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Dueling On, State Recommends $19,000 Fine and Public Reprimand Against Manfre, Who Maintains Innocence

| February 9, 2016

manfre staly ethics

Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre at an event in January, attended by his ex-Undersheriff Rick Staly, in the background, who was instrumental in the lingering ethics case against Manfre, and who is now a candidate for sheriff against his former boss. Alyson Lentz of Crime Stoppers is between the two men.(© FlaglerLive)

It is the albatross around Jim Manfre’s administration: A series of missteps—or ethical violations, in the state’s view—that Flagler County’s sheriff committed in the first 18 months of his second tenure have turned into a protracted duel between himself and the Florida Ethics Commission. Try as he may to build momentum in more positive directions, every few months the ethics case hobbles his hopes with a new twist, usually worsening the case against him even as he keeps battling it.

The ethics commission’s advocate struck the latest blow on Jan. 19 in a recommendation that Manfre pay a $19,000 fine for violating state law, and that he be publicly censured and reprimanded. Manfre countered that the whole case should be dismissed. (In an indication of local media’s negligence, FlaglerLive’s included, reporters did not pick up on the two, three-week-old  proposed orders until the News-Journal and FlaglerLive received word of them today.)

An administrative law judge is expected to render a decision any day. That, of course, will again yield headlines: either vindication for Manfre, who has gone from admitting wrongdoing in one instance to claiming innocence on all counts (a discrepancy the administrative law judge is sure to make part of the reasoning behind the eventual decision), or the embarrassment of a judgment against him amounting to a mush harsher penalty than he would have faced even if he’d agreed to the ethics commission’s previous judgment.

Tuesday afternoon, in response to inquiries about the recommendation against him, Manfre issued an emailed statement through his spokesman. It read: “The administrative law Judge has received evidence and testimony in this case and we believe strongly based on this information that the commission did not meet their burden and the allegations will be found to have no merit. Because they have failed to meet their burden, we have submitted an order to the administrative law judge requesting the allegations be dismissed. (See attached order). At no time did I violate any Florida law or Sheriff’s Office policy. I am waiting for the judge to render her opinion which I expect to be issued in the very near future.”

greg Weston flagler county sheriff's office

Greg Weston: he’s back.

The man who had set in motion the ethics complaint against Manfre by filing a public record request about his travels and spending was Greg Weston, one of the many deputies Manfre had fired or pushed out of the agency in the first two years of his tenure. In a biting irony, Manfre announced just last month—the day after his and the ethics advocate’s recommendations were filed—that he’d  re-hired Weston. “I’m pleased to have Greg back at the FCSO and look forward to all that he can do for the agency,” Manfre was quoted as saying in a news release that accompanied a picture of Weston, the sheriff and another newly hired employee.

Weston’s public record request had gone to Linda Bolante when she was the department’s finance director. It was in Bolante’s efforts to comply with the request that she would eventually claim that discrepancies and problems emerged in the records and in Manfre’s handling of the matter, not least of which his decision to push her out of the agency.

Bolante filed the ethics charges against Manfre after she resigned in 2014. She filed a whistleblower suit against him in October 2014. That’s still ongoing. Revelations that she’d filed four ethics charges were published later, but the charges were filed in May 2014. The investigative report revealed that one of the people most instrumental in the case against Manfre was Rick Staly, then his undersheriff, who investigators reported had urged Manfre to settle up discrepancies and had mediated Bolante’s exit from the agency. Staly resigned in May 2015, and less than four months later announced he’d be running for sheriff, one of eight candidates who have filed so far, not including Manfre, but including one from his own party.

Manfre's Ethics:
The Documents

The ethics issue has been like catnip to candidates’ fangs.

It could have all ended six months after Bolante filed the ethics charges when Manfre agreed to a deal—and a violation of law—on one of the three charges that had stuck against him: that he’d used a department vehicle for personal out-of-state trips on three occasions. He was willing to pay a fine of $1,500 and pay restitution of nearly $1,000 to the department. In exchange, the commission advocate would dismiss two additional charges against him: that he’d accepted a gift by staying at his then-undersheriff’s time-share cabin in Tennessee, and that he’d misused a department-issued credit card for meals and alcohol.

Manfre has always maintained that an actual policy was never broken (“I never violated any law, internal sheriff’s policy or practice. Let me reiterate: I have not violated any policy, practice, procedure or law,” he said at a July news conference), and that regarding credit card use, he instituted just such a policy after the problems arose. He’s repeatedly made a distinction between “practice” and written “policy” with credit cards,finding exoneration in the fact that no policy violation took place since no written policy was in place. Bolante and the ethics commission took a dim view of the distinction, relying on long-standing practice, and while an actual policy was not in place regarding credit cards, one was in place regarding vehicle use, explicitly forbidding taking vehicles out of county without a supervisor’s permission. Again, Manfre has said he did not violate policy since he would have been the supervisor giving himself permission to use a vehicle.

