The following story consists of accounts from city employees, as well as an interview with the accused party. All allegations levied by both sides are, as of now, allegations.
Ed Danko, District 1 representative on the Palm Coast City Council, is denying accusations that he’d ‘exploded’ at a city employee: “It’s not an accurate representation of what happened. This is dirty politics.” The incidents are purported to have happened during Danko’s transition process following his November election win, as well as after he’d taken office. The human resources investigation into the incidents was ultimately set aside without formal conclusion.
According to a report by Human Resources Director Renina Fuller, this incident was described as happening on February 2nd, before a City Council meeting. Four employees interviewed on the 4th and 5th backed up initial accounts. The findings in Fuller’s report state, “the evidence gathered during the investigation supports the finding that Council Member Danko inappropriately attempted to influence staff’s administrative duties.”
The employee Danko is accused of having ‘exploded’ at, is City Clerk Virginia Smith. Always present behind the dais in City Council meetings, Danko had asked Smith about receiving proclamations he’d have to read a few days ahead of meetings (proclamations are read by Council members at meetings, typically honoring a community cause or event). Smith informed Danko that proclamations are sent to Council members along with the rest of the packet outlining the meeting agenda.
Danko asked Smith how Council members were chosen to read proclamations, she recounted in her description of events. Smith then informed Danko that the Mayor (then Milissa Holland) doled them out. It was around this point that Danko was said to have grown frustrated with the conversation. He asked Smith how he could find out ahead of time who’d been assigned to what proclamation, and Smith referred him to a comment section where he could request that information. According to Smith, Danko replied, “I will not, I will not read it then, I will give it back to her and tell her no.” Smith again referred Danko to the comments section where he could inform Holland of such, but Danko, now said to be yelling, stated that he was not Holland’s inferior, and that he would simply tell her when he saw her (such an interaction would be illegal under Florida’s Sunshine Law). The incident from Danko’s side is presented further down in this article.
As for Holland being Danko’s boss, Danko was correct in asserting that she wasn’t. But although the Mayor and Council members do not have a boss-subordinate relationship, the Mayor is tasked with running Council meetings, and directing things such as the reading of proclamations. Danko was then said to direct Smith to inform Holland herself, a request which Smith refused (city employees acting as a channel between two elected officials on Council business is also a Sunshine Law violation). Smith told Danko she’d speak with then-City Manager Matt Morton, her immediate superior for city business. Danko told her he’d do the same. Smith’s account of what happened was backed up by Brad West, a Communications Officer (now resigned) to whom Danko had spoken just prior to the incident.
Matt Morton corresponded with Fuller shortly after learning of this incident, and in doing so described other instances in which Danko had reportedly acted with agitation toward city employees. His email read as follows:
I am facing an HR issue I am not sure how to proceed on – Mr. Danko “exploded” at Virginia Smith before the Council Meeting last night in front of many employees (Doug, Brad and others) – she was insulted and humiliated and came to me in tears – this is a pattern, Ms. Smith also requested I address this issue, she is concerned about the prospect of retaliation from Mr. Danko that may require an independent analysis.
- 1. Virginia just after election had a similar encounter over the phone and documented it
- 2. Marsha Lidskin – Had an encounter (phone and email) with Mr. Danko around the same time in respects to her preparing his BIO for the City Website
- 3. Greg Doston Publics Works Employee reported being accosted by Mr. Danko in a Road Median – Mr. Danko was agitated and disrespectful and directing employee(s)
- 4. Last night’s incident which leads off this email
In the second incident, community relations employee Marsha Lidskin described a phone call she’d had with Danko in which she was gathering information for his city bio section. She recounted her experience in an this excerpt from an email sent to Fuller:
In November 2020, I called Ed Danko to interview him as one of the candidates for our City Council’s District #1. It has been standard procedure for me for 15 years to always introduce myself to new and potential City Council candidates. In every newsletter issue following a local election, we introduce the winners to the community with a brief biography and photo. This past November, I spoke with Council Member Danko and asked him a few standard questions regarding his past employment, goals for the City, etc. When I asked him about the organizations he has served, he told me that he was President of the Trump Republican Club of Palm Coast. I promptly told him that I would gladly include his position in the article, but I would be leaving out the name ‘Trump’ because we didn’t want to make our newsletter political. He jumped on my response immediately: he specifically asked me, “who told me to say this?” and I answered him that it was my decision, as I’ve been the newsletter editor for 15 years. He then said this to me: “What are you – some kind of liberal?” I was astonished and got quiet for a moment. I tried to move on to ask him totally different question and he interrupted me and said the following: “You know what? I don’t want to talk to you anymore. I don’t ever want to talk to you again. Nor do I want to ever meet you or work with you.” He then hung up on me.
