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Flagler’s Sheriff and Judge Candidates Rub Elbows Raw at Long NAACP Forum

| June 27, 2012

The audience grew much thicker, as did candidates' row, as the forum got under way. (© FlaglerLive)

As moderator John Winston put it to a more-than-full house at the African American Cultural Society in Palm Coast Tuesday evening, “this is a forum, not a debate.” So it was: the seven candidates for Flagler County judge and five candidates for sheriff were unlikely to face tough questions or a single follow-up (and none did) at the first of two such forums organized by the local branch of the NAACP. The forum was more about getting acquainted with the candidates in two of the most contested local races of the year.

Nevertheless, as such things go, the revealing moments were less in what the candidates said—much of which could be gleaned from their websites—than in how they said it, or in how they waited to say something. The crowd of 200 or so was relaxed and mostly riveted. Many of the candidates were stiff, fidgety, tense. For the majority of the candidates—all but one white—the forum was among the few times when they were the minority. And the seating arrangement had all 12 candidates shoulder to shoulder, like a seated but disarmed firing squad, which made for odd pairings.

Don Fleming and Jim Manfre, together again. But not happy about it. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Sheriff Don Fleming, who arrived slightly late, could only find a seat next to Jim Manfre, the ex-sheriff and repeat contender for the office. The two men dislike each other so intensely that they barely looked at each other and never shook hands before or after the forum. Of all 12 candidates for the duration of the 120-minute forum, Manfre alone leveled attack after attack at an opponent (Fleming, of course) almost every time he had the microphone. Fleming stuck to his normal approach in any public forum, whether he’s running for re-election or holding a town hall meeting: he recited accomplishments on his watch, listing the creation of special squads, arrest statistics, the use of drug seizures’ cash—what he called a “drug checkbook”—to distribute grants to local organizations.

Fleming unwittingly revealed his disconnection from his own ranks when he was asked a pointed question about minorities at the sheriff’s office: “What is the percentage of minority officers on the job? Do you think it’s adequate in relationship to the make-up of the county?”

Fleming paused and took out a sheet of paper from his jacket’s breast pocket to answer, though he didn’t actually answer the question. He listed the number of black, Hispanic and other minorities, breaking them down among men and women, but he was combining uniformed and civilian personnel (thus evading the question about officers), and never gave actual percentages, or address the issue of adequate representation.

Fleming never gets very excited when he talks, and seems out of breath even when at rest, but he delivered the evening’s most colorful line, albeit to a reporter after the forum: “I’m going to give ‘em just enough rope, then I’m going to hang them.” The line contrasted with the way the forum unfolded—and the way the past year has unfolded for Fleming—as his opponents sounded like they were the ones braiding the ropes.

John Pollinger--who signs his letters Chief Pollinger--returns from the dais as Ray Stevens, to the right of Kar Tozzi, levels a brief glare. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Two of those opponents were the season’s other big antagonists: fellow-Republicans Ray Stevens and John Pollinger, both of them post-retirement migrants to Flagler County (from New York and New Jersey, respectively, though Stevens put in a stint as a cop in Pinellas County on the way). Stevens and his acolytes have been trying to boot Pollinger off the Republican primary ballot by claiming, as a pretext, that he’s not a true Republican, though the Stevens camp is aware that a primary victory is more difficult with Pollinger on the Republican ballot than off it. The two men sat, separated by Karl Tozzi, a Democratic candidate for sheriff. Like the Fleming-Manfre pairing, they ignored each other throughout, though Pollinger and Fleming warmly shook hands afterward.

Pollinger made much of his tenure as a police chief in Middletown, N.JK., a place he compared to Palm Coast in demographic make-up, and where, as he’s said every chance he could, the crime rate was the third-lowest in the country (for towns of 50,000 to 100,000 population) when he retired. He had another of the rare memorable lines of the evening: “I also firmly believe that your problem is my problem until your problem is solved.” But he did not say how those problems would be solved in a government short on money.

