At a special meeting of the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday morning, Jerry Forte, the city’s fire chief and its interim assistant city manager, explained why he was sending his deputy fire chief, Bradd Clark, to be the county’s interim chief for the next few weeks.
Forte said the county approached the city to provide Clark “for a very, very short period of time” to help with the transition to a new leadership in the county’s fire department, where Mike Tucker is taking over as chief after Independence Day. Forte said he himself played a similar role for the county during the 2011 wildfires, under direction from then-Emergency Management Chief Kevin Guthrie, now the state’s emergency management director. (See: “Flagler Administrator Jerry Cameron Ends Tenure, Interim Salinas and New Fire Chief Mike Tucker Start July 7.”)
“I equate this to if you’ve got a neighbor that’s coming over, wants to borrow a cup of sugar, you don’t ask them why you want to have a cup of sugar and you don’t charge them 10 bucks,” Forte said. “At one point, you’re going to need a cup of sugar from your neighbor, and in the same token, we’re building relationships with the county, and I will tell you at one point we will probably call on them for some assistance as well. So I think it’s a good opportunity for us to help them out, and then in the future they will be able to help us out as well.”
Forte’s words were carefully weighed. He did not want to send the wrong message, especially in a county that has seen its share of county-city rivalries regarding the fire services over the years, though under different chiefs and political leadership. (See: “Palm Coast Mayor Rips Waste of County’s EMS Service and Says Do It All Or Pay the City,” from 2015, “Palm Coast Floats New Rescue System in Name Of “Efficiency,” But County Sees Many Flaws” and “County Takes Dim, Caustic View of Palm Coast’s ‘Efficiency’ Push in Ambulance Services from 2016. In previous years, it was the county that had floated a proposal to take over city services, drawing city rebukes.)
There was more context to Forte’s words–and to seemingly disconnected statements and Facebook postings by County Commissioner Joe Mullins about the county’s fire services. On May 28, he’d posted about how “There is no reason to double tax residents with duplicate services.” He also posted praise for the county’s fire services, and on Monday, when the County Commission approved the same bi-lateral agreement for an interim chief with Palm Coast, Mullins wanted to stress: “We’ve got a great staff. We’ve got a great group of guys and gals that do an incredible job. They’re some of the best in the state, some of the best in the country.” He added: “We are really behind them.”
The words may have surprised Forte. In late May, and not for the first time, Mullins had approached Forte to tell him he thought Palm Coast should take over the county’s fire services. According to Forte, Mullins had made similar statements at Rotary Club meetings, at Firefighter Appreciation days, and at an Elks club event, “where Mullins outwardly criticize[s] Fire Chief Bobby Pace,” the Flagler Beach chief–who was, unbeknownst to Mullins, standing right there.
This week on his weekly radio infomercial, Mullins calls Flagler Beach leaders “cowards” for cancelling July 4 fireworks and the parade and implied the city was misusing money supposedly budgeted for the fireworks. The decision to cancel the fireworks was made jointly by the city’s police and fire chiefs and the city commission. Mullins’s accusation drew a rebuke from Flagler Beach Commissioner Rick Belhumeur: “Speaking of cowards, why haven’t you come to one of our Flagler Beach Commission meetings to make your accusations and call us cowards in person. Why do you have to lie about ‘missing money’ unless it’s just to agitate? You know very well that there has been no money transferred to the City of Flagler Beach for fireworks.”
Mullins’s statements to Forte at the recent Touch a Truck event organized by Palm Coast Public Works in Town Center in late May had troubled the fire chief enough that Forte decided to write the county’s administrator and assistant administrator (Jerry Cameron and Jorge Salinas), copying Clark and then-City Manager Matt Morton.
“To begin, I don’t have serious confidence in most political figures today since they are not subject matter experts but they tend to speak in public” as if they were, Forte wrote, “this one included. My concern, which should also be yours, Mullins stated he feels strongly that Palm Coast should take over the County Fire Service and that I should be at the forefront of that leadership process. He further added that the current state of the County service is the entire reason Palm Coast should take over the county service and since there is change in the future City Council his ‘friends will push to move in that direction.'”
Mullins has allied himself with Council member Victor Barbosa and Alan Lowe, the mayoral candidate last year and again in the special election for mayor on July 27. Council member Ed Danko is managing Lowe’s campaign.