No one whom I’ve ever worked with in the City of Palm Coast has even spoken like this to me. I sat quietly for a moment, trying to keep myself from getting really upset and angry. I then called City Clerk Virginia Smith. Virginia often gives me information she has about various Council candidates so that I can use it for the newsletter. I asked her for whatever information she may have about Ed Danko, seeing as he wouldn’t share anything with me or would never talk to me again. I also told her what had happened that day. She will attest to this experience.
The experience described would’ve happened prior to Danko’s conversation with Smith by around two months. Danko would go on to agree that he likely had ended the conversation to deal with the matter ‘above [Lidskin’s] head’, but remained firm in his disagreement with Lidskin, stating that it was not her place to make such a discernment. He also made a point to reiterate that he was not yet a city employee at the time of the conversation. This incident is also described from Danko’s perspective in the interview below.
In the third listed incident, Danko was described as having had an encounter with Greg Doston, a public works employee. Doston described his interaction with Danko as such:
Mr. Danko pulled up to the jobsite and in an unpleasant manner he questioned the crew on why we weren’t directing traffic. During the conversation he aggressively stated that he was a current member of the council and was going to inform the City manager about our lack of safety protocols. After Mr. Danko made this statement we informed him we were within the FDOT required time limit for setting up a lane closure. He then proceeded to drive away aggravated.
In comments reported by Flagler Live, Danko was adamant that while the incidents happened, to report his conduct as aggressive or inappropriate was a misrepresentation: “It’s irrelevant, I did nothing wrong, period. If somebody wants to make stuff up, and claim otherwise, what can I do?” The story was first reported by the Palm Coast Observer and later expanded upon by Flagler Live.
In an interview given to AskFlagler, Ed Danko maintained that the conversations did not happen as described, and asserted that now former City Manager Matt Morton is attempting to tear him down, along with Danko’s friend, mayoral candidate Alan Lowe. If Lowe wins in July, Danko-Lowe-Barbosa would likely represent a Council majority on a number of issues.
“This is Matt Morton,” Danko said, “who kept the bag of rocks and decided to throw something on his way out the door. It’s a direct attack, not just on me. It’s an attack on Alan Lowe and his candidacy for Mayor.”
Alan Lowe, one of six candidates in the special election for Palm Coast Mayor, has been a friend of Danko’s on the political scene since last year’s mayoral election, when Lowe lost narrowly to Milissa Holland.
On the conversation with Marsha Lidskin to form his bio section for the newsletter, Danko explained: “This is before the election. I wasn’t an elected official. I wasn’t a city employee. This person called all the candidates so they could have bios ready to put out with the utility bill newsletter. So what I don’t understand is, how somebody can file a complaint with human resources against a person.”
Danko likened the situation to one where he filed a complaint with the Palm Coast Observer about this article, on AskFlagler. “So when I had this encounter, I didn’t work for the city, right? Somebody gets to file a complaint against someone who at the time of the complaint doesn’t work for the city.
“She contacted me, I gave her my bio. She said she can’t use ‘Trump’ [in the language of the bio]. So she says you can’t use ‘Trump’, and I say, ‘why not?’ She says, ‘well, it’s political’. And I said, well yeah, but that’s my bio and says, ‘well you can’t’. What rule says that she can’t? I said, ‘your rule?’ She says, ‘Yes, I do the newsletter. It’s my rule.’ I said, ‘so you’re a part-time employee and you have your own rules’.
