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In Latest Reversal, Sheriff Manfre Does Not Appeal Ethics Judgment as Deadline Passes

| May 24, 2016

flagler county sheriff jim manfre

Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre addressing an audience at last week’s memorial to fallen officers. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre has not appealed the Florida Ethics Commission’s latest judgment against him after all: that deadline passed on Friday. That means Manfre will concede to a $6,200 fine and a public reprimand and censure that the ethics commission approved on April 15.


“We’ll be issuing a statement later today,” Manfre said early this afternoon when asked about his lack of appeal. He would not go further until the statement was to issued at 4:25 p.m.

“I have given the ethics matter a great deal of thought and have finally decided not to appeal the decision, one I would like to put behind me once and for all. I have made this very difficult decision on advice provided to me by my family and close personal supporters,” the statement, issued through the sheriff’s office’s public information office, read. “I believe strongly that based on the circumstances in this case, ones that have been unfair, unjust and far-reaching, that I would have prevailed at the district court of appeals. Although it is in my nature to fight against injustice, there is also wisdom in knowing when to move on.”

It is the latest in a series of reversals surrounding the ethics matter, which itself dates back to 2014 and has gone through many different versions. The case was brought against Manfre by his former finance director, Linda Bolante, who claimed the sheriff had misused department vehicles for personal travel, misused department-issued credit cards for meals, had not properly reported a gift when he stayed at a cabin owned by Rick Staly, Manfre’s ex-Undersheriff and now one of six Republican rivals in the race for sheriff, and had improperly asked for a date change on a paycheck. That last charge never stuck.

The April 15 ruling follows a recommendation by an administrative law judge to find Manfre in violation on two of the three charges remaining–the credit cards and the gift. The personal travel charge was dropped.

Twice before Manfre had said he was willing to settle with the commission in one way or another. In December 2014 he’d agreed to a settlement on one of the three charges against him–the one regarding his personal travel ouyt of state in a department vehicle. He was willing to pay a $1,500 fine and end the matter. But the ethics commission voted to reject the settlement–in an unusual move–and request a second investigation. That restored the two charges that had previously been leveled against the sheriff. The commission in 2015 then voted to find probable cause that Manfre had violated ethics laws on all three charges.

Manfre appealed to an administrative judge. When last February the judge handed down a decision that spoke harshly of Manfre’s conduct and rationales, Manfre said he would not appeal. “As long as the ethics commission follows the ALJ’s current recommendation,” he said, referring to the Administrative Law Judge, “I have no intention of appealing this decision as it is now time to put this behind us and refocus on keeping our community safe and secure for all who live, work and vacation in Flagler County.” That was on February 16.

By early March, he’d changed his mind. He said he’d fight, and he opted to introduce an entirely new line of argument: that the punishment against him was way out of proportion with the punishment meted out to former Flagler Sheriff Don Fleming after Fleming had been found in violation of ethics laws for accepting lavish gifts at the Hammock Beach Resort. Fleming was eventually fined $500 for that violation in a case that also marred his re-election campaign and likely played a large role in his defeat.

On April 22, Manfre took to the local radio airwaves and called the case against him a form of “terrorism” that was politically motivated by a Republican establishment against one of the rare Democrats in his position in Florida. He said he’d be fighting the ethics case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court if necessary.

But now he won’t. All along, Manfre has maintained that he never violated either state law or department policy, asserting that there were no written policies that barred him from doing whatever he was accused of doing–and that it was Bolante, his finance director, who had not properly enlightened him regarding what he could and could not do. (Today’s statement indicates Manfre has not changed position on that score.) Bolante, though her attorney, has rejected that argument, at one point saying that Manfre–an attorney–should have known better.

Throughout the controversy Manfre has balanced his own desire to fight the case with his political fortunes, which have progressively dimmed the longer the case has lingered. When he explained his reversal in April, he said he was opting to fight the case after all because his personal reputation mattered to him more than winning the election. But even then, the fact that he had been twice before willing to settle with the ethics commission blurred the image he was portraying of a public official wronged from the start, since he himself had conceded to settlements.

The remaining part of Sheriff Manfre’s statement reads as follows:

I ask the citizens of Flagler County to look at my ethics experience and understand that at no time did I ever violate any agency policy or state law. In fact, when I was notified of the issues, I immediately enacted strong internal regulations to prevent this from happening to others in the future. As for the violations, one was for $300 spent on sanctioned meals over four events, over six months, three years ago that was immediately reimbursed when the accounting error was discovered. The other was my brief stay at my former undersheriff’s cabin. In this case, I was the one who realized there was an issue and self-reported the matter to authorities. I later based my decision to pay the cost of the stay on guidance I received from my attorney. As your Sheriff, I do take full responsibility for all of my actions.

