Former city employee’s letter to the editor contained baseless accusations, Mayor Milissa Holland said.
Mayor Milissa Holland and her boss, Coastal Cloud cofounder Tim Hale, refuted at length during March 3’s City Coucil meeting several accusations published in an opinion piece in the Palm Coast Observer. Holland and Hale said the relationship between Coastal Cloud and the city of Palm Coast withstands legal and ethical scrutiny.
“This is very, very, very upsetting — very upsetting — and it should never happen in our community ever again. Ever again. We are better than this.”
— MILISSA HOLLAND, Palm Coast mayor
Coastal Cloud entered into an agreement with the city in 2018 and produced a 3-1-1 app called Palm Coast Connect. Under the agreement, Palm Coast didn’t pay the company, whose founders say it spent $320,000 on the research and development process.
Still, several former city employees raised objections about the process by which Coastal Cloud was selected and the relationship between Holland and Coastal Cloud, with former city communications manager Cindi Lane writing a letter to the editor that was published in the Palm Coast Observer’s Feb. 27 edition. (See https://bit.ly/2Tnf39W.)
Holland and Hale responded to claims by Lane and two other former city employees — former City Manager Jim Landon and Jason Giraulo, a former member of the city’s marketing team — and told the City Council on March 3 that the Observershouldn’t have published Lane’s letter.
“This is very, very, very upsetting — very upsetting — and it should never happen in our community ever again,” Holland said. “Our community is better than this, and our community deserves better than this.”
She called the employees’ actions “offensive,” and said they had tried to “rewrite the narrative.”
“There’s no factual documentation or record to back up what they’re insinuating,” she said.
Lane, Giraulo and Landon all spoke to the Palm Coast Observerabout Coastal Cloud after Executive Editor Brian McMillan asked them about a series of city staff resignations that followed Landon’s firing by the City Council in September 2018. Lane and Giraulo were among the resignations. All expressed concerns about Coastal Cloud’s selection in light of the company’s closeness with the mayor.
Central to Lane’s and Landon’s concerns was a perception that it had been misleading to speak of Coastal Cloud’s app as “free” — although Palm Coast is not paying Coastal Cloud itself, the city does have to pay $100,000 per year for licenses for Salesforce, the platform on which the app is run — and that the city had other, less expensive options, but that the mayor’s closeness to Coastal Cloud made it difficult for employees to object.
McMillan investigated those concerns, but found “no evidence of unethical behavior,” and decided not to write a story about it. But he did print Lane’s letter to the editor, appending to it an editor’s note explaining that he believed that “most of the concerns were based on miscommunications on both sides.” He then published a news analysis piece that detailed the Observer’s research. (See https://bit.ly/2TyvuiF.)
"I’m totally satisfied; we’ve got a first-rate product and we’ve got first rate people that run Coastal Cloud; I don’t see any downside at all."
— JACK HOWELL, city councilman
Holland said Landon hadn’t stated his objections to the Salesforce licensing cost objections, and that, contrary to his assertions, city staff weren’t working on other alternatives.
“Apparently, Jim Landon felt intimidated by Milissa Holland. That just flatly didn’t happen,” she said. “Jim Landon always said exactly what he felt.”
But the difficulty of raising such objections had been central to Lane’s letter: “How could city employees feel 100% comfortable expressing concerns or raising questions about the development or marketing of a product or service being received from the company where the mayor is employed?” Lane wrote. “How could employees suggest that a project of this magnitude be put out for bid so that other products could be considered? How could the city say ‘no’ to Coastal Cloud’s app even as it became clear the financial cost was going to be so much higher than SeeClickFix or another readily available product? They couldn’t.”
Lane also said Holland had been unusually involved with the staff process of launching Palm Coast Connect, and that Holland had heavily edited a city news release about the app. Holland said that was “100% false.”
Holland also noted that the entire City Council — except for her, as she’d recused herself — had voted in favor of the Coastal Cloud agreement.
Tim Hale, speaking at the March 3 meeting, called Lane’s allegations “slanderous,” and added that her letter had “recklessly damaged the reputation” of Coastal Cloud. “That’s a big freaking deal to us,” he said.
He displayed on the council meeting room’s video screens a screenshot of residents’ Facebook replies to Lane’s letter, in which residents alleged that Holland had engaged in “shady dealings” or that there had been a “conflict of interest.”
Referring to a statement by Lane that the city had options for the app which would have been three or four times less expensive than Coastal Cloud, he said that was false because the options Lane was referring to didn’t have Coastal Cloud’s level of functionality.
“They’re spinning it into a, ‘We’re paying three-to-four times as much.’ It’s just false, and it shows an incredible lack of rigor in their analysis,” he said. “...The collection of misinformation released in the public domain — it’s just criminal to me.”
City Council members, asked by Holland at the March 3 meeting for their reactions, all voiced support for Coastal Cloud.
Councilman Jack Howell said he’d looked into allegations that something untoward was going on. “I found nothing. There was nothing there,” he said. “I’m totally satisfied; we’ve got a first-rate product, and we’ve got first rate people that run Coastal Cloud; I don’t see any downside at all.”
Klufas said that he believed that supporting a local company “is a win-win,” and that Palm Coast Connect is useful for the city.
Councilman Eddie Branquinho said, “What I’ve found here today … is Coastal Cloud is guilty of nothing except being kind, and, Mayor, you are absolutely not guilty of anything, in my mind.”
Councilman Bob Cuff, an attorney, noted that he’d initially had some concerns about an agreement with the mayor’s company, but was satisfied with the way the agreement was conducted and the fact that Coastal Cloud wasn’t receiving payment.
“Vigilant citizens are one of the best ways to keep your elected officials honest, but I am satisfied that when the Palm Coast Observer contacted me after the recent letter to the editor ... I do not feel I was in any way misled by our staff as to what our options were,” he said.
Email [email protected].