Our take on the candidates: Observer endorsements for the Aug. 30 primary in Flagler County

Agree? Disagree? Let us know how you'll vote and why.

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  • | 6:30 a.m. August 12, 2016
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This year, as in every election cycle, the Palm Coast Observer researched the candidates on the ballot, published an election guide, and then gathered a few trusted community leaders to discuss the candidates.

On this page, we will present our recommendations for who we think will help make this community thrive in the next four years. We are not trying to bully anyone into voting a certain way but simply to help start a conversation. 

Do you agree with our picks? Disagree? Please email [email protected]. We will do our best to publish all the letters we receive related to the candidates before the Aug. 30 primary. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.


Flagler County Sheriff, Republican

This race might be the toughest on the ballot. Six Republicans make for a crowded field. Three of them stand out: Don Fleming, John Lamb and Rick Staly.

Fleming is a known quantity, but after eight years in office, marred by an ethics complaint at the latter end, it’s time for new leadership.

Lamb is a former assistant chief in Jacksonville and is impressive for his enthusiasm and personality. He would make a good sheriff in Flagler County and would provide an outsider’s perspective.

The concern about Staly is that political controversy seems to follow him, first as undersheriff in Orange County and then here, as he became wrapped up in Sheriff Jim Manfre’s ethics case. In both Orange and Flagler, however, he came away unscathed, while both sheriffs were found guilty of violations. 

Staly is the only one of the candidates with an impressive record as a businessman, as he started a security company and then sold it for a healthy profit. He is a decorated law enforcement officer and received prestigious FBI training. There isn’t much that’s lacking on his resume.

We recommend Staly.


Flagler County Sheriff, Democrat

Larry Jones is enthusiastic and is truly homegrown. Among his 30 years as a law enforcement officer in Flagler County, he also started the Christmas with a Deputy program, which has blessed hundreds of children. However, his lack of supervisory experience causes concern.

Meanwhile, setting aside his ethics fine of $6,200 earlier this year, incumbent Sheriff Jim Manfre has led the agency well. He instituted body cameras to provide greater transparency for deputies and the community. He has overseen the construction of a new operations center and a new jail. Most importantly, the crime rate continues to decline under his leadership.

We recommend Manfre.


Supervisor of Elections

Abra Seay and Kaiti Lenhart emerged as the front-runners in our ad hoc editorial board discussion. Seay has an edge over Lenhart in her potential to give a boost to community outreach and education.

However, Lenhart was appointed to do a difficult job — restore confidence in the office after the criminal investigation of her predecessor, Kim Weeks — and Lenhart succeeded. She has, by all reports, been responsive and professional in the office. She has several years of experience and is a wizard when it comes to operational efficiency. 

We recommend Lenhart.


County Commission, District 1

Dan Potter served more than two decades in the military and was a former mayor in a town in Kentucky; he has also put forth an incredible effort by riding his bike all across town to introduce himself and learn what the voters think. 

In the end, though, incumbent Charlie Ericksen’s steady humility has been an asset to the commission, and we don’t see a compelling reason to remove him.

We recommend Ericksen.


County Commission, District 3

With a mostly invisible opponent in the Republican primary, Dave Sullivan is a clear winner. He has been active in politics for some time locally and would be an asset on the commission.

We recommend Sullivan.


County Commission, District 5

Denise Calderwood is a passionate advocate for county residents. But our personal interactions over the years with Donald O’Brien have helped us to see him as a man of great integrity, intelligence and thoughtfulness. He has served his community in many capacities, including at his church, the Florida Hospital Flagler Foundation, the Flagler County Education Foundation and twice serving as the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

We recommend O’Brien.


Circuit Judge, 7th Circuit Judges

When it comes to circuit judges, the learning curve is high, and so there is an incentive to retaining incumbents, as long as they are doing a good job. Our sources tell us that the incumbents in Group 10 (Scott DuPont), Group 13 (David Hood) and Group 17 (Howard O. McGillin Jr.) are doing well and should be retained.

In Group 4, there is no incumbent. Sebrina Slack is well qualified, and she gets our vote over the controversial Stasia Warren, although she is also well qualified.


School Board, District 3

Jason Sands would be a fresh face on the School Board. He lives in Flagler County and works for the St. Johns School District. He has a technology background, which would be useful given the current emphasis on using devices in the classrooms.

Meanwhile, if the incumbent, Colleen Conklin, is elected, she will fulfill a fifth term, which would bring her tenure to 20 years on the School Board. She can be controversial at times, such as when she spoke out publicly this year to defend her son’s provocative drawing, which was not allowed to be displayed at school. 

But Conklin’s boldness and courage would be sorely missed if she were not on the School Board. She is passionate. She is a leader.

We recommend Conklin.


School Board, District 5

The toughest choice in this race is between Sharon Demers and Myra Middleton-Valentine. Demers has a business degree and an entrepreneurial background, while Middleton-Valentine has a expansive resume in education and has local ties. 

In her Speed Campaigning responses, Middleton-Valentine was the only District 5 candidate who opposed funding the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, which shows her awareness of the budgeting constraints she would face on the School Board.

We recommend Middleton-Valentine.


Palm Coast Mayor

For our ad hoc editorial board, this was an easy choice. Milissa Holland is smart, tough and has a true passion for serving her community. She is also the candidate who seems most dedicated to — and most capable of — bridging the divide between the county and city governments. She demonstrated her leadership while serving on the County Commission, and she is the right person to lead the city of Palm Coast into its next phase of growth.

We recommend Holland.


Palm Coast City Council, District 1

Robert Cuff, a longtime attorney in this county, is also a clear choice. His knowledge of the way local government is supposed to work will be essential on this City Council.

We recommend Cuff.


Palm Coast City Council, District 3

Anita Moeder and Pam Richardson are level-headed, but the third candidate, a 28-year-old software developer named Nicholas Klufas, brings a level of enthusiasm and creativity that would give the City Council a real boost. He is a thinker, a problem solver.

We recommend Klufas.



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