Andy Dance, Flagler County Commission Candidate, District 1: The Live Interview

County Commissioner Andy Dance. (© FlaglerLive)
County Commissioner Andy Dance. (© FlaglerLive)

Andy Dance is the incumbent candidate for Flagler County Commission, District 1. Fernando Melendez is challenging him in the Aug. 20 primary. Both candidates are Republicans. Since no non-Republicans filed to run, it will be an open primary: all registered Flagler County voters from all parties or no-party affiliation may cast a ballot in this race, which will be decided on Aug. 20. There is no run-off.

Three seats are up on the commission in this election cycle. Dance is the only incumbent. Dave Sullivan has opted not to run again in District 3. That race consists of three Republicans: Kim Carney, Bill Clark and Nick Klufas. Since a write-in candidate filed to run, it will be a closed primary, with only voters registered as Republicans eligible to cast a ballot.

Similarly, in District 5, where Donald O’Brien has opted not to run again, Republicans Ed Danko and Pam Richardson will face off, but since a write-in filed, the primary will be closed, and only registered Republicans are eligible to vote.

The write-ins are essentially fraudulent candidacies by individuals who have no intention of running legitimate campaigns. Their sole aim is to close the primary and prevent more moderate votes from influencing the outcome, even though the races will be decided on Aug. 20. They have disenfranchised over 47,000 Flagler County voters. They will not be interviewed, since they are not serious candidates. (See: “The Write-In Fraud” and “To Neutralize Write-In Fraud, Switch to Republican.”)

Flagler County Commission members serve four years. They’re paid $70,000 a year.

FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges conducted by email and on the record.

The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document their claims. It’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.

The Questions in Summary: Quick Links

The Basics: Andy Dance.

Place and Date of Birth: August 2, 1963; East Islip, Long Island, New York. My family moved to Flagler County in 1972.
Current job: Chair of the Flagler County Commission. Small Business Owner, Andrew S. Dance & Associates, LLC, specializing in landscape architecture. I am a Florida licensed landscape architect. I received my bachelor’s in landscape architecture from the University of Florida in 1984.
Party Affiliation: Republican.
Financial disclosure.
Resume.

1. How have you specifically prepared yourself to be ready to succeed from day one, and what is your method at arriving at decisions? Tell us about the character flaws and unique perspectives you bring to the commission, and how you handle your mistakes or misjudgments. Who do you admire most in office today among elected officials in Flagler County—the person you’d consider a model of leadership? Who in the world at large (beyond Flagler), and among the living, do you consider a role model of political or intellectual leadership?

My leadership and experience on various volunteer boards and as an elected official have prepared me to succeed in this position from day one. As an elected official, there is no substitute for experience. The school board taught me compassion, empathy and how to balance a budget through tough economic times. The first three and a half years as a County Commissioner taught me the importance of long range and strategic planning and the necessity to operate government in a transparent and open manner to build trust with our constituents. My background and experience as a landscape architect and land use professional give me unique insight into complex development projects that come before the Commission. I know the right questions to ask, specifically concerning natural resource protections, drainage and compliance with the land development code. Some projects don’t pass scrutiny. Some are better projects in the end after scrutiny.

In my various leadership positions, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many personality exercises. They all tell the same story…I am a bit of a data nerd. I analyze everything; I love to scour data and read case studies to improve policy and processes. The “True Colors” personality test is one that identified me as “Green.” “Green” people are classified as clever, level-headed, logical, competent and visionary. In the work setting, “Green” personalities are visionary, and their biggest asset is their drive to be competent, logical and accurate. On the downside, “Greens” will sometimes over-analyze and can be skeptical. In order to avoid over-analyzation, I have learned to surround myself with a team that will keep me accountable and on task.

In Flagler County, the model of leadership starts with the first Flagler County Sheriff to be re-elected without opposition since 1968, Sheriff Rick Staly. Sheriff Staly has implemented a strategic plan that keeps our community and schools safe. I am grateful to have Commissioner Leann Pennington as Vice Chair of the Commission. She is meticulous in her preparations. Flagler Beach Commissioner Scott Spradley is also a welcome addition to local government. We share many of the same attributes; calm, collaborative, inviting and an exceptional analyst.

Beyond Flagler, I strain to attach myself with any national political figure. To me, the government closest to the people governs best, which is why I always seem to be most interested in local politics. I grew up in the 1980’s, so Ronald Reagan has always been a presidential icon. The most influential person to me, outside of Flagler County, was the Dean for the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Florida during my tenure, Professor Herrick H. Smith. Herrick was a “Yoda-like” presence; wise, honorable and he dished out great advice. My passion to be a steward of the land can be traced back to his teachings.

