Ed Danko was elected to the Palm Coast City Council in November 2020 after a 40-year career in network TV news — an industry he now calls “fake” because it no longer distinguishes between fact and commentary. But when he says the term “fake news,” he said, “I’m not talking about the Observer. … You do an excellent job. You report facts; you don’t editorialize.”
“Our job is not to fact check or criticize. Our job is to report what so and so did. Here’s what happened in your world today, and we let the viewers make up their minds.”
ED DANKO, on the media's job
Danko agreed to a Facebook Live interview on the new video show and podcast, “Observations,” recently. In addition to the edited transcript below, you can watch the full interview on the Palm Coast Observer’s YouTube page, or at http://alturl.com/mgkkg.
Now that you’ve been a City Council member for five months, what surprises you about the job?
There’s quasi-judicial matters that I wasn’t fully aware of. Florida law gives property owners a lot of rights, and that’s something you have to deal with. We get a lot of complaints from people that Palm Coast is growing too fast, and that may be right, but if you own a piece of property, and you’re in the right zoning, and you want to build something on it, well, that’s your right.
Do you feel good about that? Should property rights get that much priority?
I’m in favor of property rights, but I want to make sure our growth is reasonable.
So there was something that came up last week, an apartment complex at the end of Pine Lakes. It was certainly within their right, but it was 300 units, so you’ve got to figure at least 600 cars. I raised the issue of, “Have we done an in-depth traffic study?” And apparently, we haven’t done it. I said, “Well, this is my district. I want to know the impact on Pine Lakes Parkway. … Before I can vote on this, I want a traffic study.” The rest of the council agreed with me, so they’re back doing a study.
We have to be responsible. I’m not opposed to growth — this is the land of opportunity. But if we can’t handle it, we then have to think a little bit more about what we’re doing.
In our Election Guide in October 2020, you said the city “has sent a loud and clear anti-business message.” You then said, “I will work hard to change that.” Now that you have more first-hand experience in City Hall, has your opinion changed?
We have to look at the sign ordinances on work vehicles. It’s a huge issue for businesses. Why are we ashamed of working people in this town? That’s what bothers me the most. Why should they have to cover a vehicle up — which looks worse to me than the vehicle?
When your A/C goes out, and that guy pulls into your driveway, with his signage, you’re happy to see him. So why aren’t you happy to have him live next door to you? That’s something I’m going to be pushing to change. It’s anti-American, as far as I’m concerned.
We don’t live in a country club. We live in a city that started out as a retirement community that has now developed into a working community. We want to attract industry here. So why would a business come here and set up shop and spend money if their employees couldn’t drive their trucks home?
Would you agree that there are a lot of workers who would struggle to afford living in Palm Coast?
Then you don’t live in Palm Coast.
When I started out, I commuted an hour to work until I could afford my first house. During that time, it wasn’t like, “Gee, this is unfair; I should have affordable housing right next to where I work.”
Couples work, and let's say they each make $50,000. That’s $100,000. If you can’t afford to live in Palm Coast, Florida, on $100,000 a year, you’re not managing your money correctly. You have to set your own priorities. If you want new cars every year, and you want to buy the widescreen TVs, then maybe you can’t afford it. But you have to set your priorities as a family. It's not up to us set that for people. This is America. You’ve got to make your own bed. This is a very affordable place to live, compared to other places.
I don’t buy this affordable housing argument at all. Right now, we’re seeing housing go up, so yes, all of a sudden we have a shortage. But that can flip. When all this government money dries up and landlords can toss people out on the street for not paying rent, we may see a big decline in the price of housing here, but it’s all out of market forces.
Another topic: Is it time to dissolve the Flagler Trump Club now that he lost the election?
Trump’s going to be back, and he is going to run in 2024.
Elections are won and lost on the economy. We were in a bad place because of the China virus. There, I said it: China virus.
We’re not going to moan about losing; we’re going to focus on the future. Most politicians start at a local level and they move up.
Do you have aspirations to move up?
Am I announcing that I am running for Congress today? Not today. When I do announce for Congress, you’ll be my first call.
Do I have other aspirations? Probably, but I don’t know where they’re going to lead me, as long as I have my health and my brain.
If I ever think your brain is starting to ... I’ll let you know.
And you might want to give Joe Biden a call while you’re at it, too.
In your campaign photo, you wore a Make America Great Again hat. Are you channeling Trump?
I support Trump — the policies. You’ve got to remember: Donald Trump came in here and took a terrible economy and drove unemployment down. He brought businesses back to America. What we are seeing in this administration is horrifying. First thing Biden does is kill the pipeline. How many jobs have been lost because of that?
I get the feeling that Trump’s willingness to divide and conquer, to bring out rage, as he said to Bob Woodward — Trump felt rage was an OK political tool. Does that carry down to local politics, and is that healthy for us?
I don’t think it’s rage. I think energizing your base is fine.
This attack comes a lot from liberal Democrats because they don’t like the policies that Donald Trump brought to the table.
What is your personal strategy for building a consensus on the City Council?
You have to present an intelligent argument.
Let’s talk about dredging. I believe we have about 22 miles of saltwater canals in Palm Coast. Dead center in those canals have gone from 12 feet to 3 feet, or 6 feet in some places. Now you have some larger boats that have to go in and out during high tides. These canals haven’t been dredged in 25 years. They need to be dredged, and it’s not going to be cheap — maybe $40 million. We have to plan for that now.
I brought this up yesterday (April 13), and no one else had given it any thought, and everyone (on the City Council) agreed that it was something we needed to look at. So that’s a way that you get your voice across.
Also, the public needs to be engaged. We saw that at Palm Harbor over the cell tower. We had 30-40 people show up, and the rest of the council got on board.
In 10 years, what are some ways that Palm Coast could be better than it is now? What’s your vision for the city?
I want to keep the quality of life that we have. We must have fire, we must have EMTs, we must have roads, your water must work. That’s a focus right there is maintaining. We’re going to spend more money to get more deputies, so we have to find places to cut. We need to tighten our belts. I want to offer an incentive to our city workers to come up with a way to save money.
In this pandemic, every single worker was deemed essential. In corporate America, or small businesses, every worker was not deemed essential. This is a government thing, and you start thinking that you’re protected.
Is the city staff too big?
The city staff could be too big. One thing I’ve learned during my career: You cut staff, people work harder; they get more done. I’m not saying we have to cut staff, but no one ever suggests we need to cut staff. We seem to keep growing it and growing it. Government runs differently than businesses run, and we need to start thinking more like a business. I am impressed that City Manager Matt Morton is thinking more like that.
We are not a country club.
As we’re discussing this [racquet center facility] — before we do that, why not prioritize? Let’s have the public decide. The public’s opinion is vital.
On code enforcement, I would be in favor of forming a citizen committee where each council person and the mayor gets one resident to look over all of our codes and get back to us.