The Man Still Has A Plan

Time flies when you’re having fun. Whether that holds true for David Alfin isn’t immediately clear, but his first two years in office have certainly flown by. It was almost two years ago that Alfin was elected mayor in a special election and about 14 months ago that he gave his first interview for Palm Coast magazine.
The above headline refers to the original one from our October 2021 issue, when we wrote “David Alfin: A Man With A Plan.” In speaking to Alfin again, it becomes clear the plan is still intact…just a bit further along, and arguably closer to completion.
In actuality it has been a while since Alfin was sworn in. This summer marks two years since he assumed the role, after beating five other candidates for the privilege of finishing the term of recently-resigned Milissa Holland.
Not only does that feel like just yesterday, but the approaching end of Alfin’s first term is quickly arriving as well. He’s set to receive a job evaluation from his employers, the city electorate, when he reappears on the ballot in late 2024.
It’s reasonable to assume that, given Alfin has only served a partial term due to Holland starting it off, that he’d be at less of an advantage come Election Day compared to other incumbents. Voters want results if they’re going to entrust their elected officials with another term, and Alfin won’t have had this full luxury when he asks the voters to keep him up on the dais. On top of that, he’ll be facing opponents who’ll likely claim he hasn’t done enough. It’s reasonable to assume that, in the absence of four full years, their claim would be closer to the truth merely based on the circumstances of Alfin’s election. But he doesn’t seem to see it that way.
“The adoption of the U.S.S. Gerald Ford as our sister ship would probably be at the top of my list [of achievements],” Alfin said when we spoke to him in late May. “Number two would probably be the introduction of gig-speed fiber optic cable at no cost whatsoever to the residents of the city of Palm Coast.”
The first of these is a grand, if largely ceremonial, accomplishment. It brings the city prestige at a time when more people than ever are looking to it as a place to wind down, or even to embark on their careers. It further cements Palm Coast as a retirement destination for veterans — the city already holds an extremely well-attended Memorial Day ceremony annually which is never short on local heritage to uplift.
The second of these is the kind of initiative Palm Coast residents really notice. The quality of residents’ internet and mobile connections never seems to fade from the zeitgeist of Palm Coast’s modern political era. Indeed, bringing MetroNet to only its second client city in the state of Florida is the kind of thing resumes are built on. The initiative was announced with great fanfare, and work has gotten underway quickly and efficiently in the months thereafter.

Anthropocene Reviewed

Also on Alfin’s list was an issue that was much more present in the discourse of local politics this time two years ago: decorum. The final months of Holland’s tenure were defined by anger and vitriol over even the most mundane topics (pickleball anyone?) both from the general public and City Council.
Shouting matches were not at all uncommon back then, with a Council often described as ‘four alpha males’ flanking then-Mayor Holland with their priorities set more on performance than governance. While things still can get testy under Alfin, it’s fair to say that his brand of mediation has resulted in markedly less flare-ups, even from the Council’s fieriest members.
“I think that we are able to review our projects on a much more qualitative basis than has ever been done in the past,” he said. Fair point.
All this to say, Alfin is building a noteworthy list of achievements to carry into election season next year. The vibe surrounding the mayor is considerably transformed since our previous interview. Then, his confidence stemmed from optimistic speculation, a feeling that in the face of great trials he could steer the City of Palm Coast through to success. Now, he speaks as a man who has accomplished a great deal of what he set out to do all those months ago. Alfin is no longer just a man with a plan, he’s a man with a track record.
Don’t get it twisted though — Alfin isn’t overly occupied by the triumphs of the past two years. He’s still oriented starkly toward the future, perhaps surprisingly so. For a man who has no guarantee that he will stay in his job for more than 18 more months, he has lofty goals in both the near and distant future.