2. Give the current commission a letter grade on its performance in the last two years. Explain with specific examples where it has been lacking and where it has excelled, and what specific experience and qualities you will bring to improve its effectiveness.

I will give the Commission a “B” grade over the past two years. I would give it a lower grade if we went back four years and more. At that time, the culture was one of broken trust (Sheriff’s Mold Ops/Sears Bldg.) and lawsuits (Captains/Bings). When I was elected, the commission was digging itself out of those situations. Two years ago, Heidi Petito was appointed County Administrator and Jorge Salinas as Deputy Administrator. Ms. Petito brought a change in culture and immediately established a new strategic plan to guide the county moving forward. As a result, the County has accomplished:

  • New Flagler County Sheriff’s Operation Center
  • AA+ Standard & Poor rating, a boost from the prior AA rating
  • County’s financial position is solid with a healthy reserve
  • Commission policies and procedures revised to enhance transparency
  • $23 Million in legislative appropriations in 2023
  • $25 million in legislative appropriations in 2024
  • First ever Beach Management Plan for the entire 18 miles of beach
  • First ever countywide Stormwater Master Plan
  • Pavement Management Plan
  • Award winning “Transparency Dashboard” developed
  • Comprehensive Plan update to be completed this year and start of Land Development Code rewrite in third quarter of 2024
  • Flagler County Emergency Management achieved accreditation
  • Emergency dune restoration and started USACOE Coastal Storm Risk Management Project (beach nourishment)
  • 61 active grants last year, worth nearly 40 million dollars
  • Replaced aging Fire Flight helicopter and added 2 new fire trucks and three new fire/rescue ambulances
  • Carver expansion completed
  • Received funding to replace the Bull Creek Fish Camp restaurant
  • Passed two new economic development incentives
  • 95% completion of broadband to the entire County

One area that needed correction and has been the lagging grade in my evaluation of the administrator, is in communications. Our communications department was lacking direction and leadership. Our messaging on initiatives needed to be improved. The County has a new Communications Manager, and the direction of the department is looking up.

My impact on the commission was felt immediately, but some initiatives took time to develop. Prior to my election, important discussions were placed on consent agendas, without workshops, and the public was keenly aware of this lack of transparency (Think Captains and Pamela Parkway). I championed better ways of doing business, more workshops and an improved budget process. I pushed for adoption of a revised set of board policies and operations; a document called the Commission’s “Rules of Procedures”. This document was revised to increase transparency, defining clearer methods and added a new section on “code of conduct”.

A notable theme among bullet points above is the recurrence of plans being in place, but no funding (roads, beach management, stormwater), while the money for the largest of the projects–the Army Corps’ renourishment project in Flagler Beach–was secured by the ex-county engineer now suing the county for wrongful termination. There is no new beach money on the table. With what money do you propose to go from plan to execution? 

You must start somewhere. After years of deferred maintenance and neglected infrastructure, you start with a plan that assesses existing conditions. You then determine the scope of improvements and prioritize the projects.

We are moving forward with our limited funding and pursuing grants for the most pressing needs. We tried legislative allocations for road and bridge improvements, stormwater resiliency projects and beach restoration. Those were not funded this year. There are other avenues of beach funding available:

  1. Hurricane Reimbursement Recovery Grant Assistance— This grant program became available on July 1st for construction costs reimbursement on a first come first serve basis in 16 eligible counties impacted by Ian or Nicole.
  2. Local Government Funding Request— This grant program becomes available at the end of July that has an annual $50M funding available to local governments for beach nourishment. We plan on submitting for Phase 2 beach program (N 7th St to Varn Park) that is in permitting now with construction anticipated early next year.
  3. Critically Eroded designation – We will continue to pursue “critically eroded” beach designation for areas outside the current ACOE phase. This designation opens up additional cost sharing.

3. What are two goals where you are most aligned with the current commission’s goals, two with which you differ, and two you would seek to add, and explain how you intend to convince the commission to follow your lead.

The County’s goals are defined within our 2023 Strategic Plan.

