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Opinion
Jon Netts has been on the City Council since 2001. He has been mayor since 2007.
Palm Coast Monday, Jun. 1, 2015 3 years ago

Case for the status quo: Council/manager in Palm Coast

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by: Jon Netts

I read with some interest your interview with City Council member Steven Nobile in which he makes his case for charter revision. I’d like to offer a different perspective.

The Palm Coast City Charter spells out the structure of our local government. Like the Constitution of the United States, it is intended to provide stability and continuity to the government it established. Also like the Constitution, the City Charter provides for ways (three, in fact) in which it can be changed (amended).

COUNCIL CAN PROPOSE CHANGES

The City Council, all elected, are probably the five residents most familiar with how the charter operates. They may, by ordinance, place proposed changes on the ballot for voter approval (as we did in 2010). Council members are constantly contacted by residents with issues, concerns and comments about our city. We would certainly address the issue if there were any growing dissatisfaction with the charter as it currently stands. For the record, in my years on City Council and as mayor, one and only one individual has ever expressed dissatisfaction with our present form of government, and even he did not show up to support Mr. Nobile’s plea for charter review. Where is the clamor for review?

The charter also provides that the City Council may appoint a five-member “charter review committee” that may propose changes that would also be submitted to the voters for approval. Frankly, I’m not sure how five unelected individuals, each appointed by a current City Council member, would come to any conclusions that would differ significantly from those that appointed them. Finally, the charter provides for direct citizen involvement via the petition process. By the way, according to the Census Bureau, the median age for Palm Coast residents at the time of incorporation was 51.2 years of age, not 60-plus as Mr. Nobile suggested.

COUNCIL/MANAGER

Mr. Nobile expresses dissatisfaction with the council/manager form of government, although it is by far the most prevalent form of government in all the cities, towns, and villages of Florida. Thirty cities have a “strong mayor,” about 100 have a “weak mayor,” (but with a city manager) and only three have the commission form of government. All the rest, 275 of them, including Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Coast, have the council/manager form of government.

Why council/manager? Why not? Wouldn’t you want an individual with at least a master’s degree in administration and specialized training and credentialing from a nationally recognized organization to administer the day-to-day operations of our city?

In the council/manager form of government, City Council provides direction to the manager; his job is to implement the vision and directives established by City Council. For example, go to the city website and search for “Prosperity 2021.” It is City Council’s carefully developed, four-part plan to insure long-term fiscal stability for our community. Look for the 2015 “Strategic Action Plan.” It lists the shorter-term goals and objectives that the manager is to address.

Palm Coast has a continual, iterative evaluation process, containing over 400 metrics, with which we evaluate the manager’s performance. Council reviews these evaluations every quarter. Keep in mind, as former City Manager Richard Kelton used to say: “The city manager serves from Tuesday to Tuesday.” The charter specifically provides that City Council can hire (and fire) the city manager at any time that his performance does not measure up to our expectations.

Mr. Nobile still suggests that the city manager has too much power. Instead, he’d like to convert to a “commission” form of government and divvy up the administrative duties among the five commissioners.

How might this work? After the 2016 election would the highest vote-getter take over the duties of the finance director? Then the second highest might be assigned the role of utility director? The third highest to supervise public works and the runner-up to be fire chief?

Just to set the record straight, City Council tells public works which roads to pave; but not what kind of asphalt to use. We tell public works what we want the playing fields to look like; not what kind of fertilizer to use. Personally, I’d rather have recognized professionals like Chris Quinn, Richard Adams, Nestor Abreu and Mike Beadle filling these posts rather than part-time amateurs. Year after year, these dedicated employees have brought accolades to our city.

CHECKS AND BALANCES

OK, assignment by popular vote might not work. Mr. Nobile has another suggestion — a “strong mayor” form of government, in which administrative powers would be vested in one person. This strong mayor would then parcel out the various administrative duties to the part-time elected council members. He would have the power to hire and fire.

Where are the checks and balances?

Can you imagine the potential for political patronage and corruption this might bring to our city? Unlike the manager, who can be replaced at any time, once a “strong mayor” is elected, you’re stuck with him/her until the next election.

