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Acknowledging Membership to Hammock Resort, Sheriff Says It Has “No Dollar Value”

| April 23, 2012

'The card was given to me by the administration over there a number of years ago, which I never asked for, and they said it has no dollar value,' Sheriff Don Fleming said of his membership card to the Hammock Beach Resort, now the subject of an ethics complaint. (© FlaglerLive)

'The card was given to me by the administration over there a number of years ago, which I never asked for, and they said it has no dollar value,' Sheriff Don Fleming said of his membership card to the Hammock Beach Resort, now the subject of an ethics complaint. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s been rumored for years: Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming’s “free” membership to the Club at Hammock Beach, the most exclusive club in the region where a membership runs to well over $20,000. Now it’s the subject of a state ethics complaint filed by James Williams, an ex-cop who used to work for Fleming, and who faxed a copy of the complaint to various media, FlaglerLive included, last week.

There’s nothing wrong with a public official holding a membership to the exclusive resort. But state law requires public officials to disclose, every quarter, any gift they have received, that exceeds a value of $100.  The one-time initiation fee at the resort run around $20,000, provided the member owns property in the development, while an additional due of $5,000 a year gives members access to the beach and other amenities. No such disclosure appears on Fleming’s filings with the state going back several years.

Fleming on Monday acknowledged having a membership card. But he said the card has no dollar value, and so need not have been disclosed.

“The card was given to me by the administration over there a number of years ago, which I never asked for, and they said it has no dollar value,” Fleming said this morning, referring to the resort’s administration. (He spoke by phone from New Port Richie, where he is tending to his father in law, who is in Hospice care.) “This thing here I will be able to defend completely. I do have a membership, but I pay for my membership.”

Fleming said the membership card grants him access to the resort, but he receives a bill at month’s end for the meals and drinks he’s consumed. The bill, he said, has run from $400 to $500 a month, occasionally more, more often less. “When I get back I can show the bylaws,” Fleming said. “It has no dollar value. All it does is it entitle me to eat at the restaurant, where I eat at the restaurant and I pay my bill.”

The resort decides the value of its membership. Nothing stops it from handing out a membership card without charging the recipient, and in that sense Fleming is accurate: he was given a free card.

The question the Florida Ethics Commission will ask in its investigation is whether the card amounted to a gift, and whether the going value for the gift equates to the normal membership fee that the resort charges, if Fleming was given something that average Joes cannot get—namely, a card granting access to the resort.

The resort lists four types of memberships, starting with the beach club membership. The other three provide access to golf courses in addition, and are presumably more expensive. Mary Ann Murphy is the membership director at the Club at Hammock Beach. She did not return calls placed at her office Monday.

“The card doesn’t cost anything. The only time it would cost you something is if you wanted a golf membership,” Fleming said, though the so-called Beach Club membership does not involve golf, and does cost money. “Members,” the Hammock notes in its description of that type of membership, “enjoy a variety of restaurants and lounges throughout the Club, with daily special member menus, preferred member pricing and happy hour specials along with an array of member events, lively entertainment, informative presentations, seminars and classes.”

In his complaint filed with the ethics commission, Williams, an ex-New York City cop in his miod-50s who worked only briefly with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office—from the fall of 2007 to the spring of 2008, when he was not held over past his probation period—described working as head of security for the Ginn Co.’s northeast properties in the state in 2005, the Hammock resort included. “During this time,” Williams wrote, “I was approached by Sheriff Donald Fleming who asked me if I could obtain a gift of a free membership to the resort for him. I advised Sheriff Fleming that due to the value of the gift, I was not authorized by the Ginn Company to give out such a gift. I told him that I would speak with my supervisor about his request. Not long afterwards, I learned that Sheriff Fleming did indeed receive a gift of a free membership to the Hammock Beach Resort.”

Fleming categorically denies approaching Williams about the membership card, which he said was acquired through the club’s administration, at the administration’s behest.

“It’s just this continuing assault by members of the media, a person who’s running for election, and a person whom I fired,” Fleming said, referring to Williams and Manfre. Manfre would not address the matter, saying it’s between the sheriff and the ethics commission.

