On Aug. 12, Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron sold a parcel of land on U.S. 1 in St. Augustine to the Mullins Companies for $405,000. Cameron described it as an “arms-length transaction” with Joe Mullins, the Flagler County county commissioner.
Cameron had bought the 0.57-acre vacant parcel of commercial land at 2405 U.S. 1 South, just south of a Walmart, for “$400,000 and change” in 2003, he said, and had the land listed on the market for one to two years before Mullins bought it through his company. Property appraiser records show Cameron acquiring the property in 2003 for $500,000. Cameron said that included other costs. The 2019 just market value for the parcel, according to the property appraiser, was $281,250.
After acquiring the property from Cameron, the land was immediately listed with Century 21 St Augustine for $595,000.
A month after the transaction, Cameron paid off the mortgage on his home on Segovia Road in St. Augustine, a house he bought with his wife in 2008. It was last refinanced in April for $294,500.
Cameron made clear that the transaction was with Mullins, who approached him. Mullins declined to answer questions about the transaction, saying in a text: “You will have to go thru the company for that due to other owners. I am not sure they will reply but you will need to provide adequate media credentials or they will not reply.” (Mullins is listed as the sole owner of the Mullins Companies, according to a document he filed with the Florida Division of Corporations in October.) Mullins then cancelled his advertising contract with FlaglerLive. He had been advertising the weekly radio advertorial he pays for on WNZF.
Cameron spoke at length about the land deal after an interview request.
“Joe sold a piece of property in Augusta and he wanted to do a federal transfer, in-kind tax deferment, and he was looking for property,” Cameron said, describing the sort of transaction that allows the deferment of capital gains taxes. “He talked to me about investing in Flagler County. I told him he had to be careful with that because of appearances, and I connected him with a Realtor that I had worked with to possibly do some stuff in St. Johns. I had a piece of property that I had currently listed. And he looked at it, made an offer on it. I think I had it listed for $500,000. He offered $400,000 and a quick close because of his situation, and I accepted the offer and property closed.” Cameron said it had been listed “for some time” with Century 21, initially for $600,000, reduced to $500,000 “probably 90 days before it sold,” he said. He initially said the land had been listed for “probably a year,” and later said it was listed between a year and two years.
“He approached me about property, not the idea on this property,” Cameron said. “He approached me saying that he had sold this and he was looking for exchange property. We discussed the problem with investing in the county that he was elected in.”
The issue was different in St. Johns “because he has no inside information in St. Johns, he has no authority over zoning or anything else, there’s just no potential for conflict,” Cameron said. Asked if there was a potential for conflict with Cameron, the administrator replied: “That’s a conflict? If I owned a hamburger stand he can’t buy a hamburger from me? If I own a car lot, he can’t buy a car from me?” (He then said the hamburger analogy was not a good one.) “I’m his employee. There’s no way to parlay a conflict in him doing a business transaction out of the county with me.” County commissioners as such hire only two employees, the county administrator and the county attorney. “I can’t imagine how that would appear to be a conflict. There’s no quid pro quo possibility. There’s nothing there that could be a conflict.”
Nevertheless, Cameron thought it necessary to speak with Al Hadeed, the county attorney, about the transaction. He said he could not remember if he spoke with him before or after the transaction. Hadeed said he thought it was before. Hadeed told him the transaction was legal as long as there was no undue difference between the parcel’s value and the selling price–either too high or too low.
Ben Wilcox, the research director at Integrity Florida, the Tallahassee-based good-government watchdog, said the transaction suggests the lines between private and public business “are getting blurred.”
“It’s probably legal,” Wilcox said, “You don’t want public officials to be hurt financially because they’re serving in public office, but at the same time this kind of a business relationship between what is essentially a staff person for this county commission is just, I think, going to raise questions in the eyes of the public. It’s just the kind of thing you hope public officials will try to avoid putting themselves in those types of positions. It just doesn’t look good to the public and causes the public to lose trust in their government.” (Questions of blurred lines between his business and public roles had followed Mullins during his campaign.)
