Name: Damien GilliamsAge: 50How long living in Sebastian: 25-plus yearsPlace of Birth: Manhattan, New YorkOccupation: REALTOR – Mid-Florida Real Estate Inc. / Mid-Florida Rentals Inc.Marital / Family Status: Married for 24 years with three children, ages 18,16 and 10
Please list Civic and Volunteer Leadership Experience including title & position and Organization including dates and locations:
Former Member of Sebastian Exchange Club and their Annual Fishing Tournament Committee
Former Member of Sebastian Property Owners Association (SPOA)
No elected offices, but volunteer participation as:
Former Chairman of Sebastian Code Enforcement Board
Former Board Member of Sebastian Community Redevelopment Association (CRA)
Former Member of Sebastian Waterfront Study Committee
What issues motivated you to run for this office and what do you hope to accomplish during your term?
After 10-plus years of dealing with the various departments of city government and attending council meetings, of which I missed very few, I eventually became disenchanted and then thoroughly disgusted with what I felt was the cavalier, unprofessional and unfair manner in which important city business was being conducted on all levels. One of the most egregious examples is the demeaning way that the general public is treated when they dare to go before the city council and express their concerns and/or complaints about issues that impact them personally or are contrary to what they believe are in the best interests of the residents at large.
Unless the speaker is a member of a special interest group or is a ‘good old boy or gal’ friend of someone on the dais, they are quite often quickly cut off and belittled. Or, they meet with disdain, disrespect and the smug, superior and condescending attitude of one or more council members designed to stifle them and discourage others from standing up and seeking to be heard. Special interest individuals and groups currently control everything in Sebastian. We the people, all the people, must be heard and if elected I intend to do everything possible to see to it that all sides of every issue are fairly represented and given impartial consideration.
I will work hard to build a consensus and help create a level playing field where the same rules apply to everyone in our community. Civility, comity and mutual respect will be the keynote to my approach.
I believe that I am the best-qualified candidate for the job. I am familiar with all of the departments and the operations of the City of Sebastian having spent 10-plus years attending meetings and workshops and serving in many different capacities (i.e., Former Chairman of Sebastian Code Enforcement Board, Former Community Redevelopment Association Board Member, Former Member of Waterfront Study Committee, etc.). I have acquired a wealth of valuable knowledge over the past decade.
I know all of the players, the inner working of our city government, the systems in place and the procedures that need to be followed. By everyone diligently working together for the common good, great things can be accomplished.
I can be effective immediately and I am ready, willing and able to accept this responsibility and be of valuable service to my community as it charts its course for the benefit of the present and all future generations.
What do you believe needs to be done to improve the city’s redevelopment and waterfront areas?
Our beautiful and pristine waterfront is our most prominent feature and our most significant and valuable asset. Extremely careful and painstaking planning needs to be done to ensure that we maximize its unlimited potential. Harebrained ideas like taking tax revenue producing commercial properties off the city’s tax rolls, by buying them to further some self-aggrandizing ideological agenda and benefit some powerful special interests, is a prime example of the most convoluted logic imaginable.
Even though the bulk of the money used was a grant from the state of Florida, hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been used for worthwhile redevelopment initiatives were spent on this boondoggle, Why do we keep throwing money at our problems instead of developing a comprehensive master plan that will foster sound economic development and guarantee sustainable growth and prosperity for our area. What does the city of Sebastian know about running a business? And how many of those who were involved in the decision making process ever owned or ran a business, developed a sound business and marketing plan, or met a payroll using their own money?
So with the grant, Sebastian was able to purchase the former Hurricane Harbor Restaurant and the adjoining property to the south, which tied it together with the privately owned Sembler commercial fishing property, to form what has been greatly heralded as some kind of Utopian ‘working waterfront’ that will help put Sebastian on the map. Really? But what potentially viable businesses had to die in the process and what amount of money, both now and in the future, will be steadily drained from our City treasury to support this project in the future when it does not live up to its much ballyhooed billing?
Can’t you just see the throngs of excited locals and tourists from all over the country that will be coming here to watch the fishing boats as they dock and off-load their daily catch? And don’t forget about the highly touted ‘fishing museum’ that will also be on-site. What a thrilling and truly unique enticement this will be to bring in much needed business to Sebastian. What an absurd bill of goods to cram down our throats when we are so hungry for proper economic development and sound, forward thinking leadership.
