Linda Provencher, Flagler Beach’s longest-serving mayor in the city’s near-century-long history, became the ex-mayor around 5:30 this afternoon, and finally got her wish, after hounding Police Chief Matt Doughney for it for years: she got her taser gun as a parting gift, albeit a decommissioned one, fixed to a plaque. It was a far better gift from Doughney and Commissioner Eric Cooley than a Big Mouth Billy Bass, though it stole the show: Mayor Suzie Johnston was sworn in, and freshly re-elected Colley won his second election in nine days, to the commission chairmanship, by one vote.
But no one would begrudge Provencher for stealing a show she’d helped defined for an unprecedented 15 years between her service as a commissioner and a mayor. She’d championed her city, leading environmental and humanitarian drives, giving children their first town halls, burnishing the city’s tourism opportunities with fresh ideas (remember last Christmas’s city lights?) and all the while showed other politicians how to combine outspoken and bold leadership with class and courtesy: never a boor, Provencher was nevertheless never a bore, either. She was a populist without sap, as immersed in governance as she was in the necessary ceremonies of the job. All in for the city, she was not interested in power for its own sake, let alone as a tool for attention: in nine years as mayor she threatened to veto a measure only once–remember the bonfires?–and never exercised it. Her counsel was enough to command the ear of the many commissioners she worked with.
“Linda has done this this whole time, never asking for anything, and you all know it wasn’t for the money,” Cooley, one of her one-time proteges, said.
When Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said she would be missed, he was likely speaking for a large majority of the commission and the city that had elected Provencher every time she ran. She never lost an election. But she had, apparently, asked for something, Cooley said: that taser.
“Carla [Cline] and I had started Flagler Beach All Stars a while back to do beach clean-ups monthly,” Provencher said, “and I told the chief, if I had a taser I bet I could stop the litter problem. You see people littering, you just say pick it up, or you’re going to be tased.”
Obviously Doughney denied her year after year, until this evening. “Linda P. is committed to the city of Flagler Beach, from the get-go, always has been always will be,” the chief said, using Provencher’s most common appellation among those she works with and presenting her with the taser. “There’s been numerous requests for this taser in the last seven and a half years, and they’ve all been denied, and I’ve used a lot of de-escalation techniques to keep her [at bay], so this is one of our Flagler Beach decommissioned tasers. It doesn’t work.” Provencher disappointed. “Just something to have on your wall so you can remember not only the good times we’ve had but the good times you’ll have in the future.”
Provencher had quickly left the dais at the beginning of the special meeting this evening, the traditional meeting scheduled after an election when new commissioners are sworn in and committee assignments are redistributed. She’d sat in the back of the room for the first time in nearly a decade, Johnston sitting in the seat she’d occupied all that time, signing papers as Penny Overstreet, the city clerk handed them to her.
The organization of the commission entailed electing a new chair, a position Jane Mealy had been holding for the past year, as she’d done periodically in her own historically long tenure on the commission: she was first elected in 2006, the first time Provencher had been elected, but unlike Provencher, never took a break, and like Provencher, never lost an election, though she’s often run unopposed.
Cooley and Belhumeur both were vyi8ng for the chairmanship. Belhumeur had already had a stint at the helm. “This may be my last chance as this may be my last year,” Belhumeur said candidly: he’s up for re-election in March 2022, as is Mealy. Neither has announced a run, though both said they were leaning that way. Commissioner Ken Bryan nominated Belhumeur. Commissioner Deborah Philips nominated Cooley. It came down to Mealy’s tie-breaking vote: she opted for Cooley, who got the chairmanship, 3-2, then promptly nominated Blehumeur voce-chairman. Belhumeur got that title in a unanimous vote.
Commissioners had spent some time debating what the chair’s role should be: the late Larry Newsom, the city manager, had somehow amplified the role with more responsibilities, which made Mealy uncomfortable: she didn’t want to know things other commissioners did not, and often felt as if her recast role as chair put her in that position. But commissioners decided to wait until the new manager, William Whitson, is in the job in May before redefining the chair’s job description. Previously, it had amounted to little more than leading the meetings and signing more documents than other commissioners, with the exception of the mayor.
Commissioners then parceled out committee assignments among themselves, though several committees were either defunct or hadn’t met in a while–or hadn’t bothered contacting Flagler Beach to let the city’s representative know about meetings. That’s been the case with the Public Safety Coordinating Council, on which Bryan was a representative. When a commissioner asked Bryan when the council had last met, he said: “I have no idea.” He said he’d “never been invited to any meetings at all.” He’s not the only one.
Only then were sum-ups of eras ending and eras starting spoken by the commissioners, with a few officials in the audience: County Judge Andrea Totten (who did not, this time, administer the oath: City Attorney Drew Smith did. Totten was there as a friend of the Johnston family), Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson, and of course Suzanne Johnston, the tax collector, mother of Suzie.
“Thank you, Linda, for the last years of service here for Flagler Beach,” Suzie Johnston said, “as well as taking me under your wings, teaching me the ropes here and helping me along with the election. I’m looking forward to stepping in your footsteps.” Johnston’s personality is not far distant from Provencher’s.
The commission also proclaimed March 11, 2021 a Day of Recognition for Provencher, and she received from the staff a photo book prepared by Jeanelle Jarrah and Overstreet, the deputy city clerk and the clerk.
“I’m leaving the city in great hands,” Provencher said. “Suzie is going to be an amazing mayor, and you know I’m only a phone call away, or sometimes I’ll call you: former Mayor [Alice] Baker still calls me. But good luck to all of you, and thank you so much for everything.” Provencher got the second of her standing ovations tonight.
Then it was on to the regular business of the day as the commission reconvened for its bi-monthly meeting, and Johnston in her first official acts as mayor read the two proclamations of the day: recognizing government finance professionals, who in this case consisted of the city’s four finance department employees, and a proclamation for Equal Pay Day, on the wage gap between men’s pay and women’s, a day still awaiting its realization.
The commission was still in session at close to 9 p.m.