“You should also know that this particular commissioner has suggested the same over the last three years and each time him brings it up to me, I remind him that he does not have the experience that we do as leaders and he should stay in his own lane,” Forte continued, citing the many instances when Mullins pushed for the take-over. “I can assure you there is no love loss I hold for Commissioner Mullins but he is not my problem until he becomes my problem. Reality is, I believe he is a wrecking ball and seeks to [incite] hostility to create confusion everywhere he goes.”
Forte’s scathing assessment of Mullins is not the first by local officials: Flagler Beach City Commissioners Eric Cooley, Rick Belhumeur and Ken Bryan and School Board member Colleen Conklin have all publicly condemned his actions on various grounds, and Commissioner Greg Hansen and former Commissioner Charlie Ericksen wanted him censured for his open insults at the two men during a public meeting (Mullins allies Donald O’Brien and Dave Sullivan blocked the move). Privately, many more elected and administrative officials have spoken of their distaste for Mullins.
But Forte’s is the first and highest sitting administrative official to do so openly and as severely. In a county with a dearth of administrative leadership (the city and the county are both without permanent administrators or managers), Forte’s voice, because of his longevity, a stellar reputation, respect from ranks likely unequaled in local government, and Forte’s remove from politics, resonates louder.
“This ‘boys club’ discussion is not new for this county and unfortunately, it will continue while simple minded people continue to run for office,” Forte said in his letter to county officials. “I can further add that I have had a similar discussion with Council Member Barbosa in December when he suggested I speak with ‘his friend on the County Commission,'” a reference to Mullins. “Barbosa was told by me that the problem with the fire service happens when political hacks get involved in the growth process just so they can get their picture taken in front of a fire engine. Barbosa was further told by me that when he has 31 years of experience in the fire service, I will listen to his suggestion.”
In 2011, two respected members of the fire services at the county and the city–Richard Bennett, whose name Forte invoked Tuesday morning when speaking of cooperation, and Jason Laughren, each of whom was president of his firefighter union at the county and the city respectively, proposed a consolidation of the fire services as county and city governments were grappling with drastic revenue shortfalls because of the housing bust. But the two firefighters had decades of experience between them. Bennett has retired. Laughren is now a Battalion Chief in the Haines City Fire Department.
Referring to Mullins and Barbosa, Forte continued: “I consider both of these instances rantings of a politician and not worthy of further discussion, until a County Commissioner disgraces the hard working men and women of Flagler County Fire Rescue with venomous talk. You are also at a pivotal point in new leadership, planning future infrastructure in the fire department and building a program that you all can be proud of. I have always said our organizations need the autonomy that the citizens voted for 21 years ago and it is only now, through relationship building, that we are not afraid to share ideas and interests without the worry of reprisal. The future is uncertain with the Mayoral race that is about to take place, but you both should know my commitment to the success of the Flagler County Fire Department comes from my organization and not a political hack trying to score a point. Your staff need to know they are valued and not a pawn in a fo[o]l’s game. Your next fire chief needs to have the support of a strong leadership team and their partner agencies in order to have success. Any planning that occurs in the region for fire protection will happen with subject matter experts and not on street in a City event.”
Forte told the county officials they needn’t respond: he was merely informing them of his encounter with the commissioner “in a format that I was not comfortable with,” he said, “and any other discussion that are had without my being present do not represent me or my organization.” He ended his email with a suggestion: “Feel free to share this with anyone!”
Mullins, who subsequently posted flattering remarks about Flagler County Fire Rescue in an apparent effort to signal his support in light of Forte’s email, also wrote Forte, starting with “let me be very clear,” and that he represents “the citizens of every part of Flagler county,” a statement he has himself contradicted on numerous occasion, offensively attacking constituents who don’t follow his ideology, proposing to ship them out or behead them. Nevertheless, he told Forte that “Public safety has and will be my #1 concern.”
Boasting of his family owning “THE top burn center in the world” (the Georgia facility he is referring to is actually the largest by number of beds, in the United States; the largest in the world is in Bangladesh), he told the chief he is “always seeking direction” on fire safety, training “and specifics like fireworks and other unnecessary risk we can avoid.”
He then addressed Forte’s comments more directly (his email is quoted as he wrote it): “While I have a lot of respect for the city of Palm Coast and City of Flagler beach staff, as well as a tremendous amount for Chief Pace. (Whom I will add I have never heard promote to anyone it’s ok to shoot fireworks off personally). I would put up any of our guys as equal if not better in areas. This county Fire department truly has the best of the best. I will not argue their stations and equipment may not be equal but they certainly are. My comments were on duplicating services and personnel. That is and has been a concern of this community.
