City Councilman Steve Nobile will motion for a vote on a charter review at a future meeting. The majority of the council is wary of undertaking a review.
Councilman Steven Nobile has pressed the city to review its charter before, and the idea hasn’t been popular with his fellow council members.
The idea still drew opposition when Nobile raised it again at a Council workshop Sept. 29, but city Councilwoman Heidi Shipley joined Nobile in his criticism of the power the City Charter affords to its city manager, now Jim Landon, and how Landon has wielded it.
“I know if I go to the city manager and I say, ‘I really don’t like the way this has been handled; this is wrong the way this is being handled and I’d like to talk to you about it,’ I have been told to stay out of it,” Shipley said. “I just want to at least be heard, at least be able to say to the city manager, ‘Can you look at it the way I’m looking at it?’”
Nobile first raised the issue of the charter this spring, noting that Palm Coast’s charter has not been reviewed since the city was incorporated more than 15 years ago, and suggesting it’s time to revisit it.
But convening a committee and undertaking a full review could be expensive, City Attorney Bill Reischmann has warned the council, and Mayor Jon Netts and Council members Bill McGuire and Jason DeLorenzo have opposed the idea.
SUPPORT FOR REVIEW?
At the meeting Sept. 29, Nobile said he’d recently met with the chairmen of the local Republican Executive Committee and the local Democratic Executive Committee, and that both supported a charter review. So did Palm Coast’s first mayor, Nobile said, mentioning a January 2015 editorial in the Palm Coast Observer written by former mayor Jim Canfield, in which Canfield suggested the city establish a charter review commission. (Netts replied by telling Nobile he shouldn’t believe everything he reads, drawing Nobile’s anger.)
“I just want to at least be heard, at least be able to say to the city manager, ‘Can you look at it the way I’m looking at it?’”— HEIDI SHIPLEY, Palm Coast City Council member
For Nobile, the issue of the city manager’s power relative to the council is a structural one that should be approached through a review of the charter.
“I don’t like, personally, that the manager is in more control than I am, than I can get involved, even if I had the time to come in here,” Nobile said. “I can ask questions (of staff) ... but technically, based on the charter, that’s all I can do. I can only go in and talk to employees. I would like to be part of their day-to-day.”
WHO'S WORKING FOR WHOM?
When staff brings recommendations before the council, Nobile said, he doesn’t always feel like he’s given a comprehensive view of the issues at hand.
“I always feel like we’re not getting everything that we could have,” he said. “I feel like we’re getting what is directed to the staff.” At that point, staff may have worked on the recommendation for months before presenting the council with two options, Nobile said, and it’s hard to ask them to start over.
“What am I going to say? ‘No, go back to the — ‘ I’d rather be ahead of that and say, ‘Wait a minute, there’s three choices,’ or ‘There’s four choices. Let’s look at this, let’s look at this,’ and that can’t be done ... by one person everywhere.”
And there’s a public perception, Nobile said, that Landon in effect controls the city.
“Thousands and thousands of people in town believe ... that the focus of the town and the direction of the town is directed by the city manager,” he said. “And I’m not talking about Mr. Landon. Mr. Landon does a great job; I have full confidence in what he does. But they believe he directs the town, not the council. The way I’ve heard it put is, ‘The council approves what the manager brings to them.’”
Landon is out of town for a professional conference and did not attend the meeting.
Councilman Bill McGuire said the charter doesn’t bar Nobile from becoming more involved with city staff.
But Nobile said that isn’t possible for someone who works, and that one way to make it possible would be to change the charter so that the council members’ positions pay a living wage — Nobile suggested 80% of the salary given to County Commissioners, who make about $50,500 — so that candidates could treat the position as a job.
Each could also then be assigned to oversee certain city departments, he said.
DeLorenzo told Nobile he isn’t hearing from members of the public who want a charter review. Other than one person who had also spoken to Nobile, DeLorenzo said, “I have not had one person ask me about charter reviews still, about changing the charter.”
Nobile replied that the people coming to him haven’t always asked specifically for a charter review, but, rather, for changes that can only be made by changing the charter.
Nobile said he will bring the issue of the charter review up for a vote at a future council meeting.
“If it passes it passes, if it doesn’t, (charter review supporters) know what their next step is to be,” he said.