“We’re a city. You don’t get to make up your own rules. And then I said, ‘sure’, I said ‘so what? What are you? Some kind of liberal Democrat or something, you don’t like Trump?’ And then I finally said, ‘here: I’m just gonna go over your head and call the City Manager’. And I said, ‘goodbye’, and I hung up.”
Asked what Matt Morton told him: “[He said] ‘we’ll fix it’, because they put it in.” Danko explained that when the bio was made for then-candidate Alan Lowe, the word ‘Trump’ was included there as well. “The point is,” he went on, “I don’t know how that can be misconstrued as instructing staff.”
Next, Danko was asked about the incident involving City Clerk Virginia Smith, where the two conversed about proclamations assigned to Danko by then-Mayor Holland. According to Danko, the story went:
“Alright, so I come in, there’s a proclamation on my desk. And so I went to Virginia and Brad West was standing there at the same time, and I said, ‘who makes this decision?’ And she said, ‘the Mayor does’. And I said to her, ‘well I’m not gonna read it. I need to let the Mayor know that unless I get a day advance and I can look at it. I’m happy to read it, but I’d like to have it a day in advance and Virginia Smith said to me, ‘well you work for the Mayor’. So she gets to make up her own mind, by making you read something or something like that. She just basically told me I work for the Mayor.
“And I told her I don’t work for the Mayor. I work for the citizens that elected me. And then Holland came in, she found the proclamation where she says she came over to me, tried to hand it to me and I said, ‘I’m sorry, I will not read it. Get it to me a day in advance, I’m happy to read it.”
Danko then questioned reports that Smith had broken into tears over his treatment of her.
“That was it and then I hear in Virginia’s complaint that she broke into tears over this. You know what, everybody was sitting at their seats, they were there, Council people already in their seats or people walking around, people in the meeting. No one saw her break into tears. It was minutes before the meeting started. You know, five minutes before the meeting started, ten minutes before we put all kinds of people in there.”
Danko said Smith had gotten to her chair at the dais before the meeting. “Again, I didn’t instruct her to do anything.” This statement opposes reports that Danko had directed Smith to tell Holland about his refusal herself.
Danko then began on the incident with Greg Doston, the public works employee he’d conversed with at a job site. “Some guys were working, I forget what street it was, it was near my house (Danko lives in the W section off Belle Terre Blvd). They had about eight to nine trucks cleaning up some debris in a lot, or some trees or something. Couple of trucks were huge, but you couldn’t see past the trucks so they’re blocking one whole lane.”
The interaction then begins.
“And it was strange, so I pull up carefully and I rolled down the window and I talked to a city worker and I said hey, you know maybe you guys need a flag man or something out here for this traffic. It’s dangerous. He got rude, he got obnoxious, treated me like garbage. Like it was none of my business and he just thought I was a normal citizen. And at that point I thought to myself, ‘this is how they treat normal taxpayers, citizens in our community?’ Pretty arrogant, I let him know, ‘I’m a City councilman. As soon as I leave here, I’m gonna call your boss Matt Morton, and let him know what I just experienced.’
“And if you read this complaint, or if you look at the Observer story, Morton claimed I exploded at the guy or something, but in fact, even the Observer read the guy’s complaint and the guy said I wasn’t rude to him or anything. You know, he said I appeared agitated when I left.” The Palm Coast Observer did quote Doston’s account that Danko appeared aggravated when he departed the scene.
Danko went on to say that Morton told him he’d handled the situation correctly. But now, Danko states, Morton isn’t as receptive to his cause.
“He’s a disgruntled former employee. He’s trying to blame his departure on me and Victor Barbosa.” Barbosa, Danko’s fellow Council member, has been vocal in the past about his disapproval of Morton’s job performance, and at one point expressed support for his termination. Barbosa made a motion to fire Morton, but did not receive a second.
