Complaints filed at the Florida Ethics Commission and the Florida Elections Commission are usually confidential. Not in the case of a stash of complaints filed against every member of the Flagler County Commission and the county attorney—complaints filed by Flagler County Supervisor of Elections and ex-commission candidate Mark Richter.
Commissioners started getting the complaints by mail a week ago, and spoke of them then. By Monday evening, even Barbara Revels, who thought she’d been spared, had received hers, and County Attorney Al Hadeed had confirmed on Saturday receiving his. A court spokesperson said there were no records as of Monday of any complaints filed by Weeks against Melissa Moore-Stens, the county judge who chairs the Canvassing Board.
With the exception of an elections complaint against Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, which deals with an allegedly improper disclaimer format on some campaign literature, all the complaints deal in one way or another with issues Weeks has raised before at Flagler County Canvassing Board meetings, which were typically made unusually contentious by those issues.
At a county commission meeting Monday evening, Hadeed, who also serves as the Canvassing Board’s attorney, took the unusual step of speaking of the complaints openly and seeking a vote by the commission to officially affirm three points regarding the complaints and the commissioners’ actions.
“I am not speaking here of actions taken as candidates, but rather, actions you have taken as members of the county commission,” Hadeed told commissioners. “Cumulatively, these filings are an across-the-board challenge on how the board of county commissioners discharged its responsibilities under the election laws. They challenge you as county commissioners acting in your official capacities in performing your public duties, and the same with me in my official capacities as your county attorney and the Canvassing Board attorney. Indeed, these filings might as well have named the Board of County Commissioners as the respondent.”
Hadeed wanted the commission to vote approval of three findings on their part, which he said was required by law: First, that the allegations arise from carrying out their official duties. Second, that a public purpose was being served at the time of these actions. Third, that pending present and future complaints that may still be en route, “that our participation in them serves a public purpose to resolve elections-related questions that are being raised,” Hadeed said.
“On that score,” he continued, “we do look forward to having all the evidence presented, and maybe we can put the repetition of these allegations to final closure. Ultimately these are important issues to the effective operation and maintenance of the administration of our elections.”
The item had not been on the commission’s agenda. Hadeed brought it up during his portion of the meeting, and asked that the commission add the matter to the agenda so it could take action on it. While entirely legal and proper, it is that sort of actions that have prompted the commission’s—and Hadeed’s—detractors, among them Weeks, to claim that the commission has acted improperly on matters related to elections that may have been addressed in similar fashion.
While the county administration makes every effort to have as complete an agenda as possible before a meeting, issues do arise between the time an agenda is finalized and the time an issue is raised at the meeting. The complaints’ notices were just such an issue: when the agenda was finalized and posted on Friday, Revels, and possibly Hadeed, had yet to have taken possession oif the complaints filed against them. By Monday, they had.
Revels made a motion to accept the three findings, and the commission unanimously approved the motion. Hadeed’s full statement appears below.
Following is the unedited, complete statement County Attorney Al Hadeed made to the county commission immediately before the two votes on the matter:
“I need to report to you on the filings of the ethics and elections commission, and specifically fact-finding that we have to make in order to respond officially to those filings. The findings essentially are necessary in order to represent your interests as the Board of County Commissioners. Overall the filings challenge your actions as commissioners and myself, as your county attorney and Canvassing Board attorney. These allegations have been presented before, and we have seen them play out at meetings and documents produced by the supervisor of elections. Now they’re before these agencies for review. We don’t know if there are other filings that are still en route. But the findings that you have to make by law extend to all of these filings that are related to your election process.
“Now, I am not speaking here of actions taken as candidates, but rather, actions you have taken as members of the county commission. Cumulatively, these filings are an across-the-board challenge on how the board of county commissioners discharged its responsibilities under the election laws. They challenge you as county commissioners acting in your official capacities in performing your public duties, and the same with me in my official capacities as your county attorney and the Canvassing Board attorney. Indeed, these filings might as well have named the Board of County Commissioners as the respondent. Now, with that introduction, let me turn to the findings that are required by law. First, that the allegations arise from your carrying out of your official duties. Second, that a public purpose was being served at the time of these actions. You would know these things in your own minds. It is your judgment, your discretion, that you’re exercising in making these findings, and it is left solely to you to make those determinations. Likewise, you know of my actions. And again, these are findings based on your knowledge.
“Additionally we have one more finding for you to consider, required by law. Specifically, that these present and future proceedings, accounting for those that are en route, that our participation in them serves a public purpose to resolve elections-related questions that are being raised. On that score, as you know, the county has stated to the area news outlets, we do look forward to having all the evidence presented, and maybe we can put the repetition of these allegations to final closure. Ultimately these are important issues to the effective operation and maintenance of the administration of our elections. Again, you would know through your knowledge about how important resolution of these issues would be to the effective operation of the county. Even though the filings and the proceedings of these agencies are confidential by law, I have to present proposed findings for your consideration at this point. Remember, they are proposed. You are the judge of them, based on your knowledge. Again, just to be clear, I am referring to the filings that address allegations about the administration of our elections, not as candidates, but as commissioners and myself as county attorney and Canvassing Board attorney. In order to officially proceed at this point with what I’ve just described, we’re going to need a motion to add to the agenda, findings in connection with all filings related to actions taken in official capacities for the 2014 elections and prior elections as they may be raised in those filings.”