Flagler County, FL (March 31, 2021) – It’s a matter of knowing your constituents and staying in tune with the pulse of the community back home that helps legislators do their best work in places like Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.
Spending the days leading up to the Easter holiday with folks in the district, Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL) wasn’t afraid to get in the trenches with those he serves.
Making a stop in Flagler Beach at the Flagler Surf Art and Stuff boutique to express his gratitude to local business owner Carla Cline, Waltz was amazed at her tenacity and ability to rally the troops when the Flagler Beach community’s beach restoration project was on the line, helping save the $25 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project last fall.
“We were frankly stuck on some of our efforts to renourish Flagler’s beaches, and Carla saw a problem, attacked it, put a crowd fundraising site together and raised $59,000,” said Waltz. “A lot of people complain about issues. Community leaders and servant leaders like Carla step up and be part of the solution.”
Cline was surprised to receive a personal visit and an official letter of thanks from the congressman for her efforts, and the pair talked about the tradition behind challenge coins before Waltz presented one of his own to her.
“It was really important because we’re a small town and we don’t really get a lot of recognition or funding,” said Cline.
With a second stop at the Flagler Beachfront Winery, owner Ken Tarsitano gave the congressman a tour of the winery’s operation. They discussed the challenges Tarsitano faced during the height of the pandemic, and the new ones of today.
“We’re so excited to have him. I wanted to say thank you for allowing us to be open and making a shot at it this past year,” said Tarsitano, who opened the county’s first winery nine years ago.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride for us. It’s going to be good for him to see we’re a business still being able to make it, all in support of our community,” he said. “We’re still making it, one day at a time.”
Looking to see how the Paycheck Protection Program impacted the most vulnerable – the small business community, Waltz was blunt in his assessments after talking with business owners.
“I’m hearing that business is really picking up. That a lot of the business owners were able to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program which we passed, myself, Senator Rubio, and others really championed and it was a fundamentally different approach than what we were seeing from the left,” said Waltz.
Noting the concerns expressed by business owners, especially those in the tourism and hospitality industry, he pondered how to keep people on business payrolls rather than unemployment, as business owners face a new challenge – help wanted.
“The sad thing that I’m hearing is a lot of these businesses, this one included, can’t hire their people back,” he said. “Because of the COVID relief bill which is providing federal unemployment dollars on top of state unemployment dollars, a lot of people in the landscaping, restaurant, hotel businesses are making more sitting at home than they’re making on the job. I just talked to a hotel owner who had 25 vacancies, and 3 people applied. And even their former employees that they had to lay off last year don’t want to come back because they’re making more on unemployment. That is completely warping the labor market and it’s actually retarding our economy from taking back off again.”
Greeting the congressman along the route, Flagler County Commissioner David Sullivan appreciated the honest, in-depth conversations Waltz was having with area business owners.
“It’s a good of our congressman to show support for our local businesses,” said Sullivan. “It’s important we all support our local businesses and make sure we have a strong recovery from COVID.”
Closing out the night with the fun “Undercover Congressman” experience Waltz is known for around his district, he took the opportunity to talk one-on-one with guests at Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill while posing as a manager trainee, and delighting customers.
Welcoming Waltz, restaurant owner John Lulgjuraj is one of the strongest advocates for local businesses in the area as president of the Flagler Beach Business Bureau, and works diligently with elected officials to see the needs of small business owners are met.
“It was really nice for the congressman to see what we do on a day-to-day basis,” said Lulgjuraj.
“Watching him interact with the staff and customers was a sight to see. He fit into our Oceanside family and customer service, he was warm and genuine when greeting the guests. Now, we hope he fights the good fight for us and gets Congress in line.”
Featured Photo: U.S. Congressman Michael Waltz catches up with Flagler Beachfront Winery owner Ken Tarsitano to discuss issues, on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.