Not counting today, Flagler county Commissioner Andy Dance at least three times in the past year and a half attempted to draw his colleagues’ attention to improving commission procedures and adopting minimum standards of decorum for commissioners.
The calls were prompted either by the chronic embarrassments Commissioner Joe Mullins heaps on the commission and the county or by the commission’s tendency to pass on rigorous analyses of issues, deferring instead to staff and back-slapping.
Dance tried again today to call for a retreat to discuss, among other things, yet another crossing of “the lines of decorum.” It was a veiled a reference to Mullins’s latest embarrassments, some of which drew international attention. He had abused his authority, threatening the job of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper after getting pulled over for speeding, claimed he ran Flagler County, and soon after fabricated the support of two local associations of retired cops, prompting clarifications and disavowals from both associations.
None of the other county commissioners–Dave Sullivan, Greg Hansen, Donald O’Brien–so much as hinted about Mullins’s transgressions. Rather, O’Brien today walked off the dais just as Dance began speaking about a retreat. O’Brien–Mullins’s staunchest apologist on the commission, along with Sullivan–returned when Hansen a short time later was complaining about gas prices being higher in Flagler than elsewhere in the state. It was the latest example of a commission chronically enabling conflict and corrosion over respect while pretending to be a well-oiled machine.
“I value board camaraderie,” Dance said in his closing remarks at the end of a three-hour commission meeting. He’d served 12 years as a school board member, where he was known as a consensus builder, and during most of whose years there the school board was board was almost entirely drama-free. “I think a unity of purpose amongst us is very valuable in getting the mission and vision of the county government done. And I understand we’re all individuals, we do these things in our own way. We march to our own drummer. And I mentioned before about our rules that govern board conduct. We’ve had strategic planning. We’ve had the budget. We’ve had lots of things that have taken precedence over looking at this. But with knowing that all that’s coming to conclusion very soon, especially with the budget, and I know some work has been done by staff up to this point, I’m hoping we can revisit that in September.
“But just, you know, recent news, we’ve crossed the lines of decorum,” Dance continued, prompting O’Brien to get up from his chair and leave the dais at that very point, even though commissioners know that the meeting is drawing to a close by then. “Just want to make sure that we get back on track,” Dance said, noticing the obvious snub. “And I know this is uncomfortable conversations, but you know it’s detrimental to the function of our county government if we’re not adhering to minimum standards and the standards that the public expects. I just want to for us to all be on that same page, moving forward.”
But they were not even on the same dais.
It is customary courtesy, when elected board members on any local boards make their points in such segments, that fellow-board members at least pretend to pay attention. None of the remaining commissioners did as Dance spoke. Sullivan did so, on and off. Hansen, who sits immediately to the right of Dance, did not, looking at his computer screen instead–intently so as dance spoke of decorum–while O’Brien looked down at the dais, as he now routinely does during most discussions, before swiveling off. Mullins, who has developed elaborate ways to show his contempt during the meetings he chairs–rubbing his eyes or his forehead, face-palming, looking at the ceiling, looking at his phone, walking off–this time held his jaw in his palm and stared at the computer screen in front of him.
He may have been remembering the last regular meeting, on July 11, when Dance, noting another matter of commission procedures, called him out for inappropriately using the first portion of the meeting, under the chair’s comments, to delve into an aggrieved excoriation of an anonymous emailer who’d questioned the accuracy of Mullins’s financial disclosure forms. The chambers were almost at capacity, the commission had a very lengthy agenda with some controversial issues of large concern to the public, yet Mullins used (or rather, in Dance’s view, mis-used) the chair’s comment period to his own purposes, drawing County Attorney Al Hadeed into the discussion.
“This is commissioner comments or legal comments,” Dance said, referring to the more appropriate portion of the meeting, at its end, when such issues would be discussed. “We’ve got a full house and we really need to be getting to business.”
“I appreciate that but we’re gonna finish this dialogue,” Mullins snapped, before citing a further grievance by name–Jane Gentile-Youd, potentially an opponent in his own re-election campaign. Toward the end of the meeting, Mullins defended his use of the chair comment segment by saying: “I am the chair, and I determine what goes on chair comments.” The phrase echoed what he’d said to one of the troopers who’d pulled him over in June, when trying to get out of a ticket: “I run the county.”
“The other commissioners don’t have enough courage to stand up to you. I will,” yet another commission candidate, Denise Calderwood, told him as the meeting was in its last minutes, criticizing him for what she saw as his breach of decorum against Dance. “So follow your own rules, follow your own decorum,” she told him.
Soon after his election in January, Dance, concerned about Mullins’s violent rhetoric (he’d called for the beheading of liberals around the time he sponsored the bussing of Flagler residents to the Jan. 6 demonstration that devolved into an attack on Congress and threats on the vice president’s life that then-President Trump abetted), had called for a commission retreat. Sullivan wasn’t interested, if it was going to be open to the public. And O’Brien demurred.
Dance was interested in having more frequent workshops to examine issues more thoroughly, on a commission notorious for its love of improv. Less than a year ago it had briefly appeared that the commission had agreed: more regular workshops were scheduled, along the lines of Palm Coast government’s and the school board’s regularity. But weeks later, in a stunning pair of votes, a majority of commissioners–with Dance dissenting–reversed themselves and scrapped the workshop schedule.
The following week, when Dance raised concerns about the commission’s habit of holding special meetings immediately after workshops, to ratify decisions reached at the workshop but with no time for the public to digest the decisions, his colleagues again dismissed hgis concerns outright. When he again brought up hopes today that the commission would agree to some form of retreat, not one of his colleagues so much as said they were hearing him, let alone agreed, and one of them had left his chair.