Coalition. Confirmed candidates are Adam Hasner, George LeMieux, Mike McCallister, and Craig Miller.
The field is also set for the election to replace former Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, who quit the Legislature to go work for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. The overwhelmingly Democratic Senate District 1 takes in parts of Duval, Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.
Four candidates qualified to be on the ballot: Audrey Gibson and Terry Fields, who are both former state representatives; and Ramon Day and Leandrew Mills III. The primary is Sept. 20.
Former House Speaker Ray Sansom this week filed an ethics complaint against state attorney Willie Meggs who prosecuted Sansom on corruption charges that were eventually dropped, but only after Sansom lost his job as speaker and had to leave the Legislature.
The complaint alleges illegal and unethical behavior by Meggs in pursuing the case by manipulating a grand jury and illegally releasing testimony to the public. Sansom agreed to pay $300,000 to the state after being accused of misappropriating state money in the budget.
Progress Energy Florida brought its case to state regulators this week as the utility asked to pass along about $140 million in nuclear costs to customers: Attorneys for consumers and business and environmental groups repeatedly tried to cast doubt on the company’s hopes for meeting 2021 and 2022 target dates for the project.
The Florida Public Service Commission is expected to decide Oct. 24 whether to grant Progress’ request, along with a $196 million nuclear-cost request by Florida Power & Light.
MOVE OVER DORA THE EXPLORER:
Pre-kindergarten programs should test their students more extensively, argues David Lawrence, the head of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation. Lawrence said this wouldn’t be a “baby FCAT,” but instead a loose assessment of a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive skills in order to determine progress.
Next week, the State Board of Education will take up a draft legislative budget request for next year that asks for $4.6 million to begin offering voluntary pre-kindergarten assessments at a cost of $25 per student.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Rick Scott’s effort to vet all pending rulemaking in a central office is wiped out by a state Supreme Court majority that said the governor doesn’t have the power to meddle in rulemaking in such a way, because that’s a legislative function.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The complaint won’t undo what Mr. Meggs did to me. What I do hope it does is prevent Mr. Meggs from doing this to another innocent family,” Former House Speaker Ray Sansom in regard to his ethics complaint filed against State Attorney Willie Meggs.
–Tallahassee items Compiled by the News Service of Florida.