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Loans and Self-Contributions Swell Big Money Pots in Flagler Sheriff’s and County Judge Races

| April 26, 2012

John Pollinger is running for Flagler County Sheriff, Melissa Moore Stens is running for county judge, and both are leading their respective races in money raised so far, but largely on the strength of their own contributions. (© FlaglerLive)

John Pollinger is running for Flagler County Sheriff, Melissa Moore Stens is running for county judge, and both are leading their respective races in money raised so far, but largely on the strength of their own contributions. (© FlaglerLive)

The races for Flagler County Sheriff and County Court Judge have drawn the most candidates among 11 countywide elections this summer fall, not counting mosquito and gated-community districts. The sheriff’s race features three Republicans, including incumbent Don Fleming, two Democrats and a write-in. The county judge race, to replace retiring Judge Sharon Atack, features seven candidates.

Not surprisingly, the campaign fund-raising so far is concentrated between those two races, which together account for $91,185 of the money raised, or 78 percent of the $116,630 raised in all 11 contests. (The figures don’t include the congressional race which extends across four counties, including Flagler. The money in that race already dwarf all others.)

The sheriff’s race alone adds up to $46,300 raised, with Republican John Pollinger the leader by far: he’s raised $25,565. The county judge race adds up to $44,885, with Melissa Moore Stens in lead with $29,262 raised.

The amounts can be deceptive: very large proportions of the fund-raising is self-funded. For Stens, $24,010 of her pot, or 82 percent, is actually a loan to herself, leaving just $5,251 raised through others, including $500 from her firm, Williams and Moore. Her donors include Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood ($50) and John Polllinger’s wife Janet ($80).

Pollinger isn’t loaning himself any money. He’s making straight contributions to himself–$19,000 so far (including $500 from his wife), or 74 percent of his total. Ray Stevens, a Republican candidate in the sheriff’s race, began his campaign with a $2,500 contribution to himself in the period ending last September, and another $3,000 in the period ending on March 31, so $5,500 of his $7,785, or 71 percent of the total, is actually from himself as outright contributions. Karl Tozzi, a Democratic candidate in the sheriff’s race, loaned himself $3,000 of the $4,000 he raised, while Jim manfre, another democrat (and an ex-sheriff), loaned himself all but $280 of the $2,100 he’s raised.

Aside from Marc Dwyer, the same holds true for other candidates in the county judge race. Craig Atack, considered to be a leading force in the race simply because of name-recognition (his mother, and his father before her, will have held that seat for more than three decades), raised $9,285, second to Stens, but $5,750 of that (or 62 percent) is a loan to himself. He had 25 individual donations (his own excluded), compared to 59 for Stens.

Josh Davis has raised $2,034, two-thirds of that in loans to himself. He had just three contributors. Sharon Feliciano raised $1,900 from six contributors, with $650 of that from herself. Don Appigiani raised $329, with $250 of that from himself. Scott Wesbrook raised $825, with $250 of that from himself. Mark Dwyer, who ran for circuit circuit judge two years ago, has raised $1,250 so far$750 of it from Deborah Williams, who runs Lady Deborah’s, a janitorial service in Palm Coast.

Unlike circuit court judge races, such as the one that elected Dennis Craig two years ago, which extends to voters across the 7th Judicial Circuit in Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia, only Flagler County voters take part in the county judge race. It’s a non-partisan race, which means that come the August 14 primary, all registered voters get to cast ballots in that race. Should none of the candidates garner just over 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face each other in the November 6 general election.

In the sheriff’s race, Pollinger, despite the huge amount he’s contributed himself, has the largest number of individual contributors. That may or may not be an indication of the broadness of his support: it could also be an indication of stronger, early fund-raising efforts, which other candidates could match later. While Pollinger raised the most money of any local candidate next to Stens, he also spent the most: $23,346, leaving him $2,219 at the end of March. (An earlier version of this story had miscalculated Pollinger’s net total by not taking in account money raised in 2011.)