Williams is, in fact, a Manfre supporter, and there’s little question that the timing of the complaint is no coincidence: elections trigger political maneuvers that exploit candidates’ vulnerabilities. After eight years in office, Fleming has a few. The issue of a membership at Hammock Beach, whatever its outcome, is only the latest in a string of setbacks complicating his reelection bid.

Fleming’s friendly but repeated interaction with John Fischer, the school board member, on behalf of Fischer’s wife, Jamesine, following her hit-and-run accident that caused the death of an elderly woman last November, led State Attorney R.J. Larizza to hand off the hit-and-run case to another jurisdiction: Larizza did not want to run into conflict of interest issues with Fleming, who is now among the witnesses in the case, and whose judgment and memory have been questioned in the wake of his conflicting accounts of conversations with Fischer. Fleming’s opponents—Ray Stevens, a Republican, and Jim Manfre, a Democrat—have pointed to a pattern of internal issues, from job discrimination to rule-breaking by some cops, that have cost several hundred thousand dollars in settlements and led to the resignation, arrest or suspension of a few cops.

Jamie Roster, a sergeant in the department, is the latest deputy, and the highest placed, to face disciplinary action. He was suspended with pay last month and an internal affairs investigation continues into allegations that he falsified time sheets.

Regarding the ethics matter, Fleming said he had turned over all relevant documents to his attorney for them to be conveyed to the commission. His attorney is Wayne Evans of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, retained by the sheriff’s office at taxpayers’ expense.

As sheriff, Fleming is paid $120,253 a year. The salary is set by state law. The sheriff’s is the highest among local constitutional officers.

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68 Responses for “Acknowledging Membership to Hammock Resort, Sheriff Says It Has “No Dollar Value””

  1. Haw Creek Girl says:

    No $ value. Ok, tell me where to call so they will send me the free one? Geez, if Manfre weren’t his only opponent I would say fry the guy. Trouble s he just seems like a dummy. It has to come down to intent unfortunately.

       9 likes

  2. Yellowstone says:

    You say, “The resort decides the value of its membership. Nothing stops it from handing out a membership card without charging the recipient, and in that sense Fleming is accurate: he was given a free card.”

    And you get what you pay for . . . . Ha!

    I am a taxpayer – where do I get my ‘free card’?

    (I am holding my breath)

       20 likes

  3. Joe A. says:

    There is a price for everything. If you do not believe me, go to Disney World or Harley Davidson. Everything comes at a price; big or small. If a politican accepts a bribe without asking for it, is it still ethical?

    What is disturbing, is the blatant display of public disrespect that Mr. Fleming has for the people of Flagler County. Because he is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the county, he acts as if he is above the law. Don Fleming reminds me greatly of Charlie Rangle. Corruption ceases to exist only in their eyes.

    I am tired of politicians having fun on our dime. I am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!!!

       21 likes

  4. Haw Creek Girl says:

    Its fine to question his intelligence but I can’t question the other guys ethics? Ok, so maybe that’s part of hi way we took to get here :-)

       5 likes

  5. Ben Dover says:

    Well if he has cancelled checks for more then 500 hundred a month , then its on the up and up , of course they will give you a card to come spend 500 hundred a month in their restaurants and bars , and if that`s all that card entitled him to do , then its just a disgruntled employee ,who is also slinging mud . I`m sure they`ll give either of you a card to drop that kind of cash there each month too.

       8 likes

    • ffd says:

      Hey Ben Dover pull up to the front gate and tell them you don’t have a card, but you just want to go have dinner and drinks …. see how far past the gate you get

         18 likes

      • Ben Dover says:

        I said if you fill out the paper work to receive a card for the restaurants and bars , and that`s all it entitles you to do, and your spending five hundred and more a month, they will give you a card , they`d be foolish not to, I did not say pull up to the gate without a card.

           1 likes

    • Layla says:

      Ben, he knows the rules on what he is supposed to declare. As an elected official, his life is no longer his own and he knows these things must be reported.