Goals where I am in alignment:

  • Protect & Manage Natural Resources: One of my first initiatives was to update the Comprehensive Plan and re-write of the Land Development Code (LDC). Our Comp Plan and LDC’s are outdated and not aligned with current best practices. After years of delay, these are underway. At my insistence, revised tree protection standards within the LDC are nearing completion.
  • Improve Public Safety Response and Service Delivery Capabilities: The commission has invested in this goal by adding a new fire station to the west side of the county and replacing aging equipment with new. Significant improvements include replacing Fire Flight, adding two new fire engines, five replacement rescues and adding a ninth full time rescue to Station 25.
  • Develop Advantages for New and Existing Businesses – I mention this goal as the County has approved two new business incentives, with a couple more coming to the Commission soon. These are great for businesses looking to relocate to Flagler County.

Goals I would like to add:

  • Increase Efforts to Assist Small Businesses – I would like to see dedicated programs tailored for small business expansion. Small businesses are the backbone of the community, and as these businesses grow, we need to be there to support them.
  • Additional Natural Resource Protections need to be added to the LDC – Our goals reference enhanced buffers along significant roadways, but we can do more. I would include additional wetland protections and increased stormwater capacity to improve drainage and water quality.

4. Taxes: The county needs new revenue. Would you support raising the sales tax half a penny? Are you opposed to property tax increases? What three specific line items would you cut from this year’s proposed budget to keep the property tax where you’d want it?

I do not support raising funds through a super-majority, Commission-voted half penny sales tax. I believe any increase in the half penny should be voter approved. A voter approved referendum requires the Commission to develop a plan that accounts for immediate and long-term needs. Developing such a plan requires participation with the other affected governments and significant community feedback and input. A supermajority vote does nothing to build trust with the citizenry and it comes off as another money grab in response to the latest crisis.

I have focused on strategic and incremental reductions in property tax millage. Although still defined as a tax increase (unless it is defined as the roll-back rate), homesteaded properties are buffered by Save Our Homes caps. Incremental millage reductions prepare us for downturns in the economy, where the County is limited to a 10-mil cap.

The tentative budget from the County Administrator will not be presented to the Commission until the July 15th budget workshop. To this point we have reviewed the General Fund budget requests and the impacts of a 3.9% cost-of-living adjustment, Florida Retirement Services increase, Health Insurance increase and each Constitutional officer’s budget.

Last fall, the Commission had a goal setting workshop for this budget. We set goals for a millage decrease, catching up on deferred maintenance and growing reserves. Indications from recent budget workshops are that the current budget will meet these goals and can additionally set aside general revenue funds for beach nourishment.

At this stage, I am averse to adding staff (reoccurring expense) at a time when home values and single-family permits are down from a year ago and single-family MLS listings are up sharply from 12 months earlier, indicating potential for lower property tax revenues next year and beyond.

Would you be willing to back a half-penny sales tax increase–by referendum–the way you successfully backed and campaigned for the school’s half-penny for technology some years ago? If so, how would you win Palm Coast’s support–or even convince some of your own fellow-commissioners to take that approach, when, even in 2012, they opted o go the supermajority way because they knew they’d fail at the ballot box?

Yes, I would back a referendum if it addressed urgent health, safety and welfare needs and was planned properly, including wide community input.

5. State law requires schools to have armed security in each school, and Flagler schools have chosen to do that with sheriff’s deputies, paid for half with the state’s allocation of Safe Schools dollars from the district, and half through general fund dollars appropriated by the County Commission. The Commission has signaled some interest in scaling back its commitment, but not if it means reducing security in any way. The sheriff is proposing a 60-40 split, with the school board assuming 60 percent of the cost. Do you support that shift? Do you see alternative ways of shifting the cost?

Safe schools are critically important to a thriving and growing Flagler County. The current School Resource Deputy (SRD) program in Flagler Schools is working and the officers are treasured by children, parents and school staff. I know this personally, as this program was implemented during my tenure on the school board.

Suggesting any modification to this funding split, after so many years, is challenging and uncomfortable. Sheriff Staly provided data to support the idea that the majority of resource officer funding is typically borne by the school district and supplemented by other governmental entities.

The County has committed in the past to work collaboratively with the School District to find alternative funding options. The County will continue to work with the district to seek a legislative change to the Safe School funding formula, potentially increasing the district’s share of state funding. I am committed to continuing a positive dialogue with the district to research innovative solutions for funding SRD’s.

The survey the sheriff referred to, by the Sheriff’s Association, points to an average of 37 percent subsidy when it comes to county contribution to school-security funding, which could lower the county’s proportion. Would you be supportive of such a proportion in coming years? 