When Pollinger first announced his candidacy, the word from rival Ray Stevens was that, as in 2008, Sheriff Fleming was having a “friend” run in the race to split the vote and deny Stevens the victory. (Stevens ran as an independent four years ago, winning 20 percent of the vote. Fleming beat Manfre by less than 2 percentage points.) Pollinger and Fleming denied the notion, and Pollinger’s fund-raising and spending suggest that he’s in the race to win rather than to be anyone’s strategic pawn.

He has so far shown a flair for showmanship that translates in popularity, too: he announced his candidacy in front of the county’s administration building in January in a flurry of well-choreographed supporters, many of them already wearing Pollinger shirts (Stitch Art Inc., the Bunnell business, took in $4,400 from Pollinger’s campaign to make his shirts). And at the county fair, he thought nothing of standing up in front of several dozen people in a judged karaoke (Westbrook was one of the judges) to sing Lee Greenwood’s very saccharine, very popular “God Bless the USA.”

For all that–and for all his numerous troubles–Fleming has raised $6,850, none of it leaned, including several $500-checks (one of them from Stephen Alexander, she Sheriff’s Office’s attorney). Fleming has spent virtually none of the money.

The only other race that approaches the sheriff’s and county judge contests in interest (from candidates) and money raised is that for supervisor of elections, with five candidates, including incumbent Kimberle Weeks, who have raised a combined $4,500, and with Republican Trey Corbett at the top ($1,700, mostly raised from four donors) followed by Pam Richardson ($1,575, two-thirds of it loaned to herself). The clerk of court race has incumbent Gail Wadsworth raising $14,760, but $10,000 of it a loan to herself). Her challenger, Ken Mazzie, raised $1,486, most of it from donors.

Aside from the $1,712 raised by Republican Herb Whitaker in his county commission race against Democrat George Hanns, only nominal amounts have been raised by candidates in county commission and school board races, while Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston and Property Appraiser Jim Gardner are running unopposed.

32 Responses for “Loans and Self-Contributions Swell Big Money Pots in Flagler Sheriff’s and County Judge Races”

  1. HOPE YOU WIN says:


  2. Angie says:

    “While Pollinger raised the most money of any local candidate next to Stens, he also spent well more than he took in: the $21,252 he spent resulted in a deficit of $3,337.”

    Spent more than he took in? That sounds like a Democratic strategy. Oh wait! Pollinger was a registered Democrat in NJ from 1970 to January 2012.

    Flagler County CANNOT afford a sheriff who runs deficits in his own campaign.

    [This comment reflects a math error in an earlier version of the story that inaccurately referred to a deficit, and that has since been corrected. The comment also repeats inaccuracies about Pollinger’s registration record.–FL]

    • Martyrockman says:

      Angie…. My dear Angie…..

      How stupid do you think the voters of Flagler County really are?
      Your group attacks Pollinger months ago claiming he has a deal with Fleming. People who drink your Kool Aid tried making points that he will never raise money and it will be a Delaney type race.

      Now that he has seriously invested a lot of his own money he is criticized again. Is there no doing right ?

      As for the Democrat turned Republican. Can you answer me why a certain all of a sudden Republican candidate made donations to Democrats 4 years ago? I will help you with your research…. Stevens made financial contributions to Lucy Davis for School Board. She was a frequent donor of the Democratic Committee.

      I guess it is okay to criticize others. Especially when a candidate ran against the very party he is seeking the endorsement of this time around. Seems a bit opportunistic to me.

      By the way Angie Mr Pollinger was a registered Democrat as an 18 year old in 1970. He changed his affiliation when he was 19 to the Republican Party and has been one ever since.

      • Linda H. says:

        I saw a copy of Mr. Pollinger’s New Jersey Democrat voter registration online, right before he changed it in January of this year to Republican. Many in Palm Coast have seen a printed copy of that record. According to the New Jersey voter registration site, Mr. Pollinger was listed as a Democrat there until recently.