“In a time where we are using technology as well as other advancements we need to be also considering lowering the expenses to our tax payers. I will say better words for me to have used in this case would be collaboration and non duplication oppose to consolidation which one day may become necessary in some areas.” He then wrote of the “need to show we will work together like never before and leave the egos at the door.”
Roy Longo says
Thank you Chief Forte. You have always been the most widely respected officer in all of the fire departments and this article shows everyone what we already knew. You stand by your convictions and your men and women. Mullins is nothing but a shit stirrer who needs to crawl back under the rock he came from and now he is back peddling from trying to stir the pot between the three fire departments. Thank you, Chief, for calling Mullins out.
James M. Mejuto says
Re: Palm Coast Fire Chief . . . Oh well, the Republican story keeps unraveling here in Flagler County, obviously to
the pain of a local gov’t controlled by Republicans. This turmoil orchestrated by trump lovers: Mullins, Danko,
Barbosa and Lowe seem ripe for internal intrigue.
It would be a welcoming shot in the arm were it not for the anemic response by the Palm Coast democrat party.
James M. Mejuto
Meh, I looked at the line items for county taxes, the City of Palm Coast is a separate and summarized line item that probably includes the FCSO Fire Department Service contracts as well as a bunch of items. There is no double taxation. I can imagine that a Bunnell residence has a City of Bunnell line item that is similar and where the residence is not a city specific for city limit boundaries like Bunnell & Palm Coast, there’s probably a line item for FCSO & Fire Department Services indicated as Flagler County. I doubt anyone is paying any more or less whether they are City of vs outside city limits. Just that the City Limits requires the county to have a contract. I mean really Palm Coast & Bunnell aren’t in a position to have their own Police & Fire Departments. Mullins probably knows less about the tax budget, so any rhetoric of double taxation is a blind accusation ? Without line item breakouts and then we have to look at the budgets for the county & City(ies) individually.
Jack Howell says
Jerry, your comments are accurate and spot on the mark! I applaud your stepping up and putting Commissioner Mullins in his place. It was my privilege while serving as a City Council member to work with you. I had full trust and confidence that you needed no oversight by me. You, your department, as well as the Flagler County Fire Department, are top-notch! You are 100% correct that Joe is trying to create unrest in the county’s fire service. We all know about the real Joe Mullins and his motivations! Keep up the stellar work.
Concerned Citizen says
Well Jerry Forte better start looking for new employment after the release of this article.
It won’t be long before Bully Barbosa and Little Man Mullins force him to retire. After threatning and harrassing him to the point of not being able to do his job. These two have a track record of dirty pool. And are already costing Palm Coast thousands.
@ Joe Mullins
I’m asking the same thing. Why not attend the Flagler Beach meetings. And voice your concerns? Scared much?
@ Our BOCC
Mullins continues to act like an ass. And has done things contrary to being a member in good standing. Is this someone you really want to represent you at other functions? Why are you all so scared of little man?
Oh my! Why am l not surprised, that now this ridiculous excuse for a county commissioner is actually attempting to veil a stomping, temper tantrum over fireworks, behind an incoherent argument about fireworks’ safety? Kinda out of words. Thank you Chief, for speaking up and thank God there are professionals in top administrative positions who not only understand, but personify the phrase, to serve.
The little simple minded man tried again to divide to conquer.
It will be interesting to see if the citizens of Palm Coast will vote for a supremacist for Mayor making their rank a majority.
Supremacy: the state or condition of being superior to all others in authority, power, or status. Supremacy is control over all others.
Keep Flagler Beautiful says
Is there anything at all that can be said about Joe Mullins that has not already been said? He is a bully, a disgrace and an embarrassment. The only reason he got elected is because he spent a fortune on signs that he plastered on every street corner in the county. There were excellent candidates who should have been elected instead of the Georgia carpetbagger, but they didn’t have Mullins’ deep pockets. Now the helpless taxpayers are enriching Mullins even more, and he has developed such a giant ego, he thinks he’s invincible. After all he has done, WHY is he still in office???
Pissed in PC says
Tick, tock Mullins till we ship you on a midnight train to Georgia. You know taking out the trash.
Just remember, No to Lowe and No to Barbosa and we’ll vote No to Mullins and Danko when the time comes.
