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Palm Coast Friday, Dec. 21, 2018 1 year ago

Palm Coast Observer's Top 10 Stories of 2018: threats, jobs, elections — and Cooper

What are your most important moments of the year?
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

In one way, we each had very different years. To me, the birth of my son Luke was the most important event of 2018. What’s yours?

But in another way, our year was the same, and the story of that year was recorded in the news. That’s why I love this business: It records and creates our shared experiences.

It’s been a privilege to deliver news about you, your neighbors and your neighborhood to your driveways and smartphones throughout the year. Thanks for reading.

So what happened in 2018? Here are my picks for the most impactful or important stories. What are yours? Email me at [email protected]


1. Threats from students

In a year when 17 were killed in school in Parkland, threats of violence are taken seriously. And in December, Flagler County was shaken by four threats of violence.

On Dec. 10, two white students “joked” about killing their black teacher, using racist language. The NAACP wants the students to be charged with felonies. In the story published in the Dec. 20 edition of the Palm Coast Observer, News Editor Jonathan Simmons included this stark recap of three previous incidents: “A Buddy Taylor Middle School boy was charged over bringing a loaded handgun to school in his backpack Dec. 7; two Indian Trails Middle School students were arrested and charged Dec. 13 over alleged threats to commit a school shooting; and an FPC student was arrested Dec. 14 after witnesses reported that he’d threatened on Dec. 7 to ‘shoot up the school.’”

As I reviewed our web data for the year, I was reminded of another incident that was one of our most-clicked-on stories of the year:  “A 15-year-old student at Buddy Taylor Middle School threatened to harm herself and others after she was disciplined for being out of dress code Aug. 16.”

Fortunately, none of these incidents resulted in physical harm, but the emotional stress is significant. The Flagler Schools community has been put on edge.

Two takeaways: See something, say something. And, don’t wait for something bad to happen: Talk to your kids first and make sure they know they shouldn’t joke about violence in schools.


2. Sea Ray closes

The story that had the most clicks of the year was the news that the Sea Ray plant was closing. About 400 local workers lost their jobs. Fortunately for them, there is a shortage of skilled laborers in the workforce, so some found work quickly. It was a big blow to the our economy to have one of our biggest employers close.


3. Jim Landon fired, Craig Coffey under fire

After 11 years of serving and leading the city of Palm Coast, City Manager Jim Landon was fired Sept. 18. It was a dramatic moment and one that took people by surprise.

Is County Administrator Craig Coffey next? He has been criticized for his handling of the re-hiring of Deputy County Administrator Sally Sherman, as well as his handling of the testing of the Sheriff’s Operations Center, and, most recently, the proposal for an extended lease for Captain’s BBQ.


4. Joe Mullins exposed, endorsed, elected

After Joe Mullins began campaigning for a seat on the County Commission, we started getting tips about things we should investigate in Mullins’ past. We did, exposing some troubling decisions he’d made in recent years. Then, in a move that surprised many readers, our Editorial Board endorsed Mullins. Landslide wins in the primary and general election capped his rapid  rise to power, made possible by a tremendous effort of knocking on doors and meeting residents face to face.


5. Jobs and housing costs

Two of our most-viewed stories of the year were about the Wawa that’s planned on Bulldog Drive. But many of the  stories’ Facebook comments were not about Wawa; people were frustrated that more low-wage jobs were on their way, rather than high-wage jobs.

Residents also were frustrated with rising taxes and water rates.

With all that as a backdrop,  there is a deep divide over whether the city should encourage construction of affordable housing. Some fear that ghettos might form in Palm Coast. But other families fear they can no longer afford to live here if rent prices continue to rise faster than wages.


6. Sheriff’s Operations Center

It’s been more than a year now, and we still don’t know what caused dozens of employees at the Sheriff’s Operations Center to be ill. More testing to come.


7. Nobile, Shipley, Howell, Branquinho, McDonald

Steve Nobile’s resignation from the City Council, followed by  City Councilwoman Heidi Shipley’s announcement she would not run for re-election, left two seats up for grabs. Eddie Branquinho and  Jack Howell were elected, representing a 40% turnover.

Meanwhile, Janet McDonald’s race against John Fischer was too close to call until all the votes were counted. After the drama, McDonald won four more years on the School Board.


8. Missing teens

Our biggest reach on Facebook this year was a notice that 15-year-old Brett Chambers was missing. He was back to school on Dec. 19, according to a family friend.

In September, 100 volunteers showed up to search for another teen, Rickey Wheeler, who was also found.   


9. Bobcats vs. cats

The third-highest reach on Facebook this year was from a story about bobcats terrorizing pet cats in Flagler Beach. Some readers pointed out that the bobcats were here first.


10. Saga of Cooper the dog

Dozens of residents showed their  zeal in their support for a dog named Cooper, who was scheduled to be euthanized after it was ruled dangerous and then bit a third person. A judge couldn’t find a legal basis to save Cooper.

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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