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HOW AND WHY WE ENDORSE
In a few days, probably within hours of this issue hitting the driveways, I will start getting letters to the editor saying we shouldn’t have done endorsements. “Let us think for ourselves!” and “What makes you so high and mighty as to tell me how to vote?”
But, we trust that most people will understand what we’re attempting to do.
No matter how many times you read the Elections Guide or go to forums, it’s always helpful to get another opinion. And if you have another conversation with your neighbor about the Aug. 14 primary as a result of these endorsements, we have done our job. We want people to be talking about this because it might make them more likely to vote.
In addition, we feel it’s our responsibility to endorse. We care about this community. We want the best people to be elected. And we have done our homework, so we want to share it with you.
Members of our staff attend the public meetings, and we analyze what elected officials say each week. We conduct interviews with them on a regular basis, both formally and informally.
This summer, we created the Elections Guide, which consisted of interviews with 39 candidates. Then, we formed an ad hoc editorial board, analyzed the candidates, independently scored them using a ratings system and then met and debated for many hours as to which candidates we should endorse as a newspaper. We invite you to read Pages 8-9 to see what we came up with.
Unfortunately, we won’t be publishing any letters to the editor about specific candidates because they amount to being advertisements. We will allow candidate-specific comments on our website in response to the endorsements, however. And we will continue to conduct polls and ask for your opinions on our Facebook page, so please join us there for more debate.
— Brian McMillan
Florida House, District 24: Milissa Holland
Doug Courtney has a wealth of experience and has good ideas about reducing government regulations. He gave better answers to our interview questions as a whole, though his idea that state government could get involved in “semi-backing” private investments is a nonstarter.
Milissa Holland, by contrast, spoke in platitudes and generalities and didn’t give us much to go on in her answers.
Fortunately, we know Holland better than that. She is an ambassador and a consensus builder. She is a leader on the Tourist Development Council, started Feed Flagler and has experience pleading for Flagler County causes in Tallahassee.
In her first month on the County Commission six years ago, as the first woman ever elected to that board, she made public records requests to research how roads were being maintained in the county. Ultimately, she showed that even though the county was taking care of fewer roads after the city of Palm Coast incorporated, the county’s public works department had continued to grow. Thanks to that discussion, the county’s public works department was decimated.
She made further public records requests to analyze the county’s health care costs, found inefficiencies and led the way to cutting annual expenditures from $14,000 per employee to $8,700.
Holland does her homework and is fearless.
More recently, when Beverly Beach officials disagreed vehemently with her solution to their water utility problems, she brought all sides together and found a resolution.
The city of Palm Coast and Flagler County were suing each other when she became a commissioner. She suggested holding regular intergovernmental meetings to help resolve differences, and those meetings continue to be held.
For her creativity, passion for efficiency and cooperation, we recommend Milissa Holland.
U.S. House of Representatives District 6 (Republican): Fred Costello
This is a crowded field of bright people who mostly say the same things. The top candidates are Ron DeSantis, Craig Miller and Fred Costello.
DeSantis is the most charismatic of the bunch. His Harvard and Yale heritage, as well as his experience as a JAG in the Navy, are impressive. He could very well be the next young congressman to deliver an impassioned speech and become a party leader.
But he also is the most idealistic and the most antagonistic, and we worry that he could be the least likely to work toward a compromise that could help make real change in Washington.
In Craig Miller’s business career, he has overseen the production of 40,000 jobs. Just think about that for a moment. He would command respect for his real-world experience, and it’s appealing to think of sending a true businessman to the U.S. House of Representatives.
But Fred Costello is the one who seems to have the best grasp on what is needed in Washington. He was the only candidate to be bold enough to name federal agencies that needed to be dissolved and turned into state functions. In a time of embarrassing spending in Congress, that is the correction that needs to take place: Give control back to the states. If the states want to pick up the functions of these federal agencies, they can do so. They can be creative in how they do it. And their own people can decide how to fund them. Competition among states will naturally produce better and better outcomes until best practices will prevail in our nation once again.
Costello is the clearest, most ardent advocate for freedom and local control out of all the candidates. And yet, he does so with a mind for cooperation and is willing to look you in the eye and listen.
We recommend Costello.
U.S. House of Representatives District 6 (Democrat): Heather Beaven
Palm Coast resident Heather Beaven does not mince words. One question stands out: We asked her if she’d be willing to pledge not to raise taxes. In response, she said: “No. … To take a pledge before you are privy to pretty significant details — whether they come across your desk or they come across your committee chair — is nonsensical.”
She has a point.
At the same time, she was not willing to engage in a discussion on how to cut the federal budget. And rather than make any suggestions about how to fix what she rightly called an “archaic, cumbersome and overly complicated” tax code, she simply said that Congress can’t be trusted to fix it.
