That the Bunnell City Commission is struggling with much lower tax valuations driving down tax revenue isn’t a surprise. How to deal with Bunnell’s budget difficulties was, but only somewhat: At a budget workshop tonight, Bunnell City Commissioner Elbert Tucker proposed that the city could save money if the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office were to take over law enforcement in Bunnell. That would mean the end of the Bunnell Police Department. Commissioners agreed to entertain the idea.
- State Report Details Disturbing Patterns at Bunnell PD and Favors For Comm. Jimmy Flynt
- 2 Bunnell Cops Arrested; Commissioner Flynt Embroiled in Favoritism Allegations
- Timeline: Bunnell Police Department Firings and Resignations, 2005-2010
- The State Attorney’s Investigation: Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6
Bunnell spends $988,000 to run its police department. “That’s one-third of Bunnell’s budget,” Tucker said. “So if we can save a mil, that’s a saving to the citizens of Bunnell. We’re just going to ask him what he would do. He’s done it for Palm Coast, all the sheriffs have done it for Palm Coast for the past three sheriffs, four sheriffs. Why should we be any different?”
The commission agreed to hold a workshop in the near future to discuss just such a possibility. Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson framed the invitation to the sheriff this way: “We are requesting as a commission a proposal from the sheriff as far as whether or not he’d be willing to provide the service, if he is, at what cost, and what are we going to get for that money.” A date for that workshop hasn’t been set.
Contacted by phone soon after the commission’s decision, Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming was slightly surprised. He was also categorical: “The only way I’d even consider doing something like that is if it was a unanimous decision by the Bunnell city commission,” Fleming said. The sheriff said he had a good working relationship with Bunnell City Manager Armando Martinez (who was absent from today’s meeting) and Bunnell Police Chief Arthur Jones. Jones declined to comment on the commission’s discussion.
Bunnell’s police department and its city commission have both been under a cloud. Two Bunnell police officers were fired in June after being arrested and charged on felony counts of abuse of authority, theft and drug possession. Their abuse of authority emanated from favoring Bunnell City Commissioner Jimmy Flynt by channeling wrecking calls to Flynt’s towing companies outside the sheriff’s official wrecker rotation, which divided wrecking calls evenly between three wreckers.
Earlier this month, the State Attorney’s Office released a 35-page investigation of the wrecking scheme and many other issues that revealed shoddy practices in the police department and numerous arrests, particularly by the two fired officers, that looked improper. Flynt, too, was implicated in several regards, including the dumping of used tires in city dumps without paying for the service. The sheriff eliminated Flynt from the rotation.
“I don’t know how much that report is driving this request, I really don’t,” Bunnell City Attorney Sid Nowell said, referring to the state attorney’s investigation. “I can’t speak for Commissioner Tucker, but he is intense about his scrutiny of the budget and his spending of taxpayers’ dollars. I’ve never had a discussion with him about the report, I know this was a budget meeting and it was a budget issue. Whether the report had anything to do with it, I don’t know.”
Nowell is familiar with the recurring discussions of having the sheriff take over Bunnell’s police department, going back to his days as the attorney for former Sheriff Jim Manfre, between 2000 and 2004. “It was Sheriff Manfre who dispatched me to come to Bunnell top talk about maybe the sheriff department taking over the police department,” Nowell said. “And I was completely rebuffed, and that was my introduction to the city of Bunnell.”
Nowell said the take-over is “worth discussing in light of the budget crunch,” but he cautions that city pride in a police department is its own force–and that the problems in the police department are being worked out.
“The chief has done a relatively good job. What you’re seeing now is the weeding of officers who are not living up to their obligations,” Nowell said.