Candidates for sheriff and County Commission came together for a forum hosted by the Tiger Bay Club and broadcast over WNZF Radio.
Candidates for Flagler County sheriff and for two County Commission seats addressed audiences over WNZF radio and Facebook Live in a forum hosted by the Flagler Tiger Bay Club on Sept. 23.
The seven candidates had a minute each to give an introduction, answered a set of questions asked by Tiger Bay Club members, and had one minute each to give concluding remarks.
Howard Holley, a founding member of the Tiger Bay Club, moderated the forum.
COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 1
Candidates for County Commission District 1 presented first. There is no incumbent in that race, as District 1 Commissioner Charlie Ericksen is not running for reelection.
Andy Dance, who is running as a Republican and is currently a School Board member, said he has a family history of 40 years in Flagler County, including 12 on the School Board.
"I'm eager to use my experience, relationships and my plan of action to improve our business climate, protect our natural environment, grow smart and provide a safe and secure community for every citizen of Flagler County," Dance said.
Corinne Hermle, a Democrat, is an environmental consultant with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and a liaison to the St. Johns Water Management District, with almost than 15 years of state government experience, she said.
"I am running for office because I believe that the citizens and voters of Flagler County deserve to have a choice: That they deserve the option to have a board with a variety of viewpoints and voices — a voice that will talk about growth management in the county, that will talk about how your tax dollars are being spent, that will talk about moving to longterm planning instead of more knee-jerk decisions, a voice the will talk about the community that we want to have 10, 15, 20, 30 years from now, and a voice that will push to preserve our natural resources," she said.
Dance, asked about what he thought were the two most pressing issues in the county, named economic development and smart growth.
"I believe we can spend minimal resources and gain a huge investment in ... growing our own small businesses," he said.
In terms of smart growth, he added, "As a landscape architect, I'm an environmentalist by nature. ... I think Flagler County is a gem and is so unique in our natural resources, and we need to do everything we can to protect those as we continue to grow."
Hermle also mentioned smart growth and the economy.
"Flagler County and this region of the state is already seeing an increase in impaired waters, which are excess nutrients going into our local waters, and at the same time we are also seeing the water quality of our public supply wells decline and became more brackish," she said. "As we continue to build houses, these are problems that are going to hit us," requiring future infrastructure projects.
In terms of economic development, she said, Flagler County should encourage small businesses to come here, and the county could become a "maker-space" if the artisans and small businesses have the support they need to get started.
COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 5
In District 5, three candidates are on the ballot: Incumbent Donald O'Brien, a Republican; and two no-party-affiliation candidates: Paul Anderson and Denise Calderwood.
Anderson opened his remarks by stating that personal insults District 4 Commissioner Commissioner Joe Mullins directed at District 2 Commissioner Greg Hansen during a recent meeting were reprehensible.
"I hope we never see something like that again," Anderson said. "I hope to return Flagler County to a sound financial position. I want to help raise our state debt management grade from a D to a B within the next four years. I intend to help reduce the tax burden of all Flagler County residents — not by selling county assets for less than they are worth, or adding unnecessary debt by purchasing assets that we can not afford."
Candidate Denise Calderwood also noted the discord at the recent County Commission meeting.
"The decorum in here, I agree, has gotten to the point where something needs to change, and that's why I'm running again," she said. "... I believe in open and transparent management with an emphasis on collaboration. I'm a trained grant writer ... I'm proud to say I helped with Bings Landing, I'm proud to say I helped with the Agricultural Museum, the African American Cultural Society, the Flagler Teen Center ... My name is everywhere in Flagler County, just not as a county commissioner, and I would love for the citizens to actually take me seriously and we can hold people accountable; we need to hold our elected officials accountable."
O'Brien, the incumbent, said he was proud of the progress the commission has made over the last four years, but there's more to be done.
When he took office, he said, the county was faced with rebuilding after two hurricanes within 11 months, which generated pressure to raise taxes.
"I resisted that pressure, and during my four years on the commission have never voted for a property tax rate increase," he said.
He also supported a leadership change in the county administration, and that has been accomplished, he said.
Anderson said he believed the county's major two issues are financial stability and debt, citing the county's low debt management rating from the state and the sale of the former Flagler County Sheriff's Operations Center at a loss.
Calderwood, asked about homelessness and affordable housing, said the county still lacks housing that's truly affordable, with most rates starting around $1,200 a month while that's still too high for many families.
FLAGLER COUNTY SHERIFF
Candidates for sheriff include incumbent Rick Staly, a Republican; and Larry Jones, a Democrat.
Jones served for the FCSO for three decades, reaching the rank of sergeant.
"I think we need to invest in our youth today, because we are losing these youth," Jones said. "So we have to invest in them, and keep them here in Flagler County so they can make a difference for us. ... We have to keep the kids here in Flagler County instead of putting them in jail."
Staly touted his record of crime reduction over the last four years.
"When you elected me in 2016, I promised to reduce crime," he said. "Crime is down 47% since I took office — the lowest crime rate since 1995 — and traffic fatalities are down 67% through the end of 2019. I promised to restore integrity and pride. The pride is back in the Sheriff's Office and the community."
He noted that he is endorsed by first responders' unions.
Asked about what he's done to positively affect race relations in the community, Staly said that his agency has a relationship with Bethune-Cookman University to train and recruit deputies, and that he's promoted the highest-ranking black deputy — a commander — in the agency's history.
And, he said, "When we had the march here in Flagler County for protesting he murder of George Floyd, they were peaceful. My deputies and I were out there in the community with the marchers: We handed out water; we made sure they could cross the streets safely. ... I think we're on the right track, but we're making up for many, many years of lack of communication and interaction with the minority community.
Asked about the reduction of crime under Staly's watch and what he'd do to ensure it continues, Jones said he'd continue what Staly has done and implement programs to help inmates gain employment after they serve their sentences.
The full Flagler Tiger Bay Club forum can be viewed on the club's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FlaglerTigerBayClub.