Ed Danko wanted to silence Scott Spradley's criticism at the Oct. 5 meeting.
If a City Council member, in his private time, promotes a boycott against 21 businesses (including the city itself), is it fair for one of those business owners to criticize him during the public comment portion of a City Council meeting?
The Palm Coast City Council member in question, Ed Danko, says no. He believes that his boycott activities, as vice president of the Flagler Trump Club, are off limits for criticism in a city meeting. He felt so strongly about it that he repeatedly interrupted the business owner, Scott Spradley, as Spradley read a prepared statement during the Oct. 5 city meeting (watch it here, starting at 4 minutes). Danko ignored not only the mayor’s verbal warnings (“Leave the dais”) and the mayor’s gavel, but also the city attorney’s opinion.
It was another episode in a long succession of rage-soaked City Council meetings.
But was Danko right?
'This is democracy'
I called Danko on Oct. 7 to try to understand his point of view. He conceded that the public comment portion of the meeting is provided to allow people to speak on items not on the agenda. But he pointed out that the city’s rules say commenters should not “make any irrelevant, impertinent or slanderous comments.”
Were Spradley's comments "slanderous"? Despite Danko's repeated claim that Spradley's comments were "false," they weren't. Spradley said Danko had promoted the boycott on Facebook, and, indeed, Danko shared the announcement and even posted subsequent comments to persuade people to participate.
City attorney Bill Reischmann said during the Oct. 5 meeting that there wasn’t anything wrong with Spradley’s comments.
“Sometimes in this business,” Reischmann said, “we hear things we don’t like to hear, and I respect that it’s painful … but we are required to keep order and to follow the rules."
Reischmann concluded, “This is, for better or for worse, democracy.”
Danko pointed out that Alfin’s private employer, like Spradley’s business, also was included on the boycott list, which, Danko said, could have clouded Alfin’s impartiality. (To avoid any gray areas of the Sunshine Law, I didn’t ask Alfin for a comment.)
But I will offer my opinion: Boycotting businesses that advertise on FlaglerLive, just because Editor Pierre Tristam criticizes Donald Trump, is bad for the community. Although the Trump Club wants to punish the businesses, their boycott (if successful) will also punish the employees — our neighbors.
After Alfin got Danko to agree to stop interrupting on Oct. 5, Spradley was allowed to finish his comment about the boycott. He said, “The message that I’m hearing to businesses is, ‘Come to Palm Coast. We like business — unless you advertise with the wrong guy. Then we’re going to do everything we can to undermine you and to take away your employees’ wages.’
“It’s a problem,” Spradley said. “Please fix it.”
“The message that I’m hearing to businesses is, ‘Come to Palm Coast. We like business — unless you advertise with the wrong guy. Then we’re going to do everything we can to undermine you and to take away your employees’ wages.’ It’s a problem. Please fix it.”
— SCOTT SPRADLEY, Flagler Beach business owner who is on the Trump Club's boycott list
Considering that business friendliness has been a decade-long topic of discussion on the City Council, it’s clear that business friendliness is not an “irrelevant” topic to address during public comments. One of the City Council’s stated goals is as follows: “To develop and maintain a strong economy by supporting the growth and development of new and existing businesses while creating an environment to attract new companies that align with our values.”
Boycott the city?
If that's not enough to prove that the comments were relevant to city interests, check out the final “business” on the Trump Club’s boycott list: the city of Palm Coast itself.
Danko encourages Trump Club members to call the city manager and insist that the city stop advertising with FlaglerLive. How the city spends its tax dollars is "relevant" to city business.
I called Danko a second time on Oct. 7 to clarify. But instead of conceding that the boycott is relevant, he doubled down on his stance that Spradley shouldn’t have been allowed to continue speaking at the meeting.
“That man’s business is not even in Palm Coast,” Danko said to me. (Spradley’s law practice is in Flagler Beach, although he said he has four employees who live in Palm Coast.)
Danko continued: “Maybe if someone who has a business in Palm Coast came and wanted to address it, that’s fine. But nobody from the city came and walked up the podium [to complain].”
Danko is a shrewd politician. He said he wasn’t too worried about me writing a story about him because it would likely help his cause, and he could spin it to help the club. In fact, he asked me to include information for the Trump Club meetings in the article, so here you go: The meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. on the third Monday of every month, at the VFW.
I got off the phone wondering, at least on this particular day, which was Danko's first priority: Helping Palm Coast become more business friendly, or helping Palm Coast become more Trump Club friendly.