Palm Coast now has one of the most diverse city council in the city’s history.
Theresa Carli Pontieri of District 2 and Cathy Heighter of District 4 were sworn in to the Palm Coast City Council at the Tuesday Dec. 6 business meeting. The council also elected Councilman Ed Danko as Palm Coast’s new vice mayor.
With the swearing in of Pontieri and Heighter, this is the first time two women have served on the city council at the same time. Heighter is also the first female black woman to serve on the city council. Heighter, who said she is the first person in her family to hold an elected office, said she is very proud and excited.
"I'm looking at this moment today as a historical moment for myself and for my family," Heighter said. "I'm kind of feeling like I made history today, and I'm looking forward to serve in this city."
"I'm kind of feeling like I made history today, and I'm looking forward to serve in this city." — Councilwomen Cathy Heighter
City Clerk Virginia Smith administered the oaths for both women. Heighter won 54.42% of the vote in District 4 and Pontieri won 67.77% in District 2 in the November election. Pontieri said she's been meeting with the staff and absorbing all the information she can.
"I'm ready to get to work," she said. "It's been a long time, long road a lot of work and so I'm ready to just get started with the job."
Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin said this is "one of the most diverse councils" in the city's history. The diversity at the city council level will allow for a broader variety of opinions to be brought forward, he said, and the council will be able to consider all of them before making decisions.
"Whether they're agreeable or disagreeable," Alfin said, "we don't want to miss any of our residents sentiments."
The Dec. 6 meeting marked the end of former Councilman John Fanelli and former Vice Mayor Eddie Branquinho's terms. Branquinho was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting, and had his farewell at the Nov. 15 meeting. Branquinho was elected in 2018 for District 4 and served as vice mayor since 2021.
Fanelli finished his 5-month tenure as an interim council member for the District 2. In his farewell remarks, Fanelli thanked his family for supporting him, the council members he served with and the residents of Palm Coast for accepting him.
Fanelli received a standing ovation as he left the dais for the last time.
After the induction of its new members, the city council elected a new vice mayor. Councilman Nick Klufas nominated Danko for the position, and Pontieri and Heighter both individually nominated Klufas. Klufas served as vice mayor from 2019 to 2020 but turned down the nomination on Tuesday.
"I think it'd be a good faith effort to continue on with restoring the original intent behind [it]," Klufas said. "Vice mayor has been a rotating title, and I feel confident that Council Member Danko at this point is able to fulfill those duties."
Danko accepted his nomination and was unanimously elected to the position.
The new council also chose their liaison positions to local organizations. Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin maintained his positions on the Flagler Schools Oversight Committee and the River to Sea Transportation Planing Organization. Klufas maintained the Flagler County Tourism Development Council, while Danko requested to take on the St. Johns Water Management District.
Pontieri will serve on both the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the Flagler Schools Oversight Committee, while Heighter takes on the Stewart Marchman Center and the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. The SMA board will need to approve Heighter's appointment.