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Commissioner’s Latest Move to Replace Bunnell Police With Sheriff May Be Stillborn

| January 8, 2014


The second and last time Bunnell City Commissioner Elbert Tucker tried merely to hear a proposal from the Flagler County Sheriff to take over policing in the city, the occasion devolved into an ambush.

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Tucker had invited sheriff’s officials to make a presentation outlining the savings possible through consolidation. No sooner were the Sheriff’s Office’s Linda Bolante and then-Maj. Steve Clair done did a stream of individuals–most of them recruited for the occasion by the late Arthur Jones, the police chief at the time, and Armando Martinez, the city manager at the time, and almost all of them from Palm Coast, not Bunnell—walk up to the dais to tell commissioners what a wonderful job Jones was doing, what an asset the police department was, what it represented to Bunnell’s sense of identity, and how foolish it would be to let the sheriff take over. Savings were not much of a concern, though the sheriff was proposing to save the city 26 percent on its policing bills.

After the meeting, Jones, Martinez and their supporters, including a majority of the city commission that included Mayor Catherine Robinson, Jenny Crain-Brady and Daisy Henry, congratulated each other as if an election had been won. There never was a vote on the issue: there couldn’t have been at that particular meeting, which was a workshop (where votes may not be taken), but the matter was not brought up again in a commission meeting.

The complexion of the Bunnell City Commission has changed. So has its administration. Back-slapping though Martinez was with Jones at that meeting in 2010, Martinez eventually pushed out Jones in 2012 and replaced him with Jeff Hoffman, though Hoffman didn’t stay more than 18 months: he’s now the chief deputy for the sheriff (and on Wednesday, he was having lunch with one of the four finalists for the now-vacant police chief’s job in Bunnell). Martinez is gone, fired by a commission with two new members since that 2010 meeting.

It was always a matter of time before Tucker would try his consolidation proposal again. This week, he looked like he was about to: an item appeared on the agenda for next week’s Bunnell commission meeting that read: “Discuss the Feasibility of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office taking over the City Police Department – Commissioner Tucker.”

No sooner was the item posted than it was red-lined. Tucker pulled it—not because the item had immediately provoked the creation of a Facebook page called Save the Bunnell Police Department, but because, Tucker said, “I just didn’t have all my ducks in a row.” The Facebook page had garnered 160 likes by Wednesday evening.

But he will, he says. “It’s just a matter of time. I’ll bring it back. There’s no doubt. So they need to keep their Facebook page up,” Tucker said on Wednesday.

He’s been working on the idea for four months. He’s had discussions with a sheriff’s official about it—though not with Sheriff Jim Manfre. Tucker could not remember who the official was: he’s no longer with the sheriff’s office. And though he has a bottom-line figure that he says sums up the potential savings for Bunnell, in case of consolidation, Tucker said he’s not ready to disclose it yet.

“I’m not going to tell you what the price was, it’s less than what we’re paying, but that’s all I’m going to say,” Tucker said.  “The police department costs Bunnell a little over $1 million a year.  If you think about how much money the proposed refurbishment of the old courthouse, or a floor on the annex, is going to be—in excess of $1 million per floor: where are we going to get the money? If we can save money on one to spend on the other, I think it would be a good trade-off.”

The county just ceded the old courthouse, including the courthouse annex, to Bunnell, which intends to use it as its new city hall, but also to lease portions of the rest of the building to non-profits or other entities. The city secured a $1.2 million loan to help pay for the repairs, which may run upward of $5 million for the entire building.

Asked about the issue on Wednesday, Manfre raised both hands and said he was not at all involved. He repeated what he’d said on the matter before: if a majority of the city commission were to request the sheriff’s services, he would follow those wishes. But he won’t seek them out.

Tucker may have a harder time getting his fellow commissioners to go along. He says he is certain not to get the support of Mayor Catherine Robinson and Commissioner Jenny Crain-Brady, who have rallied around the police department before. He would be relying on support from newer commissioners: John Rogers and Bill Baxley. Tucker does not want a repeat of 2010. He said before going so far as to seek out a presentation from the sheriff, he would first want to discuss the possibility with his fellow commissioners and be assured of a majority that would at least agree to discuss the issue.

But even Rogers, who had shown interest in consolidation in the past, but not since becoming commissioner, was distancing himself from the proposal on Wednesday, though he was not aware that Tucker had pulled it from the agenda.

“I would listen to what he has to say but I think the police department is a valuable asset to the city of Bunnell,” Rogers said. “But I’d never want to close the door if any of my fellow commissioners want to discuss anything.” Asked directly about the notion of consolidation, Rogers said: “I would have to look at the figures. But I know there’s a vast majority of citizens of Bunnell who like to have their own police department.” That attachment may override the cost savings, Rogers said, since the citizens are ultimately paying for their police department.