When the case went before the ethics commission that December, commissioners decisively rejected the deal. Commissioners disagreed with setting aside the two additional charges, if those charges were true, essentially saying that an ethics violation is an ethics violation, and can’t be dealt away. The commission ordered a new investigation, ensuring that the case –and the bleak headlines—would continue, and the following June ruled 6-1 that he’d broken the law on all three counts.

Manfre’s posture then changed just as decisively as the commission’s vote: Gone was his willingness to admit to any wrongdoing whatsoever. He could have agreed to a settlement even then, which would have likely amounted to a $10,000 fine. He instead decided to contest the ethics commission’s finding before an Administrative Law Judge at the Division of Administrative Hearings. That hearing was held on Dec. 2. The Division of Administrative Hearing did not make that transcript available.

The Jan. 19 proposed orders were the two respective sides’ final play at this point in the proceedings, the equivalent of briefs intended to sway the administrative law judge one way or another. That order will soon be handed down. But it won’t be the final word. The order is meaningless on its own. It must still be considered by the full ethics commission in yet another public hearing—more headlines. Yet again after that Manfre can appeal the decision to the District Court of Appeal. So far, Manfre has given every indication that he’s not going to give up any avenue of appeal.

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22 Responses for “Dueling On, State Recommends $19,000 Fine and Public Reprimand Against Manfre, Who Maintains Innocence”

  1. Wtf says:

    Wtf is going on in this county ? How shady if not ironic that he hired back a guy that he fired even after the guy was instrumental in his complaint accusation… Wth kind of sense that make ? Maybe this agency needs to be taken over by FDLE for at least 12 months .. Review all policies and morale of the employees and get rid of some of the upper management who have stood Around bouncing from one side of the fence to the other when it suits them. I wouldn’t trust not one of those commanders under this guy .. Most of the Intel and dirt is probably coming from them. And God forbid a new elected sheriff comes in and chooses to keep those fellas who have played along with all the sheriffs over the years during this humiliating debacle… Most of them just want to get by until they enter the retirement DROP but the citizens of this county are the ones who suffer from lack of continuity and trust in those donned to serve and protect …it’s 2016 for Christ sakes why are we literally one of the most tom foolery counties in this state … Petty…. Should be the motto for this agency …

  2. Shrimpley Pibbles says:

    Next up: a massive settlement from the ongoing whistleblower suit, paid out by the good citizens of flagler county. There really isn’t a function difference between the criminal and the person with the badge, is there?

  3. mel guillory says:

    Send this guy packing at election time!

  4. Retired says:

    Wtf: who cares that he hired back Weston. He’s brought back a man that is well qualified and experienced. I am happy Greg is back and keep in mind, he to needs to work and provide for his family. There’s no doubt this was a political rehire, but who cares, you the people need to do what is right and best on election day! I’ve also heard the and read the grumblings of you readers about the lack of experienced deputies. Well you now have one back. Hopefully he can assist with training the newer/younger deputies.

    As for all the other commanders, please keep in mind that almost everyone of them have families and younger children. That means they have to do whatever they can to provide for their family. It must suck going to work knowing that any given day if you piss off the boss you can be gone simply because he doesn’t like you.

  5. 30 year Cop says:

    This is what happens when someone like Manfre gets elected. Manfre was and still to this day NEVER a Cop. He never answered calls for service such as domestic battery, fights, drugs, traffic crashes, suicides, homicides, etc. He doesn’t know what it’s like to wait for back-up while engaged in a physical battle with someone refusing to be compliant. He NEVER supervised a group of men and women who did the above. He NEVER moved up the ranks to earn the respect of those he leads. I pray we don’t re-elect this man and also don’t elect someone like him, (there are many candidates for Sheriff and some of them have little or no POLICE experience).
    One candidate is like Manfre and has NEVER been a COP (he calls himself a Peace Officer), to make you think he was. A few have NEVER been Cops in Florida (Aren’t we tired of having Sheriff’s who are not Florida Certified Law Enforcement Officers?). Two candidate’s highest command was as a Sergeant, and one as a Lieutenant. One candidate was Manfre’s side-kick for 2 years and has switched party affiliations THREE times (registered Democrat, then Republican for 2 years, then back to Democrat, then back to Republican after living in Palm Coast for about 5 years as a Democrat).
    People, please do your homework before voting this time.

