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Ambition and Pledges of Openness Frame Swearings-In at County Commission and Palm Coast Council

| November 20, 2018

Newly-minted Palm Coast Council member Jack Howell, in the foreground, is congratulated by a supporter as Mayor Milissa Holland fist-bumps fellow-councilman and now-Vice Mayor Nick Klufas (behind Howell), with Councilman Bob Cuff and, to the right, Eddie Branquinho, who was also sworn-in today. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s a day for swearings-in and reconfigurations of ruling bodies in Flagler: by nightfall, seven locally elected officials will have sworn their oath of office on three government boards–the County Commission, Palm Coast Council and the School Board–three of them for the first time.

“Wow, this is actually happening,” Joe Mullins exclaimed into the mic after getting sworn-in as the Flagler County Commission’s newest member by County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens this morning, likely echoing words supporters and opponents alike would be saying with as much surprise about his run he described as “like few have ever seen around here”: a year ago most people in the county had never heard of Mullins, who runs real estate and entertainment businesses in Augusta, Ga.

He spent nearly $120,000 to defeat two-term incumbent Nate McLaughlin in the primary (and subsequently Jane Gentile-Youd in the general election), by far the most money ever spent on a county commission  race, his innumerable “Joe Mullins” signs rivaling the local flora by October. Underscoring his connection to Georgia, his special guest this morning was Ron Cross, who’s been county chairman in Columbia County, Ga., since 2002.

“You’ve been a mentor to me and I want to thank you, and we did it,” Mullins told Cross after reading a brief written statement from his new seat. “The mass voters of this community voted for a businessman with a different approach that will focus on growing this economy of our great county,” Mullins said. “I feel like my life has prepared me to serve this community, andI will do so with all my strength, my wisdom and my faith.” He acknowledged his wife Jennifer and his children, and pledged to be a voice for constituents.

Mullins’s election ensures that the commission will remain all-male, all-white, all-Republican for two more years, as it had been for the past two years, though relative youth gained: commissioners’ average age went from 68 to 66, with Mullins the youngest, at 48.

Mullins’s election also ensures something else: that at a December meeting, he or Commissioner O’Brien may move to fire County Administrator Craig Coffey. Word of that move has become an open secret in Bunnell.  Notably at today’s commission swearing in, many of the constitutional officers who usually turn up for the affair were absent. 

County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens swears-in Joe Mullins in front of his family and, on the dais, Greg Hansen, who was also sworn-in to his first full term today. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens swears-in Joe Mullins in front of his family and, on the dais, Greg Hansen, who was also sworn-in to his first full term today. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The commission’s only other business today was nominating a new chairman and vice-chairman. Greg Hansen, the previous chairman, nominated Donald O’Brien chairman. It was unanimous. Dave Sullivan was elected vice-chairman, also unanimously, placing him in line to be the next chairman during the year coinciding with his re-election campaign. The positions are largely ceremonial, though the chairman sets the tenor of meetings and tends to be more publicly prominent at functions and in talks with other officials: the more courteous O’Brien, for example, is unlikely to say “don’t be a jerk” to a roomful of constituents, as Hansen did Monday evening in a misfiring attempt to control the crowd. Hansen, joined by his wife Linda, was more genial today.

“It’s been my pleasure to serve these last 18 months as an appointed commissioner,” Hansen said, referring to his appointment to the seat by Gov. Rick Scott after the death of Commissioner Frank Meeker. “It’s really fun to be elected, it gives you a bit more confidence that people have faith in you and they appreciate what you’re doing, and I love this job.”

McLaughlin was not there. He was at the other swearing-in ceremony, across town at the Palm Coast council, where he said Jack Howell had invited him. He’d not received an invitation to the commission swearing-in–though in effect McLaughlin was still the commissioner until about 9:35 a.m. More relaxed and without a tie this time, McLaughlin sat at the back of the council room, directly facing Mayor Milissa Holland, his line of sight unimpeded by either aisle: the word is that he’s gunning for Holland’s seat in the next election in 2020. McLaughlin would not confirm it, but did say that he would be involved one way or another. “That’s where my heart is,” he said.