Cameron himself stressed the importance of avoiding such appearances only weeks ago, again in a matter involving Mullins. Mullins had invited several county staffers, including Hadeed and County Commissioner Dave Sullivan, to host and participate in Mullins’s radio show during a week when he was away. They did so, though the show was paid for by Mullins. When Mullins suggested to commissioners that it could be made into a regular recurrence, commissioners raised questions of propriety, and after legal advice from Hadeed, who got legal advice from Mark Herron, the Tallahassee attorney, he and Sullivan decided to disclose on a required, periodic financial disclosure form the financial value of the half hour as a gift they received from Mullins.
“You not only have to avoid impropriety, you have to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” Cameron said at the time, when asked if there would be additional such radio shows. When reminded of that statement, Cameron said there was no appearance of impropriety in the land deal.
Florida law addresses conflicts of interest among public officials and public servants. It does not prohibit transactions between an elected official and his or her subordinate when the transaction does not intersect with government business. A state ethics commission spokesperson said there were no cases directly similar to the one between Mullins and Cameron. But she provided a 1994 ethics commission opinion that involved a school board member and school board employees. The school board member was a broker for an investment firm. The opinion found that because of his authority over employees, the school board member would be prohibited from soliciting accounts from employees. Such relationships would create a conflict of interest. But the opinion also determined that as long as the school board member himself was not soliciting accounts, and that the employees were coming to him to open accounts, no conflict of interest existed. The opinion cites several other opinions that mirror the reason: as long as the elected board member is not soliciting business from people under his authority, and the solicitation is the other way around, there is no conflict of interest.
Bob Cuff, the Palm Coast City Council member and a real estate attorney who was ITT’s in-house counsel for many years, spoke much as Hadeed did–if the transaction was arms-length and the price paid was within range of market value, “nothing occurs to me that would make that a problem, even if the buyer were an elected official.” He did consider the transaction “unusual,” to the extent that it would require advice of counsel.
“The transaction with Joe occurred. It was completely above board. There was no effort to hide it,” Cameron said. But there was no effort to disclose it publicly, either, even though at least two commissioners–Donald O’Brien and Sullivan–had become aware of it. Cameron said there was “absolutely not” any reason to raise any questions about the transaction, which he considers to be of no public concern. “Anybody that would do that is just looking for a reason to attack either me or Joe, and I know why I’m being attacked,” Cameron said. He would not say by whom. “You’ll put it in print and it will aggravate the situation more. I’m going to deal with it.”
“I don’t have any doubt about whether this is something that should be reported, I think it would have been better for them to just disclose this up front,” Wilcox said, stressing the public’s right to know about the transaction.
“I didn’t set up a shell company or do anything to hide it,” Cameron continued. “It was just a normal transaction. But what I did with proceeds of a sale, as long as I didn’t do something illegal, is of absolutely no interest to anybody else.” Cameron says he “lost $100,000 on the deal,” because according to his real estate broker, Mullins two weeks after buying the property from Cameron was approached by a potential buyer and offered $500,000, which Mullins–according to Cameron–turned down. Moments later in the interview Cameron said “we had people that were coming along all the time, making offers or having interest in it,” meaning the commercial parcel. “The bottom line on it is that when he came in and I said I don’t have time to deal with this anymore, I don;t want to pay taxes on it anymore, I’m done with it, he made the offer and he caught me at a time where I accepted. Did I benefit, did he benefit, I think that’s the way that commerce works, both people benefit from a transaction if it’s a legitimate transaction.”
He said he did not have the commercial property appraised, nor did Mullins, because Mullins was not financing the transaction. He said there was little negotiations. “He asked me what’s the very least that I would take, and I said if I got a quick closing, the least that I would take is $400,000, that’s what I sold it for.” Cameron said there is no further arrangement with Mullins regarding a future sale of the land. He was willing to provide the sales contract and the name of the Realtor he used, and said he provided both. As of the time when this story initially published, FlaglerLive had received neither.
Sullivan said he became aware of the transaction last month when Mullins told him of it. (Mullins and Sullivan are friends, and Mullins was the first contributor, with $1,000, to Sullivan’s reelection campaign, still the largest contribution he’s received from an individual.) “I think there’s a Popeye’s going in on 100 near the new RaceTrac station,” Sullivan said. Mullins told him “‘I’m trying to put a Popeye in St. Augustine,’ and I said what, and that’s when he told me. But it wasn’t a lengthy conversation or anything like that.”
