It wasn’t supposed to be a political event, but that’s just what it has become.
The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates is taking a beating regarding its Creekside Festival policy to rent tent space for political parties but not for nonpartisan candidates (candidates can only run as nonpartisan in the November election, in Palm Coast).
And some residents are telling the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners to stand up for the candidates’ freedom of speech and force the chamber to change its policy.
This is dangerous territory. The festival is a private event. According to County Administrator Craig Coffey, the county does not subsidize the festival at all. Therefore, the county government has no business forcing the chamber — or any other private organization — to sell its tent spaces to anyone, whether the event is on public property or not.
If it wanted to, the chamber could make the festival a fundraiser for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and kick out the Republican booths, too. (Or, imagine if this were a Republican Party event, and Republican candidates bought booth space. Should the County Commission require the Republican Party to sell booths to Democratic candidates in the name of free speech? I don't think so.)
The accusation that the current policy favors Jason DeLorenzo, a candidate who is running against Dennis Cross and who is married to chamber executive Rebecca DeLorenzo, is ridiculous. He’s a nonpartisan candidate just like Cross and therefore has to play by the same rules. In any event, the policy was set three years ago, long before Jason DeLorenzo decided to run for a seat on the City Council.
But if the chamber truly doesn’t want the event to be political, its current policy is defeating that goal. The chamber should either get rid of all political tents, or it should set aside space for nonpartisan candidates, such as Cross and Bill McGuire, who have been crying foul about being shut out.
The real questions is, why doesn’t the chamber make a stronger stand in local politics? It seems to me that if the chamber’s purpose is to promote the local business community, it should be active in campaigning (outside of Creekside, of course) for the candidates it believes will represent the business community on the City Council — whether that's for DeLorenzo or not.
Personally, I haven’t interviewed DeLorenzo or Cross on the issues, so I don’t know for whom I’ll vote yet. Stay tuned in October as we continue our question-and-answer sessions with each City Council candidate.