PALM COAST – The landscape of the Palm Coast City Council changed considerably on Tuesday, as two new members were sworn in and the Vice Mayor post rotated. Council members John Fanelli and Eddie Branquinho departed, and were replaced with the newly elected Theresa Pontieri and Cathy Heighter.
New Council Members Sworn In
Neither Pontieri nor Heighter faced an incumbent in the 2022 elections and only Pontieri had to advance out of a primary field before the November 8th general election. She went up against Alan Lowe and Sims Jones, both repeat candidates, and newcomer Shauna Kanter. Pontieri and Lowe moved on to November, with Pontieri receiving 67.49% of the vote. Fanelli, appointed to serve out the remainder of Victor Barbosa’s term following his resignation, bid farewell to acclaim from his fellow Council members. The seat had four occupants in one four-year term; Jack Howell won election before resigning due to health concerns, and Jon Netts served until the 2020 election cycle produced Barbosa.
Heighter’s win was more narrow, beating out Fernando Melendez with a 54.55% majority. Melendez is a close friend and associate of Mayor David Alfin, helping guide Alfin’s campaign to victory in the 2021 special mayoral election. With Branquinho choosing not to run for a second term, the seat was up for either candidate’s taking. Melendez’s first campaign for the City Council dais fell just short.
Both Pontieri and Heighter were administered their oaths of office on Tuesday and are now fully fledged Council members.
Danko Chosen for Vice Mayor
Following the swearing in of Pontieri and Heigher, the next order of business was the appointment of a new Vice Mayor. Only Klufas had previously held the post among the current Council crop, having been chosen for the year-long post in 2019 and 2020. He did not, however, advocate for a second stint. Councilman Ed Danko received a nomination and unanimous appointment to Vice Mayor, a seat he’ll hold until the matter comes back to discussion in December 2023.
“I’m so proud to be your new Vice Mayor and congratulations to our new Council members,” Danko said in a statement following the meeting. “I promise to work hard to improve our great city, and be assured, I will continue to keep my word and NEVER vote to raise your taxes…never!”
Fanelli Bids Farewell
Councilman John Fanelli delivered a rousing farewell speech as his brief tenure on the City Council came to a close. “My hope in doing all of this was to leave the city just a little bit better than I found it”, Fanelli said. No objector on the Council or in the community stood to dispute that he’d accomplished as much.
Fanelli was appointed to the Council following the resignation of Victor Barbosa, and beat out a field of applicants that included former city administrators, community leaders, and development professionals. The Council nearly chose another applicant, seeming to informally lead toward Antonio Amaral at the March meeting to select an appointee. But Danko leapt to make a motion for Fanelli’s selection, and was backed up by Alfin and Branquinho for a majority.
“It has been my great honor and pleasure to work alongside each of you,” Fanelli said to his fellow Council members as he departed. He thanked his kids and his wife Joelle, who has battled breast cancer in the past year. In past conversations Fanelli has left the door open to future runs for elected office, but for now he returns to his full-time job as Coordinator of Student Supports and Behavior at the Flagler School District.