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Bunnell Rebuffs Sheriff’s Offer to Provide Law Enforcement at 26% Less Than City’s Costs

| September 8, 2010

Survivor: Bunnell Police Chief Arthur Jones. (© FlaglerLive)

There was a lot of kissing, hugging, hand-slapping and grinning after a meeting of the Bunnell City Commission to consider–and roundly reject–a proposal by the Flagler County Sheriff to take over the Bunnell Police Department.

The two biggest grins were those of City Manager Armando Martinez and Police Chief Arthur Jones, on whose watch the department has suffered a series of setbacks including the arrest of officers on felony charges and a devastating investigative report by the State Attorney’s office documenting a pattern of shoddy record-keeping and abusive practices by cops toward drivers going through Bunnell. Two of those cops were arrested and have been fired.

Accountability, Bunnell City Manager Armando Martinez said, after the meeting, is “what you should want from a police administration. You shouldn’t want from a police administration that because something looks bad, they’re going to be afraid to deal with it. You want a police administration–you do something wrong, guess what, you’re going to have to pay the consequences, because that’s what brings professionalism in a police department.”

The meeting (a workshop where no votes can be taken) was called at the recommendation of Bunnell Commissioner Elbert Tucker, who said last month the city could save money and lower its property tax rate considerably if the sheriff provided law enforcement for Bunnell the way he does for Palm Coast. The commission agreed to invite Sheriff Don Fleming to make a pitch.

The sheriff himself didn’t show up. He’s averse to politically charged situations, especially those where the winds aren’t in his favor. He sent Linda Bolante, his finance director, and Maj. Steve Clair to convey his proposal. The commission chamber wasn’t exactly packed: 36 people in all, not counting four Bunnell police officers and Bunnell’s administrative staff. Most of the 36 (like most of the comments during the public portion of the meeting) were there to advocate for the police department.

Bolante read a letter from the sheriff to the commission. “May it be known that I have no intention of taking over law enforcement services for the city of Bunnell unless it’s the wishes of the mayor and council members for the city of Bunnell that we do so,” the sheriff wrote. “Please be advised we will do whatever is the desire or recommendation of the mayor and city council.”

Fleming proposed assigning eight deputies to cover Bunnell, which currently has 12 sworn officers, aside from the police chief. The sheriff’s services would have cost $824,000, though the sheriff would deduct several costs he’s billing to Bunnell for various services, reducing Bunnell’s annual law enforcement bill to $728,852–a 26 percent saving over Bunnell’s projected law enforcement budget of $988,553, according to the sheriff’s calculations.

Bunnell’s current police budget is $1.1 million. In order to come close to the sheriff’s numbers, Bunnell, by its own calculations, with a $774,400 budget for the police department, would have to reduce the police department’s salaries and wages by 59 percent–eliminating six sworn officers.

But it wasn’t about the numbers. And commissioners asked only a few questions after Bolante made her presentation. The meeting was about emotions. As it was several years ago when it considered a take-over by the sheriff, the city–judging by the three dozen people in attendance–is too attached to its police department to consider a switch. Ironically, a number of people in attendance, like local NAACP President Robert Williams, weren’t from Bunnell. They were from Palm Coast. But they filled seats and lent their support to Jones. About 20 minutes into the meeting, the mayor turned over the floor to public comments, which were as if choreographed to give Jones and the department a collective vote of confidence, with only a few exceptions.

“I think it’s time to change,” Pete Young, a former Bunnell police chief and a resident of Bunnell for 38 years, said. “I’ve been saying this for years, ever since I was a police officer and the chief of police in Bunnell I’ve been saying it, that if we can’t provide the services for the people, we need to combine into a bigger agency.”

Young was in the minority.

Sims Jones, a pastor and a resident of Palm Coast–beginning with an inaccurate description of “two police officers that is the city of Palm Coast” despite the sheriff’s contract for law enforcement services there–said, in defense of the Bunnell Police Department: “They’ve already formed something, they’ve already done something, and they’re working with the people in the community, and I think there needs to be some consideration for them.”

He was followed by three other people who don’t live in Bunnell but lent their voice to the department’s support–two staffers of the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency, then Edmund Pinto, president of the African American Cultural Society. Similar voices followed.