Palm Coast’s City Clerk, Virginia Smith, administered the oath of office to Howell and Eddie Branquinho. Howell is the only Democrat to win an election in Flagler in the last two cycles other than the school board’s Colleen Conklin, who won re-election in a primary in 2016. Branquinho is a lifelong Democrat who’d promised several local community groups and prominent Democrats he’d remain so, though he switched to Republican last June 26 to win his campaign, mirroring Holland’s move away from the Democrats in October 2014. In effect, the council now has a majority of current or former Democrats, with two additional members–Nick Klufas and Bob Cuff–also relatively recent converts to the GOP: they both had longer histories as independents.

Call him Mr. Chairman: Donald O'Brien is the new County Commission chairman. (© FlaglerLive)

Call him Mr. Chairman: Donald O’Brien is the new County Commission chairman. (© FlaglerLive)

Howell replaces Shipley and Branquinho replaces Vincent Lyon, the Palm Coast attorney appointed to complete the term of Steven Nobile, who resigned in late spring. Lyon progressively became one of the most active council members, appointed or otherwise, in his brief tenure, sharpening issues with probing questions uninhibited by administrative presumptions or protocol and playing a decisive role in cementing the majority Holland was seeking a few weeks ago to fire then-Manager Jim Landon. But the balance of the council is not expected to alter with the arrival of the two new members: Howell is expected to represent the more insurgent voice of the council, reflecting a combination of the Shipley-Nobile hinge. It’s not clear what Branquinho will represent: his program so far has been more glad-handing congeniality than ideas.

With Howell’s and Branquinho’s election, the Palm Coast council again has no member who’s served more than two years. The most senior member of either the County Commission or the council is now Charlie Ericksen, who’s entering his seventh year, though the elected official with the most experience is Holland, whose six years on the commission and two years on the council give her eight years overall.

“Welcome to the two newest council members,” Holland told her new colleagues. “I look forward to working with the colonel on one end as well as Eddie on the other. You both made sure you were out in the community, speaking to as many residents, so I’m looking forward to your input, your knowledge, your background, your skill set–everything you both bring to the table–I think will bring tremendous outcomes to our city. So thank you to both of you for serving, and let’s have fun.”

Howell wanted to say one thing: “I couldn’t have done this without the help of a lot of people who are sitting out there. Trust me, this is the last thing I thought I’d be doing in february of this year,” he said. One of the people sitting in the audience was Heidi Shipley, the council member who’d stepped down, freeing the seat Howell now occupies. She’d encouraged him to run. “More importantly, everybody has to have an energizer, somebody who is close to you that you can confide in, will tell you you’re full of nonsense or it’s a good idea, and I couldn’t have done this without my beautiful wife Samantha. It just–” Howell then choked up and couldn’t continue. Applause finished his sentence until he added a few words.

Branquinho put it this way: “Thank you for accepting me,” also choking up as he cited his wife and his son before going into the Fifth Dimension: “I want more than anything else not to disappoint and to keep this city going one way, up, up, up.”

The school board holds its swearing in at the top of its regular meeting this evening at 6 p.m. But that will be the least consequential of the three ceremonies, as the three members getting sworn-in–Trevor Tucker, Andy Dance and Janet McDonald–all won re-election. The board will also possibly choose a new chairman or chairwoman, unless it chooses to stick with Tucker’s brisk and no-frills chairmanship. 

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11 Responses for “Ambition and Pledges of Openness Frame Swearings-In at County Commission and Palm Coast Council”

  1. MarkingTheDays says:

    They had never heard of Mullins because he has no ties to this community. Flagler County was foolish to vote in the carpet-bagging opportunist.

  2. Lnzc says:

    Now new members do what you promised.
    Clean out the swamp in Palm Coast and Flagler County

  3. carol says:

    New BS, let’s see what they do………..

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    Does this “New Openness” include prohibiting businesses funding your campaigns then letting them destroy our local parks?

    Does this “New Openness” mean you won’t try to be sneaky about slipping such deals by us the letting us find out about it in Flagler Live?

