County Debates – Clear Victories for Ellis, Ivey, Blickley
By Keith Malone // May 25, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY • VIERA, FLORIDA – Deep-seated personal animousity flared during a heated political debate between Brevard County Clerk of Court candidates Mitch Needelman, who’s currently in office – and his challenger Scott Ellis, the clerk who served before him and who claimed a clear debating victory on Thursday night, May 24.
This was a tasty dish served up for the 500 people or so who filled the Viera Holiday Inn Conference Center to listen to a total of three political debates, held for Brevard’s leading county constitutional officer posts.
‘God Help Us’
The event was sponsored by the Brevard County Conservative Coalition – comprising Brevard 912, Republican Liberty Caucus of East Central Florida and the Space Coast Patriots.
“God help us to get it right,” was the opening salutation and prayer led by Pastor Charles Roland, of Ocean Side Community Church in Satellite Beach, who also led the Pledge of Allegiance.
“We have drifted from the political and spiritual foundations set by our forefathers,’ he said.
The Needelman-Ellis encounter was the last and main contest on the bill. Money management, leadership style and contracting procedures were among the contentious issues debated.
If you go by the straw poll conducted on the night, Ellis knocked the incumbent to the canvas with some heavyweight argument. Ellis won by 387 votes to Needelman’s total of just 93.
The second debate between Brevard County Sheriff candidates Wayne Ivey and Todd Maddox was won by Ivey, with a clear majority of more than 100 votes. Incumbent Jack Parker is retiring after two terms.
The debate that kicked off this keenly-anticipated public session in Viera was between Property Appraiser candidates Jason Steele and Dana Blickley, both challenging the incumbent Jim Ford.
Steele was absent due to a family crisis, his place taken by fiancee Lori Halbert. But she was also having difficulty on the night due to her recovery from recent major surgery. Halbert had to remain seated throughout the debate, which Blickley won with a massive majority of nearly 200 votes in the straw poll.
So back to the Needelman-Ellis encounter. At issue were disputes between the two men regarding Needelman’s claim of a $2.6 million deficit when he entered office after Ellis’ previous tenure; Ellis’ claim of new layers of unneeded bureaucracy under Needelman’s watch – and a disagreement regarding appropriate contracting procedures.
The personal animosity was all pervading as the two candidates exchanged verbal blows during their 50-minute debate.
Needelman began by claiming Ellis had previously quit the post with two years left on his term as “he had no choice because he had no answers” over budget shortfalls.
He also accused Ellis of “making things up” in a discussion about no-bid contracts.
But Ellis countered by saying the current clerk’s office was “an absolute disaster” and that employees were only doing their jobs because they were “scared” of Needelman.
In defence of his time in the Clerk’s office, Needelman said he’d accomplished the people’s goals of smaller government and lower taxes and that his office was now “running in the black.”
Claims and Counter Claims
But Ellis hit back, claiming many current employees of the office were “temporary labor” and there was a lack of work ethic because people were “just passing through with no hope of being badged.”
Ellis said his top priorities upon election would be to remove “the extra layer” of management hired by Needelman, to rescind recent pay raises because of state mandates against them – and to turn outsourced employees into regular employees.
Needelman defended by saying he would continue to reduce the budget and to modernize the clerk’s office through a major digitizing effort.
Throughout the debate, Ellis said that Needelman could not claim he’d achieved budget savings when that money was being used to hire more managers and grant pay raises.
Needelman countered by saying his was a successful policy to “re-invest” in employees, so the Clerk’s office could compete with the private sector for quality workers.
The public had the last word – proclaiming Ellis their man by giving him a massive majority of 294 votes.
The efficient and smoothly-run straw poll was conducted by the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections with electronic voting machines, supervised on the night by officer Shirley Kennedy.
The debate for Brevard County Sheriff replacing Jack Parker saw two candidates coming up against each other, both with huge experience in law enforcement – but Ivey clearly has the upperhand in this long-term battle as he has Parker’s endorsement.
Maddox, 22 years with the Brevard Sheriff’s office and ten of those with the SWAT team, pledged he would cut the budget by 5% initially and by 10% over four years. “I know it can be done because I’m there,” he declared.
He cited examples of “shutting down hot-shower time” for inmates and stopping their water-wasting habit of washing clothes in the toilet through multiple flushing – as ways of saving money.
Plus he pledged a major budget audit, to stop the practice of “double dipping” by retirees and to oppose the construction of a new $4m sheriff’s building earmarked for Titusville.
