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Flagler Commissioner Revels Faces $2,500 Fine Over Ethics Violations as Investigation Points To Discrepancies

| January 14, 2015

Flagler County Commissioner Barbara Revels, who faces two fines over probable violations of state ethics laws, during a tour of the old Memorial hospital building in Bnnell last May, just before she initiated one of two votes to buy the property. The ethics commission advocate says she should not have participated in those votes. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Commissioner Barbara Revels, who faces two fines over probable violations of state ethics laws, during a tour of the old Memorial hospital building in Bnnell last May, just before she initiated one of two votes to buy the property. The ethics commission advocate says she should not have participated in those votes. (© FlaglerLive)

“It’s kind of a sad day in Flagler County that it’s what we’re known for in Tallahassee, these continual ethics complaints,” Flagler County Commissioner Barbara Revels said last month. She was referring to a slew of such complaints filed against her and the rest of the county commission by then-Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks, who has since resigned. Revels was also well aware at the time of another ethics complaint pending against her, that one filed by Ray Stevens, a two-time candidate for sheriff and a member of the right-wing insurgent group known as the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies.

That complaint was prompted by Stevens’s claim that Revels acted improperly by not disclosing a conflict of interest as she voted with the county commission to buy the old Memorial hospital in Bunnell (for $1.23 million) in the summer of 2013. She did so even though she had a business relationship with one of the three owners of the hospital at the time, Palm Coast Intracoastal Bank President Bruce Page. Revels owned Intracoastal Bank stock worth $100,000 at the time of purchase in 2007 (with gains of 15 percent since 2008, according to Revels), and the bank had just increased a line of credit to her.

In an unusual move that reflects the commission’s willingness to go beyond the parameters of a complaint, the ethics commission later ordered a further investigation into what appeared to have been Revels’s improperly making a motion at a special meeting to go ahead with due diligence and negotiations for the eventual purchase of the old hospital, thus putting her in a position to have privately benefited from the act.

Last week (on Jan. 8), the Florida Ethics Commission made public the Revels investigation prompted by the Stevens complaint and the supplemental investigation, finding probable cause to believe that Revels broke Florida law on both counts–one alleged by Stevens, and one deduced by ethics investigators.

Revels has agreed to concede to the commission that she broke the law, though she denied having ever gained anything from the deal, or gained anything even indirectly through her association with Intracoastal Bank. She now faces fines of $1,250 on each count (or a total of $2,500), a civil, not a criminal, penalty, but the ethics commission itself must approve the agreement when it next meets on Jan. 23.

The ethics investigation, rich in details of the former hospital owners’ business history and stakes, led to the dismissal of another charge Stevens brought against Revels–that her vote was influenced by a $200,000 increase in a line of credit from Intracoastal Bank in May 2013, weeks before the vote on the old hospital that August. Revels told investigators she needed the credit as she and her husband had started “flipping houses.”

An investiogative report points to a closer relationship between Revels and then-owners of the old Memorial hospital she championed buying in 2013.

Revels’s ownership of stock was known at the time of the hospital vote: she had disclosed it in a previous financial disclosure form when running for reelection to that seat. But the details of her relationship with the bank, including details of the line of credit, were not. Nevertheless, Revels, along with the rest of the commission, sustained strong public criticism in the weeks leading up to the vote on the hospital, which had only recently before the deal been appraised at $354,000. (Page would subsequently tell investigators that he took a loss on the sale, not a gain, when all costs were calculated.) The county administration had been negotiating a deal with the owners in the full knowledge of county commissioners outside of public meetings until a FlaglerLive article in late April 2013 revealed the nature of the negotiations.

On May 6, 2013, it was Revels who made the motion at a commission meeting to move ahead with due diligence and appraise the hospital again on the way to negotiations for a final price. That motion carried 3-2, making Revels the swing vote: had she abstained, the tie vote, assuming another commissioner had made the motion, would have led to a failed motion, and the matter might have ended there.

On Aug. 1, the commission voted 4-1 to buy the hospital, with Revels again making the motion. (Commissioner Charlie Ericksen was the lone dissenter.)

If there was any doubt left that Revels had been at least part of the driving force behind the hospital buy, the ethics commission investigation dispelled those doubts. The investigation notes that Revels was approached by Page and Larry Jones–the husband of Realtor Margaret Sheehan-Jones, who was the broker on the hospital property–in late 2012 or early 2013 so they could present their arguments as to why the county should buy the building and turn it into a Sheriff’s Office administration headquarters. Revels at the time told them the county was planning on refurbishing the old courthouse for the sheriff’s HQ, and that she would not herself push the idea of using the old hospital, but that if they wanted to take the proposal anywhere, “they’d have to go sell it to the administrator themselves” she told them, referring to County Administrator Craig Coffey. Page agreed that Revels was non-committal at the meeting. The administrator, however, does not make deals without his commissioners’ approbation.