Commissioners reflected the rank-closing mood. “We have some work to do,” Mayor Catherine Robinson said, acknowledging the shortcomings of the department. But she described Bunnell’s situation with its police department as having :”the best of both worlds”–a good relationship with the sheriff’s office, and a workable police department that belongs to the city. “Do I support my police department? Yes I do. Do they make me mad? Yes they do,” Robinson said. She’d noted how in 2000 she decided against running for office again because of the police department. “We had a police department that was terrible. And that’s an understatement.” She noted a 2006 report about the police department that was “seething.” But the hiring of Martinez and Jones, she said, was part of turning the department around. She did not refer to the more recently seething report by the State Attorney’s office about the same department, saying merely that the city may have taken its eyes “off the ball” for a while, “and the wake-up call is here.”

Vice Mayor Jenny Crain-Brady and Commissioner Daisy Henry had made clear that they would not support a sheriff take-over, sealing the matter.

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19 Responses for “Bunnell Rebuffs Sheriff’s Offer to Provide Law Enforcement at 26% Less Than City’s Costs”

  1. Anonymous says:

    TYPO: Pete Young, a former Bunnell police chief and a resident of Bunnell for 389 years

  2. Anonymous2 says:

    This is so sad for the city of Bunnell; the citizens of BUNNELL are paying money for a “mediocre ” department… rumor has it the fired lieutenant and his wife sidekick are coming back?

  3. kurt says:

    theyve gotta beat like 8 felony chrges and johnnie cochrans gone so idont know how they expect 2 come back. husband and wife cop duo, who has ever heard of such a thing????



  5. ACW says:

    Dont’ forget that the city of Bunnell as well as any other small city in this county which has their own police department, are also carrying the city of Palm Coast rent a cop program, on their backs .
    PC is getting away with murder at the expense of the other cities, which pay for two departments their own, and the subsidy for the officers going into PC. Just think of what it would cost PC to have their own department, do the math.

  6. Dorothea says:

    To ACW:

    Please explain what you mean about the PC rent a cop program. I don’t understand. Palm Coast pays millions of dollars every year to “rent” cops from the sheriff’s department. So what do Landon and Netts have to do with the control?

    I do agree with Bunnell’s decision, however. Not only is Bunnell getting fewer cops for their money, but once the Bunnell PD is disbanded, what’s to stop the sheriff from demanding more money next year? Every year Palm Coast’s cost for law enforcement from the sheriff gets higher and higher for mediocre service. The only improvement has been making Mark Carman top cop in Palm Coast. But I don’t see Carman butting heads with the sheriff when it comes to controlling what the deputies do or where they are at any given time, which is often not where they are supposed to be in accordance with Palm Coast’s contract with the sheriff’s department. You only have to count the number of patrol cars at a minor crime scene to figure that out.

  7. ItsMe says:

    I believe ACW is referring to the C.O.P. program which is County wide and not specific to Palm Coast.
    Also your comments about where deputies are supposed to be is just blowing wind.
    If you do not like the Sheriff for whatever reason that’s fine but unless you are awake 24 hours a day and seek out the locations of every deputy at every moment don’t damn those who are out there doing the job when you really have no idea. You’re posts are always negative when it comes to the S.O. and mostly misinformed. But what else should be expected from this sites biggest fan?

    Quote from article: “There was a lot of kissing, hugging, hand-slapping and grinning after a meeting of the Bunnell City Commission to consider–and roundly reject–a proposal by the Flagler County Sheriff to take over the Bunnell Police Department.”

    How is it that we forget it was the Sheriff who was approached by the Bunnell City Commission and NOT the other way around? Yes Bunnell PD is victorious over an issue their city commission created not the Sheriff’s Office. That said, I am glad for Art Jones. He is a good man.

    Also, “The sheriff himself didn’t show up. He’s averse to politically charged situations, especially those where the winds aren’t in his favor.”

    Why shoud he show up? In his favor? LOL. He advised it was not his intention to take over the PD and left it up to the Council and Mayor.

  8. Dorothea says:

    To itsme,

    I somehow knew you would answer. I make more than a few posts here, so don’t be surprised when I have something to say about law enforcement. And yes, I am a fan of this site.

    You tend to have a knee jerk negative reaction to every word posted here about the sheriff’s office, so I’m guessing that you work for the sheriff’s office. I have nothing against the SO, just the high priced Palm Coast/SO contract that still doesn’t have deputies regularly patrolling the streets and who are mostly reacting to events, rather than preventing them by their presence.