Unlike his opponents, Stevens made innumerable promises: “I will significantly reduce operating expenses. I guarantee it, and you can hold my feet to the fire,”   he said. But then he promised one expensive initiative after another without once saying how he’d pay for any of it. He said he would “increase the size of the narcotics unit,” that he would have “a gang intelligence unit consisting of more than just one person,” plus “drug-prevention programs in the schools,” plus “public-awareness programs,” plus “free home and business security surveys” conducted by deputies “trained at the crime-prevention institute in Louisville, Kentucky,” plus more focus on the patrol division whose deputies “will patrol the side streets and back roads, because that’s where the crime is taking place.” With no follow-up questions, Stevens could make his promises to the crowd without his feet being held to the fire.

Tozzi, who got just 9 percent of the vote in a four-way Democratic primary four years ago, provided most of the comic relief of the evening, including a revelation that at one point he had a choice between jail and the Marines. He chose the Marines, then spent a cop’s career in Broward County, including supervision of 100 bailiffs. When he wasn’t speaking, Tozzi played with his pen, made a tent with his notepad, pushed his notepad down, pushed the pen through the notepad’s springs.

Their honors: from left, W. Scott Westbrook, Melissa Moore-Stens, Craig Atack and Don Appignani. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

In contrast, the county judge candidates were studies in poise and rigid attention: Craig Atack and Melissa Moore-Stens, likely the front-runners of the race, each arrived a few minutes late and ended up at the extremity of the firing squad, next to each other, each sitting rigidly upright, staring ahead.  Atack, who has the advantage of name recognition, mentioned his parents only five times in his opening statement (his mother Sharon is the retiring county judge whose seat is in contention, his late father was the previous county judge) and didn’t do so subsequently. “I know what it means to be a county judge,” he said, which is “to follow the law, not to make the law.”

Moore-Stens, a native of Miami, summarized her many academic accomplishments and pro bono work she carried on while a public servant despite not being required to do so (she is currently on the board of two legal aid organizations for the poor), and noted her board certification in criminal law, unique among the seven candidates (though the majority of a judge’s work is civil law).

Members of the audience could write questions to be posed to candidates. On two occasions the questions seemed discourteously planted against particular candidates: Moore-Stens was asked specifically about the disproportion of minority students facing legal issues in schools and what she would do about it; the question would have more fairly been asked of all the candidates (Moore-Stens was not aware of the numbers, but “honestly it wouldn’t surprise me,” she said, noting that students understand neither their rights nor the boundaries of their rights “because we’re so FCAT-driven.”)

Sharon Feliciano returing to her seat, between Josh Davis and Sheriff Fleming. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The more blatantly planted question was posed to  Sharon Feliciano, when she was asked whether she’d ever been disciplined by the Florida bar. Feliciano sat on the bar’s grievance committee that voted to reprimand Mark Dwyer, one of the seven candidates for judge, who sat to Feliciano’s right. The reprimand is the second disciplinary issue Dwyer has faced, harming his chances at elected office. He explained the case in detail in a recent interview. But it was Dwyer, during that interview, who revealed that Feliciano had been on the grievance committee. The question to Feliciano sounded nothing short of payback. (Feliciano was never disciplined, she said.) Dwyer afterward denied knowledge of the question’s author, though it is unlikely the question was written by anyone not connected with his campaign.

Dwyer, at any rate, was entirely comfortable in the forum’s setting: the only black candidate facing a mostly black audience, though Dwyer also made it clear—as he related his childhood experiences in Brooklyn or his years working for CSX or his community involvements in Flagler–that his easy demeanor and humor, his facility with words and his sharp intelligence, would have been no different had he been a Scandinavian facing an audience of Slovenians. He said he believed it was “my destiny to be a judge,” words anyone might have believed if not for his knack for stumbles.

