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Murders, Errant Planes, Firings, Crashing Deputies: Sheriff Eulogizes 78-Day Mark

| March 29, 2013

Jim Manfre's first 78 days have felt more like 100 weeks. He appeared before the Flagler County Democratic Club on Wednesday. (© FlaglerLive)

Jim Manfre’s first 78 days have felt more like 100 weeks. He appeared before the Flagler County Democratic Club on Wednesday. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre hasn’t closed out his first 100 days on the job. He might be excused if he feels like he’s already hit the century mark in more ways than days.

“There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, may you live in the most interesting of times, and I have to say these 90 days have certainly been an interesting period in my life and also in Flagler County,” Manfre said on the 78th day of his tenure, in an appearance before the Flagler County Democratic Club on Wednesday.

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It’s not been a quiet transition. Some of the difficulties have been of his own making: firing agency veterans who together had about a hundred years’ experience between, and demoting and shifting dozens of others was bound to draw attention and criticism, and grievances. Having two deputies involved in two car crashes in six weeks, one of them causing the death of a civilian driver, the other deemed entirely the deputy’s fault, hasn’t helped.

Nor have the two homicides that have taken place on his watch, both unsolved, both shrouded in disturbing circumstances—one of them was an execution, the other remains unexplained by the sheriff himself. Not to mention that plane landing on Palm Coast Parkway, or the man jumping off the Flagler Beach bridge.

Manfre, never shy from publicity, hasn’t shied from facing audiences, either, friendly or not.  Last week he appeared before the Flagler County tea party group, which doesn’t rank among his fan base. Maybe that’s why he also took Undersheriff Rick Staly with him. But he did so because the tea party wanted him there: the group’s rules are such that the membership’s wishes drives the guest bookings at monthly meetings, and the membership wanted to hear from Manfre. He fielded several questions on guns and gun control, but he also took the opportunity to update the group, much diminished though it’s been, on his first weeks.

He did so again on Wednesday before the Democratic club’s much friendlier crowd. (Manfre is a Democrat.) Some 70 people jammed the Flagler County Public Library’s community room, forcing about 10 people to remain standing for the sheriff’s 70-minute presentation. Manfre, in a suit rather than in his sheriff’s uniform, and with his wife Cornelia in the audience, was relaxed and candid, offering up a few tidbits of news and fielding questions that focused far more on community concerns than on recent controversies.

There were questions on the speed limit on Florida Park Drive, on red-light cameras, on bike lanes on Colbert Lane, on the dangerous intersection at Old Kings Road and State Road 100, and on red-light cameras—all of which were out of Manfre’s power to change: road matters are under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Transportation, the county commission or the Palm Coast City Council. When asked about red-light spy cameras, a sore point with innumerable residents across the state (the Legislature is addressing it) and in Palm Coast, Manfre quipped that it would be the topic of City Council member Bill Lewis’s next town hall meeting. Lewis was in the audience.

But residents had also noticed that there’s been stepped up patrolling. Manfre said that was the result of shedding the department’s top-heavy ranks and sending officers back on the road.

Manfre only vaguely alluded to the shake-ups at the agency, saying he wanted to explain where he wanted “to take the agency” by way of “accountability, integrity and respect,” a set of principles he described by their acronym (“AIR”).

Then he said something somewhat surprising, in light of the recent firings: “When our deputies or employees don’t do something well, our obligation is to teach them how to do it better,” he said. “Our obligation is to make poor employees better employees, good employees great employees, and great employees the model for all we do. So, that’s what we mean by accountability.” Manfre has defended the firing of three of his top staffers—David O’Brien, who was forced to retire, and John Plummer and Steve Clair, who were fired—by saying that they either did not fit in the agency anymore, or that they could no longer be demoted after having been in leadership roles. He was also critical of a hydra-headed leadership structure that, under former Sheriff Don Fleming, had created what amounted to internal fiefdoms, with certain individuals drawing allegiance from certain groups, without a defined, central authority with clear chains of command.

Before the Democratic club, Manfre explained what he meant by “respect” as “treating people fairly, regardless of who they are and in what situation you get them. I treat the mayor as well as my trustees from the jail. Give everyone respect. And what I expect is my organization to treat each other respectfully, because there’s nothing more insidious in an organization than people undermining each other, crawling over each other to get to the top. We don’t countenance that. We want everyone to be respectful.”

In sum, Manfre said, he would be rewarding the good, punishing the bad, saving money, giving his employees incentives to come up with money-saving measures that would net them extra pay. He spoke of rolling out a no-smoking policy on the job, and he made a little news when he announced that the county, under his advice, would no longer be renovating the old jail but building a new one, at a savings of $8 million, though that hasn’t yet been discussed at the county commission. (Two commissioners were in the audience Wednesday: Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin and Commissioner Charlie Ericksen.)