Sullivan, whom Mullins nominated to chair the county commission last Monday (Sullivan is the new chairman), would not comment on the transaction itself. “I guess I’m not going to make any comment on that without knowing details and things like that. I understand the question, don’t get me wrong, but I’m just not going to comment on that. No matter what I say there’ll be something wrong with it and I have no idea about the propriety of having a business relationship among a couple of people I know, and it’s not in our county. I’ll leave it at that.” Of his friendship with Mullins, he said: “He’s a fellow commissioner, he does need someone to coach him at times and try to keep him from doing the wrong thing, and I try to do that.” While he was being interviewed, Sullivan got a call from either Linda or Greg Hansen, the county commissioner, then a call from Mullins, word of this article being in preparation having spread by then (Linda Hansen said she was calling but not about this issue. Greg Hansen Friday evening said he had not been aware of it.)
O’Brien said he heard of the transaction “tangentially,” and didn’t recall who had told him of it. “On the surface it’s a private transaction between two parties. The fact that they have a relationship–I really don’t know, I really don’t know how to respond to that. I’m sure it’s not against the law or neither one of them would do it,” O’Brien said. “Either Jerry got a bad deal or Joe is dumb for buying the property,” he added, weighing the numbers.
“It sounds like somebody got a good deal or somebody got a bad deal.”
Keep Flagler Beautiful says
Yeah, baby! What a sweetheart deal. All of you chumps who fell for Mullins’ campaign baloney — are you seeing a pattern of behavior yet?
Both of these turkeys are fleecing the taxpayers. If I were a lawyer I’d ,pro-bono, lodge ethics complaints and seek their firing for cause.This sucks.
Gary R says
Is this a quid pro quo, extortion, or bribery?
BILL (William) NELSON Nelson says
Smells something terribly: Good job bringing Cameron on board! Now we have a major problem to be concerned about.
And I thought the Coffey regime was bad !!!
County employee says
We’re is Dennis McDonald? I never thought I’d say this but we need him now.
Blind leading the Blind says
Another County Administrator, more BS. Same with Mullins.
Linda Hansen says
It was Linda Hansen who called Dave Sullivan. The call had nothing to do with any of this. Commissioner Hansen was out of town this week. And this is the first time I am hearing about any of this.
Now among other concerns, my number one question is ; FC county attorney Hadeed asked advise for high rate fees attorney Herron in this issue…then are we the taxpayers paying Herron’s bill too on this advise to Hadeed? Because is enough that while FCBOCC defending wrong decided to hire Herron for lawsuits against its residents and constitutional official, the latest still shamefully going on. https://www.votersopinion.com/2016/11/27/the-dirtiest-little-county-in-florida-starring-tallahassee-lawyer-mark-herron-part-2/
For things like this is why I question our county and cities government always hiring total stranger individuals for administrators out of county other than giving a chance to consider our local professionals graduated from Florida Universities with Masters in Public Administration Suma Cum Laude (with the highest university honors and distinction) and create jobs for our local taxpayers professionals, that have to commute to Jacksonville to get paid for their credentials. Maybe local professionals graduated with the highest distinctions may not be of best interest “locally”. Only the one’s unknown to us, or the ones picked by nepotism with no credentials serve better for what is taking place.
I could be wrong but I thought the county administrator had to live in the county. Why does Mr. Cameron live in St. Augustine?
FPC Granny says
A crocked thief among thieves!!
Jane Gentile-Youd says
A buyer/seller relationship is now in addition to the employer/employee relationship between Commissioner Mullins and County Administrator Cameron in my personal opinion makes it necessary – also in my opinion – that Joe Mullins will need to refrain in the future of sponsoring , or seconding a motion to give Jerry Cameron a pay raise, a bonus, or an extension of his employment contract, nor air time on his personal radio show, nor any personal perk of any nature.
