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Reagan Assemblies’ “Watchdogs” Can’t Take Defeat: As One Suit Is Tossed, a Pledge to File Another

| September 4, 2014

A supermajority of the Flagler County Commission attended a brief hearing before Circuit Judge Dennis Craig this afternoon, where the attorney for an obscure pressure group said he'd file a case alleging that commissioners were illegally 'polled' before a key vote last year. The attorney provided no evidence. The commissioners from left are George Hanns,  Nate McLaughlin, Charlie Ericksen and Frank Meeker. The reporter at her laptop is the News-Journal's Julie Murphy. (© FlaglerLive)

A supermajority of the Flagler County Commission attended a brief hearing before Circuit Judge Dennis Craig this afternoon, where the attorney for an obscure pressure group said he’d file a case alleging that commissioners were illegally ‘polled’ before a key vote last year. The attorney provided no evidence. The commissioners from left are George Hanns, Nate McLaughlin, Charlie Ericksen and Frank Meeker. The reporter at her laptop is the News-Journal’s Julie Murphy. (© FlaglerLive)

There was a quorum of the Flagler County Commission for this one: four of the five commissioners showed up for the hearing Thursday on a Palm Coast pressure group’s lawsuit against the commission and its purchase last year of the old Memorial Hospital in Bunnell. The group was claiming that Commissioner Barbara Revels—who was not in attendance—had a conflict of interest and should have either disclosed it or not participated in the hospital vote.

Barely 10 minutes into the hearing, Circuit Judge Dennis Craig threw out the suit by the co-called Flagler Palm Coast Watchdogs, concluding it had no standing in circuit court. The “Watchdogs,” founded by Palm Coast resident Dan Bozza, is a group closely aligned with the Ronald Reagan Assemblies of Flagler County, an insurgent far-right Republican group.

The lawsuit was no sooner dismissed than the pressure group’s attorney said he’d file a new lawsuit, with facts unrelated to the previous one, this time charging that one of the county commissioners polled the rest of the commission on the hospital purchase—meaning that he asked commissioners how they would vote outside of an open meeting. If true, that would be a violation of Florida’s open-meetings law.

It was an unusual way to extend a legal battle against the county even after that battle’s ammunition had been exhausted. Josh Knight, the attorney, at first attempted to stretch the original case by merely amending the original lawsuit. The judge did not allow it.

“There doesn’t even appear to be overlapping facts on the allegations on the original complaint versus what would be the amended complaint,” Craig said, requiring Knight to file an entirely new lawsuit if that’s what Knight wanted to do. Knight said that’s what he’d do.

Al Hadeed, the county attorney, said he was considering going after attorneys’ fees now that the lawsuit has been dismissed. “Is that something that I’m weighing? Yes,” Hadeed said, noting that the county attorney’s office is a public resource focused on issues meant to “save money or get money or avoid liability or whatever the function is that is in the public interest,” none of which was the case with this lawsuit. “The time I spent doing this was time I couldn’t spend doing something else, so yes, I have to weigh that on behalf of the government.”

It’s not clear who would defend commissioners in light of the new lawsuit, if it’s filed. Commissioners facing sunshine law violations generally have to have their own attorneys. Knight would not disclose who the commissioner who allegedly polled other commissioners was, but that information has been dribbling out.

Bob Hamby, a member of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies of Flagler County, whose members have been bitterly critical of local government, alleged on Aug. 14 that Commissioner Nate McLaughlin asked Commissioner Charlie Ericksen how he would vote, and that the matter was brought to County Attorney Al Hadeed’s attention by Reagan assembly members.

Ericksen, the only commissioner who voted against the hospital purchase, categorically denied today having a conversation about the vote with McLaughlin outside of meetings. “We had workshops before the vote but I never talked with any of the commissioners with regards to how I was going to vote,” Ericksen said.

The meeting between Reagan members and Hadeed took place on Jan. 15. It was at the request of Reagan assembly director Dennis McDonald (who had a lawsuit against Palm Coast declared frivolous earlier this year, and is now required to pay Palm Coast’s costs, with Knight the attorney on that case as well), Dan Bozza, who was behind the lawsuit that was dismissed today, and John Ruffalo, the strategist behind the Reagan group (whose name last appeared before Judge Craig two years ago when the wife of the Republican Executive Committee tried to have an injunction against him for forcing her out of assembly headquarters.

The meeting between Reagan members and Hadeed took place on Jan. 15. It was at the request of Reagan assembly director Dennis McDonald, Dan Bozza and John Ruffalo.

McDonald, a frequent critic of county and city government who just lost a bid for the county commission against incumbent Frank Meeker, had a lawsuit against Palm Coast declared frivolous earlier this year, and is now required to pay Palm Coast’s costs. Knight is the attorney on that case as well. Bozza is behind the lawsuit that Craig threw out today. Bozza has not attended his own case’s hearings. Ruffalo is a strategist behind the Reagan group. His name last appeared before Judge Craig two years ago when the wife of the Republican Executive Committee chairman, Patricia Sullivan, tried to have an injunction against him for forcing her out of Reagan assembly headquarters, which turned out to be GOP headquarters.