In their rush to judgment I guess no one stopped to think about the inevitable traffic jams and damage to Indian River Drive, and all of the connecting roads around Sebastian, which will be caused by the constant procession of 18-wheelers coming in and then heading back out with their loads of clams and fresh fish. And what about the foul stench associated with any large commercial fishing operation and the number and variety of vermin that will be attracted by the continual droppings of remains. Then there are the birds, especially the pelicans, which will congregate by the thousands, perching or hovering all around and then swooping down to snatch the tasty morsels from the decks and docks … then leave their own droppings on everything in sight.
The real money is in charter fishing, but unfortunately we didn’t have a grant for that kind of operation.
Then there was the Main Street Realignment Project where we moved 28 boat parking spaces from one side of the road to the other and enshrined the Sebastian River Area Chamber of Commerce on one of our most valuable pieces of property for the next fifty years, and it only cost approximately $2.1 million.
It just goes on and on and on. The current City Council will spend every penny it can get its hands on if it is not stopped. They always seem to be able to find three votes to make whatever they want to do happen. Spending the taxpayer’s money on frivolous projects is getting to be a Council to Council game of ‘Can You Top This’. It all started a few years ago when they built the new City ‘Taj Ma’ Hall.
How about getting back to reality and start making a concerted effort to address issues of real importance?
And how about installing signage on the Intracoastal Waterway attracting and directing out-of-area boaters to mooring areas along our shoreline?
Install lush and tropical landscaping and descriptive signage at our northern, western and southern city limits detailing the many exciting local attractions and activities going on in Sebastian, the ‘Fisherman’s Paradise’.
What do you think is the role of the City Council in sparking economic development? What does economic development mean to you?
Quite simply, it means NEW BUSINESS of all types, large and small. And new businesses create employment, and employment creates spending, and spending creates the opportunity for more businesses, and more businesses mean more employment, etc., etc., etc.
There are numerous positive things that could be done immediately to retain or attract businesses to the Sebastian area, such as:
Review and revise our Land Development Code and eliminate nonessential requirements and restrictions that inhibit and/or discourage business development.
Reduce business fees wherever and whenever possible and shorten application-to-permit processing times that will facilitate quicker implementation for existing businesses and accelerated start-up times for new businesses.
Create much needed parking all along and in-between U.S. 1 and Indian River Drive from city limits to city limits.
Showcase Sebastian as a great place to live and work and not just a fun place to visit because of our positioning on the Indian River Lagoon and our access to the Sebastian Inlet. Market the quality of our schools and nearby universities, our rapidly developing airport, our municipal golf course, our wonderful neighborhood parks and recreational facilities, the abundance of both very affordable and estate type housing, our strategic location just off 1-95 in central Florida and our relationship to West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville.
More involvement by the Chamber of Commerce would be useful. Assign them a regular item number on the agenda for the City Council meetings and ask them to give a report on their activities in promoting Sebastian.
The redevelopment area dominates discussion at the city government level. What other areas of the city need attention and what would you do to address them?
Continually improve our infrastructure (i.e., roads, water, sewer, gas, electric, communications, facilities, etc.).
Remodel and modernize the clubhouse at the Sebastian Municipal Golf Course.
Hire a full-time professional Grant Writer that primarily searches for grants that do not require matching funds.
Partner with banks and other financial institutions, as well as with the county and our neighboring communities.
Form a steering committee and hold public workshops on ways to begin downsizing our local government.
Have Budget Committee meetings every month and conduct a thorough line by line review of every department.
Everything should be on the table except items that affect the health, safety and welfare of our residents.
Halt all discretionary spending across the board and reward department heads for saving budgeted money instead of spending it so it would not be reduced or cut in the following budget year. Tighten everyone’s belt.
Reorganize departments where possible, consolidate functions that do not require specialists and reduce staff.
Address the high costs associated with our current Employee Health Insurance Plan and all other benefits.
Give everyone in our community an opportunity to get involved by establishing a Citizens (Volunteer) Academy that can provide a myriad of services while saving our community hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Acquire and review the budgets of other cities of similar size and nature for possible new revenue sources and unique concepts that would be beneficial to Sebastian if implemented here.
Mr. Mayor – Why not work to establish total transparency in financial matters by placing the city check book on our www.cityofsebastian.org website so the disbursement of all funds, especially the discretionary amounts by the City Manager, can be seen by the public and evaluated. What are we afraid of? Let the people be the judge!
Mr. City Manager – Step up, give us your opinion and always take a position. Don’t just come to the meeting to get 3 votes and take the easy way out on every issue. We don’t need a follower. We pay you $100,000-plus annually for leadership. We are not getting it.