        This document may be requested, which should clear this up.

        Flagler Live, have you seen something different? There seems to be a discrepancy here.

        • Robert Lewis says:

          Linda –

          I find this interesting. Back in February there was an article in USA Today that 1 in 8 Americans are registered in multiple states. With people moving frequently, voter registration rolls are never updated. This is due to the fact that voter registration is the majority of the states is done by paper rather then electronic like our drivers license. I bet that there are a lot of people who are victim to this.

          Here is the link to that article:

          Having read what was posted and rumored early on, I researched this. I found Mr. Pollinger to be a Republican since his residency in Flagler County, which was over 3-4 years ago.

          • Linda H. says:

            You are correct about his Flagler County voter registration. I was referring to his New Jersey registration.

            Your next question will be, “why would that matter?”

            And I would respond that it bothers me that a law enforcement officer surely would know the election laws, that he is supposed to cancel his New Jersey registration when he moves to Palm Coast. He is, after all, an elected official who wants to be elected here.

            It’s not huge, it just didnt’ sit well with me. Palm Coast has many Republican elected officials who used to be Democrats up north. Very interesting when you look into their backgrounds.

            Do I think they all “saw the light?” No.

            • Robert Lewis says:


              Law enforcement officers are not expected to know election laws. One would think when you go and get a new license at the DMV and you register to vote that would be sufficient. When I moved here it canceled my voter registration, however it did not cancel my wife’s. Serious flaw in the system.

              I only found this out after reading that article in USA Today. I had to call CT and they helped us in canceling he registration. We haven’t lived there for 7 years, it was shocking that she was still registered.

              I think it is too much to blame any candidate for this. Now, if someone was in voting in two states, I would be grabbing the pitch forks and torches with you. The article mentioned is a scientific study that proves there are serious flaws in the voting registration system.

              I think this is a fantastic idea to bring up to those candidates running for Supervisor of Elections and have them address this.

              As for the Democrats now Republicans. Think about the dynamics of living in the north east. The majority of those living in the north east are registered Democrat. One of the main reasons is the ability to vote in primaries. Since the Democratic party dominates the north east, the only way to have a voice is to vote in the Democratic primaries.

              If you do not think that is true, look at the last time a Democratic Senator from NY, CT, MA has ever been unseated. For God Sakes, Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate in NY, having never lived there a day in her life. Yet, the Democratic machine got her elected.

              But now that people are living here in Florida and are registered Republicans, why aren’t they being embraced? I have read a lot about the infighting within the party. All of the division is just going to destroy the Republican Party. From what I read, I gather this is not about philosophical differences, rather a bit personal. You never get personal in politics. You never fight so much to split the party in two.

              A few words I will leave you with is from one of my most favorite people, and contrary to popular belief, I was not actually around to witness him say this. “A house divided against it self can not stand.” – Abraham Lincoln. The same is true to the Republican Party.

              • Linda H. says:

                Good letter, Mr. Lewis. Very thoughtful and well said.

                I would, however, state that I expect anybody running for any office to know the election laws. If we cannot expect you to comply with that, what else might we expect you not to comply with? I’m not blaming anybody, but that concerns me.

                I want to see these candidates vetted. This is too important not to do that. And there is absolutely nothing personal here. We are going to be electing a Sheriff, and background checks are going to be important.

                The former democrat politicians from up north who changed their affiliation to Republicans are not Republicans, that’s why they are not being embraced here. They support democrats in local elections and campaign for democrats in local elections. Ask Mr. Pollinger about that. Not very Republican, is it?

                As for party destruction, I’d say both parties have done a pretty good job of that all by themselves, which is why the number of Independent voters is so high and rising. Lots of people not happy with what they are seeing on both sides. Somewhere along the line, the people got left out of this and it became all about power instead of good, democratic government.