    It would be very interesting if you were to put your money were your mouth is. Send Pierre a copy of a month’s worth of patrol car lo-jack records and prove me wrong.

  9. ACW says:

    It has nothing to do with the COP’s program.
    It is that PC pays chump change to the county, to cover their city with county funded officers. How much money do you think is being put into those officers from non-residents of the city, do you have any idea what it would cost PC to have THEIR OWN DEPT. They PC have a good deal, even paying the same price for these officers they paid in their last budget, nothing against the county but they need to be fair ?

  10. Dorothea says:

    To ACW:

    I don’t consider $6 or $7 million dollars for law enforcement “chump change” if you consider that Palm Coast taxpayers, in addition to these millions, also pay a big chunk of county taxes that goes to the FCSO’s budget. By law, the sheriff’s department is required to cover the entire county. The money that Palm Coast pays is for extra coverage. If there is disproportionately low law enforcement coverage outside of PC, it’s up to the sheriff to get get it right. I can’t see how you can hold Palm Coast at fault.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Not a knee jerk negative reaction Dorothea. Infact far from it. Just my belief that readers have a right to form their own opinions based on truth. If you posted accurate info about the S.O. i’d have no reason to follow up on your comments.
    Have a great day.

  12. Haw Creek Girl says:

    Chief Jones is either ignorant or incompetent or both. There is no way that the things going on within his department could have been going on without him having some sort of idea about it. Think about it, as a parent, you know when something isn’t right with one of your kids….when they are ‘up to something’ so to speak. Chief Jones had to know that the Murrays working together was going to blow up in his face, if he didn’t that’s where the ignorance comes in. Now, if he had an idea something wasn’t right (how could he not?? evidence room in a chaotic mess, wreckers calls being handled like a personal favor, roughing up kids that weren’t in the best position to call them out on it…or so they thought anyway) then he has the responsiblity to investigate it. Take the initiatve and do the foot work himself. I am sure if he hit the streets of Bunnell he would have had more than a few ppl wanting to fill him in on what was going on in detail. This isn’t Miami, this is Bunnell….the department in not that big so Chief get yourself out of the bubble and stop the visage of incompetence. And don’t any of you yahoos be trying to throw me under the bus and say I am being racially discriminatory, I just laid out the facts. Hell, just to prove my fairness, I say send Chief Jones back to Miami and hire Warnell Williams as Chief.

  13. Just the Facts says:

    Actually Creek from what I understand, Bunnell changed their rules and policies to allow the dynamic duo (Murrays) to get married…thats just the begining of wat Jones let slide through the cracks…lol the sheriff needs to take that place over asap!!!!

  14. kurt says:

    it looks like ‘hawcreek girl’ and ‘just the facts’ as well as the author of tthis article are on the right track. hopefully flaglerlive will try to get to the bottom of this rubbish. the citizens of bunell deserve the truth

  15. Just the Facts says:

    The problem is that the commish doesn’t want to know or see the truth..the people are just being lied to over and over while the city manager and chiefs pocket gets PHAT!!!

  16. John Smith says:

    Port Orange just went through this with its commission to save money and did the samething by making the choice to keep their PD. Once it has been lost you can never afford to get it back. The Fire Dept will be next.

  17. kurt says:

    portorange has a great police department that solves crimes and portorange has well trained officers that know howto do their job. bunell has a 2nd in command that was steaing drugs and stuff like that. sarge burke and hosferd and some others are good too but the top of the department and the city needs to be held responsible and there not.

  18. Just the Facts says:

    bunnell= bad news bears of police

  19. Anonymous says:

    The City of Bunnell has been blessed to have Chief Arthur Jones. He has done nothing wrong exept clean up the dirt from the past in the department. It takes time to investigate and prove the wrong doing of the previous problems in the department to take action to prosecute. I have found him to be of very high integrity and honor. He has worked hard at cleaning up the city of Bunnell to make it a better place to reside as well as changing the past image people had of Bunnell. Currently some people from Palm Coast would rather locate to Bunnell than deal with the problems of crime not being addressed in Palm Coast. If a resident has a problem or complaint all you need to do is call and it is taken care of immediately. I praise the Chief for the hard work, changes, and continued efforts in doing a fine job in this community. Just remember it took a long time for things to reach the point they were at in the past. His currnet police force is very professsional a doing an excellant job. Some long time residents don’t like change as well as commisioners however, it has cerrtainly been for the better. Give the new administration a chance and you will see a positive outcome.

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