Councilman Steve Nobile delayed a vote on a charter review because the city's mayor and a fellow council member missed the meeting. Audience members who spoke were divided on the issue.
Palm Coast City Councilman Steve Nobile scrapped plans to ask for a vote at a council meeting Oct. 6 on whether to review the city's charter, deciding to wait until Mayor Jon Netts and Councilwoman Heidi Shipley — who were both absent for that meeting — are present.
But residents who spoke during the meeting's public comment period were divided on the issue. Four people, including Flagler County Democratic Executive Committee head Ralph Lightfoot, spoke in favor of a charter review during the meeting's public comment period.
"I don’t see why it’s such a difficult thing to do a review," Lightfoot said. "I don’t see how you can improve yourself if you don’t look at what you’re governed by."
Lightfoot and another speaker both mentioned the process by which the council approved the construction of the new city hall, and its extension of a contract for red light cameras, as evidence that the council isn't properly representing the city's residents.
But three people spoke against a charter review, and two more expressed concerns, asking about the financial implications of holding a review and warning that any review shouldn't be driven by any faction seeking to politicize the issue.
"We need to be real careful," one man said. "I, for one, would be really frightened of a small group of people who want to politicize our city though that charter."
Nobile's push to amend the charter has provoked suspicion from residents wary of his ties to the Ronald Reagan Republican Assembly of Flagler County, and stoked what Nobile, at the meeting, called "conspiracy theories": rumors that his push for a charter review is part of a strategy to increase Nobile's or the Ronald Reagan Republican Assembly's sway over the city government.
Nobile called that ridiculous, but the only explanation he understood for resident opposition to a review.
"To sit back and fight this befuddles me. It just does," he said. "Unless you’ve got the conspiracy theory that Steve Nobile is going to take over the city if we do this charter review. Other than that, it's a win-win."
"Thank you, your majesty," Councilman Bill McGuire responded, to audience laughter.
McGuire, along with Councilman Jason DeLorenzo and Mayor Jon Netts, have opposed Nobile's push for a review in previous meetings. Councilwoman Heidi Shipley, who is, like Nobile, in her first term on the council, hasn't staked out a firm position either way.
Nobile has said that he's pressing for the review because he's gotten complaints from citizens about things that could only be changed by changing the charter. Even opponents of a review, he said, sometimes say they don't want one, but — in the next breath — list what they'd like to see changed if one happens.
"Everybody who talks to me about the charter — for or against, because I get the emails, I get the phone calls — and this is what I hear: 'Well, I don’t think it's a good idea to do the charter review,' and they go on and on from their reasoning, and then they say something like this: 'But if we do, I’d like to see ...'— And I go, 'Did you just say that?' And that's what I hear. ... And I thought, well, everybody has something in the charter they think should be changed."
Nobile said the city, like a corporation, needs to periodically reevaluate its goals and strategies. "All I want to do, what I'm trying to do, is what's proper as far as an organization is concerned," he said. "Palm Coast is a corporation. It isn't a playland. And this corporation, in order to advance, needs to re-evaluate its plans. We do that every year from the council’s perspective of strategy and of plans, but we also need to look above that. And above that, is the charter."
City Councilman Bill McGuire noted that the issue of council members' pay — something Nobile had suggested could be changed through a charter review — doesn't actually require one. City Attorney Bill Reischmann confirmed that McGuire was correct. "There’s nothing in the Florida law that requires salaries, or some kind of process for the determination of salaries, to be put in the charter," he said.