Manfre argued that “it’s always been cheaper to build new than to renovate,” and that renovating would cost around $23 million, whereas a new structure with 264 beds (doubling current capacity) would cost $15 million. “And then we still have the existing facility which we can potentially use with things like transitional housing for our inmates,” Manfre said. “I have to tell you, there is nothing more pathetic—and I don’t mean this derogatorily—it’s humbling to see inmates males and females walking down Justice Lane with $5 in their pocket, back to their community, with an expectation that they’re not going to come back to our facility. I think that’s short-sighted.”

The appearance was dubbed as a talk on guns and the February 21 murder of Zuheily Roman Rosado, the clerk at the Mobil gas station who was gunned down in an apparent execution. That was a very small part of Manfre’s talk, as was the reference to the discovery, on Jan. 14, of a murdered man in the marshes of Covington Lane.

“Our search for a motive is our first goal,” Manfre said of the Rosado killing. “We’re searching for that, and we think we’re getting closer to that, we think we’re getting closer to some suspects, I obviously can’t share that with you.” He had little else to add to either homicides, but spoke candidly about his stance on guns.

“I feel extraordinarily strongly that we need to have universal background checks. It makes absolutely no sense to me that anyone of you law-abiding citizens wants to buy a gun, has a background check. If you go to Walmart you have a background check. You could buy five of those.” But going to an unlicensed place in Jacksonville to “double your money,” Manfre said, “that doesn’t require a background check. That makes absolutely no sense. Either everyone should have a background check, or no one should.” But the nation is moving toward universal checks, he said.

Manfre is also in favor of limits on ammunition clips. “Those are sensible approaches on gun control,” he said.

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15 Responses for “Murders, Errant Planes, Firings, Crashing Deputies: Sheriff Eulogizes 78-Day Mark”

  1. HJ says:

    Blah, Blah, Blah ……really Manfre why don’t you tell the truth !!! You fired Majors Steve Clair and John Plummer for no other reason than your personal vendetta. They both would have glady taken a demotion to continue their many years of service to Flagler County, and to have a pay check each week,not to mention both of these men have wives with serious illnesses and are now without health insurance . I hope you feel good about yourself ! And as far as saving money for the county, why don’t you print the salaries and benefits for all your
    New people…. You know the buddies you hired and the PR firm to promote yourself….. MMMM….really are you that important that you need a PR firm ???? Wow and we are only 78 days into your tenure…God help us !!!!

  2. Magicone says:

    I wrote him a personal letter asking him to please enforce the law about overnight parking by 18 wheelers in the Staples parking lot. There are always deputies eating donuts at the Shell station and every night there is at least 1 18 wheeler sleeping in that lot. Speed limit on Fla Park road he enforces with a dummy patrol car. Tells you we have elected a dummy sheriff !!!

    • Reality Check says:

      @ Magicone, Truckers sleeping in a parking lots, Really? with all the problems this city has; I would rather see a trucker getting the rest he needs to drive safely. The rest stop in St. Johns ciounty on 95 is full a lot at night, I just do not see this as being an issue that we need to deal with right now. Lets go after the drugs, burglaries and low lifes in this city dragging down the value of where we live first.

  3. confidential says:

    Magicone I am wondering …what is the problem with the 18 wheelers parked overnight at Staples? I know they are allowed at Walmart, as well as they allow travel motorized or travel trailers overnight parking. Maybe those, wether 18 wheeler driver/s or the vacationing family may spend some $$ in our city. I sure see no lack of parking space at least at Staples….did you have a problem finding parking space?
    Also what is the problem with our deputy/s buying a coffee and donut at the Shell Dunkin?. Working day or nights may need a coffee and doughnut during the shift. I rather have alert deputies and caffeine helps. Please, live and let live. Do you imagine your rear end slumped in a patrol car for 8 hours wearing your eyesight scouting for thieves and criminals while not knowing where a well intended bullet can cut your life short? You are going to tell me that you won’t need a coffee break…and maybe a doughnut? Now our deputies are really patrolling around our homes and I sure appreciate that.
    As far is my concern…enjoy your coffee and doughnuts officers! My appreciation to the Shell Dunkin for welcoming them.! Keep up the good work Sheriff Manfre!

  4. NortonSmitty says:

    “I have to tell you, there is nothing more pathetic—and I don’t mean this derogatorily—it’s humbling to see inmates males and females walking down Justice Lane with $5 in their pocket, back to their community, with an expectation that they’re not going to come back to our facility. I think that’s short-sighted.”

    So we’re going to double the number of sad losers doing the Walk of Hope, because if we issue bonds to build the Big New Jail, we have to keep it full so the Feds pay us for holding them so we can pay those bonds off. Spit on the sidewalk at your own risk, we have to protect the children no matter the cost in treasure or freedom!

  5. Donna Heiss says:

    @ Magicone. What exactly is the problem with 18 wheelers parking overnight in Staples parking lot? I don’t get it. It’s not like the shopping plaza is open all night.

