Joe Mullins is the Republican candidate for Flagler County Commission, District 4. He is challenging second-term incumbent and Republican Nate McLaughlin in the Aug. 28 primary.
Two seats are up on the commission in this election cycle: District 2, held by Republican Greg Hansen, and District 4, held by Republican Nate McLaughlin. Both Republicans have drawn opposition in the primary. No Democrat has filed to run, so there is no Democratic primary in either race. Only registered Republicans may cast a ballot in the primary races for the County Commission seats.
Two independents have filed: Dennis McDonald in District 2, Jane Gentile-Youd in District 4. Independents have no primary. The two independents will face the winners of the Republican primary in the November 6 general election.
Flagler County Commission members serve four years. They’re paid $53,951 a year.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges on the record. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Answers are lightly edited for clarity, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Critical issues
- Sheriff’s building
- Homestead exemption increase
- Financial commitment to school security
- Beach rebuilding
- Palm Coast relations
- Social safety net
- Economic development
- Craig Coffey
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: Augusta, Ga., July 27, 1970.
Current job: Small Business Owner.
Party Affiliation: Republican.
Net Worth: $31.4 million. See disclosure forms here, here and here.
Resume not submitted.
Website and Social Media: Facebook.
1. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, and what makes you qualified to serve—or to unseat an incumbent, as the case may be. Please give us real-life examples to illustrate your answer.
I am a person with real-life experiences who has had ups and downs throughout my life and persevered to better myself through each. I will bring determination and competitiveness to win to the board. My company has grown from a $100,000 company to a multi-million dollar company over 25 years in business.
That’s a clear opening statement. But can you answer the question, fleshing out your “ups and downs” throughout your life and explaining why you make the case to unseat the eight-year incumbent?
I would consider some of my greatest accomplishments being my children, my marriage and my businesses, which have employed many throughout the years and restored rural areas, restored distressed areas, and buildings that people had given up on. In doing this we have had substantial increases in property values in and around those areas and a significant reduction in crime. Those would, without question, be my “ups.” My “downs” have been humbling and have brought me to find God and become a father who is more present and more positive in ways to participate in life. I like where I am today and who I have become and have learned a great deal from my mistakes which has caused me to take the stands I have today.
Because my opponent is the incumbent, that gives him a record on which to run on. A record in which the voters deserve to know the decisions he made on their behalf. He raised taxes each and every year while in office, he has not required any planning to take place to better determine how those dollars should be spent and what to cut, he voted to allow a purchase of a building for a Sheriff’s Operation Center that cost way more than the appraised value, that building turned out to be a sick building, which housed the hard working people of that agency, he voted to bring back a Deputy Administrator at an increased salary, while she collects State Retirement. These are all examples of my opponent’s time in office. We cannot afford that kind of thinking and he has already cost us too much. I will demand we adopt a strategic approach to spending, planning and levels of service. I have used that same approach in my businesses and the people of Flagler County deserve that level of commitment. People simply need more than ribbon cuttings.
We are still not clear on your shortcomings. You spoke of being humbled. You didn’t tell us how so we can better understand what your shortcomings are specifically and how we should expect them to affect your tenure–or how you’ve learned to overcome them.
Joe Mullins did not answer the question.
Flagler County Commission
Greg Hansen (Rep., Dist. 2)
Dennis McDonald (Ind., Dist. 2)
Joe Mullins (Rep., Dist. 4)
Jane Gentile-Youd (Ind., Dist. 4)
Flagler School Board
Janet McDonald (Dist. 2)
John Fischer (Dist. 2)
The Candidates on ESE
Palm Coast City Council
Jon Netts (Dist. 2)
Jack Howell(Dist. 2)
Eddie Branquinho (Dist. 4)
John Tipton IV (Dist. 4)
– Public Safety
– Attracting High-Paying Jobs to Flagler County
– Preserving Flagler’s Quality of Life
Doubtless every candidate running for the past few decades might list similar issues, though they usually indulge us with more than one-liners. The question is how you stand on each. For example on public safety: is it underfunded? Are you looking to add deputies to the beat? If so, how would you pay for them and keep taxes low? Every political candidate in the county going back decades speaks of attracting higher paying jobs to the county. None ever say how they would do so beyond easy campaign sloganeering. So how would you? As for quality of life: it’s defined differently by different interests. To some, it means limiting growth, focusing more on environmental protection, parks and the like. To others, it’s improving affordable housing options, transportation options, shopping options. There are many other definitions. Tell us yours and how you would preserve it.