“We had nothing to do with his departure,” Danko continued. “We’re only two votes. It takes three votes to get rid of a City Manager.” At the time of Barbosa suggesting Morton’s termination, there was only one vote; Danko advocated for further investigation into allegations of corruption levied against Morton.
“So he’s making excuses for whatever reasons. You can draw your own conclusions, the Mayor resigns abruptly, days later Morton resigns abruptly. You can’t tell me it’s because of Victor Barbosa, I don’t think.”
Danko again posed that Morton was acting to prevent a Danko-Lowe-Barbosa majority on the Council. “This is about the fact that I’m with Alan Lowe. They’re scared, they’re worried that Alan is going to get elected. They’re worried that their swamp may be drained. I don’t know, they’re worried about something. And so you got Matt Morton talking to the Observer, from the story the other day claiming that he had a meeting with me and Alan. And he said that he told me to my face, I was a political whore and I had a secret list of employees I was going to fire. We met at Pine Lakes Country Club. We had lunch the day or second day after he quit. We had a really nice lunch. Matt Morton did nothing but compliment my performance on the Council, and you know, how he felt we worked great together, solving problems together, going out in the community. He had nothing bad to say.
“In fact he joked with Alan, Alan ordered some ice cream for dessert and he said, ‘Gee, I wish I’d stuck around.’ It was a pleasant meeting, we all shook hands. I wished him well. He never called me a political whore. I don’t think I would’ve stayed at the table if he had used words like that. He also claimed that I knew about these investigations. That’s totally false. I didn’t find out until after the Observer did their story and Morton mentioned investigations. The next day I called, or thad day. I called [City Attorney] Bill Reischmann and I said, ‘what is this about?’ The attorney said, ‘yeah these were closed out. They amounted to nothing.’
Asked if Morton was directly trying to prevent Lowe’s election? “Yes. And you’ve gotta understand the [Palm Coast] Observer. John Walsh, the owner/publisher of the Observer, fully backs and supports [Lowe’s opponent] David Alfin. John Walsh confronted Alan directly, and said ‘you’ve gotta drop out of this race, and if you do I’ll make sure you get elected to the City Council. But if you don’t, I’m going to bring in $100k of PAC money.’ And Alan told him to go eat sand. Then he called me and said the same thing, ‘you gotta get Alan to drop out of the race.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so, that’s not happening’. So this is Morton working with John Walsh, working with the Observer to throw mud on me and hoping some of it sticks to Alan, that’s all.”
Danko also went on to criticize Flagler Live’s coverage of the matter. “If you tell [Pierre Tristam, founder of Flagler Live] that didn’t happen, he doesn’t believe you because Matt Morton said otherwise.”
As things stand now, the investigation into Danko is receiving thorough media coverage, some of it slipping into social media discourse surrounding the upcoming election. But if you ask Danko, there are only a few things he’s guilty of.
“I am guilty of caring about safety on our city streets, I am guilty about stating I don’t work for Milissa Holland, I don’t work for the Mayor. I work for the citizens of Palm Coast. I am guilty of supporting President Trump and our Flagler Trump Club.”
Ed Danko was first elected to the Palm Coast City Council in the November 2020 elections. His first term will be up in 2024, and he’ll have the opportunity to run for one more term before the City Charter states he’s term-limited out. The winner of the upcoming mayoral special election will serve until 2024, then get two entire four-year terms in office, assuming they aren’t voted out.
The special election for Palm Coast Mayor will be held on July 27th at the following locations:
- Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Office – Government Services Building, 1769 E. Moody Boulevard, Building 2, Suite 101, Bunnell, Florida, 32110
- Palm Coast Community Center, 305 Palm Coast Parkway NE, Palm Coast, Florida, 32137
- Flagler County Library, 2500 Palm Coast Parkway NW, Palm Coast, Florida, 32137
Early voting will take place from July 17th to July 24th, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. The candidates are Democrats Doug Courtney and Cornelia Downing Manfre, along with Republicans David Alfin, Kathy Austrino, Carol “Mother Elizabeth” Bacha, and Alan Lowe.