Ivey stated that “keeping the people safe” was his first and foremost priority – and he was also determined to achieve a reduction in the crime rate, which he said had risen by 11.7% in the last year.
Ivey supported an audit and would consider innovative cost-saving measures. But he would maintain deputy numbers and achieve a better balance of deputies around the county, with equal performance in north, south and central Brevard.
Concluding, Ivey accepted both he and Maddox had huge and laudable experience as law enforcers, but what separated them was his ability to be a successful and visionary community leader.
The public backed Ivey, giving him 310 votes in the straw poll, compared to the 205 votes cast in favour of Maddox.
Change of Culture Needed
In the debate for the position of Public Appraiser, Dana Blickley made her case by highlighting her 20 years’ experience of working in property tax administration.
Blickley said she’d make immediate savings by cutting out several layers of administration and “frivolous expenditure.”
She said many current salaries were too high and “not commensurate’ with the ability of the people doing those jobs.
The biggest challenge for the new regime in 2013 she concluded, would be to bring about “a change of culture” in the Clerk’s Department, to properly assess all of Brevard’s properties and to achieve better financial accounting and transparency.
Jason Steele is Blickley’s rival in challenging the incumbent Jim Ford, who also did not attend. Steele’s enforced absence was covered on the debating stage by his fiancee Lori Halbert, who emphasized Steele’s 40 years’ experience in real estate.
“No one is more qualified to do this job than Jason,” she said.
She accused the current regime of pursuing frivolous lawsuits with outside counsel and said Steele would rapidly “remove the politics” from the Property Appraiser’s office.
Brevard had been made to “look like a derelict county,” she said.
She also stated that Steele would ensure staff were “better instructed in customer service.” She claimed there were many instances where staff had been “rude and uinkind.”
Clock Winders or Watch Makers?
“Do you want watch makers or clock winders,” she said was the question people should be asking themselves when they go to vote to put the next person in office.
In the straw poll held in the room next to the conference chamber, the public backed Dana Blickley to be that next person in office, above Steele, by 339 votes to 152.
Note From This Writer:
As a news broadcaster and reporter from the United Kingdom these past 30 years, I am struck by the genuine enthusiasm and backing for the grass roots political system here in the United States – and for the sense of fairplay exhibited by the people listening to the candidates at the debates I witnessed Thursday night in Viera.
This was a leading hotel conference venue in Brevard filled to capacity by conservative activists and the public, who came to support and listen to the people on stage – and who cheered and applauded them loudly, but not to the detriment of their rivals.
As opposed to the UK, where there is often a general apathy and ignorance at this local level of politics, people who attended Thursday night were well informed on the issues and genuinely concerned the best candidate should be elected to serve them in these important posts, specially that of County Sheriff.
I have been struck by a much stronger law enforcement presence on the roads of Brevard than in my home county of Hampshire in southern England – and I find folks here have a more respectful and supportive attitude towards their law enforcers.
That may be because there is a greater incidence of violent crime over here – but nevertheless we, in the UK, can and should learn from the people of Brevard.
My sincere thanks to long-term Brevard political blogger Charles Parker, an English teacher at Merritt Island High School, who will also be teaching a new course in journalism there after the summer break.
Charles gave me invaluable assistance in understanding and reporting some of the proceedings and filling in the gaps in my local knowledge of the candidates. Hats off to you, Charles – your students are in safe hands! Thank you once again.
Thanks for your well written and accurate account of last night’s debate.
I was there and I thought Ellis came across as somewhat of a loon. I’ve always supported him but I’m still not certain why he resigned, left town and came back to run.
I like Needleman’s outsourcing and saving tax dollars. We need more of that type of conservative Republican thinking.
I went in for Scott but now I’m for Needleman.
Decent enough, but I feel the coverage of the Sheriff debate is a bit one sided. The low points of Maddox’s answers are reported and the high points of Ivey’s answers are shared. These were answers that Maddox gave to directly answer a question honestly about these exact topics, which Ivey would not do. The shower idea, audit, and double dipping were not Maddox’s key points, they were direct answers to the questions asked to both candidates. When Maddox answered the question about something, Ivey would just avoid the question and say he wanted to prevent crime. This after sternly saying “I do not pander!” All I have ever heard Ivey say are buzz words such as “innovative” and “crime prevention” for just about every topic and not give real answers or examples. Your synopsis sounds like Maddox came and just wanted to talk about showers and Ivey wanted to prevent crime but Maddox thought showers were more important. That’s a bit irresponsible. Ivey was clearly the more groomed and polished speaker, but so is Obama.