Public Safety will be a priority for me. I would like to create an environment that also focuses on solutions to the problems. I have done this in the private sector by creating the Flagler Countywide Opioid Task Force with private and public input and would like to see similar task forces created to address other safety concerns. We have independent Constitutional Officers in our Government. The Commission is responsible for funding their budget requests. I think that Sheriff Staly is doing a great job and I will meet with him regularly to continue to communicate the level of service that he deems necessary to keep our residents as safe as possible and keep crime down. If there are ways we can save dollars in the agency, I want to make sure we are working towards those goals in our planning sessions, without compromising his ability to fully do his job, which is a critical service for our residents.
Job creation: I am asked often how can I bring in high paying jobs. It’s based on three things that companies look for in locating the business in a particular area.
Workforce: I will work with our great schools to help focus and train the workforce for the type of business we want to bring. A high rated School District will attract companies that are looking to relocate. Work-force housing is also a key component to job creation as well. I believe this can best be done by creating a public and private task force to evaluate the types of industries that we believe that our area is most suited for. For Flagler to bring high paying jobs we need to create a business friendly environment offering incentives for industry to locate here. This can be done in several ways. Tax breaks or credits (Florida has some of the strongest in the country), waive building fees and provide incentives for workforce living are a few examples.
Infrastructure: Utilize the incentives our President is putting out for development of rural areas to improve water, storm water flow, roads and fiber in rural areas. We need to change the reputation of our area to an open-for-business approach. I will also leverage my relationships to bring high paying clean industry jobs to promote into our great county.
Quality of life: We already have the best quality of life in the state of Florida. I was attracted to this area based on how we have been able to preserve the beauty. Our forefathers have done a great job in preserving our natural beauty.
These are a few ways we have been able to attract high paying jobs to areas we have developed. And many good things will follow: Lower taxes, higher end retail, quality restaurants, raises for county employees that doesn’t cost the homeowner, more money for our already great Schools and teachers, corporate support to our local charities .
County government and the school district have been working together for five years to develop a workforce for targeted industries. The flagship programs in local schools are a direct result. Are you suggesting the effort has fallen short? How specifically is Flagler not open for business? And what has a county commissioner to do with providing more money for the school system (and still promise lower taxes)?
Joe Mullins did not answer the question.
3. To what extent has the handling of and testing for sick building syndrome at the Sheriff’s Operations Center been—or not been—adequate? The sheriff’s nearly 70 employees assigned there remain unconvinced about the safety of the building. What’s your next move? If rebuilding the Operations Center becomes necessary, how would you finance the project?
The County’s handling of the Sheriff’s Operations Center has been poor. The County Administrator told the employees to return to the building and then retracted his statement. I do not believe the employees need to return to the sick building. It should be used for storage or demolished.
Easy to say, harder to execute: You think all avenues of testing and analysis have been exhausted? If condemning the building as an Operations Center is your preferred approach, you’d then be responsible for building the sheriff a new operations center, the county being the constitutional officers’ landlord. Where? How soon? How would you pay for it without raising taxes? Where would the sheriff be housed in the meantime so as not to overstay his welcome at the courthouse?
What I do know for certain is that there is something very wrong in that building. Although I cannot go back and undo the decisions that my opponent made, I don’t have to repeat them, nor will I under no uncertain terms unnecessarily risk the lives of our deputies. I will spend the time required to find a suitable location that would make sense for an Operations Center. I will seek the Sheriff’s input on his thoughts. Yes, we are a landlord but the Sheriff is using it for very particular reasons and he needs to be viewed as a partner at the table as these discussions are going on. In the meantime, the Clerk of Court, Tom Bexley has very generously made the accommodations and I believe that invitation will continue for the period of time required to work through this nightmare of a situation.
You’re still not telling us how you would pay for an alternative site–and not raise taxes.
