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Latest Ethics and Elections Complaints Against County Said to Set “New Highs for Creative Writing”

| April 4, 2016

ethics elections complaints

County Administrator Craig Coffey is named in two of the four complaints filed with the ethics and elections commission, but the complaints appear to be rehashes of allegations that have largely been found to be groundless. (© FlaglerLive)

The drizzle of ethics or elections commission complaints against Flagler County government officials isn’t ending.The same group of people responsible for some two dozen such complaints and court actions in the past three years–few of which led to actionable findings–have filed four more complaints, this time naming County Administrator Craig Coffey in two of them, County Attorney Al Hadeed in another, and all five county commissioners in the fourth.

The complaints rehash allegations made in previous complaints related either to the 2013 county purchase of the old Memorial Hospital in Bunnell (now the sheriff’s office’s administrative headquarters) or to conflicts between the commission and Kimberle Weeks, the former elections supervisor currently under felony indictment.

“I read the complaints and I think they set new highs for the idea of creative writing,” Commissioner Frank Meeker said before making the first of four motions, all of them finding that every complaint is related to commissioners or administrators performing their official duties. As such, the county may defend against the complaints through its resources and insurer, sparing the complaints’ targets from having to hire their own lawyer or spend their own money.

The ethics complaint against Coffey was filed by Mark Richter, a felon who ran for the county commission in 2014 and whose public behavior became so churlish that even the Reagan group distanced itself from him until he resigned. He had started a new bid for the county commission this year but abandoned it, claiming that he was leaving the county. That has apparently not happened. (His voter-registration address as of March still lists him as living in Daytona North, or the Mondex, west of Bunnell.)

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The complaint focuses on Coffey’s role in the acquisition of the old hospital. The acquisition was controversial at the time and led to the first in the long series of ethics and other complaints against county officials–that one against Commissioner Barbara Revels. The ethics commission found Revels had not properly disclosed business relationships she had with one of the owners of the hospital. She paid a $2,500 fine. Subsequent complaints haven’t stopped since. But of those 23 complaints or actions, just two more led to nominal fines, over paperwork missteps by two commissioners, while more than half the remaining complaints were tossed out as invalid or frivolous.

In one lawsuit the county successfully fought off (it was declared frivolous) the county also won a judgment for attorneys’ fees. The county has been seeking attorneys’ fees in two complaints the ethics commission found to be groundless–those filed by John Ruffalo and Dennis McDonald, directors of the Reagan group. But so far the county has been unsuccessful. The case is on appeal.

The three additional complaints just filed through the Elections Commission are identical. McDonald confirmed Monday afternoon that he’d filed them. One names Coffey, one names Hadeed and the third names the entire county commission.

“If I didn’t file it within two years, this thing would go out to sea,” McDonald said.

Referring to the complaint that names Coffey, Hadeed said, “It essentially addresses the actions that he was involved in to request the secretary of state to provide observers under the state statute for the general election of 2014.” The county administration had requested observers during that election because of fears of irregularities in the supervisor’s office. At the time, Weeks was engaged in protracted conflicts with the county and various members of the canvassing board.

The elections complaint against Coffey, Hadeed continued this morning, also challenges the administrator’s role in the county commission’s decision to seek attorneys’ frees related to the frivolous ethics complaints. The complaint charges that “requesting the observers to the general election and filing these attorney fee petitions have an adverse impact on the administration of the election code,” Hadeed said.

State law provides for the recovery of attorneys’ fees in frivolous suits, even when the case goes through the ethics commission, though the bar is set very high for such a recovery. The complaints, in other words, appear to be tailored out of the same burlap rhetoric that have been saddling the county, the ethics and the elections commissions for almost three years, with little evidence that the outcome in these filings would be any different than previous filings.

McDonald said the county administration illegally requested–and the secretary of state illegally provided–election monitors. McDonald cites state law, under chapter 101.58: “The Department of State may, at any time it deems fit; upon the petition of 5 percent of the registered electors; or upon the petition of any candidate, county executive committee chair, state committeeman or committeewoman, or state executive committee chair, appoint one or more deputies whose duties shall be to observe and examine the registration and election processes and the condition, custody, and operation of voting systems and equipment in any county or municipality.” The law, McDonald says in his interpretation of the statute, does not give the county authority to request monitors.

The timing of the new complaints is suspect, however, as these filings are taking place just as previous ones have been largely dismissed, but with an election year unfolding, and three county commissioners up for re-election. The complaints, in other words, appear intended to create the self-fulfilling prophesy of a cloud hanging over the incumbents–assuming voters have not by now gotten used to the complainants’ maneuvers: complaints hung over Commissioners Meeker and Nate McLaughlin in 2014, too, but both were re-elected, and each defeated one of the men most prone to file such complaints: McLaughlin defeated Richter in his primary, while Meeker defeated McDonald in his.

“There’s no question that they were trying to take over the election or influence it for the benefit of the incumbents,” McDonald said, referring to Meeker and McLaughlin.

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8 Responses for “Latest Ethics and Elections Complaints Against County Said to Set “New Highs for Creative Writing””

  1. Knightwatch says:

    And it goes on and on. Seems every few months the right-wing crazies come out of the woodwork to defile and disrupt our city and county governments. Nothing we can do except to spend more taxpayer funds to fight these frivolous charges. What’s with these people? Do they hate their lives so much that they spend their time trying to taint others’?

  2. Anonymous says:

    This county has created its own Frankenstein monsters.

