A little over an hour into the Flagler County Commission meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Joe Mullins addressed the county’s health director about the coronavirus. “I hate seeing what it’s doing to each other,” Mullins said. “What we’re doing and the way we’re talking to each other, the way we’re treating each other.”
It was a strange thing to say in light of his earlier behavior. About an hour before, after Mullins had stormed off the dais, ostensibly to join anti-maskers who were refusing to mask up inside, he stormed back on, walked in a fighting stance behind the chairman of the commission toward Commissioner Greg Hansen, and said of Hansen: “I’m going to be very clear, that fat sonofabitch here is not going to tell me what to do.”
Mullins also called Commissioner Charlie Ericksen a “useless old man,” according to Ericksen.
“He called me a fat sonofabitch, and then he started to walk away and turned around and said I’m fed up with your wife, too,” Hansen said in an interview. Mullins was referring to Linda Hansen, who’s taken issue with Mullins’s behavior in the past and alerted the county administrator about it, only to draw an intimidating notice from Mullins’s local attorney to leave him alone.
Mullins’s insult of Hansen is clearly audible on a video of the meeting. His insult to Ericksen is not clear. Hansen remembered it as Mullins “talking about his addled brain,” Meaning Ericksen’s. Ericksen, who’s been going through several medical issues, has spoken publicly about his recent struggles with memory.
For Mullins, Wednesday’s display of aggression and the kind of demeaning insults that target individuals personally is nothing new. He’s publicly demeaned a former elections supervisor over her weight, his targets have included transgender people or people he thought he was insulting as transgender, his verbal attacks on local Democrats are legion, including a wish to have them transported out by the trainload–a slur some took as an allusion of Auschwitz-bound cattlecars–he continuously used anti-Semitic tropes to caricature the editor of this site, and he so intimidated Ericksen last spring that Ericksen felt it necessary to contact the sheriff to seek guidance.
Ericksen spoke of that incident in an interview in May but said he was afraid of the repercussions if it was placed on the record. Ericksen removed the restriction in an interview today, saying he was afraid what might happen to others if it wasn’t known. “He’s leading up to the possibility of something that could be damaging to somebody,” Ericksen said today. “He loves to intimidate people. He’s got that little-man complex.” Ericksen called him “dangerous,” describing Mullins on Wednesday as having “fire in his eyes.”
In May, Ericksen said Mullins was lambasting him for supposedly not showing up at advisory or committee meetings to which commissioners are assigned, though at the time few if any such meetings were being held because of the coronavirus. “He’d decided I was something like a sorry ass,” Ericksen said at the time. “I barked back at him and told him he was full of shit and he’d better not threaten me or I’d bring this up before the whole commission. That seemed to infuriate him more.” Ericksen then hung up on him.
He grew afraid–”he scared the piss out of me”–and said he contacted the sheriff. “He just reassured me that if [Mullins] ever showed up at my door, they’d respond. I did not file a complaint against the character but I did feel worried, I did feel scared.” He called Mullins “a punk” who is “going to be dangerous.”
Staly confirmed the account today. “I do remember Charlie Ericksen calling me with concerns,” Staly said, “and I said that if he felt threatened that he should report it, we’d have a deputy take the report. He indicated he didn’t want to do that. I think he said something like ‘I’m concerned he’s just going to show up at my house,’ and I said if that happens you need to call us and a deputy will respond.”
Mullins, who has not responded to interview requests since FlaglerLive reported last November on his company buying a parcel of land from County Administrator Jerry Cameron for over $400,000, did not respond to an email requesting an interview about his run-ins with Hansen and Ericksen.
The incident on Wednesday took place as a commission meeting was being disrupted for 30 minutes by anti-maskers who refused to follow county-building rules and mask up in order to stay in the chamber, where there were upwards of 50 people, despite repeated entreaties by Sullivan and the sheriff. The sheriff at one point had the group calmed down–until Mullins spoke up and vaporized the calm Staly had worked toward with the group.