Joe Mullins did not answer the question.
4. Voters are likely to approve Amendment 1, an expansion of the homestead exemption to up to $75,000 this fall. All local governments except schools will see shortfalls. First, do you support the additional exemption? Please explain your answer. Second, how will you make up the lost revenue?
I support the additional homestead exemption so taxpayers’ hard earned money can stay in their pockets. The county will see a loss in revenue. My solution is to diversify our tax base by attracting high-paying jobs to Flagler County that can ease the tax burden of our citizens. I will also examine each county department to identify any areas that can be trimmed.
Again, easy to state on the campaign trail, harder to execute in fact: even if hundreds of new jobs were created in the county over the next year or two, that would not make up for the projected loss of–according to current county government estimates–$4 million. Nothing in government today that can be cut approaches that figure. So how would you make up the lost revenue? Can you cite two programs or initiatives that could cut even $1 million from the budget?
Joe Mullins did not answer the question.
5. Commissioners like to say they won’t raise taxes or will keep taxes, or at least tax rates, flat, as some are trying to do this year. But with rare exceptions, they don’t provide options of what they would eliminate from the budget to keep their promise. Are you against property tax increases? What three specific line items would you cut from this year’s proposed budget to keep the property tax rate flat?
– I am against property tax increases. Sally Sherman, IT Software, Website.
– Sally Sherman’s position should be eliminated.
– The constitutional officers’ software should be split over the next two years as Commissioner O’Brien recommended.
Are you opposed to Sally Sherman in particular or do you think the county administration can operate without a deputy county administrator, something it hasn’t done in a decade and a half (the county’s current disingenuous play with Sherman’s title as “consultant” aside)? The commission did adopt the proposal to delay implementation of IT software. That still did not keep the tax rate flat. Again: how would you get there, and are you saying that you will not raise the property tax for any reason in your four years as commissioner?
On Sally Sherman, I am opposed to how the situation was handled. If she knew she was going to retire, which was obvious as she entered the drop program [the Florida Retirement System’s Deferred Retirement Option Program], so that gave Craig Coffey, the county administrator, five years of notice, which was plenty of time to find another Deputy Administrator. Why he waited, giving her time to contract with a consulting firm and come back with a higher pay grade, lower titled position and allowing her to double dip is beyond me and unconscionable and a smack in the face to all taxpayers and that’s what I have a problem with. I will take a look at the budget as a whole, following the development of a strategic plan. The County is just spending money without any demonstration on why. Yes they fund the Constitutional offices budgets but their budget is one that I want to take apart and put back together in a way that we can demonstrate to the people of this community on why we are spending their hard earned dollars the way we are. I am in favor of starting with zero based budgeting. Which would allow us to start over.
6. State law requires armed security in every public school. Flagler has chosen to have a School Resource Officer at its schools. The district and the county essentially split the cost. County Administrator Craig Coffey told commissioners during a workshop this summer that they don’t have to assume that security cost. He’s right, under the law. With Amendment 1’s consequences ahead, would you reduce the county’s share? Alternately, do you pledge to preserve that split for the duration of your term?
Our children are our future and as the next County Commissioner from District 4, public safety is my number one concern. I would not reduce our share and I pledge to preserve that split for the duration of my time in office.
7. It’s costing the county at least $26 million to rebuild the shore’s dunes, upwards of $40 million when the state’s rebuilding of State Road A1A is included, and almost $60 million when the U.S. Army Corps’ funding of the Flagler Beach portion of dune repairs is included. That’s just for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. It is now demonstrably certain that sea levels are rising, and Flagler’s revenue sources for additional beach protection are tapped out. How do you propose to pay for the next repairs should a hurricane like Matthew or even a strong storm with damaging surges strike during your tenure? How is beach protection not a losing battle?
It is very likely over the next decade Flagler County will be impacted by a Hurricane or Tropical Storm. As your next County Commissioner, I will advocate for more reserves that can be set aside each year to build up a Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund. Protecting our beaches is not an option. It is a defining destination for Flagler County that will attract new businesses to the area, so we must think long term and protect it.