                These are just my observations, as a citizen and nothing else. Not speaking for anybody but me.

                Lots of people quoting Lincoln these days. Now that they only require one week of history per year in the Florida schools, I wonder how many even know who he was?

    • MAG says:

      Pollinger has my vote. We need him to stop the garbage going on in the Sheriffs Dept.

    • The American says:

      My vote is with Ray Stevens. Get smart voters. Do your homework and stop being sheep….

  3. k says:

    I’m curious about Melissa Moore Stens and the article you had here a couple weeks ago about the guy from Flagler Beach that murdered his next door neighbor and claimed he was “standing his ground” while the poor guy crawled away.

    You mentioned that Moore-Stens was wearing an election button or badge in the courtroom. Is that ethical or even legal? And is she really representing herself as Melissa Moore when she works as an attorney and running under her married name?

    And what else can you tell us about Westbrook? All I know is he works for the State Attorney’s office but I’d like to hear more.

  4. PalmCoast says:

    My vote is for Ray Stevens and Scott Westbrook…..Flagler County is long over due for changes!!!

    • MAG says:

      I think Pollinger is the best candidate for flagler county Sheriff. We need a new beginning and a new direction. Go John Pollinger

  5. rose duncan says:

    I went to the Rockin Rib Fest (which was just fantastic) and got to meet first hand two of the mentioned candidates running for office. I was pleased to meet the esteemed John Pollinger there. What a gentleman he was, he looks like a Sheriff. I also met the lovely Melissa Moore-Stens. She had sponsored an adorable pig named Lindsay Loham. Absolute wonderful lady, I sure hope she wins.

    While I was getting my complimentary iced coffee at the Dunkin Donut tent, I noticed an angry group of Republicans that were all huddled together and uninterested in the people there. Everyone was having a great time and enjoying the music. They seemed so angry, I was too scared to even walk by it.

    Best of luck to you John and Melissa. Your kindness to made this old lady’s day.

  6. ol'sarge says:

    Any reading I have done in the past 2 months would indicate that Melissa Moore Stens is far and away more qualified than Mr. Westbrook and Mr. Dwyer. I could care less who contributed what to themselves…I am actually a little reassured by someone who invests in themselves and their future. Mr. Dwyer is even using signs from his last election for circuit judge with tape over the circuit part! I don’t know about anyone else, but I believe in someone who believes in herself…

    You have my vote, Melissa Stens!!

  7. Maryjoe says:

    Why is anyone concerned how much money someone has gotten contributed or that they ‘loaned’ (spending) to themselves? What difference could that possibly make. Either you agree with the persons stance or you don’t….and you vote accordingly. Now..if there were heavy contributions to a particular candidate from a certain person or group of people trying to influence the election, that of course would be a story to report. But this? eh.

  8. Biker says:

    How does serving as an supervisor. in a small town in upstate NY prepare you to run a Sheriffs Office? Even if the inflated claims of crime fighting in NYC were able to be confirmed, it still dosent make you Sheriff Material.

    How is Scott Westbrook a change? No offense but I am just curious how that conclusion is arrived at.

  9. Janet Sims says:

    While most of you will just sit back and complain and not vote, why not get out there and actually listen to the candidates and choose the best one. No need to bash the candidates.

    As for Melissa Moore Stens. She is a well qualified candidate well above anyone else running. Melissa spends countless hours talking to and spending time with the voters. Can you say that about the others? Self contributions – shows the dedication and passion for the position.
    Contributions from the voters – a maximum of $500 is allowed.

    Good luck to Melissa Moore Stens and John Pollinger. Hope to see you in office.

    As for John Pollinger. Have you been to one of his meetings to hear him speak? Have you talked to him at one of his events?

    Before anyone casts judgement on these two candidates or any candidates, one should be knowledgeable about where they stand and their experience.