  6. Girl says:

    Amazing, now Greg Weston is Back??? wow, guess he finally drank the cool-aid… Guess he switched camps and now is supporting of this… come on now what was he promised other than the fact he had to grovel when he was there before he got fired… Hey Greg he going to do it again if you don’t play ball – hey your smarter than this…

  7. Geezer says:

    Sheriff Manfre is the Alex Rodriguez of law enforcement.
    He feels that he’s smarter than everyone, and “lawyers up”
    at every opportunity.

    But the guy IS a lawyer. You’d think that someone who knows
    the law would respect the law, and apply his knowledge in
    the pursuit of excellence in law enforcement for Flagler County.

    Instead he attempts to exploit his position, while earning the
    ire of his subordinates with his “The Apprentice” antics.
    If he wants to be slick – perhaps rub some butter on himself.

    Where have you gone, Donald Fleming?

  8. Outsider says:

    The citizens of this county are suffering from a lack of knowledge; he had ethics issues the first time he was sheriff, and they elected him again. You get what you ask for.

  9. Tired of it says:

    That 19K will certainly cut into campaign money.

  10. Rock hard says:

    Yawnnnnnnnnnnnnnn What goes around!

  11. r&r says:

    That 19K will come from the tax payers. I hope he doesn’t get a severence package when gets voted out.

  12. confidential says:

    Fleming again..? Backstabbers or disgruntled employees for Sheriff. Please!
    When it comes to our law enforcement services in my area has been the best under Manfre always. That is the #1 reason that I am satisfied with hom. When it comes to ethics violations his predecessor committed worse and got a slap in the wrist as a Republican. Not that I agree with any ethics violations if there really were such. What I do not agree is the selective manner on which penalties are assessed depending who is who or party affiliation.

  13. Jim Bob says:

    I did not realize, until reading these comments, that party affiliation determines the effectiveness of law enforcement officers. The sheriff’s office would be better with an appointed officer by the county commission–that way you’d have just a few crooks to scrutinize instead of dozens and the whacked out populace of Palm Coast, the most gullible electorate outside the former Soviet Union.

  14. Layla says:

    Ethics complaint? This guy has broken the law and he knows it. Why wasn’t he charged?

  15. Ray Thorne says:

    If a deputy pulled this nonsense they’d be placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation and most likely terminated from employment. Manfre should be removed from office.

  16. Anonymous says:

    The $19k fine is supposed to be paid from his own personal funds. The rules should be outlined in the Order.

  17. wishful thinking says:

    Current policy of choosing a top command Sheriff via election process insane to begin with!
    A) Someone tell me the difference between a ‘democrat’ and ‘republican’ sheriff. Anybody know?
    B) About time such a position be SELECTED by the ELECTED COMMISSIONERS based on QUALIFICATIONS – with a contract which allows that person to be simply FIRED at the will of the people through the elected commissioners.’
    Then we only have to get rid of the commissioners if they keep a dud instead of having to vote the dud out of office
    Make sense to you?

  18. David S says:

    30yr old cop well said sir.

  19. confidential says:

    @ wishful t. Then when sheriff doesn’t serve the community and neglects his law enforcement fiduciary obligations may not only not be fired but instead get a renewed longer extended contract and automatic raises and we all have to endure. it like BOCC does now with Coffey? Please look at the frightening implications of your proposal. Lets keep the right to elect our law enforcement chiefs in Florida.

  20. Anonymous says:

    $19k fine is a slap on the hand. If we can’t trust law enforcement, who can we trust? Does Manfre risk further sanctions if he continues to press forward? If he did it, and it was determined to be an ethics violation, what is he fighting? I don’t get it. No matter what Manfre does, it won’t make his wrong a right.

  21. Anonymous says:

    There is a reason the Sheriff is elected by the people. He is held accountable to the people and not a handful of politicians. If he doesn’t serve to their standards, he won’t be reelected. Charter government is not good for all the people, only a select few. The problem with power is what we are experiencing right now with Coffey and Landon. It’s time we hold the councils accountable that retain them and vote new blood in, just like we need to do with the Sheriff. It amazes me that Manfre ever got elected this term after showing his colors last time he was in office. If he did these things, why not own them? How much of our tax dollars have been spent on legal fees? How much has he spent out of pocket?

  22. Ray Thorne says:

    Anonymous said: “$19k fine is a slap on the hand. If we can’t trust law enforcement, who can we trust?”

    Manfre is not law enforcement. Never has been. He was an attorney who ran for Sheriff and somehow beat out the other candidates. All of which had actual law enforcement experience. The voters didn’t do their homework and this is what we got. Twice.

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