FLAGLER BEACH – The Flagler Beach City Commission meeting Thursday featured a clash between a candidate for City Commission and his incumbent opponent on the issue of annexation. The motion being discussed would amend the procedure through which land annexation is approved, and in which scenarios it’s done via voter referendum versus City Commission approval. Bob Cunningham III, a candidate for the seat currently held by Commissioner Eric Cooley, made a public comment accusing the City Commission of having transparency issues. He alleged both in person and on social media that the city government had not been forthcoming with information about key changes. Cooley, who is running for re-election, took exception to Cunningham’s assertions.
“I’m in favor of the ordinance change. I’m not in favor of ordinances being changed without the public’s knowledge,” Cunningham told the commissioners. “The thing that people have a heartache on is not knowing why the ordinance is being changed, and they want to know. When you start deceiving people, they start wondering what you’re going to deceive them on next. If you’re not clear and transparent to them, they take it as deception. You may not agree with it, but that’s the way they feel about it.”
This characterization by Cunningham frustrated Cooley in particular. He interpreted the remarks as being driven by Cunningham’s political aspirations. “To call a public process that is publicized and has public comments deceitful [and] not transparent is absolutely ridiculous,” he shot back. “The entire point of having a city meeting that follows the exact ordinances it was written for is to protect the public, be transparent, and to cover all these things.”
Cooley was joined in his frustration by two of his colleagues on the City Commission. “I was very upset, Bob, when I read your post on Facebook,” added Commissioner Jane Mealy. “It was totally unreasonable. You’ve sat through all these meetings, you’ve been through the citizens’ academy, you know how meetings work. […] I felt like my reputation was being destroyed and I did not appreciate that.”
Commissioner Scott Spradley, speaking with an uncharacteristic sharpness in his tone, also pushed back hard against Cunningham. “To get to the conclusion that I just heard the speaker make, that there was an effort to hide information, would require breaking the Sunshine Law,” Spradley said. “I can assure you Mr. Cunningham, no one broke the Sunshine Law. So to suggest that we were less than transparent…I read that post, you suggested we were dishonest. You also wrote in that post, sir, that once you thought about it, you did the research and you concluded that you supported this. And yet [in] your own lack of doing research and asking questions, you then impute this entire board. That’s irresponsible and I didn’t appreciate it either.”
At the end of discussion on the agenda item, Commissioner Rick Belhumeur motioned to approve, and was seconded by Mealy. The item passed unanimously, with a significant portion of the discussion on it ultimately having been devoted to Cunningham’s Facebook post and subsequent public comment. The Flagler Beach City Commission election will be held on March 19th, with only Cooley and Cunningham’s race appearing on the ballot. Flagler Beach Historical Museum Director Patti King will ascent to Mayor due to no other challengers having entered to run against her.