A good overview, but still an overview and not a completely accurate depiction of what actually happened. Dana Blickley won because she had no challenger. This was not a true debate since Jason Steele could not “debate” the questions and, although she did a decent job, his fiance was unable to properly answer important questions posed to them both. Mr. Ivey is a politician, clearly prepped for the occasion and having brought enough backers to win the straw pole vote. this was obvious since seating for the second debate had to be expanded by adding chairs and the number of empty seats for the third debate. Also, if you look at the total of votes you can see that there were obviously people that only voted in the sheriff’s pole and not the others. Mr. Ivey did not give specific answers, Mr. Maddox did. Mr. Ivey is a politician and gave political answers, Mr. Maddox is a police officer and spoke with the knowledge of someone who is currently employed as a policeman and has current knowledge of what is going on in Brevard County and the police department. I do not want a chief of police that is concerned with representing me to other governmental agencies, I want someone who is busy at protecting me and my property. Mr. Ivey, although he answered almost every question with the fact he wanted to do that, gave me the impression he wanted to be a figurehead and leave the police work to others while he did public relations. Mr. Maddox was passionate in his answers and continually pointed out areas of fiscal irresponsibility from the current administration. Mr. Ivey would clearly be an extension of Mr. Parker. Mr. Ivey might have the support of Mr. Parker, but I hope and pray that Mr. Maddox has the support of “the people.”
I agree with 100% with Quincy. Plus your statement of Ivey being the clear winner should have been followed with the statement that Wayne Ivey had a free food & drink event before his debate so of course they voted for Ivey. It’s a shame these people didn’t think it was important enough to come in for the other two debates. Todd Maddox is a great candidate and a man for the people. Wayne Ivey is pure politician all the way. Folks better do some research and understand who really is the better candidate.
“New residents of Brevard told me they learned a lot. They each had impression that Todd Maddox ‘won’ the debate as they thought he sounded honest, down to earth, and with the experience necessary. Each one of these new voters mentioned that Mr. Ivey sounded like a bureaucrat and thought his use of wanting to “keep us safe” was overdone. As if Mr. Maddox does NOT want to keep us safe!!!!
As for Dana Blickley winning because Jason was not there. May I remind Vivian that Dana won by a landslide at the Brevard Federated Republican womens’ luncheon as well as at other events she has debated that man. Seems odd to me that Jason could NOT make Thurs. evening debate but could be on the early show with Mick next morning. On that show, he offered no solutions. Only dwelling on smear tactics for a very competent, honest, capable woman. Majority agree that Scott Ellis needs to get back into Clerks office to clean restore it to its full potential.
As someone who has never seen these two people debate, I was only going by what I saw and heard this time. I was not at the Brevard Federated Republican women’s luncheon and had no knowledge of any other debate between Dana Blickley and Jason Steele. I did not hear Bill Mick’s show on Friday morning and didn’t hear that interview. I am a voter who is looking for information on which to base my decision. I stand corrected and will certainly keep in mind that unless I have all the facts I should never voice my opinion. I’m sure that everyone else at the meeting was aware that, apparently, Dana Blickley is the best choice here. I apologize for any statement I made that disparaged Ms. Blickley or any of her supporters.
Received a call from a dear friend in Merritt Island 20 minutes ago and she said the difference between Mr. Ivey and Todd Maddox is a “politician” who has filp flopped on the $4 million building in North Brevard, which is Ivey and Maddox, who is an intelligent, honest, experienced man who knows every facet of the Sheriffs’ department, and is admired by the majority of Staff in that large dept.
Wayne Ivey offered his attendees free food and drink BEFORE they came to the debate. Why would they not vote for him? Many voted ONLY for that one race! Many of them are related to some of the double dippers.Maddox voters played by the rules, as he will do after he is elected sheriff.
I like that Mr. Maddox cited specific areas of cost reduction. I also like that he knows this community very well. While it may seem trivial, it is the simple things that cost us the most in taxes. He obviously pays attention to specifics. He has my vote. Mr. Ivey speaks very well and has a respectable background. However, if you are educated enough you can spot fluff a mile away.
Mrs. Blickley did a great job, but I don’t know if taking the debate while the other candidate had a family emergency was a wise choice. I worried about compassion on her part. I am still undecided on this one.