    What was Flagler County thinking by electing Mullins? Why should he even be interested in a seat on the commission? Other than it be self serving.

  5. Anonymous says:

    SOS they will get what they can for themselves, deals, contacts , than move on . Same stupid talk with new faces, they are jokes

  6. Agkistrodon says:

    I won’t be holding my breath in anticipation. A few of them would be lucky to achieve hitting their backsides with a tennis racket.

  7. snapperhead says:

    Let’s give city the city council some credit for at least finally finding the courage to fire Landon. Hopefully the county commission can follow suit and fire King Coffey.

  8. Voter says:

    First of all McLaughlin has no one to blame but him self. He has been so far up Coffey’s ass it would take a rectal surgeon to get him out. He should have served the people who elected him and not Coffey! There have been far too many shady deals being slipped by in the consent agenda and Commissioners to this point have acted like they work for Coffey instead of he working for them as an employee of theirs. This has got to stop. I certainly do hope that Coffey is fired ASAP and before that is done that his contract that he manipulated to never expire or have to be renewed with a golden parachute be revised and cancelled. He should be evaluated, by the people and his employers each year and be never should his contract be renewed in advance. By the simple fact that Coffey slipped things through the day before McLaughlin left office is reason enough to confirm he needs to go and that it was the right decision to not reelect McLaughlin. McLaughlin will take any government job he can get to leach off the tax payer. The man is nearly 60 years old and has never had a career job. I am skeptical about Mullins, but agree that we have to give him a chance and if he lets us down and is self serving that in 4 years he will be voted out and replaced. So far, I like what I hear and hope that he will stop the underhanded way this BOCC has been doing business for far too many years. When the BOCC hired Sally Sherman back after she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and her position was left vacant until she returned to it is reason enough that Coffey should be fired, and the BOCC should all be ashamed!! That too needs to be repealed and Sherman sent into retirement. If she were so good Seminole County would have kept her. The fact of the matter is, Coffey got out of the Military, went to school and landed this golden opportunity with no qualifications and experience–he never should have been hired in Flagler County and Al Hadeed should have never been rehired in 2007 after the BOCC fired him in 1998. Mullins ran a good campaign and got his name out there. He worked hard and deserves the job he landed. I hope he will continue to work just as hard for us and not the developers and those that can fill his pockets and do him favors.

    Holland definitely needs to go in 2020 but McLaughlin is NOT what we need to fill her position!!! Holland is another one who is a legend in her own mind. She has gotten where she is off the merits of her father. She has no job experience or any qualifications to hold public office.

    The best thing that came out of this election is that Jon Netts was not elected!!!!!!! Welcome Jack Howell—show us what you got. Start with a forensic audit on the city!!!

  9. Maffamike says:

    If Mullin can get rid of Coffey he would be Flagler countys savior… Coffeys every move proves his incompetency or corruption ? What’s his history ? Coffey pushed the purchase of Bunnell hospital paying several hundreds of dollars more than appraised value , he then purchased plantation bay water plant for approx 5million great deal , it needs about 6mill to make it ingestible . He makes deals which destroy our county park Bings landing with no profit to tax payers . The past 6 years have cost county tax payers millions and what have we gotten for our investment Nohing and this turkey our county exec is paid approx $ 200k + benefits . What this county needs is a good investigation into all this dirt . Pissed off taxed payer. Maffa

  10. capt says:

    Regarding all the County Commissioners, unless you put a rope on Coffey you’re job is nothing more but a scam to the taxpayers and voters that you serve. Stop wasting money on stupid projects that benefit nobody. Listen to the voters after all its their money you are spending.

  11. palmcoaster says:

    All the one’s sworn in office now need to put the services and existing infrastructure of the current taxpayers first in our yearly government budgets list. Then if any funds leftover invest in growth and rich developers.
    You were elected by the people and as such should hear their pleads and give a solution to their request.
    Till now has being the other way around. Look what Hansen and Sullivan voted and McLaughlin as the lame duck for our (no longer will be pristine) Bings Landing Park. Now you guys will have four more years of Hansen…

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