    Deputies do get breaks. Does it matter to you what they choose for a snack? Or maybe you are saying they should eat and drive? I don’t get what you’re saying here either.

  6. nyy says:

    David Obrien for Sheriff

  7. Magicone says:

    My problem with 18 wheelers in the Staples lot overnight is: (1) It is not a rest area, it is marked a tow away zone, those trucker are not spending any $$ in our city they are sleeping. This is a residential neighborhood. Not a truckers rest stop. (2) Three deputies standing outside of a donut shop for an hour at a time; its just wrong, they are not “patrolling around our homes”, or “scouting for thieves and criminals”, they are spending $ at the donut shop on the taxpayers dime. (3) They signed up for this job, it consists of an 8 hour day not 7, they are getting paid for 8 hours, they are getting paid to enforce the law…….the law states that “Overnight parking is illegal and vehicles will be towed at owners expense” When was the last time you drove around Palm Coast @ 3 A.M.? If the cops wrote a ticket for everyone parked on a swale (which is illegal) the city council would have enough $ for a City Hall, the library would have a new roof, property taxes wouldn’t need to go up, the schools would be able to afford armed guards, and the deputies would get a raise……..defense rests!

    • Reality Check says:

      @ Magicone, wow you have a lot of anger tword silly crime here, if we had a public transportation sysytem then people would not need so many cars, but since we dont its a problem. A family of four with grown children who drive have a real issue with this, I go to work early so I park behind my wife on one side of the driveway whan I remember too. Now if I dont and my oldest sone comes home from a day at school then his night job he does not want to block me in so he parks in the swale, this sure is a problem for the police. You need to get real about what is wrong with Palm Coast and none of your concerns are even close to being valid at this point, you need to take a deep breathe and relax about the small stuff.

  8. glide10 says:

    @Magicone; Are you going to expect the same for the UPS drivers that sit and park waiting to switch out their load or that sleep in their trucks or stop for a break to run into the Shell or Denny’s.Are these the only issues you wish to worry about and want action on? Really, this 18 Wheeler drivers are stopping to spend a night at home after being on the road for days sometimes just a few hours. Their presence is that big of an impact on your life really?

  9. Dennis says:

    Interesting article, but a little confusing. Since moving here seven years ago, I’ve always been impressed with the amount of patrol cars I’ve seen while driving around town. High visibility is a crime deterent. I could be missing it, but I don’t see any increase in the last 78 days.

    What’s hard to swallow is the excuse for firing O’Brien, Plummer and Claire. The article states, “They did not fit the agency anymore, or could no longer be demoted after leadership roles. If memory serves me correctly Plummer and Claire where fired on day one of Mr. Manfre’s taking office. How could he have known they didn’t fit the agency anymore. He hasn’t been in office for 8 years prior to this. Hearsay, rumors maybe? Hope not! That certainly is not good leadership. Was either of these two offered a demotion to stay with the sheriff’s office? How did the Sheriff come to these conclusions and decisions? What were they based on? With over 100 years of experience they must have attended an huge amount of training classes relevant to there field. It doesn’t seem to prudent to just let them go. That training and experience could come in handy for a man that doesn’t have the training and experience these three men do.

    Sorry to see these men let go for appears to be a lame excuse. To Mr. O’Brien, Plummer and Claire, thank you for your service and best of luck to you all.

  10. Donna Heiss says:

    Whoa Magicone! It must take a lot of work to be so angry.

    Maybe you need to try living in a gated community, say in Beverly Hills, California? They have private security there for you. Don’t venture outside the gates though. You may find something you don’t like.

  11. confidential says:

    Magicone; where did you retire from FBI, CIA or Scotland Yard? Are you video taping those alleged infractions? What is the problem with a tired 18 wheeler taking a siesta…better than causing a tragedy at high speed in the Interstate! Are you stalking our 18 wheeler drivers and our deputies looking for a needle in their hay stack? Maybe the owner of the Staples parking and mall (the Kings Commons) allows those 18 wheelers there and as private property is not for our Sheriff to enforce at tax payers cost. Don’t you have something better to do like for example volunteering in our Sheriff Observer Patrol or any other community organization? Looks like you have lots of free time at your disposition.
    I only agree with your 3 am findings, about too much parking on residential areas swells as that is the right of way, then city ordinance should be enforced. As for all else, please… lets keep the peace in this hard economic times for many in this county.

  12. James Wigington says:

    the fact of the matter is that STAPLES is responsible to enforce the trucks parking in THERE parking lot. It is private property most places have a towing company that regularly tows overnight vehicles in there lots. And I do believe its ok to park they are spending money in our community.

  13. Reality Check says:

    The funny part of all this is how often Manfre calls for a press confrence, notice now how the room is three quarters empty? even the press is already sick of his giant ego, he may be the only Sherriff in the state with a PR firm.

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