Sheriff Candidates' Websites

Candidates Scott Westbrook, Josh Davis and Don Appignani got the least amount if time at the microphone: beside their opening statements, they waited up to an hour to have another chance to speak, and one of the questions—posed to Appignani—had only one possible answer. He was asked what he thought of a scheme that recently ensnared a judge who was sending juveniles to private prisons in exchange for kickbacks. “Disgusting,” Appignani said. Westbrook and Davis–who read his opening statement, in contrast with other judge candidates who mostly winged theirs (Feliciano read a summation)–got a chance to speak about their involvements in community organizations or drug court. They each sought to portray varied careers in law and elsewhere, to convey a sense of familiarity with working people. Appignani alone spoke of having the “proper demeanor” to sit on the bench, an allusion to his seniority in a group of candidates striking for their relative youth. And Westbrook, the son of a DeLand preacher, was alone in invoking a deity (“I was raised as a Christian. If I believe God cares about everybody then I should care about everybody”).

But as was generally the case in a forum with more candidates than time for questions, they had little chance to speak about their legal philosophy.

The next NAACP forum is scheduled at the African American Cultural Society on July 24, from 5 to 8 p.m. “if necessary,” one of its organizers said. Judging from Tuesday’s forum, ever minute of those three hours will be necessary.

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16 Responses for “Flagler’s Sheriff and Judge Candidates Rub Elbows Raw at Long NAACP Forum”

  1. Beach goer says:

    Did I hear one judge candidate say entitlement? What was the excuse for those who arrived late? What happens to a defendant when they’re late for court? Hmmmm

    • Susan B. says:

      The NAACP had their own meeting from 6-6:30 which concluded earlier than expected. Candidates who arrived “late” we’re actually there prior to that start of the time they were told, which was 6:30.

  2. Joe A. says:

    Ray Stevens: made innumerable promises: “I will significantly reduce operating expenses. I guarantee it, and you can hold my feet to the fire.” In essence he will be taking his marching orders from the ultra right and continually attack the public employees. Stevens if elected will destroy the Sheriff’s department financially. This man has held no position of leadership, has never drafted a budget, never had to act as an administrator for any organization.

    I love this quote: “will patrol the side streets and back roads, because that’s where the crime is taking place.” So I live in the back roads ? Do you even know where streets are in Flagler County, or the dynamics of each of the neighborhoods? Its tough on a solemn commute from Seminole Woods to Thunder Gulch.

    • Magnolia says:

      The only place I ever see the cops in this town patrolling is the donut shop in the Shell station at Officer Celico Way.

      Mr. Fleming doesn’t like to be questioned. He is an administrator, not a cop and his lack of experience at that has hurt this community. Crime here is rising. I want to know what these candidates are going to do about that.

      Mr. Stevens is the only candidate stating what he would do.

  3. Susan B. says:

    I attended the forum last night and as insightful as it was this is my take on the most entertaining parts of the Sheriff’s portion:

    Manfre seemed like such a has been since all he could talk about was, “When I was Sheriff”. I can only imagine the agency that Sheriff Fleming inherited under his narcissistic watch.

    Stevens………”I lost my train of thought”…. Anyway, I’m pretty sure he was a court officer in Pinellas County not on the streets, can we really hold his feet, and his other claims to fame, to the fire.

    Honestly, Flagler County voters need to look at the issues and experience and make an educated decision and by what I saw last night, many candidates care more about attacking each other rather than focusing on the issues at hand.

  4. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    “the use of drug seizures’ cash—what he called a “drug checkbook”—to distribute grants to local organizations.” – I saw a similar story in another publication recently touting the “Sheriff’s office” making a donation to some (most likely very worthy) local organization. I take exception to this idea that Sheriffs office or any Government organization makes “donations” or distributes grants to anybody. Regardless of where these funds came from, they belong to the tax paying citizens of Flagler County. So it’s not the sheriffs office making a donation or grant, it’s you and I.