Revels made the motions in both key votes that led to the $1.23 million purchase of the old hospital. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Revels made the motions in both key votes that led to the $1.23 million purchase of the old hospital. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Page owned the hospital at the time with Michael Chiumento, the Palm Coast attorney, and James Newslow of Ormond Beach, both of whom, like Revels, owned stock in Intracoastal Bank. Page revealed to ethics investigators that far from making a profit on the sale of the hospital, his documents pointed to an aggregate loss of $863,464 for Flagler Crossroads, the company that owned the property under the trio’s name. Page owned a third of the company stock. Those figures are based on Flagler Crossroads buying the building in 2005 for $1.65 million, though at the time of the negotiations in 2013 the county property appraiser’s website showed the original purchase price to have been $750,000.

Investigators asked Revels whether she knew that Page was, like her, a shareholder in Intracostal Bank at the time of the hospital deal. “I never really thought about it in that way,” Revels told investigators through her attorney. “He is the CEO, employed by the bank, I guess one might assume he invested in the start-up, but that has never been discussed by him around me. That would have been highly inappropriate for him to say something like that as I am not in that ‘inner circle’ of the Board of Directors. Nor do I have any kind of personal relationship with Mr. Page that he would discuss his personal finances. I bought stock and put my business banking there, that was it.”

The 2013 Files:

The Documents:

“Upon further questioning,” the investigative report states, “Commissioner Revels stated that she did not know that Mr. page was a shareholder of Intracoastal Bank at the time she voted on May 6, 2013, and August 1, 2013.”

That drew a sharp dissent from Page himself, who told investigators that Revels “absolutely” knew he was a shareholder, a fact “clearly disclosed” in the bank’s “Offering Circular” and “Subscription Agreement” that Revels, who is known for her attention to details at commission meetings and with government documents, signed when she became a shareholder in 2007. (Revels says she doesn’t recall reading the circular or signing the subscription agreement.) Page told investigators it is “standard practice that the President/CEO of a community bank has a material ownership in the bank, typically.”

Page at the time owned 3.7 percent of the bank’s total shares (and now owns 4.62 percent), Revels less than 1 percent. Chiumento, too, was a stockholder in Intracoastal Bank (owning just under 3 percent of the shares), and Revels acknowledged that she knew he was. Page says Revels had been to almost all shareholder meetings since 2008, and therefore would have seen Chiumento and Newslow there, though Revels says she didn’t know Newslow was a shareholder when she voted on the hospital.

The investigation report revealed another running discrepancy in the way Revels described her relationship with Page. Revels described it as professional and “friendly,” but not social, and that she’d known him at least 10 years. Page described the relationship almost identically when he spoke to investigators. But investigators unearthed a speech Page delivered at a Corporate Pinnacle Award meeting in November 2012, when he received an award from Revels and the county commission, and thought it relevant enough to include in the report as it described his relationship with Revels.

“I was just told Barbara Revels wants you at the commission chambers at 9 o’clock Monday Morning,” Page is quoted as having told the assembly, “and those of you who know me, and Barbara, and our relationship, when Barbara tells me to do something, I do it. When I first moved to this community 20 years ago, a business person, a community leader, Barbara took me under her wing and has mentored me on every level, professionally; how to be a good community citizen; how it’s all about the community and the citizens, not you as a business person or individual. It first started out as a professional relationship, but I am glad to say that she is one of my best friends. I love her and her husband Jerry like no other.”

Page nevertheless stressed to investigators that the majority of his interactions with Revels remained through community involvement, while Revels denied to investigators that she’d been his mentor. She said Page has a tendency to “emote.”

In a statement Revels circulated to the press Monday and thsat was first reported by the Palm Coast Observer Tuesday, Revels said: ““After working with the Flagler County Ethics Commission to resolve the question of a voting conflict of interest to purchase the Bunnell hospital property, I now have a clear understanding of the statute’s intent on ‘business relationships.’ At the time I felt I complied with all requirements and could vote on the purchase. I have since learned that my minority ownership of stock (less than one percent) still gives the appearance of a business relationship with other stock owners. To avoid the appearance of impropriety, I should have filed a conflict of interest form and not participated in the vote. Further I am pleased the Ethics Commission determined that I did not benefit from the sale nor did I receive favorable treatment from the bank. The commission only found a procedural violation. The appropriate use of Flagler’s citizens’ tax dollars is always my overriding concern when making thee kinds of decisions. I still believe the county received a good value in the purchase of the property.”

Revels is understating the case: the commission advocate concludes that Revels showed more than “the appearance of impropriety” or that she merely committed “a procedural violation.” Revels, the advocate found, violated the law in two instances, and the investigation casts at least some doubt over the distance Revels sought to establish between her and Page, or her lack of knowledge about the nature of her business relationship with Intracoastal Bank.

“It is difficult to have more to say until the Ethics Commission affirmatively agrees with my agreement with the Advocate,” Revels said in an email Thursday morning.

But whatever criticism the county commission faced as a whole over the purchase of the old hospital, it was not significant enough to translate into political consequences: two of the four commissioners who joined Revels in the vote to buy the hospital (Frank Meeker and Nate McLaughlin) were reelected last November.