“They wanted to meet with me because they had expressed frustration that they weren’t getting information from county administration,” Hadeed said of the January meeting.

The trio had a number of issues they wanted to discuss—about the old hospital, the chamber of commerce and the Tourist Development Council, among others. The trio also raised the issue of Revels’s alleged conflict of interest. Along the way, they made the claim that polling took place.

“I don’t remember exactly the words they told me,” Hadeed said. “They said that they knew there’d been polling, they mentioned commissioners’ names, I think they did mention Nate, they mentioned Charlie, they may have mentioned others.” Hadeed later said Meeker’s name was mentioned.
But when Hadeed asked the trio for evidence, he said they pointed to Meeker’s claim in a FlaglerLive article that he’d felt he was “being led, at times by the nose, to a conclusion to support the hospital purchase.” Nowhere in that article was there an allusion to polling or to Meeker even connecting that pressure to other commissioners, so much as to the administration, which may legally engage with commissioners at will outside of meetings. Beyond that, Hadeed said the trio’s polling allegations were “hearsay.”

“I’m sure I told them polling is illegal, you heard that in court today,” Hadeed said. “I acknowledged that. I told them that they should go to the State Attorney if they have those facts.” Hadeed then verbally and individually informed commissioners of the meeting. “I asked each commissioner, were they polled?” Hadeed said of those meetings. “They all said no. Very firmly.”

Reagan assembly tactics have established a pattern, including in the McDonald and Bozza-Watchdogs court cases, of making baseless claims that wither under examination. Along the way, the target of those claims are tarnished regardless. McLaughlin and Meeker, having defeated two Reagan assembly candidates, are still incumbents facing re-election in November. The noise against them is part of that context.
And the dismissal of a lawsuit often does not make as much of an impact on public opinion as its original filing. Bozza in an interview earlier this summer said the Watchdogs group was created to raise money to file lawsuits against local governments.

Hadeed argued to Craig more than a week ago that the Watchdogs case shouldn’t be in circuit court, because if there was such a conflict, it’s up to the Florida Commission on Ethics to deal with the issue. Revels is, in fact, facing a complaint alleging the same conflict of interest through the ethics commission. But the commission has not yet determined whether the complaint has merit.

The case was last before Craig on Aug. 27, but Knight, who’d been ill, was not prepared to argue why the original lawsuit belonged in circuit court. Craig gave him a week. Today, Knight rested his argument on two sections of Florida law that Hadeed said were not applicable, since one merely addressed the open meeting law and the other did not in and of itself “confer jurisdiction” for such a case in circuit court.

Craig had been skeptical of the case belonging in his court all along, but as he did last week, gave Knight ample room to press his case. Knight tried. Craig was not convinced. When the two laws Knight cited failed to meet the judge’s test, Knight took the tangential approach. He said that an amended lawsuit would prove to have jurisdiction in circuit court.

Craig was aware of the attempt to change the original lawsuit, but did not take to the tactic, because the amendment would make new allegations entirely–that one or more county commissioners involved with the hospital vote, Knight said, “illegally polled other commissioners as to their intended vote.” He wanted more time “to conduct discovery in light of this new information.”

Hadeed quickly pointed out that that would have been in sum an odd way of resuscitating a dead case. The judge agreed, leading Knight to have to file the new case from scratch.

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22 Responses for “Reagan Assemblies’ “Watchdogs” Can’t Take Defeat: As One Suit Is Tossed, a Pledge to File Another”

  1. Freida says:

    I want to join the ” Watchdogs”. This city is so corrupt even the judges are on the take !

  2. Ace Dead Eye Johnson says:

    ?????? Why don’t these old do nothing jackasses just move to the Villages……they love old man drama over there…

  3. Robert Lewis says:

    I think the Villages would be perfect location for our Reagan Republicans. The Villages has earned the reputation as the STD capitol of Florida. There is a lot more than bingo and pot lucks. Since our bunch of angry people like to put to screws to our community, they can relocate there – so they can do it all day. Physically and literally.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      I think it’s hilarious that the Villages, who’s developer takes great pride in only allowing Republican Rallys every election on Village property, leads the State of Florida in Sexually Transmitted diseases per capita. Not Opalocka, Hialeah or even Immokalee, but the lilly-white home of God-fearing, abstinence preaching, bible-thumping Patriots. The Hypocrisy of these people never ceases to amaze me!

      Which for some reason reminds me of this old joke:

      Why don’t Baptists ever make love standing up?
      Because people might think they were dancing.

  4. Bunnell Resident says:

    Florida’s Sunshine law is bad for Democracy. The goal is good but the unintended consequences are not. Requiring every discussion to be public is not good for consensus building or for developing compromise. Thoughtful debate and the ability for one public figure to positively influence another public figure is limited to cameo moments. Major purchases get limited debate and what debate that does happen is for the benefit of the audience, not for the benefit of the taxpayer. Florida’s Sunshine law is actually harming the state and local governments it was intended to improve. Repeal the Sunshine Law now!

    • Will says:

      There’s merit in what you say, but how to balance the good with the bad. I guess the law’s framers said more sunshine is better than less.