By contrast, Beaven’s view of the future is one of hope and vision: She sees the United States as being in the middle of an economic transformation, and she believes that’s what we need to focus on.
She is a Navy veteran and is the CEO of the Florida Endowment Foundation, and her experience is above and beyond that of her 25-year-old opponent, Vipin Verma.
We recommend Beaven.
Flagler Sheriff (Democrat): Jim Manfre
The recurring theme of Karl Tozzi’s interview with us was that he will seek government grants to help fund the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, and he has extensive experience with law enforcement in Broward County.
Jim Manfre is a former sheriff in this county. He has valuable experience with budgeting in this county. He has raised children in this county and has served on nonprofit organizations for more than a decade in this county.
Manfre’s emphasis on community policing is welcome, and he is also right to re-evaluate the pay structure of leadership in the agency.
For his trustworthiness and experience, we recommend Manfre.
Flagler Sheriff (Republican): Donald Fleming
Ray Stevens has tirelessly criticized his opponent, John Pollinger, and those attacks have exposed a dark side to Stevens himself.
Pollinger, in person, has great charisma and is trustworthy. We respect the tough decisions he had to make as the chief of police in New Jersey after the attacks on Sept. 11.
But the interview with Pollinger revealed that his criticisms of incumbent Donald Fleming are no different from the other candidates’ criticisms. They all say they’ll be tough on the budget. But Fleming has a great record of conservative budgets already, including dropping another $1 million this year.
Critics say they would do away with Fleming’s program of reporting crimes online. But that’s a way to reduce the budget, and we think it’s a great idea. Technology is the way of the future.
Critics say they would send deputies to all medical emergencies. But that has only come up because of the Fischer case, and Fleming’s policy is the norm in the state.
Critics say the agency is top-heavy with salaries. That might be true. But Fleming’s argument that he has managed his budget to make sure he doesn’t lay any deputies off in a time of high unemployment is more than satisfactory.
Critics say they would do more community policing, but Fleming already does that. He has grown the Neighborhood Watch program, started sports programs at Ralph Carter Park and has increased the use of crime statistics to be more proactive. He has trained his deputies.
There just isn’t a good reason to remove Fleming from office. The two controversies that have swirled around him, and which the Daytona Beach News-Journal can’t seem to let go, are easily explained. First, Fleming was accused for his involvement in the case against Jamesine Fischer, who was charged in a hit-and-run. But Fleming told the Fischers to report the incident, and Fischer did so. That’s what he was supposed to do. Moreover, the State Attorney’s Office already decided not to prosecute Fleming, so why are we still talking about this?
Second, Fleming has been accused of failing to report a gift membership to the Hammock Beach Resort. But he asked his attorney whether he should declare the membership long ago, and his attorney reviewed the matter and said it was not necessary to report it. It’s possible an ethics committee could find otherwise, but Fleming did his due diligence. So why are we still talking about this?
Crime is down. Fleming is a smart, tough sheriff. We recommend him.
State Attorney: R.J. Larizza
Stasia Warren resigned her position as a judge after 21 years to challenge R.J. Larizza for the state attorney position in the Seventh Circuit. That gets our attention.
She says he’s not tough on felons and that he cooks his conviction rate and that he doesn’t communicate with law enforcement well enough.
But our sources say he does a good job of communicating, and that when problems are brought to him about particular cases, he responds.
With all of the moving parts associated with this position, with all the counties and agencies and advocate groups involved, there is a high cost of transition from one state attorney to his successor. We don’t see sufficient cause to incur the cost of that transition. We recommend Larizza.
Clerk of Court: Gail Wadsworth
In the past five years, Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth has reduced her staff by 5.5 employees. She has cut her budget by $1 million. As the keeper of records, she is essentially the historian of Flagler County, and her experience in this office for the past 12 years makes her uniquely qualified.
The contention made by her opponent, Ken Mazzie, is that Wadsworth mishandled funds between 2005 to 2007, as detailed by a state audit report. In response to that report, she and the county administration addressed 10 of 11 items to the state’s satisfaction.
In the one remaining item, the state recommended that the county change its budgeting process and approve project-specific budgets, rather than only approving an overall capital fund. This is a county government issue more than it is a clerk issue. County Administrator Craig Coffey responded to that item in a letter to the state in 2011, arguing that while the budget is only approved at the fund level, it is itemized at the project level and presented in public meetings and is therefore an adequate control.
As a whole, Gail Wadsworth has a stellar record of audits from the state. Her house is in order. We recommend Wadsworth.