    “John Pollinger–who signs his letters Chief Pollinger-” Another thing that annoys the hell out of me is when people put so much stock in a position that they sign letters or demand to be addressed by the previous position in unrelated matters. I know it’s popular for retired Generals, Colonels, and other high ranking positions to maintain their title in retirement, but it always strikes me as extremely petty, and somewhat narcissistic.

    The picture of Fleming and Manfre next to each other is priceless.

    • Dudley Doright says:

      Johnny Taxpayer,
      Please keep in mind that the military rank titles are given by the President and they are hard earned! When I teach law enforcement personnel, I played down my title as I was no longer on active duty. That argument went by the wayside as the students still addressed me by my military rank. they told me, in no uncertain terms, that this was their way of paying respect. Not just anybody can become a General or Colonel! You make your bones in combat and proven leadership.

  5. Susan B. says:

    Now on to the judges, as a political science major, their portion was very interesting.

    All judges should tell people what they need to know and not what they want to hear in reference to giving juveniles a second chance. That doesn’t happen.

    Atack seems young and used his parents name as recognition but will have his day in my opinion.

    Moorestens is very articulate, work on the “um” though.

    Josh Davis drove it home, he’s the front runner for me.

    Dwyer has Oscar winning charisma but not sure if it honest.

    Feliciano was asked about a disciplinary record, is she covering something up?

    That’s just my take. Innocent bystander.

  6. Clint says:

    I heard the Sheriff of Nottingham Fleming wants to put a Drone Squad together to catch all the Elderly Disabled pill abusers. He will get his money from a percentage of Traffic Camera “BOOTY”.

  7. Will says:

    @Susan B…

    Your observations are quite interesting. Let me comment on one point you made, though, to clarify things

    Feliciano was not covering anything up: she would not have served on the committee if she’d had a problem. Another candidate, (Mark Dwyer, according to the article) did have problems that the same committee had to review and reprimand. Because Feliciano was on the committee when the second of these problems came up, she and that other candidate have been linked in some people’s minds – sadly in my opinion because she was performing a civic duty by serving. The article mentioned that the question might have been planted, but I really don’t know. My view is that Feliciano is above reproach in the matter.

    Frankly, I think we’re lucky this year since all seven candidates are potentially good quality judges. It will be tough for people to choose the best – not the most popular – but the best.

  8. deana says:

    I also was at the meeting. First of all Fleming was much more than “slightly late…he was about 15 minutes late. Of course he came with his posse who were very disruptive and noisey as they tried to find seat while the judical candidates were speaking. How rude!

    Secondly, it was shocking and hurtful to hear Fleming say he was gong to “hang” people. How inappropriate at a NAACP meeting!

    What stood out in my mind is how Fleming was unprepared to answer the question about why he had a deputy on PAID leave while he was being investigated for theft of services. His answer was basically…that’s what we do, I believe in due process. Well buddy, when you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always gotten…NINE DEPUTIES THAT HAVE BEEN ARRESTED OR INVESTIGATED FOR CRIMES IN THE PAST.8 YEARS. How’s that working for you? Was the deputy fired, NO! The deputy was demoted but were provisions made for him to pay back the money he received while working at his own private business? NO. He even gets to keep his same salary. Let’s see…I receive my paycheck that I’m not supposed to get because I wasn’t really working, I get a paid “vacation” and now I get to do less work because I’ve been demoted but I get to keep my big salary instead of having it reduced to make me equal to the others in my new rank. Wow, what a punishment! What incentive to do the right thing! What a role model!

