Flagler Beach

Ex-City Commissioner Accuses Flagler Beach of Misspending


FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. - Former Flagler Beach City Commissioner Ken Bryan brought scrutiny to the city government on Thursday, when he accused City Manager Dale Martin of misspending tax dollars on the city's New Year's Eve firework celebration. The particular aspect Bryan honed in on was a decorative surfboard which the city purchased from a local business.

Bryan cited a cost of over $6,000 for the surfboard, calling the price tag extravagant spending when compared to the cost of an ordinary board. He said the city was exhibiting a "pattern of questionable spending" by buying it, and implored why the purchase wasn't put through a bidding process. Furthermore, he wondered aloud why the money spend on the board wasn't being diverted to infrastructure and roadway repair needs.

The surfboard in question.
The surfboard in question.

In purchasing the board, Martin was not required to solicit bids per statutes in the city code. Though the price tag fell between the marks of $5,000 and $19,999 which typically means a bidding process is mandated, Martin contends the board met an exception as a single-source item. In other words, since only one vendor in Flagler Beach could make the board, Martin was authorized to make the purchase unilaterally. Martin also argued that as a one-time purchase with potentially several years of usage, it justified itself as a quality-of-life amenity. "It's fair game for any residents question what we do," Martin said. "Nonetheless, I stand by that decision."

Bryan still thought it should've been put to a bidding process. "It's the discretion of the City Manager to be able to spend that much money, but in my opinion that's still something that should be competed out," he said.

Mayor Suzie Johnston also replied to Bryan, more pointedly so than any of her colleagues. At the meeting she accused Bryan of presenting his own opinions as fact, and of citing less-than-useful hearsay from county personnel. Indeed, Bryan claimed a member of the Flagler County Commission had derided the surfboard purchase, but he did not specify which commissioner. Johnston also contended that the New Year's Eve celebration brought value to the city in its tourism draw, a claim which Bryan disputed. "I believe Ken Bryan was grandstanding at the podium," Johnston said.

Responding to Johnston's tourism argument after the discussion, Bryan contended that too few businesses were open during the celebration for it to be a significant boost to the local economy. "There were multiple businesses that had New Year's Eve parties while it was going on," Johnston shot back the next morning. "Did he miss that?"

Debbie Phillips, a fellow ex-commissioner who's a partner at Uncork'd Wine Bar, weighed in on this angle. "While we have been open [on] past New Year's Eves, nothing compared to the amount of people that were at our establishment [in December]," Phillips said. "Whatever money was spent was well worth it. People are still talking about it." As enthusiastic as Phillips and other residents were about the show, Bryan wasn't seeing it. "Families started leaving because their kids were getting bored," he recounted.

Bryan and Johnston, seen here in 2021 during Bryan’s tenure, previously clashed over the application for a tourism development grant.
Bryan and Johnston, seen here in 2021 during Bryan’s tenure, previously clashed over the application for a tourism development grant.

Bryan stood staunchly on the other side of the issue from both Phillips and Johnston as well as the other commissioners. He still maintained that the aggregate economic benefit of the show did not justify costs like the surfboard. Flagler County Tourism Development Director Amy Lukasik agreed that firework-based celebrations like this one aren't stimulants of tourism, but she didn't entirely write off its impact with residents. "It's done for locals," she said. "The purpose of using the tourism development taxes to bring people here." She described the Tourism Development Council ending its practice of giving grants to firework shows as a result.

Commission Chair Eric Cooley disputed Bryan's point that the money put toward the surfboard could've easily been used for other purposes. He made the argument, as municipalities often find themselves having to do, that money set aside for quality of life and amenities is not necessarily done so at the expense of infrastructure. He himself is up for re-election in March, meaning the city's fiscal principles will scrutinized as much as ever.