    Do you really think what we have today is working? Oh.. right “Good ole boys Club”..

  10. Flaglers Finest says:

    Hi I am a former client of Melissa’s and now a great friend,

    I am appauled at people who want to make judgements before reading the facts. If you read any of these canidates qualifications you will see Melissa is one of the most qualified persons running for judge. Melissa has always wanted to be a judge since her college years 13 some odd years ago. I challenge ALL of you who think or arent sure of Melissa to come out to one of our Meet and Greets and meet her. You will be blown away at how intelligent, graceful and loving Mother, daughter, friend, Attorney and just darn right person she is. She has cancelled vacations with her family to be able to put her own money where her mouth is. That says a lot for a canidate who wants to win willing to use their own money. I am not going to ask any of you to vote for Melissa but just read all the canidates qualification and make that decision on your own. Thank you Melissa for being there for me and my family. Sincerly Pinky :)

  11. FL informed voter says:

    I already know enough about Scott Westbrook to not vote for him.

    • PalmCoast says:

      This link below is for anyone interested in finding out more information about Scott Westbrook!! Scott Westbrook is by far the “BEST” candidate for Judge here in Flagler County!! Scott Westbrook is not only dedicated to his wife and family and lives by strong moral values but is “well qualified” for the position of County Court Judge here in Flagler County!! Which I am sure most will agree after researching and reading about this candidate!!

      • Carolyn says:

        We need a change NOW! I have been at several Meet & Greets, to Rib Fest, and County Fair. Mr. Pollinger has spoke at them and sung at the Fair. And by the way donated the money he won at the fair to “FEED FLAGLER”. I have heard and seen different things he has done for people, that has not been in newspapers or published anywhere.
        The man’s credentials are great. He has been in law enforcement since he has been a young man. He lives by what he talks about.
        This nonsense about changing parties is ridiculous. We have all done things at a young age. Now that we are older we act and think differently, and should not even come up in an election. He is a man with INTEGRITY. A man that will always do the right thing in any situation and will be on the job!!!

  12. bridget says:

    Here is a man John Pollinger who stands for honesty and integrity. His past says it all and because he sang in a Karaoke contest at the “COUNTY FAIR” GOD BLESS THE USA and donated the monies to “FEED FLAGLER” he is criticize. As one of many supporters I proudly wear his T-Shirt everyday.

  13. Linda says:

    I am disturbed by some of the comments being made about John Pollinger singing at the County Fair Karaoke contest. He was described as singing God Bless The USA a very SACCHARINE song. This is a song that makes people remember why we should be proud to be living in the GREATEST COUNTRY in the world. This is a feeling not shared by everyone obviously as seen in an earlier report. In addition Mr Pollinger got in the contest so that if he won any money he was going to donate it to a great cause FEED FLAGLER. He won and did donate his winnings. His motto and something he really stands for states “Character is doing what’s right when nobody is looking”. That is why he is the most qualified candidate for the job of Flagler County Sheriff.

  14. PalmCoast says:

    I am disturbed by the article above! After reading the article several times and posts here I have comments and questions.

    Noting where Melisa-Sten’s contributions have come from….$24,000.00 to herself (heck who has this kind of money to lend themselves in today’s economy for a throw away item like a campaign?) OK so if she does she does! The rest of her contribution “amounts” do not concern me as much as “WHO” has contributed! The rest of her contributions have come from Pollinger’s wife (candidate for Sheriff in Flagler County), DAYTONA BEACH (Police Chief Mike Chitwood ), and then from her “OWN” law firm have made the contributions!

    HUM!! sounds like the good ol’e boys club “ALREADY” to me!!