Moving West

“The original ITT template called for 40,000 acres of property,” Alfin said early in his interview. “The city also has an additional 40,000 acres which are within the city limits, and currently reside on the west side of the FEC railroad tracks. We have the land in order to master plan and grow, that’s number one.”
It’s impossible to deny at this point that westward expansion is an inevitable tenet of Palm Coast’s future, whether original residents like it or not. But where Palm Coast’s status as the 18th-fastest growing city in the United States may be alarming to some, Mayor Alfin hopes that he can convey a plan for tempered and smart growth to his residents as all of it takes place.
“We will work with the wetlands and with the low-lying areas the way they are currently configured,” he continued. “This acreage is already within the city limits, it’s not to be annexed or coming soon. It’s been a part of the city since the beginning.”
Those still hoping to retain a small-town feel in Palm Coast would be well advised to make inferences from the level of specificity in Alfin’s plans. We’re way past whether the city will grow. It’s growing already, it’s only going to grow faster, and to continue living in Palm Coast is likely going to mean accepting that it’s no longer going to be the city it was 20 years ago.
Perhaps the most visible face of Palm Coast’s growth is its traffic. It’s a regularity to see afternoon congestion back from Old Kings Road halfway to the I-95 overpass on State Road 100. Northbound Belle Terre Parkway can sometimes feel more like a lemming race than a leisurely arterial road. Not only is all this one of the most irritating symptoms of population growth, it’s also one of the hardest to effectively address. Still, Alfin has ideas.
“An initiative I’m going to try and put into place is, I’m going to ask several insurance providers if they would be willing to offer a stipend to our older residents to teach courses in defensive driving,” he said. “I need to make our residents more situationally aware when they’re driving. Because I think if everybody pays more attention to their driving and to the speed limit, you’ll find that the traffic lights are timed, and the flow of traffic will be much improved.”
Alfin says he’s run this idea by Sheriff Rick Staly, whose deputies grapple with the realities of excessive traffic day in and day out. The concept is rooted in one of the core principles of Alfin’s leadership philosophy: collaboration. To relieve the pressure on Palm Coast’s roads will require massive ingenuity and cooperation from multiple departments and businesses in both the public and private sector. Residents’ quality of life hangs in the balance.
Also part of the solution is Alfin’s own connections in the state government. “For the first time in the history of the city of Palm Coast,” he says, “we have a representative on the Executive Board of the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), which is the organization that helps to prioritize the [Department of Transportation] projects. That liaison would be me. I’m the second Vice Chair of the TPO, so I have the ability now to help prioritize the agenda for DOT projects for the future.”
Already, Old Kings Road is likely to see an expansion from two lanes to four according to wisdom gained from Alfin’s TPO membership, a move which will allow one of the city’s most congested roads to breathe a little easier.

Passing the Baton

While the collaborative process to renew Palm Coast’s road infrastructure may come naturally to Alfin, he made a point in our interview to recognize that he’s starting to see methods of teamwork that seem to elude him. He looks at the way the City Council works, him acting as a Chair to delegate speaking time and foster compromise between his colleagues to achieve city goals, and sees something entirely irreconcilable to a growing reality in his own family. “When I watch my daughter, Melanie, it’s frustrating to me.”
The aforementioned Melanie DiMartino is a budding business professional in her own right, quickly building a substantial resume entirely independent of her father’s shadow. “I do not understand how she collaborates, works together with others, sets her priorities. It’s different than the way I was trained. But it doesn’t really matter how I feel about that, because her way is the future. [That] way is the way it’s going to be, not my way.”
Alfin’s optimism for the new school of business is something he says he brings with him to City Council meetings. Among his fellow Council members are Nick Klufas, a 35 year-old software engineer, and Theresa Carli Pontieri, a 38 year-old attorney. The relative youth surrounding Alfin brings with them decidedly 21st century styles of public policy, forcing him to adapt his own ways to work with his colleagues as best he can. “Having a younger and somewhat more diverse City Council affords this broader vision of the future,” he said. “We feel an obligation to not only think about today’s quality of life, not pander to today’s residents, but I believe we have an obligation to the next several generations.”
To that end, Alfin explains his priorities based on their importance not just to this group of city residents, but to those who will live here decades from now. In his last Palm Coast Magazine interview Alfin said “timing is everything, and the opportunity is here now.”
Though Alfin isn’t perfect, as no elected official is, his mayorship is profoundly aided by the fact that he understands that the well-being of Palm Coast residents 100 years from now is directly impacted by decisions made in the present day, no matter how mundane.
So as Alfin now looks to 2024 to ask residents for a second term, he’s really hoping they’ll look much further than that.