Supervisor of Elections: Allen Whetsell
Much of what was said by the candidates vying to become the next supervisor of elections was similar. All wanted to increase visibility of the office and do more outreach and educate the residents. All favor a stabilization of the number of precincts, which has been reduced this year.
Pam Richardson has the most hands-on experience with elections, having worked as the precinct supervisor from 2006 to 2011. She knows first-hand what kinds of complaints voters bring to the polls and what would resolve those concerns. She also brings the most enthusiasm for the position out of all the Republican candidates and would likely be a good supervisor of elections.
But when we imagine someone standing before the County Commission and being professional and presenting a budget, we feel most comfortable with Allen Whetsell. He has managed budgets as large as $2.7 million and helped Craig Flagler Palms Funeral Home to be successful for the past 25 years. In his extensive civic involvement, he has always been tasked with helping with the budget, including on the state level with the Kiwanis Club.
Because of his dignity, professionalism and budget experience, we recommend Allen Whetsell.
Flagler County Judge: Melissa Moore Stens
While Craig Atack, Josh Davis, Don Appignani and Marc Dwyer are all impressive in their own ways, we feel most confident in Sharon Feliciano, Scott Westbrook and Melissa Moore Stens. Feliciano is appealing for her intellectual firepower and diverse experience as a public defender, prosecutor and having been in private practice. Westbrook has been a tireless campaigner and has the most prosecution experience of anyone in the Flagler County court system, with 25,000 cases to his credit.
Like Feliciano, Stens also has an impressive intellect, which is backed by her academic record. But on top of that, she has gone the distance and is the only candidate who has become board certified in criminal trial law. That accolade shows that she has been through a rigorous peer review and excelled in a day-long test of her knowledge of the law. Contrary to popular belief, the county judge deals mostly with criminal proceedings (first- and second-degree misdemeanors), and that makes Stens uniquely qualified.
Stens also has a slight edge on Westbrook because of her experience in private practice. As a judge, Stens would be dealing with a broad range of lawyers, most of whom are in private practice. That experience also shows an entrepreneurial spirit, which will serve her well as she attempts to manage the court.
In everything she has undertaken so far, she has come out on top and excelled. In a close call over Feliciano and Westbrook, we recommend Melissa Moore Stens.
County Commission District 1: Charlie Ericksen Jr.
One criticism of incumbent Alan Peterson can be found in comparing his community involvement to that of his colleagues. The county commissioners all have humanitarian causes that help define their tenure in office: Nate McLaughlin and Daytona North water; Milissa Holland and Feed Flagler; Barbara Revels and the Carver Center; George Hanns and the Wounded Warrior Project. The one missing in that list is Peterson.
Peterson’s role as commission chairman was defined by his leadership surrounding economic development in 2010-2011. But his primary argument was that public money (i.e., taxes) needed to be raised to fund efforts that might attract businesses to Flagler County. That’s not a function of government that we can support. Let the government keep taxes to a minimum and help the community be an attractive place to live. The free market will then provide the boom.
Peterson’s greatest contribution has been his line-by-line approach to the county budget. But he also said this year’s budget is as low as he’s willing to go. If that’s the case, let’s give Ericksen a shot at it.
Ericksen’s approach is this: “There’s always a smarter way of doing something. And the solutions come from your employees, the people that have to deal with it day in and day out. It seems simple to me.”
We recommend Ericksen.
County Commission District 2: Frank J. Meeker
Of Frank Meeker’s tenure on the Palm Coast City Council we’d like to call attention to three things. First, in October 2010, after a great deal of debate and analysis that led the city toward a potentially unfair stormwater ordinance, Meeker was the one City Council member who pushed in the opposite direction. Ultimately, the council was swayed, and owners of vacant bulk lands were treated more fairly.
Second, he has been in front of the pack when it comes to the budget. He proposes creative solutions to cutting the budget every year. He says things like, “We need to point the money hose in a different direction,” which has become a useful way for the city to explain how they are going to spend limited funds.
Those two are good reasons to vote for Meeker on the County Commission, as well (he resigned from the City Council to pursue the county seat).
The third item is not as positive. We are puzzled why he would insist that Internet cafes should be outlawed merely on rumors of being crime magnets. The Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly told the City Council that the cafes have not attracted crime in Palm Coast. In the interest of the free market, they should be allowed. If they really are crime magnets, people will stop going to them, and they’ll go out of business without the government’s help.
Still, Meeker generally stands for smart budgeting, creative solutions to complex problems, and is a consensus builder. He has built relationships with all officials all around the county and in the region.
Despite an earnest challenge by political newcomer Dennis McDonald, we recommend Frank Meeker.
School Board, District 3: Colleen Conklin
One of the biggest differences between Deborah Laury and incumbent Colleen Conklin is their stances on high-stakes testing. Laury says it’s important to help students not to be afraid of the tests, while Conklin voted to support a resolution opposing high-stakes tests.