I also ask people to look at the stark differences between what I experienced and what others have experienced with the Florida Commission on Ethics. In my case, the commission gave me a $6,200 fine and a public censure. Remember, this was a proposed fine that began at $1,500 and rose as high as $19,000 during the commission process. Former Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming was fined only $500 after he obtained a benefit of over $40,000 from a local resort and the current attorney general who did not answer questions of an investigator from the ethics commission. This was a 16-month investigation which was subsequently dismissed without her making time in her busy schedule to provide any testimony. Where is the fairness?

It is my humble request that we move past this matter and collectively focus on the positive accomplishments that have been made over the past three and a half years to keep our community safe and secure for all who live, work and vacation in Flagler County.

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18 Responses for “In Latest Reversal, Sheriff Manfre Does Not Appeal Ethics Judgment as Deadline Passes”

  1. jadobi says:

    Random observation: The band around the Sheriff’s sleeve is indicative of how many years of service one has. Typically each stripe (or star or hash) means 5 years; apparently at FCSO each band is one year. That’s insulting to those who have tenure.

  2. Anon says:

    Hopefully Larry jones blows him away in primary so he can be gone !!!! As far as other candidates … Hope they are smart enough and careful enough about their own careers that they will shake up the top rank and file eliminating some dead weight trash who ride both sides of fences as the sheriff comes and goes … There is a reason that agency sucks and it ain’t the worker bee deputies who do their job everyday … It’s trashy lack of leadership supervisors who have had it too easy and too good over the years and couldn’t lead a dog to a fire hydrant to take a piss …positive work atmosphere reflects solid and positive leadership traits and from that you have an enormous amount of good morale … They didn’t get the memo ……

  3. anonymous says:

    Hopefully, John Lamb blows all of them away. He’s presently active in law Enforcement. I personally am voting for him. He’s not some old retired law enforcement that just kept his credentials up to run for sheriff. It doesn’t matter about staly saying he has up to date on credentials. He’s been out of that actual field for quite some time. He uses residents for information and then doesn’t want anything to do with them. He’s too old, a clock watcher, doesn’t seem to like ppl of color. As witnessed by a person of color. We don’t need another Manfre please everyone heed this warning. Larry jones is a nice guy but doesn’t have enough experience to run a dept of sheriff’s dept. Everyone I know is followed by me as far as voting for John Lamb. A very nice, experienced, knowledgeable and approachable. He’s up to date on today’s police work not 40 years ago. Please!

  4. Outsider says:

    Thank God this nightmare will be over soon. Let’s get a law enforcement chief who will focus on law enforcement, instead of attempting to cover up all the stupid shit he has done.

  5. Right says:

    Jadobi,

    Although I’d like to jump on your dislike for Manfre Bandwagon, you are incorrect. Those bands signify rank and not years of service like the hash marks do.

  6. footballen says:

    Wait didn’t Larry Jones just retire after 30 something years service at the flagler county police?

  7. Realist says:

    I am also for John Lamb. Have had extensive conversations with him and feel Flagler County needs him and his ideas.

  8. woody says:

    Manfre should be more concered with collecting box’s to clean out his office after the election.

  9. 30 year cop says:

    I think we can all agree that Manfre will not get re-elected, so let’s talk about who we should put in.
    Larry Jones does not have the experience of Police Management.
    Mark Whisenant ran for Sheriff in Charleston as a Democrat, but could not get on the ballot as such, http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nq8gKJEtxrQ . So now he comes to Flagler and runs as a Republican? Where and what party is next after he loses here?
    Rick Staly, Manfre’s Under Sheriff, with that alone he should be disqualified, but he ran for Sheriff in Orange County as a Democrat, http://www.ourcampaigns.com/CandidateDetail.html?CandidateID=49568, and lost. Perhaps he and Whisenant should figure out where to next move to together for their next run, maybe they will try their hand as an Independant next? Also Linda Bolante’s husband Joel is a Staly contributor, hmmmm. Rick has put $50,000 plus of his own money into his campaign, really? $50,000 is twice what is needed for this type of campaign in Flagler! Is he trying to buy the position???
    Jerry O’Gara who admits he wasn’t a Republican in New York, and he was NEVER a Police Officer, how is that idea working out for us, remember Manfre has NEVER been a Cop. Jerry, likes to preach he has been paying taxes in Flagler County for over 9 years, really? Since when is that a qualification for Sheriff? If anyone reading this has been paying taxes longer than Jerry, please join the race and ask Jerry to get out.
    Don Fleming had his chance and blew it, Don enjoy your two pensions and play golf.
    That leaves us with Chris Yates and John Lamb, the only two candidates still working as Cops. Both life-long Republicans, but as I see it, I will take John Lamb. Chris has been a Lieutenant of a 27 person Agency for about 2 years and only 14 years of Police Experience. John lamb has 23 years Law Enforcement experience at a 1,600 sworn personnel Agency and has been an Assistant Chief for many years.
    That’s my opinion, what’s yours?

