Ex-Cop Larry Jones Will Challenge Sheriff Manfre for Democratic Nomination
FlaglerLive | January 19, 2016
Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre’s opposition in this year’s election is no longer exclusively Republican. A member of his own party filed on Monday to challenge Manfre for the Democratic nomination for sheriff: Larry Jones, the long-time Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy who retired as a sergeant in November 2014 to praise from Manfre himself: “None of us is irreplaceable, but Sergeant Jones comes close,” Manfre said at the time.
Jones did not return the favor in comments he made in a statement he emailed to local media this afternoon, which read more as an opening salvo: “Flagler County is facing many unique issues in regards to an increased crime rate and decreased morale of all employees,” he said, referring to sheriff’s office employees, where Manfre has not made many friends despite a 5 percent raise for the rank and file, the first substantial raise since 2007. In an interview later, Jones described morale as being “at an all-time low, it’s at the lowest I’ve ever seen it. It must be from the leadership.”
Manfre responded in kind. “This race is about my record not about his running, I will run on my record and I expect to be reelected based on it,” the sheriff said in a phone interview after Jones’s announcement. Of Jones, he said he “represents the best and worst of law enforcement.” He credited Jones for his community policing, for example, but said that “in 20 years no sheriff promoted him above the level of sergeant, for very definite reasons. Larry is a complainer.” Manfre said Jones complained about not getting enough overtime and about the department’s IT program (not uncommon complaints for cops and firefighters anywhere). “I don’t see that kind of personality making a good sheriff.”
“Let him talk,” was Jones’s response.
Jones, 55, notes that he served for over 30 years in law enforcement, including two years as second in command of the sheriff’s Palm Coast precinct. When Jones retired, the sheriff’s office’s news release underlined the numerous commendations for professionalism, dedication, courteousness and respectful demeanor that filled his personnel record, along with various awards. And it was Manfre who had recommended Jones supervise the Bunnell Police Department 15 years ago, when Manfre was in his first tenure as sheriff and Bunnell’s department was in turmoil. Bunnell, which until recently had treated blacks as second-class citizens, rebuffed Jones, who is black, not wanting its department supervised by a black man. (The department has since had a black and Hispanic chief.)
Jones said his priorities will be to restore morale and “bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement,” a gap he said is apparent across the nation because of the numerous controversies swirling around police shootings. He said no similar issues have arisen in Flagler County, but that relations between police and citizenry are still strained “to a degree.”
Jones gained prominence especially with his Christmas With a Deputy program, which marked had its seventh year. The non-profit program enables some 100 poorer children to have a shopping spree, with a deputy and $150. The money is donated.
Jones started his career as a corrections officer in 1984, moving to road patrol the following year. He served as a School Resource Office and in the agency’s Drug Interdiction Task Force. A Bunnell native, he’s also owned Larry’s Lawn Care, a landscaping business, since 1997.
With one exception, primaries have been kind Manfre, who has an overall record of 3-1 in those contests. He won the 2000 primary, defeating Robert McCarthy on his way to winning his first term as sheriff (he beat Arthur Dyer in the general that year). Running for re-election in 2004, he lost in the Democratic primary to Thomas Hutson, who went on to lose to Don Fleming. He won the primary in a four-way contest in 2008 but lost to Fleming in the general. In 2012, he easily beat Karl Tozzi before eking out a victory against Fleming.
Other than Manfre and Jones, seven candidates have filed to run for sheriff so far, six of them Republican, one of them independent. The Republicans are–in alphabetical order–Don Fleming, John Lamb, Gerard O’Gara, Rick Staly, Mark Whisenant and Christopher Yates. The independent is Thomas Dougherty. It is the largest field by far in local elections and the most monied–the candidates have raised or borrowed a combined $134,500–and likely to remain that way as candidates perceive Manfre to be the more vulnerable of the constitutional officers to take on.
In comparison, incumbents such as Property Appraiser James Gardner and Suzanne Johnston, who have also declared, have drawn no opposition so far. They list not a dime in fund-raising so far. Gail Wadsworth, the clerk of court, is not running, which should have opened the way to a competitive race. Instead, her chosen successor, Deputy Clerk Tom Bexley, sits alone as the only declared candidate in that race, further underscoring the divide between offices considered safe and those considered vulnerable. Money alone isn’t the reason: the sheriff’s position pays $126,000 a year, not much more than the $117,000 for each of the other three constitutional offices.
The supervisor of elections position pays just under $100,000 (there’s a legislative proposal to raise that pay). Incumbent Kaiti Lenhard has drawn two challengers so far.
Also on Tuesday, County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen made his re-election bid official, filing the necessary papers with the supervisor of elections. The decision was not a surprise: he’d announced it in December. “I’ve been making sure everything was cleared with the doctor,” Ericksen said, referring to his medical issues earlier last year. “I had a cat scan last Friday that came up all clear. He said you just continue to do all your regular duties, your biking, your politics, and you’re OK.”