Mullins … I absolutely make every effort to avoid being crass and hurling insults, but I will make an exception. Palm Coast has a fabulous Fire Department that has won awards. Go back to Georgia, you knuckle dragging, self-serving, lying sack of fecal matter. You’ve done enough damage to this county. May I send you a MapQuest of the way home? Or are you capable of slithering back into the swamp from which you came????
Hmm, the need to leave the ego at the door. That doesn’t resonate with muttonhead Mullins. Since his ego overwhelms whatever space he currently occupies, it would never occur to him to leave it somewhere else. That said, I hope we all can reach an agreement, and soon…that Mullins needs to go sit in the corner with his dunce hat on, and stay there..till..let’s say 2025. Maybe by then, he will have matured.
Mike Cocchiola says
Chief Fore could not be more truthful or more right. Mullins is an ignorant loudmouth wrecking ball who talks a lot and delivers nothing.
Remember Palm Coast citizens… a vote for Alan Lowe is a vote for Joe Mullins. Do you want Joe “Wrecking Ball” Mullins running Palm Coast?
Steven Kakabokes says
Mullins needs to be shown the door and soon. His views and his comments are inimical to the citizens of Flagler County. He and Danko and Barbosa are disgracing our great city of Palm Coast and Flagler County with their biases and prejudices. Let’s hope that Lowe does not join them. Speaking of egos, I think Mullins needs to leave his st the door.
Been There says
Another ethics complaint to be initiated. Joe (Forte) you are brave. So many of us want to speak up against the Mullins incessant employee interference, but have been to frightened about losing our livelihood to act because he is protected by Cameron, O’Brien, Sullivan and others. I applaud your power. Must be the name.
Been There says
Sorry, I mistyped. That should have read Jerry (Forte).
Nothing new here. Voters need to take care of Business come Election time. Vote accordingly Good Luck. IMO The Mayoral Race coming up is key. Hopefully its the start of a New Beginning and not otherwise….
Robin my Hood says
Joe Mullins is perpetrating a scam on Palm Coast taxpayers. If Palm Coast expands fire coverage to cover the undeveloped areas of the County, Palm Coast residents will be footing the bill. We’ll pay more in fire fees so others can get service. Meanwhile, the County will pocket the money they use to spend on Fire services to pay for dubious things.
Edith Campins says
If the voters don’t act now, the Lowe, Danko, Barbosa, Mullins crowd will ruin Flagler County for all of us. This is a critical election for the future of Palm Coast. Get out and vote!
Mullins is a total disgrace to all citizens in Flagler County. Stop stinking up our county.
Trailer Bob says
I am so sick and tired of being a Republican and having to listen to or read about Mullings and his followers.
He is NOT a true Republican, but rather a twisted, manic, and egotistical nutcase. I was an elected official and deeply involved in my community back up north. It isn’t that difficult…love your town or city, love the people, do all you can to make improvements that make the economy and the lives of the community better, safer, and healthier.
Act professionally, kindly, and intelligently.
Work with both party sides to do what is best for all residents.
And if you are like Joe…continue to take your meds. Not that difficult.
When is the election??? lol
The Voice Of Reason says
Well put Trailer Bob. I wish more on the Right had your intelligent, reasonable, bipartisan views. You should run for county commissioner. From someone on the left in Flagler County, I would vote for you. Please consider it. You are a breath of fresh air.
Fed up says
As a fellow republican I couldn’t agree more. The self centered egomanics have tossed civility and decency out the window. I was glad to be a republican in the 70’s. Now I often vote Democrat as many polititions in my party are out of control.
Percy's mother says
So, Mullins (under the guise of his “Live, Shop, Play . . .) FB page, just published a list of all the businesses that advertise on FlaglerLive.
These are the businesses that PAY to advertise on the FlaglerLive website.
These are the businesses that Mullins and Sharon Demers (Flagler County Republican Committeewoman) endorse boycotting. Along with the members of the Flagler Liberty Coalition, Victor Barbosa, Ed Danko, Alan Lowe, and the fake pastor, among others.
These people ENDORSE BOYCOTTING CERTAIN BUSINESSES! I thought these people were all pro small business in Flagler County.
Perhaps there should be a list of businesses that advertise on WNZF and its affiliates. Perhaps the rest of us should start boycotting any business that advertises on WNZF.
It can go both ways.
Many thanks to Chief Forte for the push back against Mullins. Finally someone is speaking out, and that’s long overdue.