To press the point, Rogers pointed to an email sent commissioners today from JoAnn Noel, an administrative assistant at the Bunnell Police Department, that, Rogers said, illustrates the value of the department–and the rapid response, beyond Facebook, from those already campaigning to protect the department.

“One of our citizens was involved in a car accident at Commerce Pkwy. and 100 (Wendy’s) on Monday, January 6th,” Noel wrote. “A child was involved, there was heavy damage to the one vehicle but fortunately, no injuries. Just the same, this citizen was extremely upset by the accident. Officer Jonathan Kuleski was one of the BPD officers at the scene.  Knowing this citizen was very upset, Officer Kuleski – after his shift ended on Tuesday, stopped by his home to see how he was doing. Today, this citizen took time to come by the Bunnell Police Dept. to express his sincere thanks to Officer Jonathan Kuleski for his caring attitude. KUDO’s to  Officer Jonathan Kuleski!

Rogers is running for re-election in March, as is Crain-Brady. It will be a close election. It is unlikely that either of them would take a position against the police department. Without Rogers’s vote, Tucker’s initiative may be stillborn.

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12 Responses for “Commissioner’s Latest Move to Replace Bunnell Police With Sheriff May Be Stillborn”

  1. Gia says:

    Come on Tucker dump the bullshit & all that jazz Bunnell does not need their own PD, it’s too costly.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Bring it up for consideration after the election.

  3. HJ says:

    Steve Clair for Sheriff ! ! !

  4. festivus says:

    when drug addicts wanna buy drugs off a loser on a corner,they go into bunnell……obviously the bunnell pd is a waste of time as is……

    • Anonymous1 says:

      The crime statistics in Bunnell has dropped dramatically (More than 40%) within the last year, while the crime rate in Palm Coast and the rest of the unincorporated areas of the county has increased. Also Bunnell PD has an approximate 90% clearance rate on all of their cases (One of the highest clearance rates in the country). Now who do the citizens of Bunnell have to thank for making their city a safer place to live? Certainly not the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office! The drop in crime is because of the hard working Officer’s who serve the citizens of Bunnell and work for Bunnell PD, not the Sheriff’s Office. Anyone who dares to undermine any officer that works for Bunnell PD should request to go on a ride along just to see how much work they do within this community and how busy they are during their 12 hour shift, considering that there is usually only two officers work per shift!

  5. Wolley Segap says:

    But he will, he says. “It’s just a matter of time. I’ll bring it back. There’s no doubt. So they need to keep their Facebook page up,” Tucker said on Wednesday.

    Nice threat? You cant tell people youre looking to do away with their jobs and expect them to stand idly by. I support them in their cause to save the department.

  6. bunnell boy says:

    I do not think the boys in blue have anything to worry about. The way i see it ,Tuckers on the Titanic and just watched the last lifeboat leave without him. There is know way Rodgers is going to join this fight, he is too busy on his calculator trying to figure how he is going to get reelected.That just leaves Baxley and he changes about as much as our two traffic signals in town!

  7. Enlightened says:

    Manfre is making the moves on all the County Police Departments. No one wants the Sheriff’s Office to replace them. Good move everyone. Keep your men and women employed. Manfre won’t.

  8. ryan says:

    I think Tucker needs to find a real cause and cut spending from his pension as well as a 25% pay cut for all City Councilman and others who leech too much money and are gifted with secrecy by media.

  9. Observer says:

    makes sense Mr.Tucker…anyone with half a brain wold agree that the level service would improve with the Sheriff’s office. It made sense fiscally the last time it was brought and it makes sense again. The only people against, are people with self serving reasons, (like the dead beats who work there), they afraid because they wouldn’t be able to qualify to work for the Sheriff’s office. The City of Bunnell would be far better off in all aspects without the Bunnell PD. Mr. Tucker makes sense

  10. Observer says:

    Mr. Tucker just pull the public records and look at how many calls are handled daily…look at how many people leave that department and move on …look at the level of training the officer’s get compared to the Sheriff’s office..look at the resources that would be available to our citizens. Look at the facebook page that is called “save the bunnell PD” I’m sure its one of your officers doing this , bad mouthing the City officials and displaying police cars…. the City allows that?

  11. Observer says:

    PS….. Mr. Tucker looks like the car on facebook is one of the new ones….. Since there are only two of them maybe you can start an investigation to see what officer is violating the City social media policy. It,s obviously a staged photo since no one is actually in the car.

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