Like all other elected officials in the county, in Florida and the rest of the nation, Flagler County commissioners swear an oath upon taking office that they will protect and defend the Constitution.
Commissioners don’t generally feel compelled to remind citizens of their oath, nor do local governments find it necessary to redundantly pass resolutions affirming their support for the Constitution, nor do they feel compelled to take up commission time and vote, through official resolutions, on their “firm resolve” to, say, abide by the county’s Land Development Code, its ordinances, the current form of government or next month’s schedule of meetings. They do have substantially more pressing things to do.
But on Monday, the Flagler County Commission agreed to vote on a resolution next week “in support of the United States of America’s Constitution.” Most of it, anyway. None of the commissioners objected to what appears to be the latest in a series of theatrical abdications of public-meeting time to political grandstanding clearly designed to give a commissioner or two the chance to leverage the moment for personal gain at the next election.
The idea originated with Commissioner Joe Mullins–a candidate in the next election, currently struggling in his public standing–who claims that in speaking with “many in the community about the Constitution and Second Amendment,” he was “struggling on how we as a county could do that, and move forward.” As he’s posted on his social media page and talked about in a radio infomercial he pays for, he was alluding to passing some sort of resolution making the county a Second Amendment “sanctuary” county.
The phrase is favored by right-wing ideologues in a few counties in Florida. A few local elected boards have declared themselves such, usually in the state’s most pro-Second Amendment counties, and based on false claims that the amendment is under threat. Flagler County, for example, with 16,664 licenses for concealed weapons, continues to rank among the state’s leaders in licenses per capita (14 percent of the population has a license, as opposed to the the state average of 10.9 percent). Its sheriff is a vocal Second Amendment advocate, as are many of its elected officials. There is no evidence that the amendment is under threat locally, nor on anyone’s radar to be threatened, and no one, Mullins included, has ever presented any evidence suggesting that it is.
Mullins has however falsely claimed that the current vice president “has already said, she’s going to go after guns, that they don’t need to be in the hands of people” (Kamala Harris has said no such thing).
On Monday, Mullins credited Commissioner Hanson with a “brilliant idea.” Rather than highlight just the Second Amendment in a resolution, “let’s cover them all,” Mullins said. So commissioners directed the administration to get to work and prepare a resolution. “And with your encouragement, and the help with staff, there’s a resolution and I’d like to read it real quick and put it on record, just showing the strength of this county supporting our, our United States Constitution,” Mullins continued.
He termed the Constitution “under attack,” again with no evidence (though Mullins had sponsored and joined a group of Flagler residents who went to Washington, D.C., in early January, seeking illegally to overturn the results of the November election, a brazenly anti-Constitutional act, so in that regard, Mullins was accurate: he had taken part in the attack. Mullins and his group have insistently claimed that they did not take part in the insurrection and assault on Congress that followed the Jan. 6 rally, and no evidence has turned up indicating that he had been part of the insurrectionists on Capitol grounds.)
Mullins then read the resolution, enumerating citizens’ “most cherished liberties to include freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right to be secure in their property and possessions, the right against self incrimination, the right to due process and fair trials before a jury of their peers, and the essential rights and protections necessary to a free to a free people.”
The rights Mullins notably did not mention: free speech, free press and the right to peaceably assemble.
“The form of the document is not complete. That’s a draft, you know,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron told commissioners when Mullins was done, and when they were considering adopting the resolution as is, right then. But when the administration provided the draft of the resolution already signed by one of the county’s attorneys, it included “Freedom of Speech, the Right to Peacefully Assemble, the Right to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances.”
The rights of a free press, explicitly spelled out in the First Amendment, were still excluded. Neither Mullins nor Cameron are particular fans of a free press, and Cameron continues to forbid his staff from including FlaglerLive, among other news sources, on the county’s media list. Commissioners have not objected to the ban. So the exclusion of the right to a free press from the resolution they plan to pass later this month appears to be an attempt to be consistent with the commission’s current policy of selection and exclusion.
“So the motion is to include this in the next meeting’s agenda as an official proclamation, or resolution,” Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien said. Commissioner Dave Sullivan sought to pass the resolution then and there, but Cameron suggested waiting until the next meeting. Two members of the public lent their support to the resolution.
The morning meeting was not without its more serious and immediately relevant resolutions, all of which the commission approved–about health care, the rights of crime victims, sexual assault awareness, water conservation, child abuse prevention and fair housing.
Gary Perkins, the community relations advocate for the Family Life Center, was especially forceful in his statement to the commission about sexual assault and domestic violence awareness. “I want to challenge this commission, and our audience members to just speak to your children about it, you know, just make sure that they understand how to have healthy relationships because if someone’s not talking to their children, they’re going to learn it from the internet. They’re going to learn it from outside sources.
“So us being a small community, it’s very important that we have those conversations and we try to do everything that we can to eradicate sexual assault, especially as men, we need more allies, we need to be on the forefront of this because, honestly, a lot of times it’s the men that are committing such heinous acts. So I just want to just make note that if anyone has ever experienced sexual assault or domestic violence, they can give our crisis helpline a call. It’s open 24/Seven. And the number is 386-437-3505.”