“If I had done anything wrong,” former Bunnell City Commissioner Jimmy Flynt told the News-Journal last month, when he said he’d be running for office again, “the State Attorney’s Office – especially being an elected official – the State Attorney’s Office would have acted on it.”
The State Attorney never acted on its own investigative findings that Flynt had received favors that benefited his wrecker service or that he’d mingled official with personal business. The Florida Commission on Ethics just did.
- The Ethics Commission’s Order on Jimmy Flynt
- State Report Details Disturbing Patterns at Bunnell PD and Favors For Comm. Jimmy Flynt
- 2 Bunnell Cops Arrested; Commissioner Flynt Embroiled in Favoritism Allegations
The commission on Friday found probable cause on three charges that Flynt, who was unseated in March after eight years on the commission, had misused his public position for personal gain. The commission found no probable cause on three additional charges. The charges were filed by Bunnell City Commissioner Elbert Tucker in August last year, and made public today.
For Bunnell, the case against Flynt is the latest fallout from a series of unflattering revelations about a city where rules apply differently to different people, or to the city itself. The most surprising revelation of the Flynt case, undisclosed until now, is his relationship with the city administration, to which he readily admits (he says he was unaware that he was doing anything wrong): the city employed his wrecker and automotive service to the exclusion of other repair shops–a violation of state law.
“There were things that I thought were unethical that he was doing. What should I do, look the other way?” Tucker said Wednesday afternoon. “Somebody needed to expose it. The only way to do that was contact the ethics commission. My last statement to them was, here’s the information, do with it what you may.”
The commission found probable cause that Flynt had violated three sections of state law controlling standards of conduct for public officers: The prohibition against elected officials doing business with their own agency, as Saxon’s Wrecker, Flynt’s business in Bunnell, did with city government, when Saxon’s did repair work for city vehicles; the misuse of a public position “to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself” (as state law reads), as Flynt may have by disposing of used tires at the city dumpster “and/or by obtaining access to that dumpster by misuse of an automatic gate opener,” in the workding of the commission order; and the violation of law barring conflicting employment or contractual relationship, as Flynt may have had in his relationship with Bunnell.
If the commission ratifies the findings, Flynt faces civil penalties only—no criminal penalties, no jail time. But the penalties can be steep: up to $10,000 on each charge. It’ll be up to the commission to set those penalties, following the next move, which is up to Flynt: he may elect either to have a full evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge. That entails much of the same framework as a trial, where depositions are taken, witnesses are called and lawyers usually represent defendants. He may choose to work out a settlement with the commission’s prosecutor. Or he may let the commission move over to the penalty phase directly.
Flynt said Wednesday afternoon he will concede at least one of the findings.
“At this time I’ll tell you that when the arbitrator contacts me within five to 12 days, I’m going to agree with doing repair work for the city as a commissioner, because number one, I didn’t know any better, and I did do it, that’s a fact.”
He added, “If I’m guilty of something I have no problem saying I did it, but the attorney, the city manager, the city staff, nor the rest of the board had a problem with doing the three quotes and me repairing the vehicles.”
But Flynt said he would dispute the finding about the tires or the clicker. “That was explained through the police reports, so I am going to say no, I do not agree with the disposal of tires and the clicker,” he said, referring to the findings that he improperly disposed of tires at the city’s expense, and was given an electronic gate opener to the city’s public works grounds, where the dumpster was located, to use whenever he chose. Flynt said he never went to the yard after hours and took tires there only “a couple of times. The rest of the time the city came and got them.”
In Tucker’s complaint, the narrative read: “Mr. Flynt dumped tires from his automotive repair shop into the city of Bunnell’s tire collection dumpster. The number of tires was numerous and the number of times is inordinate. Mr. Flynt never offered to pay for this privilege. Therefore, the taxpaying citizens of the city of Bunnell paid for Mr. Flynt’s tire disposal for his commercial business.”
In April 2010, the State Attorney’s Office got a complaint that Flynt had been dumping tires from his business into the city’s Tire Disposal Dumpster, at the city’s expense. A State Attorney’s investigation concluded later that year that the dumping began shortly after Richard Diamond became city manager in 2006, stopped shortly after Sid Crosby became manager in April 2008, and resumed when Armando Martinez became interim, then permanent city manager. By then Flynt had the automatic clicker enabling him to open and close the gate to the city’s public works yard at will, and after hours–a privilege Flynt said he never used.
Financial implications to taxpayers went with the tire-dumping. The city paid $179 to Waste Pro, the city’s garbage hauler at the time, every time the tire dumpster was emptied. In essence, Flynt was sidestepping the cost of dumping tires on his own by imposing his tire-dumping costs on the city and its taxpayers. Also, businesses that dump more than 25 tires a month are required by state law to maintain records to be permitted and maintain records of the disposal. “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has no record of Saxon’s Wrecker and Automotive having ever been a registered tire collection agent,” the State Attorney’s investigation reported. Businesses disposing tires are allowed to charge a per tire disposal fee of about $2 per tire. Flynt, for his part, told investigators that he only took tires illegally dumped on his property to the dump, and did so as a favor to the city.
Tucker described as an “absolute conflict” Flynt’s business with the city, repairing vehicles through his shop to the exclusion of four other repair shops in town. Tucker said there may have been no issue had Flynt been part of a rotation of repair businesses, doing work for the city in turn. But that wasn’t the case. “He should have said after the first one, this is a conflict,” Tucker said.
About a year ago, Tucker recalled, Martinez, the city manager, approaching him to ask him to be “the insurance guy” for the city. Tucker is an insurance broker and runs his own insurance agency in Bunnell. “I said no, I can’t do that. He asked why. I said it’s a conflict,” Tucker said. “I’m sitting on the board and I’m benefiting. That’s unethical. Jimmy Flynt should have said the same thing to whoever asked him to work on their cars.”
The commission found no probable cause regarding three additional charges in Tucker’s complaint. These included the charge that Flynt had used city staff to conduct personal business; that he had inappropriately called a police officer directly, rather than 911, to address a personal situation in another business in town (that officer was herself later charged, along with her husband, also an officer at the Bunnell Police Department at the time, with misconduct); and that Flynt had violated the law by possessing or using a city police radio for private business.
That radio, and others that had been distributed to city commissioners, including the mayor, was the subject of a stern letter from Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming to Martinez, urging him not to distribute such radios to civilians, “including city commissioners.”
There were other charges in Tucker’s complaint. Those were either not addressed or folded into the charges that the commission did address.