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Joe Mullins Walks Back $2 Million Deal to Keep Sheriff’s Ops in Bunnell, But Calls for End to Bunnell Police Department

| April 25, 2019

County Commissioner Joe Mullins, center, speaking with reporters outside the Sheriff's Operations Center in Bunnell in January. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commissioner Joe Mullins, center, speaking with reporters outside the Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell in January. Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson criticized Mullins for joining a county commission vote to move the operations center out of the city. Mullins says he still supports a district office for Bunnell–but also wants the Bunnell Police Department merged with the sheriff’s office. (© FlaglerLive)

Page 3 of Bunnell’s resolution condemning the Flagler County Commission for building a sheriff’s district office in Palm Coast makes the following suggestion of what sounds close to a shakedown: “officials of the City of Bunnell were informed by Flagler County Commissioner Joseph Mullins that the County would have considered a fifth option that included the siting of a new Sheriff’s operations center within the City of Bunnell, but only if the City of Bunnell had agreed to pay the County $2,000,000 in exchange for the County agreeing to keep the Sheriff’s principal offices within the county seat.”

Strictly speaking, he did. He did so in a text to Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson: “And we can keep it in area,” Mullins texted to Robinson, “I was told by jerry but it’s requiring a 2 million match from city. Can y’all help if I come and ask? I would like it to stay at eoc. If you listen to something more than a vote you will see what I said.”

As is often the case with Mullins, what he said in the heat of the moment–and it was a heated text exchange that ran on for dozens of texts back and forth–was not exactly what he meant to say. “By no means did I say give me $2 million and I’ll vote for it,” he said today. But he recognizes that what he did say could easily lead to different conclusions.

“One thing I have learned since being here is to own my mistake,” he said today.

The Mullins text that inspired part of Bunnell's resolution condemning the county. Click on the image for larger view.

The Mullins text that inspired part of Bunnell’s resolution condemning the county. Click on the image for larger view.

Clarifying what he meant to say (as he did Wednesday and Thursday, and will again Friday, going as far as offering a public apology on the radio to Robinson) was too late to prevent Bunnell from including the trade-off in its official resolution, or to prevent displeasure from County Administrator Jerry Cameron (the “jerry” in the texts), who says he never told Mullins of any $2 million trade-off, or to fuel what was already a simmering feud between the city and the county.

It hasn’t helped that Mullins gave a different explanation of the text on Wednesday and Thursday, first comparing the $2 million figure to the money Palm Coast pays the Sheriff’s Office for contracted policing (actually, closer to $3.3 million), then saying it’s the sum total of what the county expects to generate from the sale of two buildings it recently bought and no longer wants. “I misquoted him on that,” Mullins concedes.

Assuming the county can sell the two buildings, the money can then go toward the $12 to $15 million sheriff’s building near the county library off Palm Coast Parkway. But the county would be seeking to sell those buildings regardless, whether the sheriff’s new building goes up in Palm Coast or not.

The April 15 texts between Robinson and Mullins were the result of Mullins’s vote joining the rest of the commission to build the sheriff’s district office in Palm Coast. “I have supported you. You voted for the move,” Robinson texted him. “You didn’t support Bunnell. End of story.”

If Bunnell wants “a ceremonial police force that’s what they’ve got but the community is begging for a functional one,” Mullins says.

Mullins had told her he was surprised “no one was there” from the Bunnell commission when the county commission voted (one Bunnell commissioner, Jan Reeger, was, but she did not speak in opposition to the vote). “I would’ve really preferred all of us to have sat down and discussed some options instead of what happened at the commission meeting in Bunnell that really neutralized me with the other four.” Mullins was likely referring to a previous Bunnell commission meeting where commissioners first talked of their displeasure with the county and suggested the county would be breaking the law by moving the sheriff’s operations center out of the city.

“You are blaming us for your vote and ignoring the law,” Robinson shot back. “No respect for who we are and our heritage.”

Mullins told Robinson he still is pushing for a sheriff’s district office in Bunnell, next to the Emergency Operations Center, and will continue to do so: he wanted that district office to be bigger than the one in Palm Coast, but says he does not want it built on the back of higher taxes. And he sees it as an opportunity to merge Bunnell’s police department with the sheriff’s office and provide a higher level of policing in Bunnell. “How important is yawls police department and could we not consolidate it and make that area bigger,” he texted Robinson.

That sat even less well with Robinson. “Now you are going after my police Dept??? Really[.]” She said she was “not interested in discussing my police Dept with anyone from the county or sheriff.”

