Less than 48 hours after insulting Commissioner Greg Hansen at a County Commission meeting, Commissioner Joe Mullins unleashed another string of worse abuse on Hansen, to his face–at an event commemorating the death of 3,000 victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mullins has continued insulting both Hansen and Commissioner Charlie Ericksen on social media, leveling grossly false accusations at them–that they were trying to arrest anti-mask protesters at last week’s commission meeting, when, in fact, neither Hansen nor Ericksen attempted (or said) anything to that effect, though Mullins was himself responsible for throwing fuel on the fire as the sheriff and deputies were trying to control the protesters.
The incidents have added momentum to a censure motion Hansen and Ericksen want the commission to take action on when it meets again next week. Other elected officials, including a Flagler Beach city commissioner, a school board member running for a commission seat and another candidate running for the same seat, all say action against Mullins is necessary.
“I think there’s a growing wave to try to do something here,” Ericksen said, “so the next meeting might be eye-opening.”
But Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan and Commissioner Donald O’Brien, who have been close to Mullins, are demuring. They refused to rebuke of Mullins’s frequently offensive and bigoted behavior online when constituents asked for action last February, a silence that appears to embolden Mullins further. This week, Sullivan and O’Brien in interviews said they were not ready to discuss the matter of censure, though Ericksen and Hansen repeated their wish to have Mullins censured.
Mullins has been embroiled in controversy since before his election, his veracity often in question. The controversies and falsehoods haven’t ceased, at times infecting fellow-commissioners and the county administration. He has frequently fired insults at elected officials, particularly Hansen, but from his social media platform or the half-hour radio commercial he buys every week. That changed last week when he insulted fellow-commissioners at a commission meeting.
Shortly after he’d incited a small crowd back to rowdiness at the beginning of last week’s Flagler County Commission meeting, called Hansen a “fat sonofabitch” and belittled Ericksen about his age, Mullins seemed to apologize to Hansen, though he still ignored Ericksen.
O’Brien had taken Mullins to a back room and given him a talking-to. “I took him in the back and told him that his behavior was inappropriate,” O’Brien said, recalling classes every commissioner takes through the state association of counties at the beginning of their term, teaching them how to behave. The classes include videos of commissioners behaving badly. “The message was you cannot behave like this, ever, because it’s just not appropriate, and I reminded Joe about it when we had that little discussion about it.”
Mullins had also called Sheriff Rick Staly to apologize for undermining him. It was Staly who had managed to calm a group of 12 to 15 anti-maskers (several of them Mullins acolytes) who were loudly and rudely defying Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan to put on masks or leave the room.
“I said, well, commissioner, I appreciate the phone call to apologize,” Staly said, describing his exchange with Mullins in an interview. “I did think I had it calming down and was explaining the rights of everyone, and it kind of went out of control, and he basically said, ‘I know, I shouldn’t have said it.’ Then I gave him political advice: you know, you’re only 20 percent of the vote on the commission, and to get things done you’ve got to build relationships with your colleagues.”
The lessons, the talking-to and the apologies did not stick.
On his Facebook page, Mullins accused Hansen and Ericksen of attacking “residents using what they deem as political supremacy,” said Ericksen “makes Biden look more alert and smarter than Einstein,” and doubled down: “This stuff has been going on tense and going on for a while with these two clowns. But attacking the citizens is enough. I gladly stand by my words and actions and will always be by the people of Flagler. Especially when two commissioners are pushing our great chairman to have the sheriff arrest our good hardworking residents.”
As Mullins himself had conceded to the sheriff, and the sheriff confirmed, the only problem was Mullins’ inciting the anti-maskers himself–not Ericksen and Hansen, who had done nothing more than agree with Sullivan: if Mullins wanted to leave the commission room, he should. A further Mullins posting–”I will always stand with our sheriff and our community”–contradicted the way he literally stood against Staly as he was inciting the group Staly was calming down.
“He just can’t tell the truth,” Hansen said.
Less than 48 hours later, the Elks Club was preparing for its annual 9/11 ceremony. It took place Friday morning. Mullins’s next outburst took place about 20 minutes before the event, set for 8 a.m.
Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, one of the speakers at the event, described in an interview. how it unfolded in front of her.