    Now to my reasons to be disturbed by Mr. Pollinger!! Noting the contribution by Pollinger’s own wife to his campagion (isn’t it BOTH their money being married?)…Then Pollinger’s wife making a contribution to Melisa Sten’s campaign!….IMO this shows a “back door” way of “endorsing” a candidate running in the same election!! Pollinger lives in “Grand Haven” behind the “pearly gates” and far removed from “most ” of the residents of Flagler County and any crime thereof. I want more form the Sheriff of Flagler County than a person who can “sing” and then contribute the winnings from that to a local charity! Pollinger did not win first place for singing and as apparent he didn’t need the winning funds anyways… again shown from his lifestyle!!

    The Sheriff salary here in Flagler County is $120,000.00 per year! I want the PERSON who wins the position for Sheriff and County Judge to earn the salary the taxpayers will be paying for!!

    I surely would like to see a “RESUME” for both of these candidates!! Just saying they are qualified is NOT enough for me, I want to “see” their qualifications!!

    We all need to find out as much as we can about all the candidates in this election….it is the taxpayers money that will pay their salary!! But just as equal we all need to VOTE!! Know your candidate!….then VOTE!!!

    • informed FL voter says:

      Ok, Palm Coast. You wanted to “see” the qualifications of Melissa Moore Stens.

      Let’s list her qualifications:
      The only Board Certified Criminal Trial Attorney running for County Judge (expert in criminal trial)
      Law Student of the Year – University of Florida 1996 (highest ranking law school in FL)
      Only candidate to graduate Law School with honors
      President-Elect Flagler County Bar Association
      Vice-President of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida and the Legal Advocacy Center
      Was a Felony Prosecutor and Supervisor of all Domestic Violence prosecutions in Putnam County
      1 of 2 County Judge candidates that has been both a prosecutor and defense attorney

      There is plenty more to find out about her on her website and FB page. The fact that she has more than double the next highest money contributors means that she has a lot of support and is highly qualified. Look at EVERYONE running for County Judge, compare them. Then tell me she isn’t the most qualified. You can’t.

    • Joe A. says:

      Conspiracies…. I love them.

      Everyone could break away and form their own club and try to run for every elected office. That seems to work to when you do not get what you want.

      After the election is over and Pollinger wins, are you going to support him or will you take your bat and ball and go home?

      If you visit Pollinger’s website you will find his resume. Its a lot better then giving the illusion of having worked with the N Y P D as a “commanding officer” when in reality they were a Detective – Lieutenant in a small agency in Upstate NY.

      • Linda H. says:

        Joe A, was Mr. Pollinger elected the head of the American Legion here in Palm Coast? Will he be discussing his record there in the debates? I don’t believe he finished his term, but I’d rather hear it from him.

        I also heard that he was placed on administrative leave in this last job before he retired. Will we have the opportunity to ask him these questions or will the questions be prewritten like they were in the last debates?

  15. Surfer says:

    I love how Mr. Westbrook and his team are using this as free advertisement, posting a link to his website. After reading all the judicial candidates experience and qualifications it is an absolute no brainier that Melissa Moore Stens is the most qualified. I sure hope Flagler County does their research.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Surfer, you’re right, and that link to Westbrook’s website should not have been approved. It’s been deleted. But both camps have been equally guilty of flinging links and mud at each other (including you, with a gratuitous line against Westbrook that was deleted), none of which is acceptable here: the judicial race will be handled differently than other races. The bar for allowable comments is higher. You’re welcome to offer insights into your candidate. You’re not welcome to gratuitously bash the opposition. If you have relevant information you think we should know, email us, with your name and contact number. Nor are you welcome to use this site for lists of qualifications, gratuitous advertising or cut-and-paste jobs from other sites. Readers can read. They know Goggle. Your suggestion that they should look up your candidate’s web site is quite enough. Thanks.

  16. Ken Dodge says:

    I was registered as a voter in a state ‘up north’ until relocating to the south in 1990. Lived and voted there for six years before relocating to Florida where I live and vote now. Always the same political party. Can’t recall if I ever cancelled my voter registration in either case. Guess I had better not ever run for public office.

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