  10. Time for some fine tuning says:

    It is obvious this is a political when others do wrong and they are slapped on the hand or nothing at all is done to them. I recently watched an Elections Commission hearing and was stunned to see the cases which probably cause was found and fines were waived, and how others looked like they received the maximum. There seemed to be no consistency and Eric Lipman struck me as being very unfair. He should exercise the same attitude and put in the same effort with all complaints filed, and he did not. I would like to see an investigation and over haul of such board. Moving on is the best that is going to come to be for you Jim. Put this behind you and focus on your campaign.

  11. Right says:

    30 year cop,

    You really have no knowledge of all the candidates and their accomplishments. What are Lambs real accomplishments compared to the other candidates? Nothing that I can see so far. Doesn’t live here…is the rental ever actually occupied? He’s not vested in this community and if he loses it’ll be back to Jax. Fly by night candidate.

  12. confidential says:

    In these four years Sheriff Manfre has cleaned up our neighborhood in the Section C of Palm Coast . Law enforcement response arrives within as little as 3 minutes of calling as per we all neighbors communicating with each other find out in our Neighborhood Watch program.
    This is a marked improvement from the Fleming times when once one of his officers suggested me that “if he was me with the trouble people next door, he would be moving” I replied that I was never expecting law enforcement telling me that and that I was not quitter and was moving No Where!
    Finally “the trouble people next door” loss their home to foreclosure and I am happily living in the same home ever after under a Sheriff that put our tax funds to work for us.

  13. Haw Creek Girl says:

    Larry Jones for Sheriff and it would be a plus for our county if Larry hires John Lamb as his undersheriff. Larry can do a nice little four years, change the tide, reestablish trust in the agency and then John can run in 2020 after he has paid some dues here in Flagler. He’d have my vote in 2020 unless, of course, Steve Clair comes home.

  14. Steve Clair says:

    Haw Creek Girl….. It may be in the works! Thank you for your support!

  15. Time for a change says:

    Sir. Obviously you have no clue about law enforcement. Larry Jones ran an entire shift of 14 officers as their squad leader recently here in Flagler County. I will tell you that Jacksonville is extremely different than Flagler. Larry Jones knows this community and this agency. He has 7 more years working with the public than Lamb. When you become administration you are disconnected! Larry knows how to read people and he will place great people in the right positions because he knows the agency personnel unlike Lamb who has no idea about the strengths and weaknesses of staff here in Flagler. Larry Jones did his time and he deserves a shot.

  16. Haw Creek Girl says:

    :-)

  17. 30 year cop says:

    Dear Time,

    Again, you don’t promote a Sergeant supervising 14 people to the position of Sheriff. If Mr Jones was worthy, he would have been a higher rank while employed at the Agency. This is the same reason that Chris Yates, highest rank of Lieutenant, Mark Whisenant, highest rank of Sergeant and Jerry O’Gara who has never been a Police Officer working the streets or supervising Police Officers, deserve to be Sheriff.

    You all seem to have realized that Manfre never having been a Police Officer was a bad idea. Why would you want to repeat the same mistake by electing one of these four?

  18. Anon says:

    30 year cop,
    Not sure if you looked at the ranks of this agency but the fact that Larry jones even made SGT is an accomplishment in itself .. This is not a major metro area like up north the opportunity for promotions are limited in that most of the promotions are rewards for loyalty and most come from new sheriff occupation where he makes who he wants for those ranks … So to bash those gentlemen because they were only SGT or LT is not fair . Yates comes from a probally a 27 man force so how much more can he go up in rank? For a 18 year old black male who joined the force during the times where diversity was not the primary focus Larry jones making SGT no matter what stage is a testament to him and his tenure here in a county that was the last to desegregate … Looking at the ranks above SGT at this agency there was no way jones would be promoted prior to him retiring anyways ….look at where he was prior to retiring … the Palm coast precinct. So that may have taken away from his advantage on consideration for promotion to commander …

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