The meeting was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Mullins, maskless, walked in to take his seat just as Sullivan was explaining the rules to the crowd. Mullins didn’t put one on even after Sullivan said everyone in the room had to wear one. “We have over 50 people in the room,” he said. “Big Difference,” Ericksen said. Mullins finally put a mask on. The anti-maskers kept their seats and stayed maskless. Staly walked up to Sullivan, they spoke. “No, I don’t think they should be arrested, but yeah,” Sullivan is heard telling the sheriff before adding: “I don’t know what else I’m going to do except say I’m not going to start the meeting until everybody has a mask on.”
People just sat there, unmoved by Sullivan’s entreaties, unmoving from their chairs. Staly then went before the anti-maskers and began calmly and for over three minutes speaking to them to defuse the situation. He told them there was no enforcement component to mask measures local governments have enacted, but after telling them that he was all for defending their constitutional rights, he noted building rules. Some of them told him they “owned” the building as taxpayers.
“I said you might technically own the building as a taxpayer, but the manager/custodian or the management of this building is up to five county commissioners and the administrator, they have every legal right to make any rule that they want for entry,” Staly said he told the group. “I had them calmed down, or getting close to that anyways. I said look, if you cause a commotion here, and refuse to follow their rules, you can be asked to leave. I said then if you don’t leave you could be arrested for trespass. I think that’s when Mullins stood up behind me, I really don’t know.”
“Guys I want to, I want to weigh in on this with it as well,” Mullins told Sullivan and fellow-commissioners, his mask dangling from his right ear. Both Sullivan and Hansen tell him no. “We haven’t started,” both say, both of them gesturing him off.
“I’m weighing in as a citizen,” Mullins says, ripping the mask from his ear and slamming it down on the dais, “so y’all are going to tell me I can’t as a citizen? Then I’ll walk out with them as well.”
“Well, good, go ahead, Joe,” Sullivan tells him, a rare public rebuff by Sullivan of a man he’d generally coddled, as has the administration. (“I was very proud of Dave for standing up to Mullins,” Hansen told Ericksen later, leaning toward him.)
The anti-maskers Staly had just calmed applaud Mullins, who gets up theatrically, picks up his mask, his bag and other items, says “I’m not going to allow this,” and exits stage right. (But not really. He only walks to the area where County Administrator Jerry Cameron and County Attorney Al Hadeed are sitting.) But by then he’s roused the anti-maskers again, who start making declamations about the ineffectiveness of masks or how they cause harm (both untrue). “This is America, land of the free,” one yells out. Staly was still at the front of the room, his work invalidated by Mullins.
“I think that’s when Mullins stood up and it all went south,” Staly said. “I don’t really know exactly what Mullins said, but it wasn’t calm anymore, and that’s when the chairman shut it down, cleared out the room.” Hansen saw the situation as Staly had: “Dave Sullivan was handling it very well, Rick Staly was there, they kind of had it under control,” until Mullins spoke up.
By then 12 minutes had passed. “Here’s what’s going to happen, I’m going to call …” Sullivan tries to say.
“I think you’re forgetting that you guys are public servants,” one of the anti-maskers yells out.
“I’m not forgetting it at all,” Sullivan shoots back. “But anyway, you’re not recognized. You’re not recognized. You’re speaking without a mask on. Just follow the rules, we’ll be happy.”
“You guys have had it easy way too long,” someone says.
“We’re adjourned, we’re adjourned,” Sullivan says, “and at this point I want the room cleared.” No one gets up until a deputy orders them to.
Two minutes later, as deputies are still trying to clear the room, Mullins, who’d never left, storms back onto the dais, puts down his drink can and unleashes his insult at Hansen.
Hansen, who maintains a stony calm, apparently explains something procedural.