Twice in four years–in 2010 and 2014–Elbert Tucker, who just stepped down from the Bunnell commission, attempted to have the sheriff take over policing in Bunnell. Twice he failed. In 2010, Robinson and then-Police Chief Arthur Jones organized a public display of support for the department to build up a vote against disbanding it. At the time, the department was mired in scandals, crime and arrests in its own ranks, and a investigation by the State Attorney’s Office that also implicated a sitting commissioner. The department has seen less turbulence under Chief Tom Foster, though it was pared down for several years.

robinson texts

Robinson’s texts are in blue. Click on the image for larger view.

Mullins says it’s time to merge the Bunnell Police Department with the sheriff unless the city invests more heavily in its department and addresses various issues he says local businesses are complaining about, including homeless and drug issues.

“If they want a ceremonial police force that’s what they’ve got but the community is begging for a functional one,” Mullins said, sounding more like a Bunnell than a county commissioner. “At the end of the day I want a police force that’s functional.”

That’s likely only to add to Bunnell’s anxieties and buttress its commissioners’ argument that more forces are in play than merely a district office’s move to Palm Coast. “Our police department is walking on eggshells because they think they’re going to be taken over,”  Bunnell Vice Mayor John Rogers said.

But in this case as well, Mullins was speaking in a political vacuum: neither the rest of the county commission nor any members of the Bunnell commission have so much as hinted that they were interested in consolidation. Sheriff Rick Staly in the past has steered clear of making any such suggestions, leaving it to the political bodies to make those decisions, though the sheriff’s office as a whole has had its share of frustrations with Bunnell police not pulling its weight.

The Mullins-Robinson texts were not the only exchange creating confusion. Rogers was heard on WNZF’s morning news show say he wanted a meeting between the county and the city commission to “work together,” and said “no, I’m not opposed to them having an ops-Palm Coast.” But he later said the clip did not provide the full context of where he stands, which hasn’t changed.

“The main, principal headquarters need to be in the county seat,” Rogers said. “A substation needs to be in Palm Coast. They’re going to build something out there. But I said all along that the principal operation and the permanent records of the sheriff needs to remain in Bunnell, the county seat.”

18 Responses for “Joe Mullins Walks Back $2 Million Deal to Keep Sheriff’s Ops in Bunnell, But Calls for End to Bunnell Police Department”

  1. Really says:

    So much drama for a small Town smh geez figure it out already

  2. Michael Cocchiola says:

    This commissioner, as with any commissioner, has to recognize that words have consequences. Politicians, and if you sit on the Flagler BOCC you are one, have to use their public forum very carefully. Think things out, ask questions and then speak. It works.

  3. Charles "Bub" Robson says:

    I have served once from 1980-84 as Bunnell PD Chief. I have also been a Sgt. with FCSO, Police Chief in Flagler Beach twice. Bunnell needs their own Police Dept. Bunnell like Flagler Beach needs their own PD. Both cities have unique problems. A PD is much closer to the citizens it serves in their respective city. If you consolidate with FCSO it will cost the city government more. Also Bunnell is the County seat of Flagler County, stand up Bunnell and keep the Sheriff’s main facility in Bunnell.

  4. Change my Vote says:

    @JoeMullins It’s hard to defend yourself against text-evidence. Either you said it or you didn’t. Lets not lie to make oureselves look better. I for one, would LOVE to change my vote and take your lying self back out of office. You turned your back on the residents of Bunnell and didn’t even bat an eyelash. Shame on you! How about you worry about fixing our swales in the Deen Road Community and less about what Palm Coast is doing in their spare time since that’s what you were elected to do!

    Side Note: Interesting info about Mr. Mullins himself

  5. Lnzc says:

    Why doesn’t the county sell the 20 acres by library
    And build next county courthouse property?
    Save millions

  6. atilla says:

    What about the Sears building?????????????????

  7. Concerned Citizen says:

    Once again our leadership is bickering and not playing nice in the sand box. And at our expense!!

    This county is in need of new leadership. And quickly. The problems just weren’t with Craig Coffey. From the Sheriiff to Clerk of Court and the various BOCC’s as well as Palm Coast leadership has lost focus. They have forgotten their job and are lead to beleive they cannot be replaced.

    From accepting bribes to protect a resturaunt to representing special interest groups our leadership team no longer represents it’s constituents. I remember when the county got tired of Coffey and the Unions banded together to vote No Confidence. Why isn’t this being done now to our BOCC?