Chief Forte thank you for standing up to the little boy napoleon Joe Mullin. Does anyone still care what his opinion is, not Flagler County taxpayers. We have written plenty of comments on Flagler Live that we want the County Commissioners to get rid of him but as you can see Chief Forte they are not listening to us. In the end in only hurts their re-elections in Flagler County.
There should be more discussions about his involvement in the insurrection on our Capital on 1-6th and his money scam for the golf tournament. This is what Flagler County taxpayers want to hear more about. We could careless any other thing out of his little bully mouth.
Thank you to the men and women of the Flagler County Fire Rescue. You do an amazing job and appreciated by so many. You risk your lives to save total strangers. Prayers are with you every day.
Joe Mullins what have you actually done for Flagler County? What life safety projects have you completed for our first responders? What experience do you have in the fire service? What training do you have to make life and death decisions? Joe it is time for you to leave public service. You are only interested in using your position to benefit Joe Mullins.
O’ Brien and Sullivan better start waking up. Both of you are on the same path as Joe. That path is on the sidelines. As a professional fire chief you should be able to sound off about your department issues without worrying if these political hacks will keep you around for another year. I am astonished that our Chiefs of Department are not chosen from the ranks in their own department. What makes an outsider more qualified then an individual that has been employed 25 or more years and has been promoted thru the ranks in Flagler County?
The Palm Coast Fire Chief is the perfect example of a true leader and a respected professional fire officer. That came up thru the ranks. Thank you Jerry for speaker up for our profession.
The Truth says
No to Lowe for sure……and as far as tiny little boy Mullin how much of a disgrace can you get, no wonder Georgia doesn’t want him there.
Has anyone done a background check on Mullin, I think it would be a smart thing to do. Get all his dirty laundry out of his closet.
He has nothing postive to offer Palm Coast or Flagler County and is a disgrace to us taxpayers.
The county commissioners are all weak and have no guts to do what taxpayers have been telling them to do and that is have Mullin removed for their commission and our taxpayer dollars are insisting on it. So, are you going to listen to us or let little boy bully Mullin control you as he has been doing?
The Observer printed all his dirty laundry and then turned around and ENDORSED him over Nate McLaughlin. That let’s you know where John Walsh’s agenda is at.
Pissed in PC says
Not to mention he donated to his campaign too in 2018. Open records show all the donors and most are out of state but currently being investigated independently to see if these so called people exist.
Why do people keep voting for buffoons like Mullins and Barbosa? Just because they are Republicans? They need to step down and crawl back into the holes they came out of. We don’t need any more racists in office. Please do your research, the county looks ridiculous with these people being elected.
James M. Mejuto says
I only hope all these anti-Mullins,Barbosa, Danko and Lowe sentiments turn-into votes for a Democrat
mayoral candidate. There out there, folks . . . we just have to look, organize and finally vote in
numbers insuring a Democrat win.
Let’s hope Palm Coast’s pathetic democrat party wakes up!
James M. Mejuto
Who is running for Mayor besides Lowe and will we receive background info on all of them? I too, am a Republican and sick and tired about reading about bully Mullins. I didn’t vote for him and I’d wish that people would stop generalizing all Republicans as being Mullins supporters.
LOL…all you guys do is sling insults just like Mullens. But u bash him just because he is republican? Would be appropriate for you guys to reply to your own comments and bash yourselves for insulting people. I’m not a big fan of our fire services after they sent me a bill for 10,000$ after they lifeflighted my wife to Orlando for something mediquick could have handled. They released my wife two hours after she landed….10grand….! I footed that bill. Not the taxpayers of this county.
Irwin M. Fletcher says
People need to wake up and stop just voting along party lines like lemmings. You need to do your research and vote for the candidate that will serve you, your family and the community the best. The years of voting for a specific group has changed with the new crop of politicians who have turned partisan politics into unbridled douchebaggery. Vote your conscious people.
Joe needs to go……this man has been a disaster for Flagler county and an embarrassment to his family. The governor should suspend him from office pending the outcome of his Georgia case.
Does anyone know if he is under criminal investigation? Does anyone know if he reported income he is being asked to pay pack in that GA case on his taxes? If trumps tax return can be investigated, lets call for mullins’ to be investigated. Did all of that happen at a time period in which joe mullins was required to file the financial disclosure statement with the Florida ethics commission? Come on flaglerlive, do some investigative reporting.
We the people can get joe mullins out of public office in 2022, and we must for Flagler county to move forward! We deserve so much better.