Maintaining the level of service (School Resource Deputies in schools) and reducing the County’s percentage is the desired outcome.

6. Where do you stand on school concurrency, and were you supportive of the commission rolling back the district’s initial ask for a doubling of school impact fees?

I offer a unique perspective on this issue as a former school board member and as a sitting Commissioner. I am also one of two County Commission representatives on the Interlocal Agreement (ILA) School Planning Oversight Committee, tasked with reviewing school growth patterns and new school construction needs. Additionally, I attended every school district impact fee workshop to review the analysis prior to it coming to the Commission. I’ll summarize my thoughts in four bullets:

a. Removal of the “Public School Facilities” element from the Comprehensive Plan was wrong. In spring of 2022, in the midst of the impact fee turmoil, the Commission hastily decided to remove this element from the Comp Plan. This element contained the provisions for school concurrency. This element should have remained and been discussed now as the County proceeds through an update of the Comprehensive Plan. My arguments to keep this element laid the groundwork for a new Interlocal Agreement that was approved in September of 2022.

b. I fought for school impact fees, so that new growth would pay for new schools. It wasn’t easy. I turned a 4-1 deficit into a 5-0 vote in favor of the increase in school impact fees (the first increase in 17 years) and ended a seven-month battle between the school district and the Commission. Flaglerlive wrote, Dance, for 12 years a school board member and the commission’s most seasoned elected official, displayed the kind of parliamentary deftness that effectively disarmed fellow-commissioners. He also gave them a face-saving way out of the box they’d placed themselves in…”

c. A new Interlocal Agreement for Public School Facility Planning is adopted. A concession I proposed in the above motion for approval was to isolate concurrency from the impact fee issue and handle it separately. I added a timeline to get the agreement completed in 6 months. I am proud to say that the new ILA was completed on schedule and signed by the school district, the Commission and the municipalities. The final agreement was a successful compromise and balanced the needs of the district and provided a phased approach for impact fee payments. A win-win for all involved.

d. Experience matters. I would like to take this space to make a point to the new voters in the County…I am a seasoned, competent elected official that has a knack for getting tough issues resolved. My combined leadership and experience on the school board and County Commission allow me to collaborate and solve problems that benefit the entire county. The impact fee resolution and the completion of the ILA, with county-wide support, is a prime example of my effectiveness.

7. Evaluate the county’s long-term beach-management plan–specifically, its taxing approach. How would you raise the needed $7 million a year, understanding that there are no grants ahead? Do you consider the amount sufficient? Is the taxing-district method that weighs the heavier tax burden on the barrier island appropriate? Should all county taxpayers and zones pay equally? Is doing nothing an option? If not, please explain.

The Beach Management Plan consists of more than just beach nourishment funding. The plan’s goals, based off the 174-page Beach and Dune Management Study by Olsen Associates, are to:

  • Restore, enhance and maintain a healthy beach system
  • Preserve habitat for the plants and animals that call the beach their home
  • Protect life, property and infrastructure for the entire 18 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline

The dune and beach nourishment projects are the mechanism to achieve these goals. Currently Phase 1 beach nourishment is underway (Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area to North 6th Street) and Phase 2 permitting, from N. 7th to Varn Park is in progress. These construction projects are heavily funded through grants from the Army Corp of Engineers, DEP and FDOT.

When it comes to maintaining the nourishment project after construction, that is where the local funding component is required. The Army Corps will step in if the beach is eroded from a named storm. All other non-named events, for example a Nor’easter, must be covered by the County. This is where the $7 million annual requirement kicks in and is based on the Olsen study.

Two funding plans have been presented to the Commission, based on analysis from the consultant. These plans propose a Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU), a taxing entity that relies on property owners receiving a “benefit” from the investment. The MSBU requires approval from the municipal governments that are affected. This is the stage where we are right now. Over the next year the County will work collaboratively with our government partners to forge a plan that is amenable to all parties.

Flagler County’s barrier island receives its coastal protection from the beach and dune system. Property, infrastructure, wildlife habitat, tree canopy and vegetation are protected and preserved, and the beach is restored for recreational uses.  Palm Coast and Bunnell properties receive added value from proximity to the beach. Realtor advertisements for properties for sale outside the barrier island typically refer to the beach as a selling point. Agriculture should be exempt.

