“Oh, Brother”: 165 Seconds of Errors as Candidate Richter Berates Commissioners Then Zips Out Before Corrections
FlaglerLive | June 22, 2015
One of the Flagler county commissioners at the end of today’s workshop is heard uttering beneath his breath two words immediately after Commission Chairman Frank meeker called for the next speaker, during the public comment period: “Oh, brother.”
The commissioner was reacting to the re-emergence of Mark Richter, the prodigal county commission candidate who lost to Commissioner Nate McLaughlin in the Republican primary in 2012, and who has decided to challenge Commissioner Ericksen in the 2016 primary. In his first run commissioners got used to the occasional Richter appearance before them, either to berate them or to make assertions that would elicit any fact-checker’s “oh, brother,” which may explain one of the commissioners’ reaction today.
Richter, who also exaggerated his brief military service and hid his conviction on a felony in his past when he ran in 2014, was again in “oh, brother” territory Monday as he spoke for two minutes and 45 seconds—about taxes, the county jail and its future costs, about other county jails in neighboring counties, and about Palm Coast utilities—and hopped from one misstatement to another.
He started by noting that “today is Gov. Scott’s tax cut tour,” but that “all I’ve heard today is tax-raising, not in sync with the state.” He was right about the governor’s tour, but while Scott is touting a $427 million tax cut, mostly to communications taxes and the like, which will shave about $2 a month from people’s bills, he is neglecting to mention that the cut will be wiped out by a $500 million property tax increase necessitated by his push for a $780 million increase in education funding. Like Scott, Richter focused only on the tax cut. The county administration has not yet settled on an actual recommendation for next year’s tax rate, though it is likely to include a tax increase.
Richter then seized on the ongoing jail expansion in Flagler County. Referring to county documents, he said it will be “256 beds in the first phase and to increase the total number to a thousand.”
There is no such expansion planned for at least a generation. The only expansion is for a 272-bed jail, not 256, and the conversion of the current jail, which has a capacity of around 130, to a women’s jail, with a capacity of 100, for a total jail capacity of 372.
“Twenty, 30 years from now, they may need another jail expansion,” Coffey said. “We won’t see 1,000 beds.” He said even the planned jail “won’t be fully occupied for many, many years, if ever.”
“What we don’t want people confused by is the difference between current building and future planning,” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said.
Richter went on, citing neighboring counties’ jail capacities. He placed St. Johns County’s at 714 beds. Close: St. Johns has a 664-bed facility at its main unit for pre-trial male and female inmates, and an additional 100-bed facility for lower-level offenders eligible for community work release, for example, for a total of 774 beds.
Richter said Volusia County has 899 beds. Not so. Volusia has two jails: the Volusia County Branch Jail, which has an authorized capacity of 899, and the Volusia County Correctional Facility, which has a capacity of 595, for a total capacity of 1,494 beds.
He said Putnam has a capacity of 252. That would be correct if he were referring, as he seemed to be, to the jail in Putnam County, Tenn. (easily available by Google search). Neighboring Putnam’s jail averaged closer to 328 inmates a day, according to a recent Department of Corrections report, and is, like Flagler, currently building a new facility that will net 448 beds, for a total project cost of $18 million.
Richter then went on to apply largely incomprehensible math to Flagler’s future jail costs, based on the claim that it’ll be a 1,000-bed facility. “We put a thousand of those people in jail, the cost is $120,000 a day, $44 million a year. Out of what? The general fund.” He went on, closer to the projected jail capacity: “At 256 people in the jail, that’s $130,000 a day, $2 million a year.”
Actually, by his own math, that would be $47.5 million a year, assuming that an inmate’s daily cost were his estimate of $507 a day (or $120,000 divided by 256). The real daily cost (dividing the sheriff’s jail budget of $5.3 million by an average daily jail population of 130) is about a fifth of that, or closer to $112 a day—still a hefty sum, but nowhere near Richter’s estimate.
Richter did not wait to hear the administrator’s or the commissioners’ response. He zipped out immediately after making his statement.
“I don’t know that he wanted the correct information,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said.
Oddly, Richter did make one correct statement in his 165 seconds: he spoke of the number of Palm Coast customers who saw their utilities shut off in a year: “I look at Palm Coast and I see 11,000 water meters turned off last year.”
A startling number, but if anything, an undercount: in 36 weeks from April to December last year, Palm Coast shut off an average of 221 customers’ utilities each week, which would work out to 11,500 shut-offs over the year. Richter’s point was that residents cannot afford a tax increase.
Richter announced earlier this month that he would be running again for the county commission. A member of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies, he said several weeks ago, after disseminating an obscenity-laced email to local media, that he had resigned from the Reagan group, though the Reagan group never confirmed it.