Flagler County government will not take up a proposal to partly de-criminalize the possession of small amounts of pot before November’s election after all. Instead, the county will wait until the election clarifies the memberships of elected boards in Palm Coast and the county, both of which will—or potentially will-have new majorities.
The proposal had been in the works since before January, with County Commissioner Barbara Revels proposing the idea of adopting a system similar to Volusia’s and a few other counties: people caught with small amounts of marijuana would not be arrested and charged criminally. Rather, they would face a civil citation, much like a traffic ticket, thus avoiding the burden of a criminal record, which hampers people’s ability to get jobs, loans, mortgages and so on even long after the charge has been dispensed with. In January, Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre gave the proposal momentum as he backed it and urged local governments to discuss it.
The proposal was brought before the Public Safety Coordinating Council, the advisory board Revels chairs, which includes representatives of the county’s judiciary, including judges, law enforcement, county government and social service agencies. The proposal was watered down considerably. Manfre and Revels were supportive not only of a civil citation program for pot, but for minor crimes as well. The State Attorney’s office though drew a line, opposing the extension of the civil citation program to any crime that involves victims—essentially eliminating civil citations for all but pot possession and alcohol possession by people younger than 21.
Nevertheless after scaling many hurdles the proposal won a 7-5 vote of approval at the council’s August meeting, despite opposition from Bunnell and Flagler Beach. The proposal was to then be formally introduced to the county commission as an ordinance. There were to be a public hearing, and a commission vote either approving the measure or rejecting it. If it was approved, it was to go to the cities, which would have to opt in or out of the proposal. Absent their opt-in, cops in those cities would still have the discretion to arrest and charge pot users. (Only people without a criminal history would have been eligible for a civil citation, and only once.)
Actual or potential changes on Palm Coast and county governments cause the latest delay.
But the past year brought unexpected changes on Palm Coast and county governments. With the resignation of Palm Coast Council member Bill McGuire (who was opposed to civil citations), the council was certain to have a new majority by November, with two other council members leaving the panel: Mayor Jon Netts is term-limited, and council member Jason DeLorenzo is running for a county commission seat. Both supported the civil citation program.
The new mayor is Milissa Holland, and at least one council member has been seated already, Bob Cuff. Both favor the civil citation proposal (see Cuff’s view here, and Holland’s here.) Two candidates are in a run-off for the third open seat, Nick Klufas and Pam Richardson. Klufas is clearly in favor of the program. Richardson says she is “not opposed to it.” Asked to clarify, she did not. But supporters of the civil citation program can take heart in the fact that with Holland and Cuff on the council, only one current council member is categorically opposed—Steven Nobile. Heidi Shipley has not taken a position, though she has tended to be more moderate than not.
The outcome on the county commission is at least equally hopeful for proponents of the measure. Three seats may turn over, including that of Barbara Revels. George Hanns and Charlie Ericksen are also facing opposition–Ericksen from DeLorenzo, Hanns from Donald O’Brien, and Revels from Dave Sullivan. Ericksen so far has been opposed to the civil citation program, though he’s never been dogmatic about his stances. (He’s a regular at Public Safety Coordinating Council meetings). Sullivan is in favor of the proposal “if carefully crafted,” suggesting that if the Revels seat does turn over, it would not gain an opponent. But it would lose the proposal’s champion: “I’ll be back on it if I return in November. I’ll be back at it,” Revels says unquestioningly. O’Brien, too, supports the program.
But any further movement on the proposal must wait.
“Administration asked me whether or not we wanted to try to take it forward with so many seats changing on city council and county commission potentially,” Revels said, referring to the county administration, “and that it might be better to have the vote come up to the county commission and at least city of Palm Coast when we have new seated people. So since it’s gotten drug out so long, a couple more months wasn’t going to make that big of a difference, and I agreed with that.”
The county commission could still make changes to the proposed ordinance. The Bunnell City Commission last month didn’t discuss the proposal so much as hear from its city manager and police chief, who are staunchly opposed to it. The commission did not take a position. The Flagler Beach City Commission hasn’t discussed the proposal yet.
Despite their opposition and the latest delay, Revels said the proposal is not fading. “And I know that people thought that I did it only because of Sheriff Manfre,” Revels said. “We had started talking about it long before he brought it forward. It just happened to coincide, like when Volusia did theirs, we were talking about it and it brought more focus to the topic.” If anything, Revels hopes to go further with the proposal, though she doesn’t see that happening even in November.
“I still believe that if we can lower our jail population through alternative programs and maybe as our county grows we could do a citation where you have a civil service component of it, like larger counties do,” Revels said, “we’d have to fund a way to fund it, then that means that somebody who has messed up and maybe not be getting straight, they can get straight. That’s light years down the road for us because we just don’t have the way to fund it.”