Investigative Report Into Barbara Revels Ethics Violation Allegations (2014-15)

11 Responses for “Flagler Commissioner Revels Faces $2,500 Fine Over Ethics Violations as Investigation Points To Discrepancies”

  1. m&m says:

    The commissioners spend money with the mind set, it’s not theirs it belong to someone else.

  2. Michael says:

    Here is my problem with this; she should have removed herself from the vote knowing that she had any involvement with the owners, never mind a financial one. Page states he took a loss on the property, but how much more of a loss would he have taken if the county did not purchase it at that inflated price. Now if the county did not purchase it at all the loss could have been even greater as an empty building loses money monthly, plus the detrition of the building as it sits. The longer the building sat the more of a loss the group took, so I can see where an ethics complaint is more than reasonable against Revels. Sorry commissioner, but if you do not want ethics complaints filed against Flagler officials than do not show any sign of impropriety. This quick and inflated purchase of a building no one else wanted but our county government overpaid is a prime example of what upsets your citizens; on a lighter note, I am also glad Ms. Weeks is gone since her complaints were frivolous.

  3. confidential says:

    A slap in her wrist …an so the thievery of our hard earned tax funds goes on, to benefit the elite and these county fools reelect the crooks! Perfect environment! Ethics commission a real joke!.

  4. jack weil says:

    I just moved here from New York and all I keep reading about is all the “ETHICS VIOLATIONS” committed by the elected officials from the Sheriff on down. At least in NY when they get caught they are forced to resign not pay a small fine and go back to business as usual.

  5. Groot says:

    It is encouraging to see the Ethics Commission and the FDLE finally getting involved locally. Happy hunting!

  6. DoubleGator says:

    Petty local politics at its best.

  7. Anon says:

    Posted this in 2013.
    I am not clairvoyant I just know how many politicians operate. This was a crooked deal plain and simple.
    But the person who got caught claims ” I didn’t do anything wrong.”
    I hit the nail pretty square on the head though. If it was a golf ball it would have traveled over 300 yards.
    How this behavior is not criminal is beyond me. Here is the context of the post I posted in 2013.
    Yep whose friends are the sellers? We know now they had one person in their pockets. The person is (other than the county administrator) the one who led the charge

    Anon says:
    May 6, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Read and re-read the first paragraph, second sentence of this article
    “Under the agreement, the price is not negotiable should the county decide to buy the property at the end of the due diligence period”

    Let’s put it another way. I want 4x for my property and you get 90 days to inspect it. And even if you find that the property is only worth 2x and requires 10x in rehabilitation costs, it’s too bad the price is still 4x.

    A commission member who is also a builder endorses this acquisition.
    Is there any chance that the builder’s friends or association members would reap the benefits of her endorsement/vote?

    And what about the sellers?
    Whose friends are they?
    After the sale they will all probably be having dinner, drinking wine and backslapping the politicians who let them cakewalk their way through the deal.

    What kind of fool would enter into such a one sided sales agreement?

    If anyone can’t see this as a sham they don’t want to.

  8. orphan says:

    I have known Barbara and Jerry for almost twenty years, and I am standing here right now and giving them my 100% support!

    There are so many sneaky ways to attack a person in the public eye in these times that I wonder why ANYONE would run for a public office ANYWHERE in this country anymore! (yes-I said ‘country’).
    Ms. Revels has served Flagler County so well in these past few years that I find it abominable that a group of whackos can try to trash her record as a competent public servant! Some of the people trying to crucify her are themselves quite lucky to be out here as free citizens.

    I am so ashamed of the Republican Party! What good can come from trying to “bring down the house” because you lost a race for a position in government? The very people who didn’t vote for you are telling you that you are losers. Think about that for a moment.

    If I had the extra cash I would pay Barbara’s fine myself!

    What a vast wasteland our once wonderful country has become.

    • Kathy says:

      Sometimes we’re too close to see or too enamored to be willing to see. There is no surprise here for me…I’ve been close enough yet far enough for long enough

  9. m&m says:

    People complain about these politicians and continue to vote them back in. Stop bitching and do something about it .

  10. Michael says:

    @ Orphan, I understand you defending your friend, but as an elected official, she will need to face tough questions and only be guilty when proven so. She should have recused herself from the vote to avoid any public scrutiny; by not she cast a shadow of doubt on her political ethics. You are correct on where this country has gone politically, they need to do away with both parties as they are antiquated and serve no other purpose but to secure votes. People need to leave the parties behind and vote with their brains, not hearts. Being affiliated with, a party does not mean you should vote for whom that party believes is the best candidate. Stop the madness and vote with your head, vote for the best candidate to do the job, not the one your party suggests. I am so tired of political reruns, another Bush, another Clinton, maybe Romney again. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. It is time for fresh new leadership country wide all the way from the President, branches of our legislature, down to small town politicians. We no longer need smiling faces, baby kissers or someone’s relative, (I believe Ms. Weeks was proof enough on that level) we need real leader of business or industry, because when you get right down to it that is what our country has become, a business and a poorly run one at that.

    P.S. – with her over 100K in stock earning around 15% she should be able to pay the fine with no financial repercussions, Politics is a fine line and if you cross it you must be held accountable

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