As far as the clerk’s debate goes I left early. They are just stressful to watch. I didn’t like the flyer that Needleman’s team put out full of negative things about Ellis. How about you tell me your strengths first? It is troubling that they, and their supporters, are so volatile. How will anything get done with all those hot heads?
I enjoyed the debates. I learned a lot about other candidates but was truly there in support of Scott Ellis. I’m a little surprised that there hasn’t even been a bleep about what transpired after the debates were over however.
While we were waiting on results from the straw poll, In an act of pure desperation, a Mitch Needelman supporter who had received a $10,000.00 raise under Needelman, sent his son over to a group of Scott Ellis supporters. One of the women in the group told the 15 yo that he shouldn’t be doing that and to head on back to his group.
Next thing you know, his father comes running over and gets in the woman’s face for telling his son to go back to his seat as no one tells his son what to do. Screaming in her face, the man appeared to be drunk or on drugs as he was totally out of control. A BIG man screaming in a normal sized woman’s face.
A gentleman stepped in and told the Needelman employee that the woman had asked him to leave (she had) and for hm to stand down. It was getting pretty ugly, I’m going to say there were about 25 people involved, with 23 of them asking the clerks employee to just go back to his seat. A red haired man, grabbed my arm and tried to pull me out of the way as he was trying to get to the clerks employee, I believe to calm him down which is why I let it pass.
No one touched the clerks employee but the next thing you know, he is yelling for someone to call the police as he had been assaulted. Again though, there were about 25 people jostling around in the group but never did the gentleman touch the clerks employee. I don’t know the gentleman who stepped in to defend the woman but I found out later what his name was because I was had to write an affidavit stating what I saw as the clerks employee insisted that he had been assaulted and that the police needed to be called.
He also couldn’t call the police himself for some reason, so he kept yelling for someone else to call 911. I don’t lie for anyone. I don’t tolerate people who lie, and to see this clerks employee flat out lie and tell the responding deputy that the gentleman had placed his hands on his chest and forcibly shoved him?
No way, I wasn’t going to stick around to write an affidavit regarding the incident. Which brings to mind, why did this parent allow his 15-year-old son to go over to a group of people who had opposing views and start questioning them? Was it a set up? Was he looking for a fight?
What kind of desperation must you be experiencing to be an older, rather large man to put yourself and your child into a position where you’re just looking for a fight with just anyone?
As I pondered the situation late into the night, the old adage came to mind, that it is so true that the bigger you are, the harder you fall. This clerks employee received a huge raise and a nice promotion. I’m guessing he is willing to do pretty much anything to keep that huge raise and nice promotion.
Dude, it’s only money. Where is your self-respect? What kind of message are you sending your 15 yo kid when you act like that? Your child was projecting a bullying message. I’m guessing he learned it from you?
I saw you and your wife throwing the F-bomb at a group of people including the deputies that responded, like there was no tomorrow. I was embarrassed for you and your family.
And if you think you did Needelman any favors with your actions? Think again.
Thank you Brenda, for filling in the ‘commotion’ at the end of such a worthwhile and successful evening of information. Such a shame to think folks running for office can have ‘friends’, co-workers, who are willing to lie and disrespect all the great patriots who sponsored a community event, which was supposed to be instructive for those who do not know the candidates running.
As to Dana debating without having her opponent there: That was NOT her choice to make. Every candidate were sent ‘rules’ of engagement, and if they could not be there, they had to find a replacement. Obviously, Jasons’ girl friend was his best replacement. If she could not have done it, he would have had to find someone else. Lori did the best job she could, as she has personally endured the prop. appraisers scorn and lack of professionalism. .
It was difficult for me to believe that the very next morning, on the early radio show, Jason was on air and allowed to attempt to nail Dana to the cross over a petty disagreement that occured years ago. He did nothing to bolster potential voters as to why he would make the better choice to fill the much needed void we have now in the prop. appraisers’ office. Such a shame he wasted his air time to throw mud rather than sticking to the high ground of articulating the current issues. I also blame the radio host for not giving him the ‘tazer’ which host enjoys giving others who call into his show. Most of us recognize ‘double standard’ when it happens.
Running for office is not for ‘sissies’ but it is truly sad when folks forget their morals and common courtesy to cause discourse. One of my neighbors, told me the only thing she heard on a local news channel after the debate was the fact that the sheriffs’ dept was called in because of an altercation.
How sad! Where were the media during the debates, which were truly worthwhile???