    People we have elections coming in 2020. It’s our big chance to clean house and get fresh faces. We need to demand better from our leaders. It starts at the polls. Don’t forget all those broken promises and shady dealings. Along with unprofessional and unethical behavior.

  8. Concerned Citizen says:

    BTW here is a simple solution.

    Give the Sheriff an office in the Court House. There’s plenty of space. He doesn’t have to be based at the Ops center. Let his leadership team run the agency like they are supposed to.

    Florida Law specifies that the Sheriff or his Deputy must maintain residence in the county seat. OR within 2 miles of it. By giving him one office in Bunnell it simplifies it.

    Why is this so hard to understand but a retired LEO FF/EMT sees it?

  9. Knows Jack says:

    Who ever said the main operations, records and Sheriff would reside in the new FCSO Palm Coast District office anyway?

  10. Donnie Riddle says:

    Why should the city pay 2 million to keep the EOC in the city,,when the fl.state statues clearly states the office of the sheriff has to be in the county seat. Last I knew palm coast isn’t the county seat!!!

  11. Thomas says:

    Butt out of Bunnell’s business

  12. John DeWitt says:

    Joe Mullins in a nutshell- speaks first, thinks later, lies and denies, lacks character, nuff said!

  13. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    So simple- Joe Mullins is Bunnell’s County Commissioner. District 4 does not include Palm Coast( but most of the county’s voters and $$ are in Palm Coast).

    Mayor Robinson was born and raised in Bunnell and takes pride that ‘her’ city is, and should remain, the county seat. As far as land is concerned Bunnell is now the largest land mass city area I believe in the State of Florida other than Jacksonville.
    Can anyone blame the Mayor for being infuriated that a newcomer from Georgia is now telling her what she should do with her own city while he facebooks with Milissa Holland every other day?

    And oh Joe ,you may mean well but your actions are the reason my campaign signs from last year are alive and well in our overcrowded garage – just in case…. You owe the Mayor a big apology and a lot more respect for her city and district you chose to represent? Do you really live in Bunnell? Just curious…

  14. Salty says:

    Does anyone realize by now that Mullins is a Carpetbagger Democrat in disguise lies and manipulates. People were warned before they voted him in. He is a fluke and he is only in office for himself and himself only. ( He also is Attached to Staly for some reason?) He chases every headline issue in the newspaper and has no idea what he is doing to fix the issue. He uses everyone else around him to do his work and then takes credit. He is a transplant from GA who is exploiting Flagler county. I’m sure he will try to make everything alright by donating money to a church with a big cardboard check. Just like he throws snowfest as a cover to walk away with literally thousands in cash coming out of his pockets and donates a small portion to a school with a big cardboard check. His end goal is to try to exploit this county into thinking he is great so he can run for a district seat. Vote him out or have Desantis remove him immediately!
    Did anyone else notice Mullins was missing during the course of Masters golf event? Must be nice to have a two week vacation six months in the position to run back home to GA to peddle master tickets. Disgusting leader.

  15. Flagmire says:

    So we need some sort of police facility in palm coast in addition to what already exists off cypress parkway. I would imagine the city of palm coast is on the hook for part of those costs as part of the tithe to the sheriff for services provided above what the County feels is sufficient level of service. We probably just need a palm coast police department WITH AN ELECTED POLICE CHIEF.

  16. Sabrina says:

    I happen to agree with you. Our taxes doubled last year and we’re retired. This County needs the retirees because they give and don’t take from the economy. It’s a shame that such a small place could behave like it’s a big city. Although there is a thought. .. Build now and it won’t be necessary later and cost a whole lot more. Build for the future. .. I’m sure it will be needed and used. .. as the rising crime spree gets even bigger. ..

  17. Concerned Citizen says:

    @ Joe Mullins

    Your disdain and dismissive attitude towards your consituents are showing. As is your lack of ethics.

    I am no longer surprised when I see money changing hands to get deals done in this county. I am also no longer surprised that our BOCC in all jurisdictions no longer answer to the consituents of their districts. They have become to cocky sitting in office for so long.

    A much as I don’t like the phrase, Perhaps it is time to drain the swamp. Let’s get new politicians in there who will represent ALL of Flagler County. And hold them accountable when they don’t do their jobs.

  18. Carl Sanderson says:

    We have property to build a library by the courthouse. Build the Sheriff’s office there. It is more important than a new library. Every BOCC only thinks what’s best for me. Time to start working for the people that elected you, because you can be replaced.

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