Gov. Scott Censures and Reprimands Sheriff Manfre in Executive Order, Ending Ethics Case
FlaglerLive | July 29, 2016
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed an executive order declaring Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre in violation of two ethics laws, ordering him to pay b$6,200 within 30 days, and publicly censuring and reprimanding him.
The order, long expected, is the final formality in a two-year wrangle between Manfre and the Florida Ethics Commission that began when an ex-sheriff’s employee filed a complaint with the state agency accusing the sheriff with several ethics violations. Linda Bolante had been Manfre’s finance director. She also filed a wrongful termination suit against him. The suit is pending.
Over the next two years Manfre and the commission wrestled back and forth over the allegations, with Manfre initially admitting to one violation, the ethics commission rejecting the settlement, then finding against him on three counts, raising and lowering the fine amount, until an administrative law judge finally set the violations at two and the fine at $6,200. Manfre himself zigzagged between accepting and challenging various judgments until he decided in late May to accept the final judgment.
What turned into a two-year spectacle, largely by Manfre’s doing, severely tarnished his tenure and distracted from an otherwise successful term in many regards. The result is the county’s single-most contested election, with Manfre drawing an opponent from his own party in the Aug. 30 primary (Larry Jones, a former sheriff’s sergeant who retired just as the ethics case was gathering momentum) and six candidates in the Republican primary, among them former Sheriff Don Fleming and Manfre’s own former undersheriff, Rick Staly, who is involved in the ethics case.
The two final ethics charges that stuck against Manfre relate to his misuse of an agency credit card for personal use and his failing to properly report accepting a gift. The gift was a stay at Staly’s cabin in Tennessee.
As was the case in 2004, when Manfre’s first term was undone over a similarly petty misjudgment—he’s spent a few thousand dollars on an agency calendar and greeting cards that were seen as a campaign ploy, then illegally blocked county government access to the records, all the while claiming he’d granted access—the 2014 ethics case had next to nothing to do with operations at the sheriff’s office: the crime rate in the county has fallen for seven of the last eight years, Manfre won accreditation for the agency, a new jail and a new operations center opened on his watch, and though decimated by turnover, his ranks have largely avoided the sort of serious controversies, shootings or racial incidents that have plagued a few other agencies.
Politically, however, none of that can easily outweigh the few lines in Scott’s executive order, which end with: “James L. Manfre is hereby publicly censured and reprimanded.” Last November, Scott stood at Manfre’s side and called him “a great sheriff” at the opening of the sheriff’s operations center.
On July 26, William Spicola, general counsel at the governor’s office, wrote Attorney general Pam Bondi, asking her “to take the necessary steps to collect the penalty” and contact the governor’s office when Manfre has satisfied it.
The sheriff was not yet aware of the executive order on Friday. At the close of business, after he’d been informed of it, he provided the following statement:
“This is not a new step, rather one I agreed to and have expected since I resolved this matter. 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 lodging 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.
“I never intended to do anything wrong and followed existing practices that were in place when I took office in 2013. As your Sheriff, I do take full responsibility for all of my actions and apologize to each and every citizen of Flagler County.
“I have personally learned a lot from this political setup and inconsistent ethics process and have moved on, as I have never lost focus of my duties and responsibilities. I ask that you move forward with me as we celebrate all of the positive accomplishments that have made over the past three and a half years and look ahead to accomplishing so much more as we keep our community safe and secure for all who live, work and vacation in Flagler County.”