Does it make me very uncomfortable , yes it does, even though I believe the sale was absolutely ‘legal’; but it sure doesn’t add to improving Flagler County’s ‘image’ does it?
“There’s no quid pro quo…”
Hmm….where have we heard THAT before?
The Realist says
You heard that from Biden when he wanted and got the Ukrainian prosecutor fired when he found out the prosecutor was going to investigate his kid, Oh yean and Obama was on board as Lunch Box Joe said in the video
L HEN says
Why are you spreading LIES, “The Realist says”? Nothing that you said has been proven true or even close to the truth. It is exactly OPPOSITE of the truth. You are spreading RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION. Are you a RUSSIAN BOT?
CB from PC says
Joe Biden is on video laughing how the prosecutor “…guess what he got fired”.
Joe had a long history in Delaware with credit card processor MBNA where he used his influence to secure then fresh out of law school Hunter to a $100k plus job, with no experience. Joe also sponsored legislation to make writeoff of consumer credit card debt more difficult.
On top of it, then CEO of MBNA overpaid 1.25 M full price for Joe’s badly in need of repairs home. What planet do you live on?
Name (required) says
Ahh, The club. No matter what you might think…. You (the people) ain’t in it! Keep ‘me comin, voterzzz
Name (required) says
Ahh, The club. No matter what you might think…. You (the people) ain’t in it! Keep ‘em comin, voterzzz
Good ole boy network alive and well. Sound familiar. So glad one foot out of the County. Good luck going to need it.
He cancel his advertising in FL…typical of local politics when an honest business takes a stand for what is wrong is NOT right-wing political correctness!
Extremely poor form if nothing else. Everyone seem so embolden to involve themselves with inappropriate behavior. Sounds like it right out of the play book of someone that lives on or around 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Flying bird says
What the hell is going on ? We get rid of Coffey and we get two hustlers to replace him . Our county residents deserve what happens here they never pay attention to these hustlers in our Govt . That get taken in by people who were forced out of another state or county and they get elected to good old Flagler. Can’t wait to see what happens where Coffey started working . These people F—+p one county and move on with no reprisals because the people who replaced them are no damn better . Pissed off tax payer…..
I just paid a toll on the Brooklyn bridge says
It just sad.
They toss Coffey under the bus and then they do “an arms length transaction! ”
Did they actually think it was something to be proud of
Proof that the good old boy network has shifted to an even more slippery sloppy slope.
Best is “We the people” won’t do anything about it, like vote out Mullins and ask for Cameron to step down.
Sad day in Flagler county……
Rick G says
State and county employees can’t even accept a cup of coffee from vendors and such but I guess when you’re a commissioner you can do anything you want. This does not pass the smell test.
I feel the only way to stop future candidates from possibly establishing a proxy residence to meet candidate qualifications is to change the at-large format of Flagler’s elections for the County Commission.
This wasn’t so much of an issue in the past, but, there’s never been a commissioner that exploited the regulations in this manner to this extent either.
People don’t spend the nearly obscene amount Commissioner Mullins did to win the election without specific reason. Furthermore this business transaction coupled with the “in kind” contribution of a attorney consultation can be easily misconstrued as using wealth to influence those at the top of County Government.
Focused on Flagler? Or Focused on personal gain?
Flagler flyer says
I have a lot of issues with what has happened with both Flagler County and the city of Palm Coast. But not sure why this item is an issue. This does not involve county land or funds.
It does a look a bit odd but can’t find anything close to being unethical about this transaction.
“I cautioned him on appearances if he invested in Flagler”
But you weren’t worried about the appearances of your superior, who votes to approve your contract, buying your property?
“I introduced him to a realtor”
So a millionaire who deals in real estate from Augusta can’t figure it out on his own, and needs an agent?
“I had a piece of land for sale”
I’m sure it’s all coincidence..
I voted for Mr. Mullins and regret it. I will not be fooled again.
The up side of this is that I don’t have to see his lame ad on here anymore.
@Nikki , great question. SO its OK with Flagler County Voters and Taxpayers that the man managing Flagler County business dealings does not live in Flagler County. Thats just so wrong.
