Seeking “Closure,” Ex-Bunnell Commissioner Flynt Will Pay $2,500 Fine on Ethics Violations
FlaglerLive | May 31, 2012
A nearly two-year-old ethics case against former Bunnell City Commissioner Jimmy Flynt was settled last week, with Flynt admitting to violating Florida law and abusing his position as an elected official on three counts, and agreeing to pay a $2,500 fine. The Florida Commission on Ethics is expected to ratify the settlement at a June 15 meeting.
The fine is considerably lower than the maximum $10,000 Flynt was facing. Flynt said he settled only because he did not have the money to keep fighting, though he believes that he would have prevailed on two of the three counts, and faced a fine of only $500. “Basically,” Flynt said this morning, “the only thing that I was guilty of was doing work for the city, about 12 to 14 repair jobs, before I found out that I wasn’t supposed to be doing work for the city.”
“What I want to do now is I want to bring closure to this situation, move on and make a living,” Flynt said. He is “definitely” considering another run for city commission in next year’s elections, he said.
Flynt was a city commissioner for eight years until his defeat in the March 2011 election, when allegations of misconduct in office and the findings of a State Attorney’s investigation severely damaged his standing. The ethics complaint was filed on Sept. 14, 2010 by Bunnell Commissioner Elbert Tucker, based in large part on the State Attorney’s investigative report.
Flynt admitted that he violated the prohibition against elected officials doing business with their own agency, as Saxon’s Wrecker, Flynt’s business in Bunnell, did with city government, when Saxon’s did repair work for city vehicles. He admitted to the misuse of a public position “to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself” (as state law reads), when Flynt disposing of used tires from his business at the city dumpster, which allowed him to circumvent certain regulations and fees regarding used tire disposal. He also admitted to violating a law barring conflicting employment or contractual relationships with the city.
The ethics commission’s own investigation revealed that between 2005 and 2008, the city paid Flynt’s Saxon’s Wrecker business $15,187 for towing and vehicle maintenance, without having bid the services. None of the payments were for emergencies, City Manager Armando Martinez told the ethics commission investigator. But Martinez said that when he became manager in 2008, he ordered that all maintenance be carried out by city employees, ending the relationship with Saxon’s in October 2008. Martinez told the ethics commission that before then, neither city staff nor commissioners “ever realized that it was a violation of the Code of Ethics for an elected official to do business with his own agency,” the ethics commission’s investigation found.
“City Attorney Sid Nowell,” the investigation report continues, “advised that he has served the city since September 2002, and he acknowledged that he never brought to the attention of [Flynt] or anyone else that elected officials are prohibited from doing business with their own agency unless the business meets an exemption.” Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson was also interviewed by the investigator, telling him that to her knowledge Flynt had always been selected to provide services following a “three-estimate selection process” in which he was the lowest bidder. Flynt all along “did not know that it was inappropriate for him to receive the payments from the city,” he told the ethics investigator.
Elaborating in an interview this morning, Flynt said he did the work on city vehicles that no one else wanted to do, even after the three estimates “because they were old and ragged,” he said. “When I found out that I wasn’t supposed to, I stopped.”
Flynt said he would have fought the tire-dumping issue, too. “The reason I am not fighting it,” he said, “because I’m quite sure if I had enough money to pay for the depositions and the attorney fees and everything, which I don’t, I’m quite sure the tire issue would have gone away with the documentation I had on it. But I did not have the money to do that.”
The city has no records of how many tires Flynt dumped at the city dump, only that, according to the State Attorney’s investigation, the dumping took place every two to three months in 2006 and 2007, with one occasion totaling 36 tires. In the settlement with the ethics commission, Flynt disputed that he violated the law when he took possession of a remote clicker, allowing him to open the gate to the dumping ground. The ethics commission agreed to drop that part of the charge.
In a curious development along the way, Flynt earlier this year hired Dennis Bayer to defend him against the charges. Bayer last October became one of Bunnell’s city attorneys when the city hired his firm, to which Sid Nowell had moved, to represent it.
“It kind of looks funny,” Tucker, the commissioner who brought the action against Flynt, said. “The firm that represents the city of Bunnell is representing somebody who has an ethics complaint against him because of the city of Bunnell, because of what he did while he was a commissioner for the city of Bunnell.”
Bayer did not see a conflict. “This whole thing started after he was no longer a commissioner as far as the administrative process. It has no impact on the city,” Bayer said. “I have no information as a result of representation of the city that has any impact on what happens to Mr. Flynt as part of this ethics investigation.”
Bayer was interviewed on May 17, just days before the settlement. “That’s a dispute between them as to what one feels is a violation of state law. It’s not a violation of the city charter,” Bayer said. “I’ll certainly will review it with the city to make sure that it’s not a problem, but I just don’t see where there is a conflict there.”
Tucker, for his part, said he was done with the matter. “This was not a revenge action. It was just something that I thought had to be done,” Tucker said. “I have no ill feelings or ill will or thoughts of revenge or anything of like manner. I don’t want to see ill will come against him.”
For Flynt, the various issues he faced coincided with a souring economy and a struggle to keep Saxon’s afloat, especially when the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office—responding to allegations against Flynt—suspended him for seven months from the three-wrecker local rotation that Flynt says cost him around $30,000. That revenue was split between the two other wreckers in town: John’s Towing, owned by John Rogers, who ran for the Bunnell City Commission and won (essentially taking Flynt’s seat), and Roger’s Towing. The Florida Highway Patrol never suspended him, and the sheriff eventually returned him to the rotation.
“I am bringing my business back around, I’m doing OK,” Flynt said. “This whole deal, this whole non-sense deal, from the car lot incident, the investigation on illegal towing to Mr. Tucker’s ethics complaint, basically got a few people what they wanted, that was a seat on the board, and they wanted to put me out of business. They did get seven months’ of my business.” Of Tucker, he added: “He had to do what he thought was right and I survived through it.”