“The first person I saw walk out of the Elks building was Commissioner Hansen,” Holland said. “I said hello, we were just conversing back and forth. Commissioner Mullins walked out at that point, and asked the question about if Commissioner Hansen and I had discussed funding [sheriff’s] deputies, if the city of Palm Coast had funded additional deputies in this year’s budget. I stated yes, we had discussed it,” and that the city was funding five deputies–two when the next fiscal year starts, a third through the Town Center redevelopment agency, and two more in the second half of next year.
Mullins wasn’t happy that Holland and Hansen were talking about deputies.
Hansen said he asked Mullins: “Why do you want to know? And then he just blew up.”
“He began to launch into an entire continuous, derogatory comments towards Commissioner Hansen, and I just stood there in between them, as that took place,” Holland said.
“Milissa was right there, she was taking the brunt of it,” Hansen said, quoting Mullins’s tirade as: “You don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m bringing the whole world down upon you and you’re not going to have that seat much longer.” Hansen said he didn’t recall the exact words Mullins used, but that he used offensive language. “He’d obviously lost it. He was shaking.”
Holland was hesitant to repeat the language she said she heard Mullins use. When pressed, she said: “I recall him saying that he [Hansen] was fat piece of shit whose gut is hanging out so far that he was going to die because he was so fat, and that he was going to come after him and make sure he takes him out, that either him or someone else more powerful was going to run against him in two years. And he repeated his weight several times.”
“He absolutely said that,” Holland said, rejecting any possibility of misunderstanding or an attempt at crass humor on Mullins’s part: she said he was adamant. “I would say Commissioner Hansen felt there was something else going on with him and has relayed that to me.”
“Commissioner Hansen was incredibly restrained,” Holland continued. “Both of us sort of stood there silently, there was very little reaction. It came in rapid progression. He was very animated and obviously very upset.”
“I’ve been in tougher situations,” Hansen said.
Hansen relayed the incident to Staly after the ceremony. Staly confirmed it, and said Hansen had not been concerned for his safety. “Hansen is a retired Navy Captain, he can take care of himself, I suspect,” the sheriff said.
(Contacted last week for an interview, after the original incident, Mullins replied a day later in an email, “Sure have someone from observer or News journal reach out [sic.],” and in the following line invited FlaglerLive’s editor to appear on his radio commercial. “We have had many that want us to do that. It will be a great event. I would Do a sizable donation to cancer in both names.” The astoundingly crass reference to cancer aside, it is contrary to FlaglerLive policy for reporters to appear on paid commercials of any sort.)
Others, including commissioners, quickly learned of the incident at the Elks Club. Sullivan and O’Brien were not there, but Sullivan had heard about it. He wouldn’t comment about it, “because it all connects” he said, referring to the possible discussion of a censure at the Sept. 21 meeting. “I really must say for a whole bunch of reasons, no comment, it could be something we discuss in the future, my answer right now is a hard no comment,” Sullivan said. “It could be an item that comes up at a future meeting where a decision will have to be made.”
Sullivan–whose campaign Mullins helped down to planting signs with him and contributing at least $1,000–wouldn’t say whether he even wanted the matter to come up. “Especially as me being the current chairman,” Sullivan said. “I know it’s an issue that had some publicity recently due to our last meeting.”
O’Brien said he had “not really thought about” the matter. “It’s a dangerous road to go down, I don’t even know if we’re allowed to do that.” He said if someone behaved as Mullins did, he should suffer the political consequences, an echo of O’Brien’s position in February, when he said Mullins’s Facebook behavior was beyond the commission’s ken.
“I don’t even know what the commission as a legal body, what our rights or abilities are, unless it’s a simple vote we can say, we don’t like this behavior, we don’t condone it,” O’Brien said.
Al Hadeed, the county attorney, said it is entirely within the commissioners’ purview to censure one of their own. “There are no rules that govern censure, there’s no statute, but the board can make motions as it wishes, at their pleasure,” Hadeed said. “They can adopt certain actions. Now, there’s no ability for a body to remove one of its members. That power is solely in the hands of the governor for a commissioner. We don’t have a recall process. A commissioner can make a motion to censure somebody, see if there’s a second.”
