A day after publicly announcing a plan to vacate the homeless camp near the library, the newly hired interim county administrator said those plans are now canceled. He blamed the media for making it appear that the county's plans — announced in a press release and by posting public notices at the library — would actually be carried out.
Meanwhile, District 4 County Commissioner Joe Mullins said further miscommunication on this issue will not be tolerated.
The debris and camping sites at the 19-acre Flagler County Public Library property are in violation of city of Palm Coast code. On March 2, the county notified the homeless that the homeless are responsible for packing up their tents and other belongings and vacating the area.
The county, which will be clearing brush and debris some time next week, was initially going to provide transportation to Russell Landing — located nearly 22 miles away from the library in a remote section of Bunnell — on Thursday, March 7.
The county's press release stated that the county was "taking action that will improve the difficult living situation for the homeless" camped on the property.
But after facing criticism from the community, county officials agreed to let the homeless remain on the property while the brush and debris are being cleared.
Interim County Administrator Jerry Cameron, formerly an assistant county manager for community services in St. Johns County, said the plan to move the homeless to Russell Landing was never the final plan and blamed the media for the miscommunication.
“We never finished our plans," he said.
The Palm Coast Observer reported that the county passed out individual notices and posted about 15 signs at the library and the trailheads that lead to the homeless camp, notifying the homeless that the homeless are responsible for packing up their tents and other belongings.
"The media got involved. We released what we had, and somehow or another that was interpreted as the final plan," Cameron said. "But we never quit planning. We never quit looking for solutions that would be palatable to the community."
Cameron disagreed with the assertion that the county was backtracking on its initial plan to move the homeless to Russell Landing.
“It’s not changing plans if that was a plan of last resort," he said. "We were looking for other solutions in between. The plan was to find the solutions if they were there — and we did. We did that after we released what we had to the media. When you have total transparency with the media, stuff like this happens. But I would rather be seen as being totally transparent than to avoid these occasional situations where we have to deal with public perception that may not be correct.”
The county considered moving the homeless to other county-owned properties but they were discounted “for one reason or another,” according to Cameron. The plan to allow the homeless to remain at the library was developed late on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 5. Officials also contemplated collaborating with the Church on the Rock in Bunnell. However, after a meeting with Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson and Police Chief Tom Foster, it was determined that doing so would violate Bunnell’s city codes.
“This was late-developing," Cameron said. "And we put in the last pieces of the puzzle that we weren’t going to create some other kind of violation that we found in other places. And when we determined that we weren’t because we essentially maintained the status quo, then we decided to pull the trigger on this solution. But this was a late-developing solution — after you all got your original materials.”
Cameron also praised his staff. “They kept working toward a solution that didn’t create more problems than it solved,” he said.
Mullins posted a video update to Facebook, announcing the county’s latest plan.
“We have decided to leave [the homeless] where they are," he said. "This is in response to a lot of the people who were concerned on the west side. ... As I said earlier, we would not support that in District 4 — and not because we don’t want to help them. We do want them to get help. We do care about them. But those are issues way beyond being able to help out there.
"One important thing to remember from this is we will, from here on out, start talking and communicating better than this. This is not something that I’ll tolerate as your county commissioner, and it’s something that I want to see changed. And we are going to make sure that’s changed."