It would take many more years than your first term in office to build reserves anywhere close to providing the sort of hurricane fund that could pay for the next disaster. You’re not telling us what you would do should such a storm hit in the next four years, when no such fund will be ready. Second, do you not believe that sea levels are rising and at least diminishing the feasibility and affordability of beach protection with every inch?
Beach restoration is a necessity and yes sometimes Mother Nature has a different plan for us. I want to see permanent solutions not these band-aids that are being done. We need to work collaboratively with our State Partners to develop a plan that will cover the coast. In this region, I would like to see us coordinate with St Johns and Volusia who also struggle with this issue. A regional approach would offer that economies of scale and a cost savings approach. The Florida Inland Navigation District Commission handles issues that impact our Waterways and do it based on science, planning and collaboration. I would like for us to look at their model and create a similar one for our beaches. We can do this by bringing in our State and Federal Legislators and having this important conversation.
8. We currently have five white Republican men as county commissioners. The average age is 67 in a county where the median age is 50. Only one commissioner holds a private-sector job. The commission is by far the least diverse of all of Flagler’s local governments, in a county nowhere near as homogenous as the commission would make it seem to be. Explain first the consequences on policy and responsiveness of that lack of diversity (if you think there are no consequences, explain why), and second, explain how you have reached or would reach out specifically to constituencies that don’t mirror the commission’s demographics.
I believe we need a new generation of leaders on the County Commission if we want to grow and compete with our neighboring counties. I think our policies and responsiveness have a ‘good ole boy’ mentality that Flagler County must grow out of. We have to be welcoming to new businesses and their employees. County staff must make it easy for businesses to open in Flagler County and be hospitable to change.
Social media is a powerful tool to disseminate information. Our county needs to do a better job of explaining our budget process, announcing potential projects developers are pursuing to engage our younger demographics. They need to see growth and potential future family attractions to keep them in Flagler County. Our technological infrastructure is out of date – improvements to cell service and faster internet are key to attracting high-paying jobs.
The question was not about your PR strategy, but about diversity and inclusion, and what you bring to the table in that regard. Please re-read the question and address it on its terms.
There are consequences to not having a diverse representation on every board. The best outcomes are often derived from a different set of experiences that add value to the conversation as a whole. My background for instance is very much in the private sector where I have seen how jobs are created in communities that are in desperate need of diversity–jobs for everyone, not just specific people. I would engage a private-public task force and public study groups with people from throughout the community. Flagler is a diverse community, one that has cultural, ethnic and different demographics. I believe the best way to achieve outreach is to bring that diversity into government and create partnerships, strategies and collaborative initiatives that add value to the process but also help us define one of our greatest strengths. So often, government is viewed as unapproachable and untouchable, I want to change that by opening our doors and asking for participation in the process and do that on day one.
The City Manager and County Administrator’s relationship is poor in my view. There should be a collaborative attitude between the County Administrator and all of the City Managers to bring more growth opportunities to both the cities and the county. I believe joint meetings between the County Commission and the multiple Councils should occur quarterly to keep the lines of communication open.
10. To what extent should the county commission be responsible for a social safety net in Flagler? Is the money the commission annually awards groups such as the Free Clinic, the Family Life Center and the Early learning Coalition sufficient?
I think the social safety net should be a shared responsibility between the county, local businesses and our faith partners to help those less fortunate.
In all those cases, it already is. But the question remains: is the county’s share sufficient? The groups are asking for more, their needs certainly cry for more. What will you ask for at budget time?
Each entity offers an extraordinary need in our Community. I do believe in bringing in the Private Sector and Faith Based Organizations into the process. We can’t just automatically turn to Government to fund everything. I have hosted many successful fundraisers in my career and have contributed a lot of money to a variety of organizations. I would host an annual fundraiser to offset the costs that these organizations desperately need. If we can find additional monies in the budget after we go through the work required to clean out unnecessary expenditures then I will certainly approve additional funding requests for those agencies identified that provide a necessary service to our residents.
11. We have an economic development department that consumes upward of $450,000 a year though it’s been responsible for literally just a few dozen new jobs since its inception in 2011, compared to the 17,200 jobs the county has added independent of the department since. But we don’t have a homeless shelter. How do you justify the contrast—and the continued existence of the economic development department?