SALARY INCREASE TO WHAT END?

Mr. Nobile also raised the question of council salaries. He suggested that higher salaries might bring a greater diversity of council candidates. Personally, I’d rather candidates be motivated to run by a dedication to our city, not by the prospect of more money, but let’s look at this further.

The Flagler County commissioners have a salary of about $50,000, along with health benefits and a pension. How well has this led to “diversity”? In the history of Flagler County only two women have ever been elected to the commission, and, to the best of my recollection, there has never been an African American commissioner.

As to bringing younger candidates, Commissioner Nate McLaughlin is the youngest county commissioner I can remember — and he’s not all that young. Compare the makeup of the County Commission to that of the Palm Coast City Council — even with our “much lower salaries,” we’ve had considerably more “diversity.”

CONTROL OF AGENDAS

As to Mr. Nobile’s assertion that the city manager has veto power on a council member’s wish to put something on the agenda — that simply is incorrect.

Generally, council agendas consist of “action items” that council is to vote on. By council policy, such action items are first discussed at a non-voting workshop so that council members may have sufficient time to research and review a proposed resolution or ordinance before voting on it.

Any council member can propose an agenda item during a workshop. If there is a consensus among council members, that item is placed on the agenda. If there is no consensus, a council member can still raise the issue at a council meeting. As you know, the third from last item on the business agenda is always “Council Comments,” at which time any council member is free to raise any issue he or she wishes.

REMEMBER ENTERPRISE FLAGLER?

Mr. Nobile expressed dissatisfaction with the way Palm Coast and Flagler County pursue economic development. When asked what he’d do differently, he suggested a committee of local business executives be sent out to recruit and bring new businesses to our community.

As many of you will recall, we had exactly such a program — Enterprise Flagler — which was a public/private entity charged with driving economic development within our county. The private sector was represented by business leaders and current and retired corporate CEOs. After 10 years or so, Enterprise Flagler was disbanded in favor of the current approach. When this was pointed out to Mr. Nobile his comment was: “Oh, those weren’t the right people” or words to that effect. When asked, he was unwilling to offer the names of those he would prefer.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

Let’s put things in perspective. Under our current form of government:

Forbes Magazine and The Wall Street Journal both named Palm Coast as the nation’s No. 7 City for the Best Small Places for Business and Careers.

Boyond.com named Palm Coast the 10th easiest place in the nation to make a hire.

Where to Retire magazine selected Palm Coast among its Top Eight Low Cost Cities in the U.S. for retirement.

HIS Global Insight Economists named Palm Coast to be among the 21 U.S. metro areas anticipated to grow at a rate above 4% through 2020.

Trip Advisor named the top 20 vacation rental destinations in the U.S., and Palm Coast scored the highest out of the six Florida destinations on the list. We were included in their article “Six Praiseworthy Florida Vacation Spots.”

Palm Coast maintains the third-lowest tax rate of any comparably-sized city in all of Florida.

For the tenth straight year, The National Arbor Day Foundation named Palm Coast the “Tree City USA” and we received their “Growth” award for the last nine years straight.

The City’s ZLD Project was named the 2015 “Water Reuse Project of the Year” by the Florida Water Environment Association.

Palm Coast recently received two Regional Planning Council awards; one for Environmental Stewardship and the other for Public Safety.

In our first year participating, Palm Coast placed 7th nationwide, in the Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

Palm Coast was awarded “Gold” by the Florida Green Building Association.

For the 12th consecutive year, Palm Coast received the Government Finance Officers Association “Distinguished Budget Presentation Award" and also this year gave Palm Coast an “Award for Outstanding Achievement” for its “Popular Annual Financial Report.”

In 2015 Palm “Coast’s water won the FSAWWA “Best Tasting Water” award in a blind taste-test.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) awarded Palm Coast a “Certificate of Distinction” for its “Performance Measurement Analytics,” used in evaluating staff’s performance in fulfilling City Council’s Strategic Action Plan.

The most recent Census estimate places Palm Coast population at 80,600. Something is still attracting folks to move here.
 

Jon Netts has been on the Palm Coast City Council since 2001 and has been mayor since 2007. His second term is up in 2016.

 

 

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