Erica Van Buren
| The Daytona Beach News-Journal

PALM COAST — City Council members will vote Tuesday  on whether to renew the nearly $176,000 licensing agreement for Palm Coast Connect, a 311 citizen engagement platform.

According to city officials, Palm Coast Connect has allowed for a more streamlined engagement between city staff and residents. Residents can access virtual town hall meetings and the business resource center; receive email notifications, alerts and public safety updates; as well as access  virtual recreation programs and a list of other resources.

City Council approved the purchase of Salesforce licensing in December 2018 as the platform for Palm Coast Connect. The customer relationship management system, or CRM, was the harvest of a partnership between the city and Mayor Milissa Holland’s employer, Coastal Cloud. The city never exchanged money with Palm Coast-based Coastal Cloud and Holland recused herself from the two votes that sealed the deal.

However, the city was required to pay more than $100,000 a year to lease Salesforce software needed to make the communications platform work. Coastal Cloud is a Salesforce platinum consulting partner. 

Coastal Cloud has helped build the city’s communications platform for citizens. The work was at no cost to the city, but the company does benefit by using Palm Coast as an incubator to build a platform that can then be sold to other government entities.

A complaint filed with the state’s Ethics Commission claims Holland misused her office and violated the city’s charter to benefit her employer, Coastal Cloud. Holland has repeatedly said she has done nothing unethical.

Although she did not vote on Coastal Cloud’s initial agreement with the city, Holland was vocal at last week’s workshop in her support of the company’s work for the city.

Holland was listed on the company’s website until recently as the director of government projects. Her photo is no longer on Coastal Cloud’s list of directors, but on LinkedIn she is now listed as the company’s director of health care project management. Holland did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

The total annual cost for the Salesforce licensing for FY 2021 is $175,797.50. Expenditures for each software license renewal will be within appropriated budgeted department funds. 

“The original purchase was $98,284.63 in December of 2018,” said Brad West, the city’s communications officer. “Additional licenses were purchased a few months later at $10,157.34. The renewal for all those licenses came up and were paid Dec. 19, 2019, at a total of $112,016.35. The increase is for the additional licenses to onboard additional departments onto the platform.” 

Doug Akins, the city’s director of information technology, said all departments working together is key to reducing overall costs and breaking down internal silos to maximize efficiency.

“For the past year, data has proven that we are reducing costs by streamlining processes using the Salesforce platform,” said Akins. 

The departments include Water Quality, Water Distribution, Streets Maintenance, Stormwater & Engineering, Parks Facilities Maintenance and Parks and Recreation. 

The types of licenses include Lighting Service Cloud Enterprise Edition, Customer Community Logins, Field Service Lighting Dispatcher / Field Tech Enterprise Edition (Dispatcher), Field Service Lighting Dispatcher / Field Tech Enterprise Edition (Contractor), Knowledge and Salesforce Maps.

According to public records, there are six types of licenses currently used. 

“The licenses are based on users, not computers,” said Akins. “The license type is based on the level of access and job function.” 

Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton said in a workshop Tuesday that a recurring issue is residents not getting to the right person for help.

“We’ve talked [to residents] there’s nothing worse than getting transferred nine times to get an answer that should not happen,” said Morton. “So it’s helping us as a team. It’s giving us insight that’s helping us collectively online around our common mission of delivering outstanding service to our community. It’s giving our citizens access to data for projects and operational details they’ve never had access to before.”

Morton said transparency, efficiency and accountability are key.

“One of the updates I did a few weeks ago gives access to every land use project in the city via a map,” said Morton. “You can see in real time what people have applied for, what stage they’re in, where they’re at and where they are in relationship to you. We’ve got a similar project with stormwater to understand where the storm water crews are, has your work order been received, Is it in process, is it waiting. So we’re opening everything up as much as we can to the public.”

Morton said working with other departments is key to becoming better problem-solvers.

“For the first time we’re bringing all of our talent to bear to solve problems outside of silos,” said Morton. “So we can improve our operations, we can improve our responses and we can be more consistent in serving our community.” 

Council members feel that Palm Coast Connect is a helpful tool. 

“I just feel empowered as a representative to say, file a request with Palm Coast Connect and we’ll get someone out there right away,” said Councilman Nick Klufas. “We can resolve situations more quickly than we were able to do in the past.”

Some city officials believe the Palm Coast Connect tool provides needed data.

“This has certainly been a journey,” said Holland. “Every city and municipality across the state of Florida is different. We have different needs. We provide different services.”

Holland said Palm Coast residents reported feeling disconnected from city officials prior to Palm Coast Connect. 

“When I was elected four years ago, the citizens demonstrated that they did feel disconnected from the city,” said Holland. “There wasn’t a lot of accountability or information. We’re able to make our decisions annually based on factual information coming into us. I think the data, to me, is something that is a critical component of this, it’s allowed us to drive more decision making. It’s more deliberate.”

The council Tuesday will also hear a presentation regarding Jacksonville University’s plans to expand to an off-site campus location in Palm Coast Town Center.

The City of Palm Coast is proposing an economic development investment in this project totaling $2.5 million: a $1.5 million allocation from general fund reserves and a $1 million forgivable performance loan from the Palm Coast State Road 100 CRA, according to city documents.

The meeting will take place at 9 a.m. in City Hall and will also be streamed live on the city’s YouTube channel. 

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