As the next County Commissioner from District 4, I want to evaluate every county department’s past performance and set goals for future performance. Flagler County has a prime opportunity to grow and we have seen the struggle to bring new companies and high-paying jobs to Flagler County over the last few years. Relationships in the corporate world are key to attracting large corporations to Flagler and I believe I can help connect our Economic Development Department to corporate executives to pursue those opportunities.
You did not answer the question. Can you try again?
An Economic Development Department is a necessity in every Government. Some communities partner with private industry and they help drive the strategies around how to attract companies to their area. I know Flagler has undergone a change in approach a few years back and took it in house. In doing so it fell under the County to completely fund it and that funding has grown considerably over the years. I listened to the dialogue when Representative Paul Renner, along with his colleagues, spoke about incentives and doing away with them (for Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private partnership and economic development arm) and I agreed with him on principle. I would evaluate this department once elected and sit down with the individual volunteers that have served for years on the Economic Board to determine areas that we could focus on to get some additional wins. We have a great deal of existing industries that I would like to see us capitalize on and create a pipeline for other businesses to exist here. The hospital system in our Community is significant. It would be great to work with them to create a plan to go after medical device companies. That is one of many examples I could give. We are not going to be able to compete with Jacksonville or Orlando but we can take advantage of what we already have here and capitalize on that. The other component is a skilled workforce and affordable housing and those are areas that we need to continue to work on. I am not sure that that has been the direction or focus of this department and I would like to spend our resources there. Again, you just don’t throw money at a need put put forth a very strategic process and couple that with a lot of hard work to produce the outcomes you want.
I am ready for a fresh start at the County Administrator position. I believe the County Administrator’s job is to take the direction from the Commission and run with it. He/she should be proactive in their approach to finding solutions to issues the Commission sees around the county. The next County Administrator’s vision needs to be long-term and budget shortcomings should be identified early on in the budget process to allow ample time to find solutions.
It seems you’re calling for the firing of Craig Coffey. If so, on what grounds? Are you responsible for the anonymous signs around town calling for his firing?
No, I am not responsible for the anonymous signs calling for the firing of Coffey. It certainly demonstrates that there is a group of people angry enough to spend the time and money to place these signs throughout the community. With what I have seen, it is warranted. Going back to the Sheriff’s Operation Center: That building should have never been purchased in the first place. It was under Coffey’s recommendation and voted on by my opponent and now we have several Sheriff’s employees that are very sick and my question is, is why did it take so long for this issue came to light as these employees suffered and why when it was made public were these employees not immediately evacuated? In my opinion, those are grounds for termination. I have seen too much manipulation and micro-managing by him. It will not serve the County in the direction in needs we need to go. We need to control and define growth. We need leaders that understand this. We cannot stop growth but we can certainly define it.
13. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies? If so, please explain, including cases where charges did not lead to conviction.
I have never been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. I have never personally faced a civil action.
Have your businesses or any business concern, corporation, non-profit and the like that you’ve been involved in, faced any legal action, civil or otherwise?
Joe Mullins did not answer the question.
2018 Election Candidates, Flagler County
|County Commission District 2||Greg Hansen, Incumbent (Rep)||Abby Romaine (Rep)||Dennis McDonald (NPA)|
|County Commission District 4||Nate McLaughlin, Incumbent (Rep)||Joe Mullins (Rep)||Jane Gentile-Youd (NPA)|
|School Board District 1||Andy Dance, Incumbent||Unopposed|
|School Board District 2||Janet McDonald, Incumbent||John Fischer||Carl Jones|
|School Board District 4||Trevor Tucker, Incumbent||Paul Anderson|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 2||Jack Howell||Jon Netts|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 4||Jose Eduardo Branquinho||Corinne Marie Hermle||John Tipton|
|Florida House District 24||Paul Renner, Incumbent (Rep)||Adam Morley (Dem)|
|Congressional District 6, Democratic Primary||Stephen Sevigny||Nancy Soderberg||John Upchurch|
|Congressional District 6, GOP Primary||Fred Costello||Michael Waltz||John Ward|