In general, accountability measures like standardized tests are good: They help students and teachers see where they are strong and where they are weak. But it’s telling that even Gov. Rick Scott, who is reviled by many educators, has recently stated that he’d also like to revisit the FCAT and possibly reduce the number of required high-stakes tests. We agree with Conklin and Scott that we have too much of a good thing right now.
Conklin has been a strong voice on the School Board. Her leadership in February 2011 led to the review of then-Principal Jacob Oliva’s decision to cancel Flagler Palm Coast High School’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Thanks to her and others who eventually put it on the stage, the community was united.
She was opposed to an April 2011 proposal to build a putt-putt course at Belle Terre Elementary because it wasn’t a smart way to spend money on a tight budget. “We’re accountable to the taxpayers,” she said. She also opposed shortening school days in May 2011, saying we were essentially trying to balance our budget on the backs of the students.
Her frustration with budget shortfalls came to a head when she wrote a letter to the editor saying Gov. Scott and the state Legislature was being “irresponsible and fundamentally dishonest” by passing bills aimed at local school districts, but without any financial backing. Scott apparently agreed; he added $1 billion back into the state education budget this year.
Conklin also has good ideas about charter schools. While some criticize them for weakening public schools, Conklin said last August that public schools need to face reality.
“We need to … embrace the notion of competition,” she said. “It’s a mindset issue for a whole district to embrace. We’re entering a new era of education, and we have to realize where we are in it.”
Conklin’s philosophy is simple: Children come first. As a School Board member, that’s who we want to be helping to set policy. We recommend Colleen Conklin.
School Board District 5: Sue Dickinson
In her tenure on the School Board, Sue Dickinson has had to make tough choices to reduce the budget, and she has not balked. When we asked her what she would do to reduce it in the future, she responded: “I think there are a lot of places where we could still become creative.” Her approach is to require principals to find the savings, which is a good strategy, because the principals know their schools best.
Although Bill Corkran would be a strong School Board member, we see Dickinson has a no-nonsense leader on the board, and we don’t see sufficient reason to vote her out. We recommend Dickinson.
School Board Referendum: Yes
The funds raised by the half-cent sales tax will be spent on classroom technology for students and other capital projects that will keep Flagler’s learning environment fresh and engaging.
At a time when state funding is going down, we’re going to have to commit to supporting our schools on our own. To support our community leaders of the future, we recommend a Yes vote.
Currently 3 Responses
- I will vehemently request that anyone I speak with boycott your paper from now on. Siding with a candidate draws a line that cannot be erased and whether I agree with your opinions or not does not matter. You are supposed to report the news, not make it. I'm actually embarrassed for you at this blunder. How did this make is through the editors office? Everything about this article is fine if your are a political website or pac. I don't usually get THIS annoyed by anything.
- As a frequent reader of the Observer I must say how absolutely dissapointed I am in your endorsements. As an active and long standing member of the communtiy, (my family has maintaied a successful business here since 1989) I can say with 100% certainty that my vote is going for John Pollinger and Don Appignani. I have personal experience with both men and can atest to their honesty, integrity, professionalism, and intellegence. I certainly hope that the public has more common sense than the Observer on August 14th!
- In regards to your comments about Mr. Peterson not being involved in "community" project----He is a significant donor to the library, belongs to the Friends of the Library, participated 2 years in a row with Feed Flagler, contributed to the Wounded Warriors and walked the entire 5 miles. I did notice at the time of the Wounded Warrior walk that you had a picture of Ericksen there with his bike, but no pictures of Peterson I guess that shows partiality on the part of the Observer.
21 Flagler County Horseshoe Pitching Club
9:00 am - 11:00 am
21 Nutrition Education Program
21 Living with Alzheimer’s for Caregivers
21 Hospice 101: Prospective Volunteer Orientation
Friends of A1A produce videos to promote cycling and safety along the coastal byway
The Friends of A1A has produced six new videos designed to attract more cycling visitors to the 72-mile Scenic & Historic A1A Coastal Byway that travels through St. Johns and Flagler counties. Also, AAUW awards scholarships and loggerheads have arrived.
Palm Coast offers summer recreation, tennis, golf camps for children, teens
The city of Palm Coast is planning a summer of fun and recreation for children and teens through its summer camp at Parks & Recreation, as well as summer golf and tennis camps.
Dunk tank at Arbor Day event to raise funds to end polio
The Flagler-Palm Coast High School Interact Club is hosting a celebrity dunk tank to raise awareness and donations to end polio worldwide during Palm Coast's Arbor Day event 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at Central Park in Town Center.