Commissioner Flynt’s Election-Qualifying Check Bounces, But Not His Candidacy
FlaglerLive | February 18, 2011
Bunnell City Commissioner Jimmy Flynt filed for reelection on Jan. 25, the last day of qualifying. (He hadn’t gathered the petitions that would have qualified him without a fee, but only because he didn’t make up his mind to run until Jan. 25.) He had to pay the filing fees–$288 to the city, $96 to the state. The $96 check bounced.
Absent a city ordinance or a city charter that addresses the issue—which it doesn’t, in Bunnell’s case—state law prevails. In cases of bounced checks, state law requires the city clerk to immediately inform the candidate “and the candidate shall, the end of qualifying notwithstanding,” the law reads, have 48 hours to make good on the check “with a cashier’s check purchased from funds of the campaign account. Failure to pay the fee as provided in this subparagraph shall disqualify the candidate.”
Flynt paid the fee, and a $25 “insufficient fund” fee—but not with a cashier’s check. He paid cash. And both the notice and the payment were made 20 days after the expiration of the qualifying period. That does not necessarily disqualify him, however.
Flynt and Commissioner Jenny Crain-Brady are facing reelection against three challengers. The top two vote-getters in the field of five will be elected to the commission. All three challengers question Flynt’s qualification. (Crain-Brady did not return a call.)
The city didn’t find out about the bounced check until Feb. 10, City Clerk Dan Davis, who is in charge of the election, said. Davis emailed Mark Langello, who is Flynt’s treasurer, as soon as he found out. “Jimmy’s $96 election assessment fee bounced. Need restitution immediately,” Davis’s email reads. (Langello is a Bunnell businessman who frequently appears before the city commission and does business with the city, which is renting space from him.)
According to Flynt, Davis also called him directly.
“When I got the phone call from Mr. Davis,” Flynt said, “within 20 minutes I went out there and corrected the problem that occurred. I paid the finance director, she gave me the paper. I thought I did the right thing. If I did wrong, I did wrong.”
Two hours later, Davis sent the following email to Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks: “I could use some advice. One of our candidate’s check for $96 written to the City of Bunnell for the State’s 1% assessment fee bounced. Besides immediately collecting the $96 from the candidate, do you think this affects their qualification? Should I ‘tell’ anyone? I looked in the statutes and just didn’t see where something like this was covered. We don’t address it [in] our charter.” Two hours after that, Davis wrote Weeks again to disregard his previous email, since he’d found the matter addressed in state law.
Campaign finance matters are strictly regulated in order to keep track of the money and paper trail. Hence the cashier’s check requirement following a bounced check. Absent such a requirement, it’s impossible to tell, for example, where the cash came from to make good on the check: a candidate may hand it in personally and make it seem as his own, but it could also have been passed to him, illegally, from a donor whose identity will then not be disclosed.
Davis did not see an issue between the cash or the cashier’s check. “I wouldn’t consider that a stumbling block. He made it right,” Davis said. “I mean it does say specifically a cashier’s check, but he paid with cash.” Davis’s position has backing from a state official’s interpretation.
According to Chris Cate, a spokesman for the Florida Department of State, which oversees elections, “The phrase ‘the end of qualifying notwithstanding’ means that if the filing officer receives the check back from the bank for any reason (e.g., insufficient funds), the candidate can make the check good even if the check is returned after the end of qualifying. What occurs is that the filing officer notifies the candidate and the candidate then has 48 hours from the notification to make the check good via a cashier’s check. As the statute says, ‘Failure to pay the fee as provided in this subparagraph shall disqualify the candidate.’ However, courts apply a ‘substantial compliance’ doctrine to determine if a candidate complied with the requirements of the qualifying statute – a court may say that payment of cash is substantially the same as payment by a cashier’s check.”
Flynt’s challengers aren’t satisfied. “We all got to play by the rules. I work very hard at trying to do things the right way,” Jan Reeger, campaign treasurer for Koreen Kowalsky, said. “We all have to play by the rules, period.”
Bill Baxley, another candidate, said he didn’t want to be negative about it—“I personally have no problem with him running. To me, the more the merrier”—but he said: “In my opinion whoever took the money should not have accepted it, should have sent him back to get a cashier’s check.”
Flynt has been on the commission since 2003, but his last year has been difficult as he was singled out by State Attorney investigation of the Bunnell Police Department as a beneficiary of police and city administration favoritism that earned Flynt’s wrecker service extra business, and allowed Flynt to use the city dump to get rid of tires without paying state fees. Flynt denied that he benefited from any favors.
In Bunnell’s previous election, all three incumbents—Mayor Catherine Robinson and commissioners Daisy Henry and Elbert Tucker—were reelected without opposition.
Baxley related a curious encounter with Flynt. “We were talking and he asked, ‘Bill can I give you some advice?’ And I said yes, I’m always open to advice, and he said, ‘You need to slow down because the older people that you’re taking to now, you’re so far away from the elect time, that the people you’re talking to now they won’t remember that they’ve talked to you.” Baxley reminded Flynt that he (Baxley) was older as well, he knew a thing or two about older people’s memory. “I said right now I’m pacing myself but as it gets closer I’m actually going to be out there more than I am right now.” He added: “I took it as him being afraid of me. That’s the way I took it. That he was afraid I was going to beat him. I just laughed about it. I just took it as him running scared.”
Flynt’s difficulties are seen as an opportunity by challengers, including John Rogers, a rival wrecker who ran for the commission in 2008.
“It’s unfortunate that it had to happen to Mr. Flynt,” Rogers said Friday. He considers Flynt disqualified. “It looks pretty clear that he made it right but it’s pretty clear it has to be made right with a cashier’s check drawn out of his campaign account.”
Tucker says Flynt is disqualified on two grounds, according to the law: the check bounced outside the qualifying window, and the repayment was not made with a cashier’s check. “If the statute doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. Once again in Bunnell, are we going to follow the law or not?” Tucker, never a friend of Flynt’s on the commission, said. “I can’t help who it is. If it was me and I did this I wouldn’t expect to be a candidate because I’ve gone too far. The cut-off date is the cut-off date. A bounced check amounts to not paying the bill.”
Langello, Flynt’s campaign treasurer, said in a written statement Friday that the campaign account was opened with $40. “The next day another $360 was deposited at the same bank but was mistakenly put into another account by an employee.” That mis-deposit was not noticed for several days because the account was not active.
Cate, the Department of State spokesman, said that “because this is a municipal election, the only way the candidate can be disqualified is if the filing officer disqualifies the candidate or someone brings a legal challenge to have the candidate disqualified.”