  3. Wishful Thinking says:

    Isn’t life a lot easier when one first attempts to confront someone they totally disagree with – especially in government, before resorting to litigation which makes lawyers rich and eveyrone else footing the bull – excuse me – I mean ‘bill’ … for issues which should be resolved directly among intelligent people?
    Resorting to litigation as the first means rather than the last means is grandstanding and a waste of everyone’s time and money… We have ‘Community Outreach’ at the begining and at the end of every County Commission hearing – bravo first amendment as respected by Flalger County officials. USE IT first if you really want to resolve your concerns…..unless your primary goal is to cause chaos…

  4. Tax Payer says:

    This seems to be a slanted two tone report. From what I have learned looking at the ethics commission, elections commission and attorney general websites and from other media reports we in Flagler County there seems to be some a problem, and it appears as though problems are being swept under the rug and those as Mark Richter and Dennis McDonald have every reason and right to file complaints. From what I have researched many fines and findings have been found against those we place our trust in here in Flagler County.
    Nate McLaughlin $500 by the ethics commission
    Don Flemming $500 by the ethics commission
    Nate McLaughlin $250 by the elections commission
    Frank Meeker $250 by the elections commission
    Barbara Revels $2,500 by the ethics commission
    Jim Manfre $19,000 by the ethics commission–on 4/15/16 final determiniation of fine amount to be made
    Gail Wadsworth 10 findings of $5.5 million dollars being investigated by the attorney general with no action then taken by the board of county commissioners against they spent nearly $100k having her audited. The interesting part is the voters reelected her and now that she is retiring she has hand picked her replacement Tom Baxley. I am relieved to see Doug Courtney run for Clerk of Court….he has my vote.
    Multiple counts of probable cause were found against Nate McLaughlin and Frank Meeker by the elections commission in recent months, yet no financial fine was placed upon them. Yes, I agree, smells a bit fishy.
    Kimberly Weeks-criminally charged for whistle blowing on county commissioners and the county attorney for studying absentee ballots and reporting the results of the study by phone without it being reported which makes elections being controlled and unfair. Interesting enough the board of county commissioners decided in their public meeting to maintain the county attorney for the canvassing board attorney and the same players remain on the county election canvassing board.

    With a list this long reflects fines being imposed and all but two individuals are in office (one running for re-election) there is obvious some merit to McDonald and Richter filing complaints and I am glad someone is paying attention and trying to do something about wrong doing. My concern is that these agencies that handle the complaints may be selective and lax as to who they hold accountable since so many complaints are dismissed or probable cause is determined and fines are waived. I guess there is good reason why Florida is one of the most corrupt states in the nation.

    When our county commissioners choose to allow our tax dollars to defend their behaviors they need to be thrown out of office. If they were doing business on the up and up and gave no reason for complaints to be filed against them then such fines as have been described above would not have been imposed. Any commissioner, county attorney, county administrator or employee who is fined should repay the county for their legal defense! When a county pays legal defense for wrong doing there is no incentive for elected officials or their staff to conduct themselves in an ethical honorable way.

    When the law is specific as is described in this article as to who can request the state to over see elections and the law wasn’t followed then it is apparent we have incompetent leaders or leaders who were witch hunting the former SOE. We pay the county attorney and the county administrator too much money for such events to occur–they should be on their toes and do their research and properly guide the board of county commissioners from wrong doing. The Board of County Commissioners needs to replace the county attorney and county administrator for not doing their job and allowing opportunity for complaints to be filed against them as a result. Is it legal for county leaders to break the law and not be personally responsible? How much have insurance companies paid defending complaints and who does the money go to? Please give us a break down and report based on the records themselves. Whenever a person we place our trust in faces a complaint it is to be taken seriously and is concerning and we deserve to know all the details!

  5. confidential says:

    Just bring the DOJ to investigate and will save our tax payers wasted $$ in defending crooks even after the FL Ethics Commission $2,500 slap in the wrist.
    In a county were local officials always win or loose for few ballots the micromanagement and cover ups of third degree felonies committed by “a commissioner” speak for itself regarding the sanctity of our local elections process. Otherwise why FCBOCC and their administrator Coffey wanted to heavily micromanage SOE Weeks? Can’t wait for the next court pretrial hearing for additional fair news for Weeks and the preservation of a fraud free elections process in this county.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit. Apparently some high paid county workers are disgruntled that they are being held accountable. Too many fines have been imposed for me to believe complaints are frivolous. What is the conviction rate of the ethics and elections commissioners? It may be that more are let off easy and these agencies need to be more strict so Florida won’t be forever known as the most corrupt state in the nation. I agree Confidential—call in the DOJ and get to the bottom of it. We the people deserve to know and should be protected from all fraud.

  7. Old Sailor says:

    Never before do I ever recall so much criticism of the board of County commission, county administrator, and county attorney. Maybe we all need to step back and look at the huge debt we tax payers face from this leadership and pay attention to all the continued spending and we may all then realize there are some unqualified leaders in charge here and it would be in our best interest to support those that question this leadership. No other surrounding county suffers from such leadership and complaints from their citizens. We all know how biased media can be and how they spin stories. At no time am I reading that what us complained of isn’t true, I only hear criticism because there are complaints. When we do learn that county commissioners are making purchases such as when they purchased the old hospital for millions from their friends to fill their pockets isnt corrupt and it’s time we get new blood in this county to stop the long time or life long politicans like Barbara Revels from making unethical deals that prove to be costly? I want to know what all is it that we don’t know. I would like the complants to be published. Those who have found to violate should be paying their legal expenses and be removed from office.

  8. Anonymous says:

    This will be a good addition to Coffey’s resume.

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