With Latest Claims Against County Government Thrown Out, Flagler Prevails in 25 of 26 Cases
FlaglerLive | July 29, 2016
The stash of ethics, elections, Florida Bar and other complaints against Flagler County government officials is almost all cleared, with the Florida Elections Commission this week informing the county of three more such complaints being tossed as legally insufficient to pursue.
In all, 25 of 26 actions brought against county officials have been resolved, 22 by being thrown out. Two were settled after minor campaign ad violations. Another, involving Commissioner Barbara Revels, resulted in a $2,500 fine for not disclosing a business relationship on a vote for the new sheriff’s operations center. One additional complaint against Revels is pending. It relates to a financial disclosure form.
The three latest complaints were identical. They were filed against County Administrator Craig Coffey, County Attorney Al Hadeed, and the entire county commission.
“On June 29, 2016, the Florida Elections Commission notified Dennis McDonald that the complaint he filed on March 17, 2016 was legally insufficient,” wrote Amy McKeever Toman, executive director of the commission. McDonald had two weeks from the letter sent to him to provide the commission with additional information. “Since the Commission did not receive any additional information that corrected the stated grounds of insufficiency, this case is closed,” McKeever Toman concluded in her concise statement to the county. Her three letters of dismissal were identical.
“Your allegation suggests a misreading of the statute,” Toman wrote McDonald, according to a release issued by the county. Toman referred to McDonald’s assertion that the County Commission, through Coffey and with the advice of Hadeed, had no right to request that the Florida Secretary of State observe and examine the county’s November 2014 election.
At the time, the office was run by Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks, and relations between Weeks and the county–and particularly with Hadeed–had frayed to the point of open hostility. Weeks resigned in early January 2015 and was subsequently indicted on felony charges related to allegations that she illegally recorded and transmitted private conversations.
“In fact, Section 101.58, Florida Statutes, authorizes the Secretary to act either in response to a petition from voters or from one of the listed entities or ‘at any time it deems fit,’” Toman continued. “Certainly, the Secretary may deem it fit to act in response to a letter from any number of individuals or entities, including a county government or its administrator.”
McDonald also contended that because two commissioners were up for re-election, the request was an “outrageous and not defensible” effort to trigger the secretary’s authority.
“It is unclear why or how requesting that the state’s chief elections officer to monitor an election gives any candidate, incumbent or otherwise, an unfair advantage or otherwise interferes with or influences the election,” Toman wrote. “Please note that this exact issue has previously been determined to be legally insufficient and, likewise, I find this complaint to be legally insufficient.”
McDonald, former Supervisor of Elections, Kim Weeks, and Mark Richter previously alleged the county lacked authority to request observers for the 2014 Elections. Those previous allegations were similarly dismissed by the Florida Elections Commission and the Florida Commission on Ethics.
In a July 20 letter to Toman, McDonald challenged the finding and asked for “the legal authority” behind Toman’s conclusions and accused the secretary of state of “failing the terms” of a section of law–in other words, of violating the law. “In light of this, what action by the Elections Commission will be taken to maintain Florida voters’ confidence in our election process?” In an email to local media, he reiterated his claim that “this was a political stunt precipitated by our Secretary of State for the benefit of incumbents.”
McDonald is running for Palm Coast Mayor. He has not been returning phone calls or emails.
Hadeed recently spoke at the statewide Florida Association of Counties Annual Conference before approximately 170 attorneys about defending the county from complaints filed in order to disrupt the workings of local government.
On Thursday, he said that the stash of complaints filed over an 18-month period took up to a quarter of his office’s time to defend against and dispose of.
“It’s not over but the amount of time I have to spend has been substantially reduced as the complaints have reached finality and conclusion,” Hadeed said in a brief interview. “Even the inquiries or the collateral things I have to do have diminished in equal amount.”
The county’s case to the ethics commission that it should recoup costs incurred in the defense of several of these complaints is ongoing. The ethics commission rejected the county’s original claim. The county has appealed.
“It’s gratifying to put another group of complaints behind us,” Hadeed said. “This enables us to focus on what’s really important for the citizens – getting the daily work of the county accomplished and moving Flagler forward.”