Quantifying the benefits received by Palm Coast is difficult. Any proposed agreement must be based on a legally defensible, fair and equitable formulation. Existing MSBU’s in other coastal locations, such as Vilano Beach and Amelia Island, have withstood the test of time and legal challenges. Their MSBU’s are restricted to the barrier island. Other MSBU’s also use funds from the local Tourist Development Council tax, and Flagler plans to use tourism dollars as well.

The County’s due diligence for maintaining dune and beach nourishment is just starting. Over the coming year the County will work with residents and our municipal partners to develop a funding formula that will protect the beach for years to come. It will be an open process that all county residents can participate in. A resolution must be fair and equitable and be able to withstand legal challenges. Doing nothing is not an option.

You’ve summarized the challenges, the needs and the situation as it stands now clearly, but you’ve not given us a sense of what you yourself favor, how you would use the skills you described above (such as those you used to enact the school impact fee) in favor of a specific option, particularly regarding the sticking point of spreading the cost of the sought-after $7 million–a sum that will likely rise–to the mainland, especially Palm Coast. 

I favor a solution, that is the goal! My ideas are not what is important at this stage, listening to my constituents is what is important. I am keeping my options open until I hear from the other affected municipalities and from the residents. Each has their own unique set of needs and challenges.

8. Evaluate the performance of County Administrator Heidi Petito, listing strengths, weaknesses and areas of concern.

My evaluations of Ms. Petito are public record. I give her strong recommendations for restructuring our processes for more transparency and developing a new strategic plan to guide us on our mission. One component of the added transparency to County operations is the “Transparency Dashboard”, located on the County’s website (  The dashboard recently received a National Association of Counties award in the Civic Education & Public Information category. There is a wealth of information about County government available to the public through this dashboard.

I have been most critical of administration for communications, specifically the messaging of critical issues to the public. Transparent government is typically a messy process. However, nobody trusts a government that only releases information that supports its message. We will not be that type of government.

9. With the county’s population exceeding 130,000, where do you stand on the county and its three major cities devising a collaborative public, surface, fixed-route transportation system that goes beyond the county’s current limited operation? How would such a system be paid for?

Challenges exist in providing fixed route transit services in areas, such as Palm Coast, where a majority of the demand is in low to medium density residential neighborhoods. Additionally, most of these neighborhoods are setback a considerable distance from main traffic corridors. In September of 2022, Flagler County adopted the “Flagler Forward” transit Development Plan, serving as the guide for future expansion of public transportation in the county and cities for the next ten years. A fixed-route transportation plan was deemed aspirational, and not included in the study for the next ten years.

Collaboration is the only way an expanded transit system is going to work. Palm Coast and Flagler County are both undergoing revisions to their Comprehensive Plan. This is a great time to work together on long range goals that complement each other.

10. The sheriff’s budget plus the capital budget have risen rapidly, with the continuing addition of deputies and more planned ahead: 20 over the next five years in the county, 37 more in Palm Coast. In light of persistently low crime rates—and taking account of population growth–where do you place the point at which expansions in budgets and ranks outweigh the benefits, or become more burdensome on the county’s overall budget than necessary? Is there such a thing as overfunding police?

Protecting our citizen’s health, safety and welfare guides my policy and funding priorities. A safe and secure place to live is at the top of every resident’s requirement for a high quality of life. Flagler County is a wonderful place to live, with abundant natural resources and a low crime rate. Palm Coast has been nationally recognized as one of the safest places to live, by UpHomes.com.

The County, the City of Palm Coast and the Sheriff have taken the right steps for collaborative problem solving by meeting regularly to address the challenges that accompany growth. The transition to a “calls for service” based system for determining law enforcement needs is a step in the right direction. Technology allows the Sheriff to pinpoint calls for service; thus, we can allocate additional deputies based on the number and location of calls.

I have a great working relationship with the Sheriff and his Chief of Staff. I believe we agree that the FCSO cannot operate in a vacuum, and that there is a finite amount of funds available to operate all the functions of County Government. Our ability to work together to fund the needs of the community without over-taxation is what residents expect. My recommendation is to fund additional law enforcement through the annual budgeting process.

I am against committing a half-penny sales tax increase solely for law enforcement. As I mentioned earlier, this action comes off to the public as a knee jerk reaction to the latest funding emergency. As the community grows, any future additional funding, such as the half penny, must come before the public as a referendum and must encompass all aspects of public safety to include law enforcement, fire/rescue/EMS, emergency management, school SRD’s, the jail and cyber security.

 

11. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies, or faced any investigative or disciplinary action through a professional board such as the bar or a medical board? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.

No.

 

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