  9. Eleanor says:

    After reading the article on the candidates forum I can say that I was quite surprised and disappointed. Journalists are supposed to report the news and the facts, not voice their opinions. The writings were unacceptable in my opinion. The author put down many of the candidates for absolutely no reason and has tried to sway the public to see his views. First, to say that the front runners of the judges candidates are Moore-Sten and Atack is ridiculous. There is no statistical data to date to back up the theory.. From what I can see, all of the candidates have tried to be respectful of each other. The article made the some of the sheriff’s candidates look like clowns. I really don’t appreciate these writings.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Eleanor, stenography isn’t FlaglerLive’s strength nor, on occasion, is being overly blind to the obvious. Thanks for your engagement.

  10. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    @ deana, What most are forgetting is that the current Deputy under the microscope has been around for a long time he knows the short comings of that administration inside and out. If they probe him too much the flood gates holding back inside secrets will be opened. Flemming doesn’t want to wake
    a sleeping dog.

  11. Ellen Tozzi says:

    I’d like to take the time to clarify just a couple of points. I thought it was the job of the reporter to report what was said at the forum, but that being said; it’s not my intent to knock his job or his work. It is strictly my intent to clear up a few points. I believe with all my heart that most of us will agree it hurts us when someone we love is made fun of unnecessarily. We of course know when they throw their hat in the ring and decide to run for public office they leave themselves open to whatever cruel jokes and nasty comments anyone deems necessary.

    However, in this case the journalist knew only part of the story and reported it as he saw fit. My name is Ellen Tozzi, as I’m sure most of you know my husband Karl is one of the candidates running for sheriff.

    Point number 1, Yes, it’s true that four years ago Karl ran for Sheriff and lost; getting just 9% of the vote, but four years ago when Karl ran for Sheriff, Karl ran half heartedly. What this journalist didn’t know, nor did the constituents of Flagler County know, is that after Karl entered his name in the race I became very ill. Karl made a decision almost instantly to drop out of the race and I told him not to. Karl’s not a quitter, he’s never quit anything in his life and I didn’t want him to start then. Problem was, he spent more time taking me to doctors and more time caring for me then he did campaigning. After many doctors and many tests, they found a brain tumor, left frontal lobe, just for starters. We won’t go into all of it. But for any of you out there that would knock Karl for taking care of me instead of campaigning…well, what can I say.

    Next point. Karl’s comic relief?! A revelation that at one point he had a choice between jail and the Marines. He chose the Marines. Back in the 60’s it wasn’t even heard of to be raised by a single mom, it was looked down on, frowned upon even. But Karl was raised by a single mom, and then she died when he was nine years old. His grandparents raised him. (Sound familiar Palm Coast, there’s a lot of grandparents raising kids) But Karl was living in Miami in the 60’s and trouble found him. He was smart enough to know it was bound to be jail so he chose the Marines. After two years of combat in Vietnam and six months in Cuba, he came back to the USA, dusted himself off, got himself into college, joined the Broward County Sheriff’s Department (Ft Laud/Hollywood area), becoming a sworn certified deputy sheriff, (not a cop),advancing through the ranks, retiring honorably.

    I agree, maybe he shouldn’t have been playing with his notepad and pen. But the point is, Karl was trying to tell his story, he’s one of the few actually telling the truth. Sharing with you the fact that he came from the bottom and he’s trying to make a difference at the top.

    He’s running on a platform that every child when possible should get a second chance instead of ending up joining gangs doing drugs or committing criminal acts.

  12. Sharon Feliciano says:

    I attempted to leave a reply for Susan B. the other evening and noticed it was still not posted so here I go again. Susan, please note that I am not covering anything up nor do I have anything to hide. I would refer you to the paragraph in the article that mentions my name and that I was on the Grievance committee from 2008-2011. I would not have been eligible to sit on the committee had I been disciplined by the Florida bar. I would encourage all voters to research all of the judicial candidates by going to the All attorneys are listed on that website with their date of admission, educational background, areas of practice and disciplinary history for the last ten years. I would also refer you to the Florida Supreme Court website. I would be more than happy to discuss my qualifications for the judicial position, so please feel free to contact me or visit my website at Thank you.

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