I agree Nikki, Any county commissioner serving our county or manager or anyone that handles matters for counties citizens should be required to live in the county. Not in St Johns county. Cameron lives on SEGOVIA RD
SAINT AUGUSTINE. Time to move Jerry.
Mike Cocchiola says
Nothing to see here? How about when Cameron’s evaluation comes up. Joe votes on it. How about when Cameron proposes a project? Joe votes on it. How about when Joe wants a favor? Cameron is indebted. I am so disappointed in our county government.
Not fooled says
Everyone KNEW Mullins mission. He came here to pillage and voters were blindly voting for him.
Where exactly does Mullins get his money? In Bunnell, he lives in a trailerlike place.
Mullin doesn’t live in bunnell … try the aliki condo in Flaglerbeach . Is this legal ?????i thought they must live In district they are elected to represent.
Actually he does “live” in Bunnell. he owns TWO homes one in Flagler Beach and one as his “primary” residence is in Bunnell.
Land of no turn signals says says
Does it have mold?
Isn’t he the one running around with the red hat with white lettering?
If so then enough said or conveyed.
Fed Up says
Joe Mullins also lives in the Aliki in Flagler Beach. Tallahassee Attorney Mark Heron is on retainer with Flagler County. The Republican Club fell for all the BS Mullins gave them. Mullins has a big problem with the truth. He tells some of the residents of Plantation Bay he is our representative on the water issues. When ICI went before the BOCC to open up another big subdivision with over 300 more homes that will again compromise our water facility, turncoat Mullins was the deciding 3 to 2 vote. What does that tell you folks.
Willy Boy says
Got to admire the brazen, audacity.
Edith Campins says
This transaction may not be legally wrong but it is certainly ethically wrong. Why would he pay so much over the appraised value?
And if Hadeed is really a lawyer why does he have to “consult” other lawyers, at taxpayers expense, everytime a legal issue comes up? The fact is that neither Mullins nor Cameron live in the area they are suppossed to be working for. And as for Mullins disagreeing with Commisioner Hansen when he asked that the inspector who gave the mold ridden Sears building a good report, be placed on a list so that the country will not do business with them again, really? Commissioner Hansen is obviously trying to protect the taxpayers, what is Mullins trying to do?
Trailer Bob says
I guess that if two people have an agreement, one to sell and the other to purchase a property, they still have the right to do so, legally. But, it does smell like old fish anyway. I keep hearing that some of our elected officials don’t even live in Flagler County, and THAT bothers me. So is that accurate or not?
I am thinking of running for office in the next election, but I live in Bunnell, work in Bunnell, and will probably die in Bunnell. I would provide my name here, but have to consider it a little too early and would most likely be attacked from several sides. But, I DO have political experience in my former state and feel it might be nice to have someone who is only concerned and working for the people of Bunnell, and Flagler County at large. I live this place and would love to work on making it better. I had a successful Financial Planning business for over 30 years up north, and it just might be nice to have someone on board who has some financial experience and zero baggage. I am beginning to see more and more that our elected officials are running the County like a board game. We all deserve better.
Give it a try Bob…we need change!
Mike Cocchiola says
Bob… this is still America. If you think you can improve flagler, go for it.
Republican voters wanted government to “run like a business.”
Well having flirted both with professional jobs in public AND private sector, the one thing I took away from the private sector is how willing people are to “cut deals” with friends and network acquaintances.
The voters asked for this. This is what they wanted right? For government to “run like the private sector businesses.” Well now you get all of the unethical, legal grey area nonsense that has perpetuated the monopolization market of “free” enterprise.
So in short, if you are a Republican voter and subscribed to this ethos, just stop complaining. You got what you wanted right? Now your government is being run exactly like a corporate business. There is the new brand culture post-Coffey (which was a different kind of corrupt).
You get what you vote for. Eat your hearts out Flagler.
Concerned Citizen says
Our Commisioners and Administrator keep popping up in media outlets. And not very favorably. Thank you Flagler Live for reporting on this quasi-ethical transaction.
Change is desperatley needed in Flagler County. Otherwise we will wake up and the county will be sold off to outside interests. Remember this at the 2020 elections. We don’t need a rehash of incumbents.