      Had that been done, he wouldn’t be in trouble now.

         0 likes

  6. ffd says:

    “His attorney is Wayne Evans of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, retained by the sheriff’s office at taxpayers’ expense”
    That’s great we the citizens are paying his lawyer fees for something that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the Sheriff’s Office Operations

       16 likes

  7. Gia says:

    NO DOLARD VALUE, I AM A TAXPAYER SEND ME MY CARD.

       14 likes

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dear Hammock Beach Resort, Please send me a free membership card. I would like to eat in your restaurants and play at your pool. Thank you, Flagler County Taxpayer

       21 likes

  9. gofish says:

    i just called H.B.R. at 246-5555 and spoke to the concierge. I asked for a free card so I could come and have dinner and drinks. THe woman stated they don’t have free memberships. I said the Sheriff has a free membership, she stated ” He is a member, but his membership isn’t free” I told her that I read on F.L. that he says he has a free membership. She said “There is no such thing, you need to call the membership office after 9 tomorrow”!!!!

       27 likes

  10. FLATTRUTH says:

    “Jamie Roster, a sergeant in the department, is the latest deputy, and the highest placed, to face disciplinary action. He was suspended with pay last month and an internal affairs investigation continues into allegations that he falsified time sheets.” I’VE heard that the sheriff’s office is purposely delaying the internal investigation results to keep the public from finding out that ROSTER took tens of thousands of dollars from Flagler Taxpayers by saying that he was working while he went to the beach to go surfing with a higher up colleague…They wont deny it because they dont want you to know.

       11 likes

  11. Robert says:

    I am calling the membership office tomorrow for my card.
    Since they have no dollar value they should be given out just like the grocery savings cards at Publix and Winn Dixie.

       10 likes

  12. Dudley Doright says:

    My investigative instincts lead me to believe that there is a very strong possibility that Sheriff Fleming is not the only one who received a free membership to the clubs at Hammock Dunes. I would not be shocked if Netts, Landon, Peterson, Holland, Darby, Revels, King and other politicians past and present also received this free card. Just saying!

       7 likes

  13. ConcernedCitizen says:

    I’ve been in Palm Coast for about 5 years and I’m shocked to read about all the shenigans that transpire at the FCSO! And these incidents are probably only the tip of the iceberg. What else is hidden behind that “solid blue wall”? Free membership???? There is no way that is true! We need a new person at the top, to inspire the rank and file. What example does this and everything else I’ve read over the last few years set?

       13 likes

  14. palmcoaster says:

    In 2004 Sheriff Jim Manfre was witch hunted over a calendar…! How much is costing us this: “His attorney is Wayne Evans of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, retained by the sheriff’s office at taxpayers’ expense”. If his membership card is “private as he says” why he doesn’t pay his private attorney from his private funds other than sticking it to us the broke taxpayers of this county? How come these current county commissioners are not all over this Sheriff yet, on the misuse of our taxpayers funds? Because sure their counterparts back then in 2004, including Patrick McGuire then, not only the county commissioner but also a child molester that ended in prison later, attacked Sheriff Jim Manfre and started over just a calendar to be distributed in the community. http://brechner.org/counties/violations.asp. Scroll down to Flagler.
    July 2004: The Flagler County Commission sued Sheriff Jim Manfre for access to Public Records that detail the costs of calendars and holiday greeting cards sent to residents of Bunnell. Manfre allegedly failed to provide access to the records, but disputes that the calendar is an election year political issue, not a violation of the Sunshine Law.
    Next is the seating county commissioner Pat McGuire, that while also being the police benevolent chief and along with the county commissioners in 2004, witch hunted Sheriff Jim Manfre,and honest family man and citizen, over a calendar: http://www.wesh.com/news/10665769/detail.html Flagler county residents better be aware of well orchestrated witch hunts in this county, against some of our honest constitutional elected officials, with very bad results for all.

       2 likes

  15. Haw Creek Girl says:

    Flaglerlive, if I were the marketing director at HBR memberships, you’d be my Nobel prize winner wink wink

       3 likes

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