  5. Scooter says:

    Old fools with too much time on their hands.

  6. Brad says:

    This group is NOT about doing anything to improve the area and better the community. It’s obvious that this group and the Ronalds are really about control. This whole article displays that and how much disrespect for the tax payers of this county these groups have that they waste our courts’ and legal counsel’s time and cause unnecessary expense. IF you are going to raise a lawsuit then show up with actual evidence!

    And I’m wondering if this Joshua D. Knight (Attorney) thinks this will actually help his practice? From what I am seeing this guy is the worst attorney ever and can’t last 4 minutes in court trying to represent someone. Do not hire this man if you are need of an attorney locally.

    The bottom line to things with these groups is that they need to know that we do not need them. We understand they are a bunch of retired people that are bored and attempting to be something they aren’t. They aren’t helping us. They aren’t benefiting us. They aren’t helping secure a better future. They are hurting our community. They want to waste our tax dollars. They want to try and control (that is why they had so many candidates (horrible ones though) on the ballot this year). They want to destroy rather than build. IF they were truly respectable people they would do the right thing and write check immediately repaying the City of Palm Coast for the frivolous lawsuit AND Flagler County for this ridiculous waste of a lawsuit.

  7. confidential says:

    These lawsuits will be successful only be calling the Feds like done so far in Virginia against corruption committed by Governor McDonnell and wife and Illinois Blagojevich and still investigation going on with Christie in NJ. Its time to do so here as well.

  8. lena Marshal says:

    all for nothing, and we paid for that in someway. When the Sherriff starts to build I am sure we will hear something.

  9. Ron Boyce says:

    Is this the same group that is putting up campign signs for Howard Holley?

    • Will says:

      No, Ron Boyce, Howard Holley has too much class for that crowd.

      • Samantha Claire says:


        To challenge your statement, what then is the relationship between the Reagans’ first vice president – candidate development chairman, Mr. Ruffalo (also Dennis McDonald’s failed campaign manager) being seen around town, most recently at Forest Grove and Old Kings road, putting up big Howard Holley road signs?

        Have Holley, Ruffalo and McDonald (Reagans) thrown in together to further antagonize Flagler’s voters?

        Ask Mr. Holley. You will be disappointed. SC

  10. Seminole Pride says:

    Old busy bodies who are clueless. It’s time to take that picture down in your living room wall of Ronald Reagan, and get rid of that 80’s calendar. We are now in the 21st century, dudes We are a hi tech economy.

  11. tulip says:

    @ Ron Boyce–I doubt the Reagan Watchdog group is putting up signs for Howard Holley because he is an Independent or NPA candidate and the RR and their watchdog group only support Republicans who agree with the RR rules.

    • Samantha Claire says:


      Holley is accepting Reagans support. He is sullying himself for their involvement in his already faltering campaign. He cannot unwind this one.

      Reagan leadership will support any candidate of any party affiliation running against balloted general election Republicans they do not like.


      • Will says:

        I would ask if Holley is “accepting” RRR support, or if individuals who agree with the RRR crowd and don’t like Meeker, are volunteering to help Holley without their group’s backing, just to go after Meeker.

        There is a difference though some might not see it that way.

        • Carol Mikola says:

          Will, you’re right…some might not see it that way. The RRR’s are extremely upset with the political demise of Richter and McDonald; their hope for the future. Everyone of them supported all of their loser candidatesHere’s a response from one of their supporters who are typical of the group…

          From: Peggy Yacovone [Edit Address Book]
          Date: Sep 5, 2014 6:51 PM
          “u have made a grave error, carol. i was, and am a great supporter of McDonald and Richter…I especially support them, because they tell the truth. my biggest disappointment is YOU have not been thrown out of FCREC, due to your abominable behavior and disrespect. You appear to believe this is about you and your cronies. We r in danger of losing our country, and you’re only concerned with getting your petty revenge. You r a poor excuse for an American. you r a phony of the first order…” Then she quotes Aristotle.

          “Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society.” ~ Aristotle

          [Correction: The quote is often but falsely attributed to Aristotle, who never came close to writing any such thing.–FL]

        • Samantha Claire says:

          Will, How silly? There is no difference you can parse on this. Reagan first vice president / candidate development officer (remember McDonald and Richter?) is the very core of Reagan leadership. Ruffalo tells his leaders how high to jump – you know the rest. It does appear Ruffalo is brash enough to be putting Holley’s signs up in daylight by overlaying them on Richter-McDonald unremoved primary signs. Peel back Holley’s and see what you get before they run out and fix that issue. This is a repeat of Reagan leaders behavior in the 2012 post-primary. You are right on on one thing: they do despise Meeker for governing with the courage of his superbly knowledge based convictions, but most especially for not supplicating himself to them. Holley is an even more diminished candidate by this association. SC

  12. A.S.F. says:

    For people who supposedly believe in a need for a smaller streamlined government, they sure do feel entitled to waste the court system’s time and resources on their self-promotion and their own hand-picked gripes and causes Given their actions in that regard, I would not trust them to put the public interest first before their own, nor would I trust them to know anything about streamlining the government process.

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