“I’d have to think about it,” O’Brien said, “and I’d have to listen to the discussion, so hopefully somebody would second it so we can have a discussion about it.” O’Brien said Mullins’s behavior was “pretty uncalled for,” then explained how he took him to a back room to tell him so.
“Do I get emails about it? Damn right I do,” O’Brien said, including emails about Mullins potentially being the next chairman. “It’s not the first time it’s come up, let’s put it that way.” Mullins is in line to be the next chairman of the commission, starting in November. But that decision is up to his colleagues, who vote on their chairperson. It’s usually a rotation. Ericksen has declined it twice. “If there was a time for us to consider breaking the tradition that has been in place since the reign of Jim Darby, this might be one of those times,” O’Brien said, his strongest suggestion yet that he’d oppose a Mullins chairmanship. (Darby is the former commissioner whose immovable tenure as chairman, year after year, resembled that of a potentate.)
There has never been a censure vote on the Flagler commission in recent memory, if ever, though in the early 1990s Marcus Strickland Jr., known as Junior Strickland, was removed as chairman by his colleagues, who had become disenchanted with the way he ran meetings.
Various commissioners and others have talked to Hadeed about censure.
“I don’t want to discuss the conversations that I have with commissioners on issues because I want them to continue to feel free to confer with me about issues in a way that they can have confidence, a) that the advice I’m giving them is as objective as I can determine, b) that I’m not going to share it with other commissioners, that they can trust my discretion, and c) that the advice I give them is always going to be framed by what’s in the public interest and not for a partisan outcome or some other outcome that’s not related to what’s best for the public interest.”
Along those very lines of public interest, Hadeed was pressed about whether Hansen was crafting a censure motion. “He did discuss with me that he was working on wording but I didn’t formulate a motion for him nor did he formulate the exact wording of the motion that he might employ,” Hadeed said.
Other elected officials or candidates for the commission have condemned Mullins.
“Mr. Mullins behavior at the recent Commission meeting was out of line, not becoming of a County Commissioner and should be addressed,” Andy Dance, the school board member running for Ericksen’s commission seat, said in an email. (Ericksen is not running for reelection.) “Regardless of our personal feelings toward certain Commissioners, we need to put them aside and treat each other with respect in order to do the business of the people. We can disagree all day long, but we can not stoop to personal insults if Commission actions do not go our way.” (Mullins contributed $500 to Dance’s campaign last December.)
“From my experience on the Flagler School Board,” Dance continued, “effective elected boards occur when the five different personalities focus not on their personal differences, but on the mission and vision of the board. The board members must remember that they are servants and stewards to the public, and the work of the Board must be placed ahead of personal differences.”
Dance is facing Corinne Hermle in November’s election for the Ericksen seat. Hermle went a step further than Dance: “What we all witnessed was Commissioner Mullins threatening his fellow board members in the board room, in front of the public,” she said. “The board should censure him, and the board recommend the governor suspend him from office. Robert’s Rules state that a deliberative body has the right to make and enforce standards of conduct of its members, and to punish any offender of that body. The county commission board is well within its rights to censure a member for their unprofessional behavior before the board and public.”
Hermle added: “As a state employee, when I once witnessed very similar threatening behavior occur in the past, the state employee in that instance was immediately suspended and eventually terminated from employment.”
The Flagler Beach City Commission a few weeks ago approved a new civility ordinance that addresses commissioner, employee and public conduct at its meetings. Commissioner Eric Cooley, who supported the ordinance, is among the few elected officials in Flagler who have confronted Mullins over his aggressive or boorish behavior toward others.
“Using bullying, harassment, personal attacks, threats, physical intimidation, etc. to change outcomes of official decisions being made is highly unethical and in some cases illegal,” Cooley said. “It is important that we as elected officials recognize this type of behavior as a threat to the integrity of our local political system and address it. It is critical that representatives feel they can make the best decisions possible for the taxpayers. Unacceptable and unprofessional personal conduct at county meetings aside, it is imperative that the chair and all elected officials in the county intervene to ensure that the integrity of our local decision making process is protected. There is too much at stake to let this continue. Flagler County is better than this and now is the time to make a correction and move forward before further and possible permanent damage is done.”