“I don’t care. Let him say it. You don’t,” Mullins now yells at Hansen directly, “you don’t! You don’t!” (In fact, Mullins had been addressing all commissioners–”guys”–when he sought to speak and was shut down.) Mullins then walks behind Sullivan toward Hansen in a clearly aggressive way, approaching Hansen halfway between Sullivan’s chair and Hansen’s, pointing and continuing to yell. Ericksen immediately catches the attention of a deputy, who was dealing with the crowd. The deputy intervenes and asks Mullins to walk away from the commissioners, back toward his seat. Mullins complies. The deputy speaks to him. Mullins stands, his hands on his hips. The video cuts off at that point.
It’s not clear if it was this interaction with the deputy or another one within that time frame that angered Mullins, but at one point, Staly said, Mullins approached him to complain about the deputy. “As a result of that Mullins came up to me and basically wanted to complain on the deputy,” Staly said. “He was, let me say, animated. And I told him: ‘Commissioner, they work for me, not for you. I will look into your complaint.’”
Ironically, toward the end of the meeting six hours later, Mullins made a long speech about the importance of supporting law enforcement and, after a meandering speech rife with political overtones about “socialism,” “the radical left” and violence, looting and crime (which has been non-existent in Flagler, where crime is at a historic low) made a motion to have the commission fund four extra deputies, though the commission was preparing to approve the settled budget it had worked on in the first of two hearings later that very day. Mullins’s grandstanding is often transparent. In this case it startled even the commissioners. Mullins’s motion died.
His end-of-meeting statement had been leaden with inaccuracies (“Seattle defunded their police department, they voted unanimously to do that,” he said, prefacing his call for more deputies locally. Seattle had not: it had cut $3 million in a $409 million police budget, stopping far short of earlier calls to cut the budget 50 percent, according to the Seattle Times.) He said 36 children had been rescued from sex-traffickers in an operation in Georgia, and that some of those children could have come from Flagler, though in fact only 15 of the children had been linked to sex-traffickers (the others were merely missing or runaways), and there’s been no cases of sex-trafficking in Flagler in recent years–”not by that definition of sex trafficking,” Staly said (meaning the selling or pimping of individuals or foreigners for sex). “We have not made any cases or received any information for sex trafficking in that way.”
He also offered an apology “about my reaction and to the police,” saying: “I just never want to be in a situation where we have our law enforcement going against citizens as I know you guys don’t either, and I apologize for that, my reaction to it.” But neither the commission nor the four deputies and Staly had any intention to arrest individuals–unless it got to the point where they were trespassing and refusing to follow deputies’ directions, which had been more patient and indulgent of the individuals’ behavior than if deputies had been confronted with similar rule-breaking intransigence elsewhere.
In fact, Staly and Sullivan had gone out of the chamber and turned negotiators with the anti-maskers to enable the group to speak its mind: the group was allowed back in, unmasked for the most part, several people spoke, and when they were done, were asked to leave unless they masked-up. They complied.
Hansen took Mullins’s insult in stride. “It was a dustup, he completely lost it,” Hansen said on Thursday, though he said he’d never seen anything like it in a long career in the public and private sector, in the military, the federal and local governments. “It’s a shame, he came up, he was very apologetic afterward, but it was what it was, it wasn’t appropriate, to Charlie and me.”
“It’s very unprofessional,” Hansen added. “There’s nothing I can do about it. He is who he is. It’s just Joe Mullins. He’s very unprofessional in almost everything he does.” Hansen said he was all for censuring Mullins, but that he didn’t have a majority to do so.
Sullivan has refused to censure Mullins in the past after constituents complained to commissioners of his divisive and insulting behavior on social media or through email, calling it “mostly a private matter.” Asked about censuring Mullins in light of his insults to fellow-commissioners on the dais, Sullivan on Friday evening said: “I’m not going to give an answer on that. I’m just not going to give an answer on it right now. I’m obviously not happy.”
Next month Mullins is in line to be the next county commission chairman, unless fellow commissioners vote otherwise.